In the midst of chaos and uncertainty, an effective strategy for staying resilient is to focus on your purpose. Why?

Your purpose is your internal compass. It defines the direction in which you would like to see your career and life move. It gives you a framework in which to make choices that lead you to your best career fit. Purpose also gives meaning to your life and provides a sense of stability and continuity in changing circumstances; in other words, it boosts your resilience and prevents burnout. I have observed that my clients who have the highest career satisfaction and engagement levels know their purpose.

Purpose is not just about career satisfaction:

So, what is purpose? Think of your purpose as the contribution you want to make to the world. You can begin exploring your purpose by answering these questions:

As you determine the direction of your life going forward, let your purpose provide a sense of stability and continuity, even in changing circumstances.

By Beth Benatti Kennedy, Leadership Coach and Pathwise advisor

For more on careers and leadership, visit the rest of pathwise.io

By Beth Benatti Kennedy, MS, LMFT

One of the first things I do with new leadership coaching clients is check on their well-being. I ask them about their overall health, their energy level, and how they manage stress. I also ask them about those things that nourish the spirit: finding occasions to laugh, celebrate, and have fun; letting yourself be awed by the world around you; or losing yourself in fulfilling activities.

Whoever said laughter is the best medicine knew what they were talking about because laughter sends mood-lifting chemicals to your brain. Even if you don’t have the gift of being naturally funny (I don’t!), you can keep laughter in your life by hanging out with friends who make you laugh or watching a funny movie or TV show. Notice how much more relaxed and recharged you feel after you’ve had a good laugh!

 Celebration doesn’t have to be saved for a major occasion! I have a tradition of putting confetti in every card I send. It’s my way of reminding others to celebrate the positive events in their lives, and it makes me smile, too. This approach extends to the work environment too. You don’t have to celebrate every positive email, but if you or your team reaches a project milestone or achieves a goal, take time to acknowledge that. If you can, get out of the office for a sit-down lunch or have an ice-cream party on-site. I have coached many leaders and managers and have learned that celebrating team successes generates team resilience, which keeps teams functioning well, even when work is chaotic and stressful.

Having fun at work is another way to recharge. By fun, I mean finding something to enjoy in your workday. This could be going out to lunch once in a while with a colleague, or meeting someone for coffee and catching up. An activity that generates fun for some of my clients is participating in a departmental volunteer activity, such as spending an afternoon sorting and packing food at a local food bank. If you travel for business, and are able to add a day or two of personal time, create some fun by taking the opportunity to play tourist at your destination rather than spending all your time in airports, hotels, and conference rooms.

To refresh your spirit, put yourself in the way of awe experiences. Dacher Keltner, a psychologist who heads the University of California, Berkley’s Social Interaction Laboratory, defines awe as “the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your understanding of the world.” Awe experiences aren’t only available on exotic vacations in stunning locations—they can be triggered by being outdoors, attending live performances of music or theater, or simply observing the beauty of a city street with a fresh dusting of snow.

Flow activities are another way to generate mental and physical energy. Flow activities are those in which you can become totally absorbed, to the point that you often lose track of time. These activities can help you maintain a positive mindset, enhance your performance at work, and even mitigate burnout. I have asked my coaching clients what some of their flow activities are and the list includes playing a musical instrument, writing, painting, gardening, martial arts, swimming, and reading a good book.

Nourish your spirit as well as your body!

 

Check out all of our career-oriented content at pathwise.io

Beth Benatti Kennedy brings more than twenty years of experience to her role as a leadership and executive coach, resiliency-training expert, and speaker. Her Benatti Resiliency Model has helped thousands of people develop the resilience to adapt to changing career circumstances, remain productive and engaged, and find greater life and career satisfaction.

In addition to dynamic programs, Ms. Kennedy has presented her Benatti Resiliency Model at diverse professional conferences and symposiums across the globe. Participants praise the interactive nature of her presentation and leave with strategies to set their career recharge in motion.

She is the author of Career ReCharge: Five Strategies to Boost Resilience and Beat Burnout, which continues her mission of recharging individuals in their careers and lives so they have the energy needed for today’s world.

Beth is a certified Leadership Coach Academy Talent Management / Leadership Coach, and a certified Linkage Inc. Leadership Coach. She holds certifications as a 360Reach Analyst and in the Leadership Circle Profile. Her expertise includes being qualified to administer the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® instrument, TypeCoach resources, Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, the Lominger Leadership Architect®, and the ARSENAL™ Assessment.

