A New Way to Work

Success and change without burnout by Dr. Geri Puleo

Archive for the tag “Communication”

Give Thanks at Work, Too

2017-11-22 - Gratitude - not expressing is gift not given

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning company focused on techniques to eliminate the 5 workplace stressors that create and sustain burnout:  Job Change, Organizational Change, Work-Life Imbalance, Poor Leadership and Management, and Ineffective Human Resources.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, author, blogger, career coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action,” watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com

The Tiny Little Word That Stops Burnout

Words hurt or healNo one would argue that words can be very powerful.  Not only do they convey our feelings and beliefs, but they can also motivate or demotivate not only ourselves but also others around us.

But a strange phenomenon sometimes happens when we talk to ourselves.

While self-talk can be used as a way to empower and motivate ourselves to go after that which we want in life, it is an empowering way of talking to ourselves that (for some equally strange reason) must often be learned.

In sharp contrast is the negative self-talk that operates unconsciously deep in our psyches. This endless loop of guilt, condemnation, resentment, and anger is a powerful influence on the actions we take (or don’t take), as well as our feelings about the resulting outcomes (either positive or negative).

Ironically, the types of comments and opinions that would enrage us if said to us by someone else are often repeated in our private negative self-talk loops. Although frequently not acknowledged in our conscious minds, these comments continue unabated as absolute truths as to who we are, what we do, and what we want.

While we can learn to ignore unwarranted criticism from others, our unconscious negative self-talk is even more damaging to our psyches. Why? Because the reality that we experience is colored by our perceptions – if our self-talk is negative, then our perception of the world and our role within it will also be negative.

More powerful than the words spoken to us by others, negative self-talk internally motivates us to act in either proactive or reactive ways. As Earl Nightingale said, “We are what we think about.”  But the behavioral impact of our words is often ignored, diminished, or accepted as undeniable truths that define who we are even if it is not who we want to be.

Consider these examples:

  • We tell ourselves what we should do (even though it might not even be something that we are interested in doing) – then berate ourselves when we don’t do it.
  • We second-guess our choices and decisions – then imagine a more perfect world if we had taken another course of action.
  • We “make nice” by doing things that we really don’t want to do (or even have the time to do) – then feel guilty or angry because we have no time to do the things that we really want to do.
  • We take on too many responsibilities as well as the problems of others – then wonder why we are so exhausted and burned out.

The more negative our self-talk, the more harshly we judge the difference that we perceive between where we are and where we want to be (or where we told ourselves we should have been). The damage to our psyches can be chronic, acute, and difficult to overcome.

Our negative self-talk is a powerful contributor to not only burning out, but also to staying burned out.

The One Syllable Mantra to Combat Burnout

The negative self-talk specifically associated with burnout focuses on four issues:

  1. The difference between our expectations and our perceptions of the current reality
  2. Anger, guilt, and self-doubt associated with the “should’s” of perfectionism
  3. Our attempts to change or blame others (often to overcome our feelings of being victimized)
  4. Ineffective attempts to deny our frustration, anger, and apathy associated with being burned out

Because these negative self-talk loops frequently exist on the subconscious level, we must actively attempt to bring them to the conscious level – their power over us grows in proportion to our attempts to ignore them.

But, once these statements are expressed, we are rightly shocked by the venom in the words that we have used to identify and define ourselves.

By acknowledging and verbalizing these negative subconscious judgments, we can consciously begin to exchange them for proactive alternatives: words expressing acceptance, kindness, and compassion toward ourselves.

But how do we start?

By saying one tiny little word every time our negative self-talk rears its ugly head: “NO.”

  • Say “NO” to condemning ourselves if our current situation is not what we had expected. Instead, replace it by accepting that what we previously wanted has changed OR that our mistakes have simply shown us what didn’t work (thus giving us a new launching point for future action).
  • Say “NO” to the unrelenting “should’s” of perfectionism. Instead, replace it by acknowledging that we are doing the best that we can with the resources that we have OR that our goals may have been unrealistic given the circumstances (thus helping us to better learn how to set realistic yet inspirational stretch goals).
  • Say “NO” to misguided attempts at trying to change others. Instead, replace it by remembering that we only have the responsibility to change ourselves OR by being grateful for the positive qualities of those who we are trying to change (no matter how badly they treated us, every human being has something about them that is positive).
  • Say “NO” to our barely controlled feelings of burnout-related frustration, anger, and apathy. Instead, replace it by finding safe ways to express, vent, and release these feelings AND develop new phrases that are proactive and nurturing.

Saying “NO” to our negative self-talk is both an acknowledgement and a choice. Saying “NO” helps us to reclaim our power. Saying “NO” can truly be a positive expression of our own self-worth.

