Monday, May 31, 2021

Are You Self-Sabotaging?

You might spend a lot of your time trying to figure out how to get ahead at work, or how to become more successful in your career. You figure out how to deal with Marcia's gossiping, your understand what your boss wants you to do and you even have plotted out the first industry conference you will attend once pandemic restrictions are lifted.

But despite all these efforts, you do something dumb. You don't tell your boss that you'd like to head up a new project. Or, you procrastinate on an assignment to the point that your boss is now upset. You've started making mistakes on routine tasks.

What's going on?

It's called self-sabotage. Psychologists and career experts say it happens when you start getting anxious or afraid of your success. Those feelings start to get in the way of doing your job properly, and you become defensive with others. You may even become disengaged and talk negatively about co-workers or your job.

That may prompt some feedback from your boss about your performance, and that further pulls you into the mindset that you don't really like the job or your boss or the company. See how your own fears and anxieties have lead you to sabotaging yourself?

If you believe this is happening, think about:

1. Being honest with yourself. Self-sabotage can become a pattern. It may have started when you were younger, or it may be that you started negative self-talk as you became more successful in your career. When you think something negative, immediately think of how you can flip the script and find something positive to say instead.

2. Recount your successes. Your boss doesn't pick you for a big assignment because she likes the way you order coffee. She picked you because you've shown her that you're capable and do good work. Think about the steps you've taken to earn her confidence: long hours; always double-checking your work; pitching in to help colleagues; calming angry customers; training new employees; coming up with new ideas; and helping her be successful. Those are all wonderful skills -- that's why she picked you and you need to remind yourself of your abilities.

3. Seek help. It's not always easy to quiet the negative talk in your own head and calm your anxieties and fears, especially if you've been doing it for a long time. Seek advice from a psychologist or career coach who can help you spot the things that trigger your self-sabotage and how you can learn to better cope with your emotions.

If the last year has taught us anything, it's that we have to take care of our own mental health if we want to have lives that are full and rewarding. Don't let the negative thoughts in your own head stop you from having a great career that you've worked hard to get.

Monday, May 24, 2021

It's OK to Be Dumb Sometimes

I'm often the dumbest person on a Zoom call. Seriously. I talk to a lot of people who are experts in their field (data science, AI, global supply chains) and I rely on their expertise to educate me so that I can write a story and inform others.

So, I ask a lot of questions. I try to do my homework before I interview someone, but I still have to ask a lot of questions because I can't assume anything. I have to make sure that I understand these experts and can accurately convey the information they provide me.

The reason it doesn't bother me that I'm the dumbest person on the call is because I've never had anyone be rude about it. If you show a genuine interest in a person and the subject, they're always willing to answer your questions.

I think it's important that everyone be the dumbest person on a call or in a room throughout their career. You need to be challenged and learning something new all the time, even if it doesn't have a direct link to your job. By stretching yourself and asking questions, you expand your network with people outside your field, you jumpstart your creative juices and  you improve your communication skills.

If you can, do some homework before such conversations to show the other person that you're trying to get up to speed. But, if you don't have time to do research, then freely admit that you're learning and are going to be asking a lot of questions and plan to continue research after the call or meeting.

When you try to fake it and act like you know what the other person is talking about, you dig yourself a hole. Because sooner or later it's going to become evident that you're clueless and that will only annoy the other person.

So, go ahead and admit you don't know everything. But do admit that you want to learn and grow -- that will be welcomed by everyone.

Monday, May 17, 2021

How to Get Good Habits to Stick

 A lot of people developed new habits and routines during the pandemic. For some, it was learning to set boundaries during their workday so they could go for walks or spend time with family. For others,  it was just the opposite -- they found themselves working longer hours and unable to disconnect.

If you're part of the group that developed habits that aren't healthy or that you would like to change, you may be looking for way to adopt a better diet, sleep more or use technology less.

A new book, "How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You want to Be" by Kathy Milkman, may hold some answers.

I've interviewed Milkman before, and as a professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, she often delves into the "why" of human behavior.