Beth holds a BS from Bethany College, West Virginia, an MS in Human Resource Counseling from Northeastern University, Boston, and a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies in Marriage & Family Therapy from the University of Massachusetts at Boston.

Sharing your voice is easier said than done, particularly in work settings. When you work on the front line of a company or even somewhere in the middle, it’s easy to believe that your voice doesn’t matter, particularly in larger organizations. It’s all too easy to think to yourself:

Sharing Your Voice: Why It's Important

The reality, however, is that high-performing organizations must have two-way information flow, both up and down. In addition to the typical types of formal upward communication – reporting, presentations, management information, dashboards, and the like – senior managers depend on informal upward communication as well. And it can’t just come from their direct reports. It needs to come from all levels, and in some cases all functions, of the organization.

Such informal feedback can come through a chance encounter in the elevator or the cafeteria or even the bathroom. It can come during a small group Q&A session. It can come in the bar after work. Or it can come when a junior person walks up to a senior person’s desk or into their office and offers to share their views.

The very best senior leaders are active cultivators of informal feedback. They make themselves available. They hold town halls or smaller group meetings. They walk the floor. They attend company social gatherings. They engender trust by being approachable and being good listeners. They almost always have very good organizational antennae.

Most other senior leaders do only some of these things. It’s not because they don’t want the feedback. They do. It’s just that they haven’t yet mastered the many ways to cultivate it. Don’t hold that against them, and don’t assume that it means they’re not interested in your views. They are. But they’re often busy or focused on other topics or thinking about getting home to a family events at the end of the day or any one of many other things that might detract from their feedback gathering.

Still, one of the biggest frustrations of a senior leader is when they make an effort to seek feedback and don’t get any. No one asks a question in town hall, or they don’t share their views when asked in a meeting. In these situations, the senior leader is left to wonder, “Am I just saying or doing everything right?” (which they rarely are – we’re all human, after all). More likely, they’re saying to themselves, “Do these people just not care?”. Is that the impression you want to leave a senior person? Probably not.

Sharing Your Voice: Why It's Hard

To be fair, some senior leaders really don’t want your feedback. They’re threatened by criticism. Or they don’t want their proposal or view of a situation to be countered. Or they’re aware of the issues but are tuning them out because they don’t know what to do about them. Or they know they’re on their way our or to another role and are just ignoring them. It’s even possible that the broader company culture is averse to informal upward feedback.

All of these are bad situations, and you really don’t want to work for these kinds of leaders or in these kinds of companies. If you do, you should probably be considering your options, because sooner or later, this type of behavior will catch up with the senior leader and possibly with the company overall.

Some leaders will have a negative reaction to bad news in the moment, but later truly internalize the feedback you have shared. While not ideal, this outcome is at least better than willfully ignoring feedback.

Sharing Your Voice: 7 Easy Steps

By being willing to share your voice, you multiply your impact and make yourself more valuable to your team and organization. How do you do it? Here are seven suggestions:

  1. Make sure you understand your company’s strategy and how you fit into it. Read the company’s Annual Report. Listen to earnings calls or Analyst Day presentations, if you work for a public company. See how the company positions itself in its marketing materials, such as on the corporate website. Know who the competition is. Attend industry events.All of these are ways to help you develop an understanding of the company’s strategy. Then get clear on where you fit in. What part of the strategy are you supporting? What do you personally need to do to help the company be successful in that area? How will that success be measured? It’s essential that you understand your company’s purpose and your own purpose in the company. It will help you put context around your point of view. And as an added bonus, it will likely help you get up in the morning more excited about going to work each day.
  1. Develop your own view on how it’s going. Put yourself in your boss’ shoes, or their boss’ shoes, or the CEO’s shoes. This is what companies mean when they say they want you to, “Act like an owner.” What do you think is going well and not so well? What would you be doing differently if you were in charge? What does your division or your team or even what do you need to do to make that happen? What’s getting in the way of that? Funding, resourcing, time, something else? Applying your own critical thinking to the situation will make you more valuable in your day-to-day work and more prepared for that informal upward feedback opportunity.
  1. Take advantage of opportunities to get noticed. Attend Town Halls and ask questions. Offer to work on special projects. Participate in company social or volunteer events. Introduce yourself to the senior leaders. Tell them what you do, who you work for, how long you’ve worked for the company, etc. In other words, help them get to know you. You may leave it at that the first few times you interact with them, but over time, you’re likely to get more comfortable around them, and they’ll also be getting to know you better. That puts you in an excellent position to share your views when the time or need arises.
  1. If you have concerns or questions, ask. Staying silent is the worst thing you can do. Consulting firm McKinsey & Company refers to the "obligation to dissent", i.e., the notion that even the most junior staff member has not just a right but an obligation to raise differences with the most senior person. Why? You may legitimately see the situation in a different light than others. You may have unique experience on which you can draw. You almost certainly have more specific facts than the senior leader, particularly if they’re related to what you do every day. You may just be curious about something that hasn’t been discussed. Whatever the basis, be willing to share your concerns and ask your questions. Senior leaders are desperate for this kind of intelligence.
  1. Be thoughtful about time and place. Everyone responds to feedback differently in different situations. Sometimes a matter requires urgent attention, whether the senior leader is ready to hear it or not. But most of the time, what you have to share can wait for an opportune moment. Manufacture those moments if needed, but be strategic about when and how you share your thoughts.
  1. Focus on the “we”. Get rid of any “us / them” or victim’s mentality in your mindset. View yourself as contributing to your company’s success, because you do. Your perspectives will be taken much more seriously if the senior leader to whom you’re speaking feels like you want to be part of the solution as opposed to just complaining or pointing out all the problems.
  1. Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t go exactly as you’d hoped. Sometimes you don’t say something out loud the way you’d planned it in your head. Sometimes, you may be unaware of a key piece of information that detracts from your point of view. Sometimes you may catch the senior leader at the wrong moment, even if your thoughtful about picking that moment. No matter what the cause, these situations are going to happen. They’ve happened to all of us, and the vast majority of senior leaders won’t hold such situations against you if you were polite and thoughtful about your feedback. They’ll be grateful (and probably impressed) if they see that you are trying to see things from their perspective or the company’s perspective, or if you demonstrate an understanding of the competitive or industry dynamics. They’ll definitely be impressed if you convey your thoughts using  well-formed logic At the very least, they’ll know you cared enough to speak your opinion, and that can be nothing but positive for you.

Finding your voice will undoubtedly make you a more valuable employee and multiply your impact. So tune out those feelings of fear and self-doubt, and get to it.

Check out our other career guidance at PathWise.io

By Becca Carnahan and Heather Wilkerson

You’re all tucked in, trying to get to bed early for that elusive eight hours of sleep and your eyes pop open. 

“What’s my purpose?”

It’s a question we would all like to answer because knowing that answer could truly change your life. Yet often the enormity of it can overwhelm us to the point of inaction.  

What if you could break down the question of “what’s my purpose?” into a workable process that helps you integrate your whole life, combining career goals, personal dreams, and values?  At Pathwise we have pulled insights from great thinkers and resources from our experienced career coaches to help you do just that. Our goal? Help you create a more meaningful and fulfilling career path. 

What is purpose?

Before answering the question, it’s critical to know what we mean by purpose. Your life purpose consists of the central motivating aims of your life—the reasons you get up in the morning. 

A workable definition was proposed by Chris Myers in Forbes after exploring the Japanese philosophy on life purpose called Ikigai. “It is a lifestyle that strives to balance the spiritual... and the practical and the balance is found at the intersection where your passions and talents converge with the things that the world needs and is willing to pay for''.  

Purpose can guide your life decisions, influence your behavior, and shape your life and career goals. It builds a sense of direction and creates meaning in your everyday endeavors. Often people find they return to this question of “What is my purpose?” when they are feeling stuck in a position, relationship, or career field, or they realize there is a lack of simple joy in their lives.

Why is purpose important?

For some of you who prefer very practical decision making and shy away from incorporating your  “whole self”  into your profession, it is easy to ignore the idea of life purpose when making career decisions.  However, there is research that validates the importance of honoring life purpose. 

One 2008 study found that those who see meaning and purpose in their lives are able to tell a story of change and growth. A second study conducted by the Institute of Coaching indicated that a connection to purpose in life was positively associated with self-image and negatively associated with delinquency.  