“NO” is one of the tiniest words in the English language – yet our ability to say “NO” to negative self-talk can transform our lives. Saying “NO” enables us to say “YES” to being kind to ourselves. Isn’t it time that we start treating ourselves the way that we would want others to treat us?

P.S.:  To learn more about the self-talk of burnout, please watch my mini-webinar by clicking here.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

Why I Hate Labels: Are We “Should-ing” Ourselves Into Burnout?

Trapped in a box - RidiculeLabels.  They’re great for organizing things in our homes and offices.  They’re even great refrigerator reminders to jog our memories.

But when labels are used as boundaries that keep us within prescribed limitations, they’re lethal to our ability to move forward. These labels tell us what we “should” do based on preconceived notions of what others think about who we are and what we can become.

When we buy into these limiting labels, we relinquish our sense of self. Labels – particularly when they have been placed upon us by people whom we love or respect – can become so embedded in our brains and psyches that we feel guilty if we try to step outside of them.

While many labels that define prejudice and discrimination have been discouraged through laws and regulations, the most dangerous labels to our ability to succeed are those which we place upon ourselves.

The Stickiness of Labels

When we have a strong sense of self and a true understanding of who we are and what we stand for, we are much better able to remove the “glue” from the labels that others try to stick on us. But it’s not easy.

The problem is that many of the labels that we use to define ourselves (consciously or unconsciously) are not the result of recent experiences – or even our interpretations of those experiences. Instead, they are the result of what other people have told us about who they think that we are and, as a result, what we can become. For example, how many of these labels have crossed your mind in response to different challenges?

  • “I’m a control freak.”
  • “I don’t like change.”
  • “I guess I’m just too sensitive.”
  • “I can never overcome what happened to me in the past.”
  • “I can never be a/an [fill in the blank].”

Just like pulling off a bandage, pulling off a label can be just as painful. By saying that the label no longer applies to us, we automatically have to say that what other people told us is wrong. If the label came from our parents, family, friends, or even an admired boss or co-worker, the act of removing the label from our psyches actually changes our relationship with that person.

Consider the labels that society and families placed on women in the Baby Boomer generation. An “acceptable” job (which you only kept until you were married) was generally a teacher, nurse, or secretary/administrative assistant. Anything else was “shocking.” Although other women were in different careers, they were the exception and not the norm – and you were told that you weren’t one of them.

Although Boomers pushed back and opened the doors for women to enter any career, it was not without a great deal of anxiety and second-guessing.

  • Working women were directly or indirectly criticized for either not having children or for “deserting” their children when they were at work.
  • The “glass ceiling” surreptitiously appeared in corporations – although women could see the higher level jobs within the organization, they were effectively barred from moving into them.
  • Pregnant women were often forced to quit their jobs due to their “unseemly” situation – a practice which led to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
  • But even today, there are countless cases of sexual harassment against women when they enter into fields that have been traditionally male dominated – and often times the women never file complaints against their harassers.

While these pioneering Boomer women pushed through these doors, many privately expressed doubts and concerns as to the “wisdom” of their decisions. Although they loved their jobs and excelled in them, a nagging voice inside their heads often made them question their choices – particularly when others were nonsupportive or blatantly accusatory.

With doubt often comes guilt and, with guilt, comes anxiety. When anxiety couples with unmet expectations of what “should” have been the result of a decision, the result is burnout.

Puleo’s Pointers:  How to Pull Off Unproductive Sticky Labels

Labels only appear to be permanent but, in reality, the glue that sticks them to our consciousness is only temporary. Instead of affixed with super glue, we have the power to change that adhesive to one that is used on the little yellow stickies of Post-It™ notes.

When we permit ourselves to continue to hold on to the label that someone else gave us, we essentially relinquish our control to someone else’s judgments of who we are and what we can become.

To move forward, we have to let go.

If we believe that the glue of a negative or unproductive label is permanent, then it will be permanent. Why? Because we become who we believe we are.

Here are some tips to help you finally remove the caustic labels that are preventing you from achieving the success that you want on your own terms:

  • Try to discover the source of the label.  Was it something that your parents told you growing up? Was it the opinion of a manager who didn’t really understand you? Or was it a general consensus within society at a specific period of time? (It may take some time, but be patient.)
  • Determine what was going on when they affixed this label to you.  Did you make a mistake, but were then unilaterally labeled as a “failure?” What was going on in the labeler’s life at the time – could it be that the boss was belittling you with this label because he or she was afraid that you would take their job? (Remember: the label was placed on you by someone else’s reaction to you – so taking account of what was going on in their lives at the time helps you see the bigger picture.)
  • Consider when you used this label as a “safety net” to NOT take action.  One of the biggest problems with labels is the attached “should” that prevents you from taking a desired action – because the label says that “you’re not that kind of person.” Be very clear and detailed about the opportunities you’ve missed because you bought into someone else’s label of who you are. (The more you personally buy into this label, the more you increase the super glue-iness of its adhesive.)
  • Identify who (if anyone) would be “hurt” if you relinquished this label.  Many times we believe that if we change, we’re going to upset others. However, in the end, only you are in charge of your own life. Besides, the people who really care about you will adjust – and, if not, then they aren’t the type of people who are conducive to your success, so limit your interactions with them. (This is the first step in destabilizing the super glue.)
  • Imagine all the positive things that could happen in your life if you let go of this label.  Instead of dwelling on who might be upset or the even more scary unknown future, vividly visualize how much more free you can be once the label has been ripped off. Life is full of boundless opportunities – but you need to be free of the unproductive labels in order to take advantage of this abundance. (At this point, the super glue will effectively change to a temporary glue.)
  • Finally, start acting in a way that is the opposite of the previous unproductive label.  Yes, it’s going to be scary at first. Habitual actions can be difficult to overcome – but you can do it by replacing the negative actions resulting from the previous label into positive actions that reflect the antithesis of that label. Just like Post-It™ notes can be placed and removed repeatedly, it will take some time until you truly believe that the label no longer defines who you are. (When that time comes, celebrate and congratulate yourself for the courage you exhibited in overcoming the boundaries that have limited you in the past. Woo hoo!!!!)

I hope that these tips help you to stop “should-ing” yourself into the über stress of burnout. Let me know if these ideas worked for you!

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

The ROI of Engaged Employees: How Employee Engagement Affects the Bottom Line (Webinar presented by Dr. Geri Puleo)

“Engagement” seems to be the new buzz word in the business community.  It’s often used as a way of determining an employee’s level of commitment to the job and the company because a fully engaged employee harnesses his or her physical, intellectual, and emotional resources in their work.

This 7-minute “mini” webinar looks at employee engagement from the perspective of quantifiable, bottom line financial results.  While it may take some time to develop, an engaged workforce is a powerful and non-duplicatable competitive advantage for any company — regardless of size, industry, or market.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

“Should do” vs. “Want to do”: Why Both Are Needed to Sustain Change

Change Button - BlueChange is a natural part of life.  In fact, many believe that change has become the new status quo.

But changing is rarely easy for the people who have to modify – sometimes radically – the way that they do things, their self-image, or even their goals.

In organizational change, the underlying reason is usually in response to shifts in the external environment.  The examples are seemingly endless:  A new competitor has entered the marketplace and “stolen” some of your customers.  Or perhaps a new law has drastically challenged your current payroll strategy.

Organizational change can also be in response to internal shifts, such as a new vision, business model, or target market.

But, whether the reason for the change is external or internal, the arguments made in support of the change are usually based on what the company “should” do – whether they want to or not.

And therein lies the rub:  organizations can only change when its people change.

When demands are made for people to change their normal behaviors or habits, there is an understandable pushback.  What is often overlooked is that this so-called “change resistance” can provide valuable insights into the nature of the change initiative.

But these insights can only occur if we actively solicit employee feedback before, during, and after the change.

Unfortunately, in most change initiatives, many of these change resistors are ostracized or transitioned out of the organization.

As human beings, initial resistance is somewhat of a hardwired response to change.  Just like the 3-year-old who crosses his arms and shouts “No!” when it’s time to go to bed, the logical arguments (or why sleep is necessary in order to avoid crankiness and unhappiness) usually fall on deaf ears.

In other words, although we know that the child should go to bed, he doesn’t want to go to bed.  Even though he might be forced to go to bed, it is a time-consuming, emotionally draining ordeal for both parent and child.

The same can be true of employees who are told what they should do as a part of the change initiative…but really don’t want to do.

Addressing what we should do as well as what we want to do should be an important consideration in any change initiative.

Addressing the “Should Do” of Change

Corporate leaders often have very logical, reasonable, and comprehensive reasons to change the long-term strategy or daily operations of their organizations.  They often argue their case via spreadsheets, pie charts, bar graphs, trend charts, and any other data-driven tool that can support the rational reasons underlying the need to change.

While analysis is a critical part of the planning stage of any change initiative, the role of the change manager cannot rely on pure analysis to motivate workers to change.  Organizational change is a major undertaking that can take years to fully incorporate into the existing culture – and can be emotionally draining for the entire workforce.

Although threats of what could happen if the organization doesn’t change can initially inspire fear-based change, people don’t like to live their lives in fear.  The “doom and gloom” prophecies that threaten workers’ sense of security—either now or in the future – will often result in key employees and high achievers “jumping ship” to an employment situation that is less frightening.