In this latest book, she discovers that in order to develop the consistent habits we want (exercise more, have better work/life balance), the key is not being so strict. In other words, you don't have to visit the gym at the same time every day in order to make that habit stick. If you become an "inflexible automaton," then if you can't make it to the gym at that time, you are unlikely to go at all.

But if you have a more flexible mindset, and work out at different times, then you are more likely to have that habit stick. You learn to adapt to various circumstances in regards to exercise, and so focus on getting your exercise -- instead of the "time" of the exercise.

The lesson here is that instead of focusing on answering your email at a certain time of day, be more flexible. The research suggests that by rolling with whatever life throws at you -- and still answering your email -- the "autopilot" becomes stronger to answer your email. You're not bound by a rigid schedule that can easily be thrown off, but rather the task you want to accomplish.

"I remain convince that by deliberately building good habits, we can harness our inherent laziness to make positive changes to our behavior," Milkman says. "The most versatile and robust habits are formed when we train ourselves to make the best decision, no matter the circumstances."

Monday, May 10, 2021

What Bosses Need to Do Now for Teams Moving Back to the Office

Some people are anxious to get  back to the office and leave behind the days of working at their kitchen tables in their pajamas.

But others are more concerned -- they still worry about COVID-19 transmission, they're unsure how they'll handle childcare or school situations with their children or they simply don't want to return to the hassle of a commute.

Bosses need to deal with these concerns sooner rather than later. By letting employees wonder about what's going to happen with their work arrangements, teams aren't going to be able to function effectively.

Here's some things bosses can do now as change work arrangements evolve:

  • Talk about successes. Call the team together through a Zoom call and remind them how resilient they've become. Talk about how challenges over the last year were addressed not by panicking, but by working together to come up with innovative ideas and solutions. 
  • Let them express concerns. This is best done individually if possible, but if not, hold a virtual meeting that lets employees list all the things that could be holding them back. Once they unpack all their fears or concerns, then bosses have a better handle on how they can work with the employee to find solutions or offer support as needed.
  • Show compassion. As employees become more comfortable with the idea of returning to the office -- or working part-time from home -- the boss needs to show the rest of the team how to behave moving forward. A boss who shows empathy sets the tone for the rest of the team not to be judgmental about someone else's situation or dismiss someone's anxieties as unfounded.
There is no doubt that moving employees back to the office -- or letting some continue to work from home -- will be a big challenge for bosses. But setting the right tone will be critical not only to help employees make that shift, but also in establishing team cohesiveness and resilience in the long run.

Monday, May 3, 2021

How to Better Understand Digital Body Language

As more of us prepare to move back into the office environment -- either permanently or on a more flexible basis -- we need to understand that Zoom calls and other forms of digital communication will become a permanent part of our career.

With that in mind, it's important to become more adept as understanding digital "cues" or "body language" that we observe through a camera lens or via text.

While this is far from an exact science, there is some understanding about what some cues may signal. Consider:

  • Providing affirmation in different ways. While speaking with someone in person or over Zoom, you may nod your head to signal understanding. But in a Slack conversation or via email, you may want to respond immediately with a statement such as: "I get completely what you're saying," or "I agree with your assessment of the situation." 
  • Organizing your thoughts. When you're meeting face-to-face, you may give a thoughtful look to the speaker to indicate you're thinking about their proposal or idea, perhaps even pausing a minute before responding. This shows that you're giving the idea real consideration. When you're responding online, you also need to show thoughtfulness by composing a reasoned message. Don't fire off a quick "got it, thx" or it could be seen as dismissive and rude.
  • Pay attention to non-verbal cues. Even though it's not in person, a Zoom call can provide some clues that someone is getting annoyed or bored during the call.  A person who crosses her arms or appears to be looking at her phone a lot may signal she's bored or becoming annoyed by the conversation. Or, rapid eye blinking or sighing may signal stress.
  • Pick up the phone. One of the biggest complaints about Zoom is that it always feels likes you're "on," which can be exhausting. It's also a pain to make sure you are dressed, have your hair combed and your kids aren't dancing in the background with the cat. (Cute, but distracting.) Instead, eliminate these problems -- and the miscommunication that can happen with emails and texts -- and instead have a phone conversation.