In addition, many anecdotal stories and articles highlight the benefit of having a tuning fork that lets you know you are on the right track.  It provides us with clarity and builds your personal power to own your choices and take back control of your decisions.  PathWise's Career Coaches agree, most clients report a higher level of joy when identifying a clear life purpose. 

What if you ignore it?

Many people ignore feelings of restlessness, aimlessness.  What’s the big deal?  It’s just a job right?  

However, without this exploration process life often feels like a struggle.  A career lacking connection to values, motivators, and strengths has proven to be  “de-energizing” and can lead to depression.  In extreme cases, people experience feelings of victimhood and sometimes sabotage their current careers.  

The bottom line indicates that uncovering and connecting with life purpose not only leads to more joy but that it is the underpinnings of a satisfying career.  Whether looking for a career to provide you with the complete fulfillment of your life purpose or to provide the means for achieving success, life purpose helps you choose an environment congruent with your values, where you can thrive and tap into your natural strengths.  

How to find your purpose

What do I really want in life?  What makes me happy? What makes me fulfilled?  

These big questions can be broken into some practical steps and combined with experiential learning.

Exercises and Tools

In an interview with Brene Brown, Maya Shankar, the once child prodigy violinist and current cognitive psychologist, shared her view on uncovering your real motivators. 

“It’s much more sustainable to attach my identity to the features of pursuits that light me up and make me tick, rather than a very specific activity or thing.”  Uncovering your motivators, values, and joy-providing skills open up worlds of career possibilities.  There are several exercises you can use to help shine a light on these hidden gems.  

Start with visualizing a few scenarios.  Here are a few examples:

Storytelling: 

There are several ways to use storytelling to work towards finding your purpose.

  1. Use everyday occurrences to find meaning in the changes you are going through. Noticing what resonates with the story, the everyday events will hone your tuning fork and over time, it will provide more clarity.
  1. Think about your ideal career and write your story of what you want the future to hold, not what you are afraid it will hold. 
  1. Tell your past from the lens of all the signs that point towards your strengths, your successes.  Take advantage of whatever life sends your way to revise, or at least reconsider, your story. 

This is the beginning of clarifying your values, your motivators, and eventually your purpose.  For a deeper dive into your values, uncovering your motivators and vision check out the assessment section in Pathwise. 

Make it Real and Actionable

Create your personal branding narrative based on your new self-awareness.  What are the strengths you want to capitalize on, values you need to honor?  

Then set short-term actionable goals by testing out some scenarios.  Herminia Ibarra in her book Working Identity says  “We rarely think our way into a new way of acting. Rather, we act our way into new ways of thinking — and being.” Start with goals that allow you to explore the future.  Create a list of possible career steps that give you a chance to move in the right direction.  

With these short-term goals in mind, start making small changes. James Clear in Atomic Habits suggests it is better to start with small incremental steps instead of making a huge change.  This allows you to test the waters.  Instead of dumping your whole career can you start a side gig? Can you join a committee that is more in line with your values or your possible new career?  Is there a hobby you can explore that is closer to this role?  It is hard to know if as an accountant we would be happy switching to a career in physical therapy.  No amount of thinking about it will really help you know.  But what if you take a day and shadow a PT, interview several PT’s or volunteer for a sports team?  

 “Almost no one gets change right on the first try. Forget about moving in a straight line. You will probably have to cycle through a few times, letting what you learn inform the next cycle.”  

Your career when aligned with your Life Purpose

Connecting to a life purpose provides some clarity for making hard career and life choices.  Following the direction you’ve identified, even if it is a hard choice, will be easier if it resonates with your values, motivators, and life vision. 

Aligning your career with your life purpose may also require advocating for yourself In order to honor who you are and your vision.  Use the information you’ve gathered about your life purpose to craft ideal positions, volunteer for committees that are more in line with your new path, and hone your innate strengths into strong skills that support your success.  Advocating for yourself may not come easily, but it’s a necessary step to make a change.

Ikigai reminds us that everything is connected - life and work.  By focusing on your purpose you have an avenue to find joy and fulfillment in the everyday, including your career.  Exploring life’s purpose and intertwining it within all aspects of your life is not a small endeavor.  If you want to explore more in-depth and take a deeper dive into uncovering your values and strengths, defining your life purpose, and writing a new career story, reach out to us at PathWise.  

Resources

Berkeley University. How to Find Your Purpose in Life

Chris Meyers. How To Find Your Ikigai And Transform Your Outlook On Life And Business. Forbes

Herminia Ibarra. Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career

James Clear. Atomic Habits

Greg Levoy. Callings 

Asking the right questions is a skill that will allow you to really stand out. You don't need to - nor will you ever - have all the right answers. So focus on having the right questions instead. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,  Stephen Covey argues that you should “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Covey’s point is that you should listen before you speak, and let’s face it, some of us could benefit from talking less and listening more. This is true not just of friends and family members, but of some co-workers as well. They drown out their work colleagues (and likely their families at home), and they usually don’t listen well because they’re usually too busy thinking ahead to the next thing they want to say. They may think that they’re exhibiting strength and leadership, but in actuality, they’re rendering themselves less influential and therefore less effective.

Covey may have trademarked the specific language of his habit, but he certainly wasn’t the first to emphasize the importance of listening. Greek philosopher Epicetus said almost 2000 years ago, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Apparently even the ancient Greeks had to contend with blow-hards.

A close corollary to “listen before you speak” is to “ask before you tell”, and that’s if you should be “telling” at all. In coaching and mentoring (as well as many therapy techniques), one of the “golden rules” is to avoid telling the coachee / mentee what to do. That’s much easier said than done. For the coach or mentor, it often feels like it would just be so much more efficient to give advice, but doing so defeats the purpose of the coaching / mentoring process. For the coachee or mentee, it can be equally maddening, as they often want the other person to just tell them what they should do. To an extent, being advised or told what to do has the effect of letting the coachee off the hook in terms of the action taken – if it goes poorly, the coach is to blame, rather than the coachee.

In Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) Forums and similar groups of peers, they take a somewhat different but similarly aimed approach. When one of the group members is presenting a situation with which they want help, everyone else in the group shares a relevant experience. They’re not allowed to (or certainly not supposed to) give advice. It’s a simple but powerful rule that has made YPO’s Forum hugely popular among its members.

While coaching and peer forums take different tacks, both are designed to enable self-discovery by the person who is being coached or who is presenting their situation. Self-discovery is a much more powerful and enduring learning mechanism. The light goes on in the coachee’s head, so to speak, and they’re left with a stronger sense of self-understanding as a consequence. For the coach, the objective is to lead the coachee through this process of self-discovery, through a mix of asking questions and providing for periods of silence. Those moments of silence can feel really uncomfortable – for both parties involved – but they play a key role in self-discovery and self-understanding.

In work and in life, the ability to ask the right questions is a real skill. We’ve always considered it high praise when someone is viewed as asking really good questions. Lean and Six Sigma – both still immensely popular in the working world – have institutionalized an approach for asking the right questions through a root cause analysis practice called the 5 Why’s, where the idea is to ask why something happened, and then let the answer drive a subsequent “why” question until the root cause is uncovered. Even if you don’t take such a dogmatic approach, it’s a good rule-of-thumb to focus on asking open-ended questions. As any parent of teenagers can confirm, you rarely get far by asking questions that allow your teenager to give one-word answers. Unless you’re a police officer conducting an interrogation or a trial lawyer questioning a hostile witness, you should generally avoid “yes / no” and similarly closed ended questions.

Former Harvard Graduate School of Education Dean James Ryan gave a commencement speech on questions several years ago that quickly went viral. Eventually he developed his speech into a book called, Wait, What? that lays out five questions that will unlock almost any work or life situation. It’s a quick read and worth checking out.

Learning how to listen more than you speak is easier, in relative terms, for the shy and the introverted, and harder for the extroverts.  This often contributes significantly to the effectiveness of introverts. When they speak, those around them listen more actively, because they tend to speak less. For the extroverts, constant practice is often required to create the periods of silence and to ask the questions that tend to draw others out and not just fill the room (or the Zoom) with the sound of their own voice.

Practicing this skill is especially important for those of us in more senior roles, as a leader has the potential to kill any chance at an open, honest discussion by speaking too early or too frequently, dismissing an idea, or cutting off a line of discussion. In such situations, you can often visibly see others involved shut down and stay silent for the rest of the meeting, just waiting for it to end since they’ve decided that “the boss has spoken.” They often leave the meeting feeling unheard and uninspired. While in most work situations, this is non-ideal, in other cases, this outcome can be lethal. One oft-cited example is in airline accidents, where co-pilots (if they survive the accident) would sometimes admit to having seen the problem but being reluctant to question the pilot’s authority and expertise. Training across the industry now specifically addresses this risk, and it has been shown to reduce accident rates.