To sustain the long-term motivation necessary to change an organization, the focus needs to shift from managing employees to change by telling them what they must do.  Instead, change leaders need to inspire employees and seek their participation in determining the best way to create the change as painlessly and effectively as possible.

The logical “should” of a change initiative is only one part of the change equation because intellectual arguments are insufficient to inspire workers to put forth the additional effort needed to transform the workplace.

Addressing the “Want to Do” of Change

People need to be motivated to change – and motivation is not only inherently internal, it is also emotional.

Addressing this “want to do” part of the change equation requires tapping into WIIFM:  “What’s In It For Me?”  Unless employees are confident that there will be a benefit to them as a result of the change, it is doubtful that they will commit wholeheartedly to the necessary actions that will radically transform the organization.

In contrast, employees will often “go the extra mile” when they understand the value of the change initiative AND they have participated in the planning and implementation activities related to that initiative.

When people participate in identifying what needs to change, they are more likely to embrace the necessary activities that will create that change.  After all, if it’s something that I recommended, then I have a vested interest in ensuring that it will lead to the desired outcome.

Puleo’s Pointers:  3 Ways to Inspire Employees to Change

  1. Take the time to involve employees in the planning stages of the change initiative.  Be sure that they represent the various functional areas of the organization and come from different levels within the organizational hierarchy.  Not only will this assist with employee buy-in, but it will also generate some insights into the implementation plan that can easily be overlooked by senior leaders who are not intimately involved with daily operations.
  2. Treat employees like adults, not children.  Relying solely on the “shoulds” of a change initiative is the equivalent of a parent dictating actions “because they said so.”  Pushback is inevitable.  Instead, recognize that your employees are your only non-duplicatable competitive advantage and they were hired because they have expertise to perform their jobs well.  Tap into that knowledge by respecting their input and concerns.
  3. Schedule two-way conversations that address employee needs and fears associated with the change.   Announcing the change via a lecture by the CEO or an article in the newsletter typify one-way communication.  Such messages to change can easily be interpreted as being talked at rather than talking with.  But two-way conversations in live town hall meetings or even discussion boards in a special change-related online chat room enable better identification of the workforce’s WIIFM’s – which can then be used to modify, expand, remove, or add programs to the change initiative that will better encourage workers to want to do what is necessary to create the necessary changes.

Although these three suggestions take time, they can create the foundation for tremendous future benefits in efficiency and effectiveness during the implementation phase.  Employee pushback and resistance may still occur, but, through the use of participative management in the planning phase, it tends to be much less intense.

While the decision to change might be logical, the act of changing can be highly emotional.  Some changes we should do, but we won’t actually do what is necessary unless we want to do it.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

Have We Forgotten How to “Play Nice” at Work?

Teamwork - Bring on new memberWhen we were children, we were always admonished to “play nice.”  In other words, we should share our toys, be nice to other people, and help our friends.   In this way, we could enjoy our time together – and maybe even learn some valuable lessons about human behavior.

As adults, the equivalent to “playing nice” with playmates is to be respectful and helpful to our coworkers.  We should share our resources, respect our differences, and assist our colleagues when they run behind schedule or need a hand.

Like when we were children, we expect that there will be reciprocity:  if I “play nice” with you, then you will “play nice” with me.

While childhood was a much simpler time, these life lessons still ring true in the modern workplace.

However, I often wonder if we’ve really learned how to apply these childhood lessons of “playing nice.”  I have to ask:  have we forgotten how to “play nice” at work?

“Playing Nice” Is Inherently Reciprocal…or Is It? 

Just like no man is an island, no employee works alone.  We need to work with others in order to get the job done.

Ideally, teamwork enables us to get things done as the result of synergies arising from applying our individual KSAs (knowledge, skills, and abilities) to the task at hand.  The whole of our efforts, therefore, is much greater than the sum of our individual parts.  By helping one another, no one is overburdened or stressed out.

The ability to effectively work in teams also reflects (to a large degree) our mastery of interpersonal communication skills.  The logic is that teams understand how to communicate, embrace differences, and share a single-minded focus on an ultimate, unifying goal.  By being on “the same page,” conflict is reduced or averted.

All of these mantras on teamwork reflect the idea of “playing nice.”

However, problems occur when some team members “play nice,”…but others don’t.  When this occurs, there are inevitable feelings of hurt, anger, and betrayal – feelings that ultimately affect organizational productivity and performance.

Consider these examples:

  • Stanley is an extroverted, dedicated employee who makes the time to lend a helping hand to his colleagues.  During his 360° performance review, he is shocked to learn that his coworkers said that he was difficult to work with and actually prevented them from doing their own work.
  • Samantha is a highly creative employee to whom colleagues frequently turn when “stuck” on problems that require outside the box thinking.  As a key partner in the development of a new program, she is startled to discover that her coworkers “forgot” to mention her as a crucial part of the development team when they were interviewed for an article.

