Monday, August 26, 2019

3 Ways to Overcome Toxic People at Work

Many people look back on "toxic" relationships in their personal life and wonder how they could ever be so dumb. They cannot believe they let the other person take advantage of them, destroy their self-esteem and make them feel so isolated from people who truly cared out them.

But these relationships don't only happen in our personal lives. They also happen in our professional lives and can have such a negative affect that they can destroy or at least inhibit successful careers.

A toxic relationship at work can be tricky because it may be disguised as something else. For example, the older employee at work who "only has your best interests at heart" and so fills your ears with endless gossip about others or tries to make it seem that you're so naive it's amazing you get yourself dressed every morning by yourself. So, you end up doing what she suggests you should be doing -- or not doing -- because she is just looking out for you.

Or, there is the colleague who is the martyr. You know the one who sighs heavily when he's asked to do something. Then, he gives this shrug and a fake, brave smile as if he's been called to man the foxhole against a horde of alien invaders all by himself. "Sure," his voice wavers. "I can do that." You end up feeling like the worst person ever, so you say, "No, no! That's OK. I can do it myself." Even though the task should really be done by him and it means you'll have to stay late -- again.

How about the team member who uses so much charm you feel like you've just inhaled five pounds of cotton candy? This team member constantly tells you how awesome and wonderful and super-duper you are, as she merrily leaves for the weekend while shoving her work on you. You don't feel like you can speak up because, well, she's a friend, right? Or, is she....

All of these relationships share one thing in common: They are unequal. These people have found a way to burden you so that you feel manipulated or bullied or just depressed.

It won't take long before their behavior will start to affect your job performance. You will begin to lack energy and enthusiasm, your creativity will wane and you'll struggle to get through the day. You may even start to hate your job or your company when what you really hate is the way such people make you feel.

If you think this is happening, here are some things to think about:

1. Name it and own it. Be clear about what is happening. Stop trying to make excuses for the other person. Name how interactions with them make you feel.

2. Take action. Others are getting by with such behavior because you are letting them. When someone starts to whine, gossip or brown nose, quickly find somewhere else to be. If you can't make a quick exit, stop making eye contact. Cross your arms, tap your toe or shift your body away from them -- anything to show you're not listening and have already mentally left the area. 

3. Enlist allies. Chances are you're not the only one who is being exposed to toxic behavior. Look for team members who may be willing to help you "escape" these conversations. Or, try to be around more positive-minded colleagues. They're sort of like garlic to vampires -- toxicity spreaders would rather be elsewhere when there are positive, upbeat people hanging around.

Remember that these people only gained control over you and your emotions because you let them. Just tell yourself it's time to take back what you gave them -- right now.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Before Criticizing Team Members, Take a Look in the Mirror

Have you ever walked up to a cash register to pay for your Yoo-Hoo and there are two clerks bad-mouthing a manager or another worker? 

It doesn't seem to matter where -- banks, convenience stores, doctor's offices -- there always seems to be some grumbling about someone else. This person is the worst human walking the planet, according to these folks. They have transgressions that are as long as the credits for "Avengers: Endgame."  

But what many don't realize is that as soon as they are out of the room, they become the object of scorn. They are criticized as being the weakest link, as the person who is just awful. 

I'm not saying I'm innocent of this myself. Especially in my younger days, I was quick to judge and even quicker to excuse any of my own poor behavior. But as I've gotten older -- and hopefully wiser -- I've learned that all of us could do a better job of making improvements at work.

Without being aware of our own weaknesses and transgressions, then we're just part of the problem. Our team will not thrive because we're not willing to do the internal work that only we can do. Bottom line: If the team isn't successful, then the individuals on that team are going to pay the price.

In other words, if you're on a team that isn't performing well, then your own career will suffer.

Starting today, try using the energy you use blaming others for various woes and instead work on yourself. Some things to think about:

1. Take an internal temperature check. I was watching the "Apollo 11" documentary recently, and was struck by how mission control monitored the heart rates of the astronauts. While Neil Armstrong sounded cool as a cucumber when trying to find a spot to land on the moon, in reality his heart rate was around that of a rabbit trying to outrun a jaguar. Next time you're in stressful situation or feeling unhappy at work, try digging deep and finding the cause of your stress. Are you mad because Bryan messed up the PowerPoint? Or are you in reality annoyed with yourself that you didn't lend him a hand yesterday to ensure it went smoothly? Try tapping into what you're really feeling and you'll be better able to deal with the issue effectively instead of just stewing about Bryan and bad-mouthing him to others.

2.  Watch others. How do people react when you speak in a meeting? When you casually stop to talk in the halllway? If they exhibit all the friendliness of Alec Baldwin to the paparazzi, then you may have a problem. Or, if they refuse to look you in the eye and seem to be glancing around for an escape path, then you may have a problem. Let me stress, however, that you're not an FBI body language specialist, so don't count on this is a full-proof way to gauge how others see you. You may have to just ask for feedback from other team members: "What did I do in the meeting that you found helpful?" or "What did I do on that last project that you found least helpful?" This may not be too much fun, but it will give you a better idea of your impact on the team and help you learn what you can do to boost the team's performance.