While most of us don’t work in industries where listening is a “life or death” matter, being a good listener and asking the right questions certainly makes an individual more effective.  As a suggested practice, when you leave a meeting or a 1x1 discussion, ask yourself these questions:

Use these questions as a guide, and they’ll undoubtedly help you be a more effective coach, mentor, leader, or meeting participant. Best of luck!

See our related posts on Essential Skills and on Lifelong Learning

Arrogance – and its close cousin, hubris – are traits everyone encounters somewhere in their careers.  While it’s good to have a healthy ego and to have confidence and conviction, arrogance takes those attributes too far. Put simply, arrogant colleagues are dangerous. This is true whether they’re your boss, a more senior person in the organization, a peer, or a direct report. These people and their arrogance pose a threat to their teams, their co-workers, their companies, and themselves. For example:

The Perils of Arrogance

To give you a stark sense of how dangerous arrogance can be, we’ve worked with at least five people from several organizations who have gone to jail for workplace misconduct. Their crimes included insider trading, expense fraud, mis-charging clients, and bribery. Arrogance played a part in all of these situations, and while it obviously hurt these individuals and their families, it also did enormous damage to the organizations in which they worked and, by extension, the other people who worked in those organizations. The financial damage ran to the level of tens – if not hundreds – of millions of dollars, in the form of lost business, legal fees, fines, audits, forensic accountants, and marketing money spent re-building of reputations.

In the course of our careers, we’ve worked for and with a much larger number of arrogant people. Some we have been able to accept as people outside of work. Others we’ve needed to rid from my life entirely. In almost all cases, we gave them the benefit of the doubt at work for too long, usually because their arrogance came with a positive track record of impact and success. Sooner or later, however, something went wrong for each of them. When that happened, it got bad, both for them and those around them. When these individuals crashed, they took others down with them, because their dismissal halted the broader momentum of their groups or because those around them were viewed as “guilty by association”, whether that label was fairly or unfairly earned.

The Role of HR in Addressing Arrogance, And Why It's Inconsistently Fufilled

How HR handles these situations can make a big difference. This is especially true in “star cultures” such as finance, professional services firms, entertainment, and sports. My own experience is that the odds are about 50/50 that HR and the company’s leadership more broadly will do the right thing. The odds are even worse if you judge whether the right thing was done soon enough and sufficiently enough. Too frequently, the company and HR try to coach the individual, move people who complain about them to other groups to diffuse the situation, turn a blind eye, or even publicly back the individuals. It’s wonderful to see a situation where swift, unequivocal action is taken, but you shouldn’t depend on it occurring.

To be clear, it often takes a brash leader to carry the day, to will something into being, to pull off the impossible. But if they’re truly arrogant, you’re always taking a risk in hitching yourself to their stars. They’re time bombs, and while you may benefit when they’re in their glory, you don’t want to be anywhere near them when that bomb goes off. Extract yourself from working with these people as quickly as you can.

10 Questions to Ask To Make Sure It's Not You

If you see something of yourself in all of this, you should consider these 10 questions:

  1. Do I have a realistic view of my strengths and weaknesses?
  2. Am I clear on how others perceive me?
  3. Do I know what my blind spots are?
  4. Do I surround myself with people who make up for what I lack?
  5. Do I listen to my colleagues well enough, irrespective of their level?
  6. Do I ask open-ended / non-leading questions?
  7. Do I act on good input from my colleagues?
  8. Do I prop up those around me and avoid cutting them down?
  9. Do I give positive feedback regularly and in view of other co-workers?
  10. Do I give negative / constructive feedback in private and using language that preserves the recipient’s dignity? Do these individuals walk away thinking “that feedback hurt, but it was fair and designed to help me be better?”

If you aren’t answering “yes” to these questions, you should make a commitment to change. Your career and your colleagues will thank you for it.

Want help in addressing your career? Inquire here

“Be curious, not judgmental”  Walt Whitman*

When you’re hired into an organization, you join a team, begin working for a particular manager, and become part of a company culture without fully knowing in advance what you’ve signed up for. Will you like the company, the office, your manager, your colleagues, and (if you’re a manager) your team? Will the culture be a good fit for you, and will it be aligned with your values? As time continues, some of those unknowns become known, and you’ll develop an ability to influence at least some of your environment, but other changes – like a new manager or the departure of a close work friend – introduce new unknowns. All of this uncertainty is at least somewhat stressful for most people. It’s part of what makes work, well, “work.” And while you should never expect to like “everything” about your work environment, it certainly helps to like enough about it. As for the rest, the key is to learn to accept as much as possible.

Note that there will always be people whom you struggle to understand, who think differently – or maybe even REALLY differently – than you do, or whose approach to work is different from your own. It’s easy in such situations to fall into a habit of being bothered by such people, judging them, or categorizing them as “lazy,” “weird,” “difficult,” or worse.

Nonetheless, learning to accept these people for who they are and how they work can be incredibly powerful. Doing so will invariably strengthen your workplace relationships – even if you still don’t want to go out for drinks with absolutely everyone – and often will help you stay better centered at work yourself. It can contribute positively to the mental health of your colleagues, since they feel more accepted, and to your own as well.

We all occasionally need to be reminded to “give someone the benefit of the doubt” or to “assume positive intent.” Everyone – or almost everyone – wants to do a good job.  The vast majority will go about it diligently and honestly. But we’re all different. If you’ve ever taken a personality test like Myers-Briggs, you have a sense of how people are each wired in their own unique way: the big picture thinkers vs. the fact-based pragmatists, the extroverts vs. the introverts, the planners vs. the spontaneous, the thinkers vs. the feelers.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are getting a lot of workplace attention these days. Most companies have real work to do on these topics, work that should not be underestimated. That said, true acceptance is about creating a much more broadly defined inclusive work environment, one that’s not confined only to government-stipulated categories.

It’s important to remember that we’re all reflections not only of our gender, race, and ethnicity, but also other physical characteristics – height, weight, appearance, athleticism, and disabilities; mental and emotional characteristics like intelligence, learning style and empathy; and our life experiences – how we were raised, where we grew up, whether we grew up in relative poverty or wealth, our religious upbringing, our politics, our past successes and failures, and our interests and values and hopes and dreams and fears. Perhaps that sounds corny, but it matters.

The irony is that all of us know intuitively that we’re all different, but it’s much harder to truly understand what that means, to adapt our own thinking and behaviors accordingly, and to incorporate that into our day-to-day actions, whether at work or elsewhere. Such challenges are the root of unconscious biasmicro-aggressions, and the like.

One of life guru Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is to “seek first to understand.” While he uses this principle in the context of listening, it applies as well in the way we open our hearts and minds to understanding others. You invariably benefit from accepting people for who they are and, where appropriate, helping them to be better in a way that they want to become better. Avoid the temptation to be judgy, to gossip, to send snarky texts about someone during a meeting, or to call up your close work colleague after a meeting to replay all the “stupid” things people said.  Don’t try to impose your will or belief set on your colleagues. We’ve all worked with such people. They’re tiresome and demoralizing to their colleagues. They are essentially demonstrating a form of “conscious bias.” Don’t be one of them. Such behavior just makes work more like high school, and most of us don’t want to relive our high school days, even if we yearn to be young again.

Embodying the principle of acceptance doesn’t mean you need to put up with laziness, poor performance, dishonesty, rudeness, or other forms of inappropriate workplace behavior. In those situations, it’s usually best, as a first step, to make a good faith effort to communicate your observations and feelings to the relevant individual(s). You may need to involve your manager or HR, or to find a mentor, family member, or trusted friend as a sounding board for how to handle the situation. Bear in mind that you also need to be pragmatic about office politics, and in some unfortunate situations, the best answer may be for you to find another role, either within or outside your company. Hopefully, most of you won’t face such a difficult situation.

Yes, complete acceptance is an aspiration, and, yes, work is much more fun when we genuinely like the people with whom we work. However, most of us won’t ever have the luxury of choosing all our work colleagues, and even people you think you know will surprise you now and then – positively or negatively. None of us really understands everything that’s going on in each other’s lives and minds. But you – and others around you – will all be a lot happier at work if you learn to understand and accept each other for who you all are. Make this habit, and you’ll be surprised in the many ways you are rewarded for it.

* Maybe…the jury is out on whether Walt Whitman really said or wrote this precise phrase, but it’s good advice nonetheless

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