How would you respond in these situations?

Stanley chose to become more “cool” or aloof in his interactions with the coworkers who he believed “threw him under the bus” – a behavior that is incongruent with what he believes is required to have a productive workplace.

In contrast, Samantha decided to begin asking for the recognition that she deserves – but fears that she will be labeled as “difficult” and not a “team player.”

In both instances, the employees were surprised by the action or inaction of their team members.  According to them, they had “no warning” that anything was wrong with their relationships.  They felt confused, angry, and betrayed.

They also believed that the best way to respond was to change their behaviors in order to better navigate the politics within their workplaces.

But perhaps more importantly, both workers changed their perceptions about the nature of their work environments.  In fact, both are considering leaving their companies.

The question, of course, is:  could these situations have been averted if all team members “played nice?”

Puleo’s Pointers:  How to “Play Nice” at Work

Even though a worker believes in sharing resources, respecting differences, and lending a hand, it is impossible to “play nice” in a vacuum.  A workplace in which all employees “play nice” requires a culture of trust.

To “play nice” in a corporate culture where workers don’t believe that their colleagues consider others’ best interests would be masochistic.  Adults will never “play nice” when “playing nice” ultimately hurts them professionally and emotionally.

  • If you want employees to “play nice” at work, then you need to establish an organizational foundation built on respect, transparency, leadership, support, and empathy.
  • Recruitment, selection, retention, performance appraisals, and development practices should be based upon and incorporate these fundamental values.
  • Corporate managers and senior leaders must also be appraised on whether their actions support or undermine a culture of trust.
  • “Playing nice” does not mean that there will be no disagreements between employees – accept that they are inevitable.  Remember:  it’s not the number of disagreements that indicates whether trust exists in an organization; rather it’s how you as a manager and/or an employee respond to conflict that reveals whether the culture is trusting or distrustful.

“Playing nice” is not an admonishment that should be given solely to children.  Given today’s chaotic, high stress workplaces, it may be the only way to achieve the natural synergies, enthusiasm, and innovation that result from people trusting each other.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

Paradigm Shifter #45: When someone shows you who they are, believe them!

Paradigm ShiftWhy do so many people’s actions take us off guard?  Why then do we hit ourselves on the head and ask, “How could I not have seen this coming?!?!”

We’ve all had situations where we’ve met someone and their actions or words initially surprised us.  The problem is that most of us tend to give others the “benefit of the doubt.”  We downplay our surprise at others’ words or actions through rationalization.

For example:

  • Lying:  “He told me that he’s a very honest person, but he also admitted that sometimes you’ve got to lie to get the job done; I’m sure that I won’t be one of the people he’d lie to…”
  • Incompetence:  “He wasn’t fully prepared for our meeting, but I guess that’s because he was busy with other clients; I’m sure that once I hire him, he’ll have more of an incentive to really work for me…”
  • Experience:  “He assured me that he has over 20 years experience and has won a lot of awards in his field; I wonder why he didn’t recommend any solutions to my problems and just offered to do whatever I told him to do…”
  • Inexperience:  “He said that he wasn’t really knowledgeable about my problem, but that he would work hard with me to solve it; I wonder why he didn’t do any of the preliminary research before our first meeting…”

Do any of these situations sound familiar?  Have you (like I have often done in the past) disregarded the disconnect when something just didn’t add up?  When you noticed the incongruity between words and actions, did you keep that in mind as you moved forward in the relationship?

I’ve talked about this issue before in Paradigm Shifters #30 – Believe what people do, not what they say.  Unfortunately, there seems to be an increase in the degree of disconnect between someone’s words, expressed priorities, and actions.  Trying to determine the cause is beyond the scope of this paradigm shifter; instead we need to focus on how we can best respond to these disconnects.

The burning question that must be addressed is:  “Is this person intentionally trying to deceive me OR does he/she really believe what it is that they are saying??  In other words, are they aware of the disconnect between their words and actions?

I admit that I tend to give the benefit of the doubt, so I believe that many people are unaware.  However, I have also learned to notice this disconnect and to refer back to it when interpreting events and situations in that relationship.

Disconnects between words and actions don’t exist when people are living authentically.

If someone is living authentically, then there a strong foundation built on core values that underline everything that he or she does.  These values are obvious.  We can see them in their actions.  And whether we agree with these values or not, we understand who that person is.

Whenever there is a disconnect between words and actions, we need to make conscious decisions in determining how to proceed:

#1:  Notice your feelings of surprise or confusion.  It’s not what people say that they’re going to do that matters; it truly is what they do that matters.