3. Stick with it. Improving yourself takes a lot of hard, consistent work. You may resolve one bad habit, but another may spring up to take it's place. Or, you may start to feel very self-righteous and start correcting others since you're now such a gem. You need to not only constantly monitor your own behavior and reactions, but also try to delve deeper into why others may have a poor performance instead of bossing them around. Could it be that Angela is always late because she doesn't have reliable transportation and not because she's just lazy? Or, perhaps Ted's poor communication isn't because he's a jerk but because he's so shy finds it difficult to talk face-to-face or participate in meetings?

The next time you're quick to blame someone else for your team's poor performance, stop yourself and see if maybe you're not part of the problem -- and then hopefully part of the solution.

Monday, August 12, 2019

The 3 Things You Must Do Before Leaving an Internship

Many internships are drawing to a close as students head back to school.

But before anyone leaves an internship, there are some things to do that are critical (beyond snagging a few free pens and a coffee cup with the company logo):

1. Meet with your boss. Make sure you go to this meeting with a list of your accomplishments to share with your supervisor. Go beyond, "I showed up for work (almost) on time every day." Make sure to mention if you helped on a key project, even if it was to copy documents or do some research for team members. Those tasks helped keep things on track. By writing a report on what you did, you help remind the boss of your contributions. Such a document will be key for helping you get a permanent job there in the future or having the boss serve as a reference for another job.

2. Touch base with team members. You might not have worked closely with everyone in your department, but make the effort to thank each one for the opportunity to observe and learn. This helps solidify a positive impression of you so that you can immediately send them a LinkedIn request and continue to strengthen that bond. These are the people who will start to form your professional network, and are key to your future success.

3. Ask for feedback. This can be difficult to do, but it's an important step in developing your professional abilities. If all you heard was "Good job!" from everyone, that isn't really helpful. Search for those who may have been less enthusiastic (again, this can be difficult), but these are the people most likely to be brutally honest. You want the feedback that points out your weaknesses -- this is how you really improve and make strides in your career.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Become a Lifelong Learner or Risk Your Future

Infosys President Ravi Kumar predicts that 75 million jobs "old" jobs will vanish by 2022, replaced by 135 million "new" jobs that will  be created because of new technologies. As a result, he has some advice that no employee or job seeker should ignore: become a life-long learner.

"You have to learn to learn, learn to unlearn, and learn to re-learn. For an individual to imbibe that culture of being on that learning curve for a lifetime is a big switch," Kumar says.

Some of you reading this may believe that you've got this covered and learn something new every day. But is it the kind of learning that challenges you? That forces you to see everyday work tasks in a new way? That helps you come up with innovative ways to do things?

Others of you may believe that you're too old or too busy to learn new things. You may think that changes aren't going to hit your workplace or your industry anytime soon, and so you just continue as you've always done. You'll learn new things when the time in right.

The time is right -- right now. Those who hesitate to embrace learning will be quickly passed by when others have an easier time grasping new concepts or technologies. The only way to prepare for making changes is to be in a constant state of readiness, and that happens when you keep yourself turned toward constant learning.

This may sound a little daunting -- who wants to put themselves in a constant state of learning? Does it mean homework? Doing schoolwork that you were thrilled to leave behind in your younger days? Who has time for extra learning when you're barely coping with work and personal demands?

Forget all the things that intimidate you or that you didn't like about school or learning new things. Lifelong learning can be fun. It can enrich your life in ways you never imagined. Embrace it and you will find that it's something you never want to give up. Here are some ways to get started:

1. Set goals. Learning one new thing a day seems doable, doesn't it? Whether you're talking to someone or reading a new book, you're bound to learn something new. When you have a mindset of trying to learn something new every day, you're much more likely to seek out those opportunities for growth. Have lunch with someone you don't know well, pick up a new book or just listen to the conversations around you.

2. Turn away from screens. Give yourself permission to just think about something you've learned. Instead of listening to a podcast on your commute home or while exercising, think about something you learned. Don't watch videos on your lunch break. Go to the park and just think. Information is quickly forgotten unless it is reviewed.

3. Keep smart company. I often say that sometimes I am the dumbest person in the room -- and that's a good thing. I have had the opportunity to talk to some really smart and interesting people, and I am always challenged to rise to their level of thinking. By challenging yourself, you become less worried about how to keep up and more excited about learning.

4. Do what works for you. I love to read. It relaxes me and I seem to retain more. But I know others who learn by listening, so podcasts or audio books or public speakers are just the ticket for them. You're not in school anymore, so you can choose the learning technique that works best for you. Instead of looking at Facebook or Instagram, pick up a book or listen to an educational audio tape.