#2:  Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification – repeatedly.  If they are intentionally trying to deceive you, you’ll notice fidgeting and squirming – watch their body language.  Also watch their eyes:  if they can’t look at you, then they might be hiding something.  However, if they’re really good at deception, repeatedly ask for clarification until YOU are fully satisfied; we often quit asking questions if we believe that we are making the other person too “uncomfortable.”

#3:  Don’t forget your initial feelings as you move forward in the relationship.  Ironically, people tend to be the most forthcoming about who they are when you first meet them.  If their words or actions gave you pause, don’t just “pooh-pooh” your instincts.  Respect those instincts – they are often insights working more on the subconscious level that haven’t fully filtered up into conscious levels of critical thinking.

#4:  You have a choice in how (and if) the relationship progresses.  There is no need to get in heated arguments if the disconnect continues.  After all, you noticed the disconnect previously so you also play a role in how the relationship evolves.  What you decide to do often depends on the degree of the disconnect AND the importance of those underlying values to you.

People are the foundation of any relationship – whether it’s personal or professional.  Even in the age of B2B (business to business) marketing, we still have to create trusting relationships with the employees who represent the companies with whom we do business.

Trust your instincts, ask for clarification and proof, and, above all, believe people when they show you who they really are.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

Have We Lost the Ability to Say “NO” at Work?

say-no limited timeOne of the biggest challenges in the modern workplace is work overload.  Too much to do, too little time, not enough resources, not enough energy!

Stress management techniques wisely advise that we need to take back our ability to say “no” when we recognize that we cannot do all that is expected of us.

Tell that to your boss and watch what happens.

We humans have limited supplies of time and energy.  When we have exhausted these reserves, then our interest in related projects also eventually depletes.  We may know this intuitively, but the modern workplace practically demands that we ignore our human limitations and continue to take on more work – or face the consequences.

Throughout my blog posts, I have consistently called for a re-emergence of humanism to find a new (and better) way to work in the modern workplace.  Throughout my career, I have consulted with and coached clients who are frustrated, angry, burned out, and underperforming.  The common thread is the inability, unwillingness, or fear of saying “no.”

Like many of us, I can remember as a young girl that saying “no” to my parents resulted in some form of punishment – or at least “the look” and a very strong reprimand.  Old habits die hard, so I shouldn’t be surprised when we continue to avoid saying “no” in order to avoid displeasing the people in our professional lives.

Although we are not put in “time out” at work, saying “no” to our bosses can lead to some form of direct or indirect reprimand.  Consider what saying “no” to a new assignment can mean to our jobs and careers:

  • We are not viewed as “team players.”
  • Our loyalty to the company is questioned.
  • We are being insubordinate to our bosses – which will not be forgotten in our annual performance reviews.
  • We are being “difficult.”

The tragedy is that saying “yes” to others (especially when we don’t really want to) actually undermines our current and future relationships with that person or organization.  In addition, we are much more likely to experience the negative effects of cognitive dissonance:  we are acting in a way that contradicts how we really feel.  This leads to anger, resentment, and burnout.

Why Saying “No” Can Be a Good Thing

Although saying “no” was grounds for punishment as a child, we are no longer children but adults whose contributions are critical in order for our companies to excel.

So how can saying “no” to an assignment actually be a good thing?

  • Saying “no” can indicate a significant lack of resources that will eventually undermine the success of the assignment.
  • Saying “no” can reinforce the need to better delegate the workload or increase staffing (temporarily or permanently).
  • Saying “no” can benefit customers by keeping their expectations realistic and then delivering on those expectations.
  • Saying “no” can protect the company from litigation arising from illegal actions by employees.
  • Saying “no” (and having that “no” accepted by management) can increase employee commitment and engagement because we are being heard and respected.
  • Finally, saying “no” can protect the organization from negative “group think” and open the door to future innovation and creative solutions.

Unfortunately, many companies view an employee’s “no” as a sign of disrespect, insubordination, and grounds for future discipline – including termination.

But the fear of saying “no” ultimately does nothing to support the health of either the organization or the individual worker.  Not standing up for something that you believe is wrong ensures that the unrealistic demands, disrespectful treatment, and stressful workplace will continue – for you and others.

How to Say “No” at Work

Learning to say “no” can be a challenge for many workers – as equally challenging as learning how to accept a subordinate’s “no.”

How do you create an environment in which an employee’s “no” is viewed positively?

First, always consider Mehrabian’s three channels for effective interpersonal communication:  55% of meaning comes from nonverbal cues, 38% from tone of voice, and only 7% from the words themselves.  Be sure that all three are in alignment.  In other words, don’t say “no” using a hostile tone or defensive mannerisms.

Second, provide a brief rationale for your “no.” Be sure to include a logical reason why you are refusing the request and the potential benefit to the person making that request.  For example, be clear that taking on the new assignment will undermine your ability to successfully meet the deadline for another important assignment.

Third, offer another option to get the work done.  This may include recommending that the assignment be divided among several employees who are experts in their individual project areas so that the increased workload does not become unmanageable for any one individual.

Fourth, don’t say “no” late in the game.  If the project’s due date is near and you had previously agreed to the deliverable due dates, don’t “suddenly” announce that you can’t finish it.  Keep all stakeholders apprised of progress and don’t be afraid to ask for help if there is any indication that the due date might not be met.  It is better to modify plans, rather than never complete them.

Saying “no” at work is hard and many of our past experiences have supported our belief that we should never say “no” at work.  But when we can’t say “no,” we feel out of control – which is a primary factor in the debilitating downward spiral toward burnout.

Learning to say “no” can be very empowering.  It can enhance our professional relationships as well as increase the levels of mutual respect.  Most importantly, it can be the first step in creating a new, more humane, and more productive way to work. Saying “no” to one thing can be the first step to saying “yes” to something much better.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

Fear, Change, and Life-Long Learning

Learning

Can we ever stop learning?  Most people would agree that we are constantly learning new things about ourselves, our environment, other people, as well as what works and what doesn’t.

But how many times have you attended a mandatory training session – and been bored to tears?

Or how many times have you been “forced” to learn a new method to complete a task that required you to “forget” everything that you used to do?

In the 25+ years that I have been a trainer, facilitator, and keynote speaker, I have often been surprised that many of the participants really didn’t want to be there.  Some displayed this through a lack of interaction.  Others simply looked down and were absorbed with their smart phones.  Many adopted a “wait and see” attitude as to the value of the information.  Still others were blatantly hostile and combative to any new ideas that were presented.

Sadly, a not large enough percentage approached the training as something enjoyable, informative, and applicable to their daily tasks, duties, and responsibilities.

Of course, it is and always has been my duty and responsibility to engage the audience by answering the fundamental question that underscores all learning:  “WIIFM (or what’s in it for me)?”

Fortunately, I’ve been pretty successful in giving the audience something that they could actually use.  I admit that (thankfully) not all people have been resistant to learning something new.

But I can’t help but wonder what past experiences jaded many attendees to fully embrace new ideas in the form of life-long learning?

In corporations, a large percentage of training is required to meet regulatory compliance (e.g., sexual harssment, ethics, EEO, etc.).  However, much of the other corporate-sponsored training often focuses on building key employee competencies to successfully compete in their markets.

Such “competency-based performance models” are the new rage in business.  “Competencies” indicate a high level of mastery or expertise in key areas of knowledge, skills, abilities, and behaviors which are then used to create a competitive advantage for the company.  In other words, it’s the stuff that you’re really good at.

But, identifying those competencies is a lot easier said than done.

Whether or not the competencies identified by seniors leaders are actually the “real” core competencies for the company, the corresponding training always focuses on changing the tools, methods, and even reporting relationships that employees use to do their jobs.

How Fear Affects the Passion to Learn

Changing the way that you work is based on a changing organizational foundation.  And that’s scary for most workers.

Perhaps most frightening is “un-learning” things that have led to success in the past.  Can we be just as good at the new way of doing something as we were in doing it the old way?

Another challenge occurs when managers don’t reinfoce the training back in the workplace – particularly if the company follows a “new is always better” approach.  This occurs when company leaders are constantly changing the way that things are done…but without a sound explanation for employees as to why.

Is it any wonder that employees are reluctant to put forth the effort to learn something new when the past has proven that it will just be replaced with something even newer a few months down the road?

Adults are not children and they have very different learning needs than children:

  • Adult learners already have insights, opinions, and assumptions about what works and what doesn’t – so we are less likely to accept new approaches at face value.
  • Adult learners are often subject matter experts in our fields – so we want our opinions to be heard and shared.
  • Finally, adult learners are busy – so if we are going to spend time in training (and not on something else), we want to make sure that we will be able to actually use these insights back on the job.

Change and the Learning Organization

We live in an age of constant, unrelenting change.  In the book, The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge encouraged companies to embrace life-long learning across all functional and hierarchical levels.  In a world that is constantly changing, the only way to adapt is by being open to learning new ways to approach both new and old problems.

Notice that “learning” corresponds with “change.”  Given the high degree of change resistance in many organizations, it is not surprising that these fears will be most noticeable in employee reactions to training and development.

  • Ego plays an important role in the unwillingness to abandon old beliefs and replace them with something which is currently unknown.
  • Economic realities threaten our feelings of security when we aren’t initially “good” at something new because we fear that we are now “replaceable” in the organization.
  • In today’s time-strapped workplace, there is often an expedited learning curve that just isn’t conducive to learning and then implementing higher level, complex ideas.  It’s just easier to continue to do things the old way.
  • Information overload is a genuine problem affecting worker productivity and organizational performance.  Exhaustion and fatigue coupled with misguided attempts to multitask cause us to shut down to new ideas.  There is simply too much to learn and do.  We are overwhelmed.

Learning inherently questions the status quo in order to create something that is more efficient, effective, and powerful.  This is a double-edged sword for many senior organizational leaders.  An informed workforce is like the child who isn’t afraid to say that the emperor isn’t actually wearing any new clothes:  employees can and will challenge organizational leaders and the decisions that they make.

Moving toward a commitment to life-long learning is therefore a major paradigm shift for both the organization as a whole and the individual workers within it.  But fearing new ideas and stubbornly refusing to at least try them is a prescription for failure in a constantly changing world.

Puleo’s Pointers:  Don’t extinguish the flame

As humans, we are hardwired to want to understand and know more about ourselves and our environments.  Many times we will fail in our first attempts to try something new – but that shouldn’t prevent us from continuing to move forward.  This is perhaps the greatest advice from Senge’s Fifth Discipline:  failure is nothing more than an opportunity to learn.

Once the fire for learning has been lit, we humans tend to continue to stoke the flames:

“Knowledge always desires increase; it is like fire, which must first be kindled by some external agent, but which will afterwards propagate itself.” (Samuel Johnson)

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

Paradigm Shifter #30: Believe what people do (not what they say)

Paradigm Shift

We’ve all heard the old adage, “Actions speak louder than words.”  However, I’ve found that many of us prefer to believe what people say, rather than what they actually do – depending upon our perceptions of the current or potential relationship with them.  (See Paradigm Shifter #52:  There is no such thing as reality, only perception.)

Consider the words used to “sell” both the candidate and the job in the typical hiring process:

  • The traditional job interview is a cauldron of self-serving words used by both the job candidate and the company to create an image of the future employment relationship.  This is because the interview is essentially a sales opportunity:  the candidate extols their benefits to the employer and the employer makes the job sufficiently attractive to entice a qualified candidate to accept the job offer.
  • Job candidates are coached to craft answers to common interview questions in a way that places the most positive “spin” on their KSAs (knowledge, skills, and abilities) as well as the scope of their experience.  The extent of that “spin” ranges from conscious omissions of certain facts to outright lies about credentials.
  • Skilled recruiters and desperate hiring managers may enhance the “reality” of the job’s responsibilities, work environment, and political environment (often saying that there are no politics in their workplaces!).  Too many candidates accept this description as accurate – but many workers have experienced this “bait and switch” when the actual job was significantly different from what had been “promised” in the interview.

Deciding what’s “real” and what’s merely “spin” is, therefore, a challenge for both the company and the candidate.  Internet searches, background checks, in box exercises, role playing, and assessment centers are increasingly used to determine if what both the candidate and employer say is true.

Once hired, the decisions relating to whether to believe coworkers’ words or actions continue.

  • Both managers and coworkers complain when employees agree to certain project timelines or standards then fail to meet them.  Depending on our perceptions of both the situation and the employee, their reasons (or words) might be ignored in light of the results (or actions) OR exceptions for the lack of results might be granted if their reasons are perceived as “sufficiently compelling.”

Warning!  These personal relationships can lead to charges of bias or discriminatory practices when we accept excuses from one employee, but are inflexible with another – particularly if he or she is a member of a protected class.  Rationalization for these differences varies from justifiable patterns of past behaviors to intentional or unintentional discrimination.

The Continuum of Whether to Believe Words vs. Actions

The decision to rely on either words or actions depends upon numerous factors:  the level of authority vis-à-vis the employee, the effects that his or her actions have on our own productivity and success, as well as the quality and history of our personal relationship.

The extent to which we believe words vs. actions lies on a continuum.  On one end is the belief that all people lie, so you can’t trust anything that they say; this is abject cynicism.   Conversely, blindly believing anything that anyone tells us is dangerous naiveté.  Perceptions on either end of this continuum fail to build teamwork, trust, and productivity in the workplace.

Fortunately, most people are somewhere in the middle.  The critical factor in determining where we fall on this continuum is experience over time.  Our past experiences with others will generally be the framework for deciding whether to believe a new worker’s words or wait to see their actions.  In established relationships (manager/subordinate or coworker/coworker), past actions will generally be relied on as the “truth” in future situations.

Our actions reflect our priorities – even if they contradict what we say.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: