It's safe to say that we each wish to be treated fairly at work. We each prefer to be considered with kindness and respect. We tend to not enjoy being castigated, intimidated, made to feel ignorant or stupid, demeaned or dressed-down - not even if we have made a mistake. As the Golden Rule states: Treat others as you would wish to be treated. This moral standard applies in all real-world domains, including work. So, why do we find exceptions to this rule and act on them on occasion? And how can we do better?
As a graduate student in Geological Sciences - many years ago, now - I remember asking a question in my Thermodynamics for Geoscientists class. Back then I thought (and still do) that there are no stupid questions. Nevertheless, my professor, who also happened to be the Dean of the College of Natural Sciences - so a very important person, clearly - replied in total exasperation "How can you NOT know that?!" and followed up with laughter in front of the entire class. What made that man use an exception to the Golden Rule with me at that point in time? I think he had little respect for me and felt like because I didn't know something that I deserved to be made to feel ashamed of that. This frequently happens in many workplaces, especially where there is steep competition for rank, status and other incentives. If you don't know something, you should pay some sort of embarrassment/shame price. It's no wonder, especially if there is a prevalent shaming culture in an organisation, that some people at work learn to never say "I don't know" or "I'll have to get back to you" or "I should probably know that, but I don't, let me think about it and let's reconvene in 24 hours."
A sense of power, lack of empathy, impatience/annoyance, professional low self-esteem, jealousy or a mix of all these complex feelings can get in the way of heeding the Golden Rule consistently. Time pressures can also influence our ability to comply with the Golden Rule. Sometimes people think that they don't have to 'be nice' when they have more power than another person because who is going to call-them-up on their actions? Power can protect someone from being challenged or held accountable for their bad behaviour. Breaking the Golden Rule can actually reinforce a sense of and the perception of power though doing so is, in fact, an abuse of power.
When people lack empathy for others, it is easy to be rude or to embarrass them and feel no remorse. It's like hitting a punching bag and feeling better afterwards. If a person does not acknowledge how emotionally painful it is to feel ashamed, or if he or she refuses to take into account that another person has feelings, then demeaning that person seems perfectly okay and becomes a non-issue. A person may also recall something like this happening to him or her in the past and by toughening-up and enduring that experience, an expectation develops that someone else should and can do the same.
An artificial way to fill a professional low self-esteem reservoir is to use an elixir of criticism and harsh judgment of someone else's work - more Golden Rule exceptions. That liquid evaporates, though, leaving the reservoir consistently dry and in need of supply. A better remedy for low self-esteem is to work deeply internally on the person that one is and wishes to be. Complying with the Golden Rule actually helps this effort. Also, professional low self-esteem can be healthily addressed through coaching/mentoring, continuing education and by building workplace self-efficacy. These self-esteem supports are unflagging and have greater longevity.
Impatience, annoyance and jealousy are normal emotions to experience, even in the workplace. By noticing that they are present and are affecting you, there is less of a chance that they can persuade you to invoke a Golden Rule departure. If it's impatience or annoyance you are experiencing, then you may need to come back to a particular issue if possible. If you cannot, then asking politely for the best answer at this point in time is a nice stopgap. Jealousy is best channelled into your self-improvement plan, your process for self-appreciation and your career management.
Rather than using power and complex negative emotions to call for an exception to the Golden Rule, the task-at-hand is to control those emotions. Time pressures and vanity can sometimes try to persuade us into legitimising an exception. Therefore, one large component of emotional processing is to cover the clock, set pause on the timer and find a private space. If we feel angry, annoyed, or incredulous about a situation or another person at work, we can use those emotions to inform us about what we might need and as an guide for solving a problem. "Okay, I really need to know X, Y or Z and it's really frustrating to not know that, when I think that the person that I'm working with probably should know about the subject or have the answer." Rather than express this annoyance in the direction of the other person, it would be a better outcome to highlight that you think this subject is important and to also explore what resources are required to get at the answer. Workplace discussions and procedures are seldom perfect and so it's unrealistic to expect that there will not be holes in knowledge or plans that need to be filled. A fiery temper about the existence of holes does not help them get filled or repaired, it just upsets people who then try to fill or repair the holes. Contrastingly, a cool, calm temper that considers people as living, breathing beings with feelings can help ensure that a smooth pathway to an answer is laid-out and followed.
When we make an exception to the Golden Rule at work, we may decide afterwards that such a measure was not necessary. As well, we may come to the realisation that inflicting these exceptions to such an important moral code is not the type of professional that we want to be. That's when we can offer a sincere apology. "I regret saying that" or "I wish I hadn't said that" or "I apologise for saying that to you in that way" is a great way to repair the rupture in the relationship that was caused in breaking the Golden Rule. You can even offer a sense of why you acted like you did, for example "I think I let myself get carried away by my emotions" or "I think I get impatient when we talk about this" or "I'm not feeling that great today, so am finding it challenging to remember my manners."
It really is not okay to treat someone poorly at work ever. Imposing a temporary halt on the application of the Golden Rule is a recipe for unhealthy office dynamics and politics. Properly framing feedback with manners and empathy so that it addresses any concerns you may have with someone is the best way to work through organisational challenges and issues. A little bit of coaching/mentoring, practice and collegial support is all that is required.
I loved working as a petroleum geoscientist for 15 years. It is such an exciting profession and I found the work that I did to be extremely fascinating. I enjoyed making maps and solving problems and discovering what was under the surface of the Earth. I enjoyed talking about the work with other colleagues, partners, supervisors and even my friends (if they would listen). For several years in the earlier part of my career, going to work, exercising, spending time with my animals and visiting with friends was enough.
I did notice, however, as time rolled on and I had the capacity to consider what life is all about, you know, those seemingly nagging (but really important) existential questions, that my mind would drift during my working day. It would go to thinking about my favourite things, like music, and how I had never had the opportunity to learn the piano, but desperately wanted to have a go at it. I thought about writing and how much I enjoy it, but when was I going to find the time to write my novel(s)? I had many similar thoughts and they would usually come to a dead-end sign in my head that said "there is no time for any of this". And all of this was before I started a family, which meant - as most of us who have experience with such know - there is even less available time.
I grew annoyed with my job, knowing that by working 40-70 hours a week at it that I was not going to be able to be more than a petroleum geoscientist and that felt very limiting and sometimes suffocating. I used to look at the people around me and see how very dedicated they were to their jobs and think - "maybe there is something wrong with me that I want more?" I did eventually learn that there was nothing wrong with me for wanting to have the experience in life as an adult of doing something important to me that didn't include being a mother or a petroleum geoscientist. I also learned that many people have interests outside of their work that they seldom have the opportunity to pursue simply because of the time and energy commitments of work.
I encourage employers, supervisors, organisations and employees to work into their career planning a place for people to be more than their profession and title. Happy, satisfied employees are far more productive, innovative and dedicated than those that are begrudgingly showing-up day-after-day only to continue feeling dissatisfied and lacking in fulfillment. Imagine part of an accountant's career plan to include "Learn to Sail" or "Write and Illustrate a Children's Book" or "Learn to Fly Aircraft". Any activity outside of and unrelated to work can be stimulating and rejuvenating for a person. Rejuvenation, time away from work and identity blossoming are three very great ways to prevent and manage workaholism, burn-out, depression and anxiety. This is also a great way to promote longevity, organisational commitment and healthy functioning.
An organisation does not have to fund these activities - that would be quite a hard sell for investors and owners. However, a company can value these outside activities openly and support people in the organisation to engage in them and accomplish new goals. The first major step is to accept that mentally healthy people are usually more than their profession and family. A next step might be to line-item some personal development activities into a career plan. Talk about it openly in preparation, talk about it as it is happening and talk about it when it finishes and a person is ready for the next activity. Another way to help employees develop personally is to model and do it yourself. Identify your interests outside of work and put together a plan to accomplish them - maybe not all at once, but slowly and methodically in time. Additionally, if an employee needs to modify his or her work schedule to accommodate pursuit of a personal development task, then help this happen. In this day and age, with the assistance of sophisticated technology, we can catch-up easily if we miss a piece of action, or stay involved virtually and remotely. We can be flexible in organisations to help people follow their dreams outside of work - if we want to.
Workaholism, burn-out, depression and anxiety are serious conditions. People suffer with these when they do not feel free, when they are not personally diversified in interests, identity and activities, and when their self-esteem rides on how well they do in their job or profession. It matters less when a product line that an employee develops fails if that person feels good about other things in their life. A simple arrangement of life's priorities that honours this concept can, in some instances, prevent suicide, amongst less tragic but still serious outcomes. When you realise that this is the case with people and how they fit into the bigger picture of life, then it becomes clear and a no-brainer that helping people to feel good outside of work will help them stay engaged while at work. Engaged employees and personnel are priceless in terms of corporate and organisational success.
When thinking about and discussing workplace dynamics, I find it is helpful to understand workplace personalities. I use the term workplace personality to highlight that oftentimes we simply do not know how a person is in their personal life. When we form an opinion about a colleague, it is usually based on how they are in the workplace environment. Knowing about the narcissistic workplace personality specifically can be extremely helpful for three main reasons:
1) it is common, especially in higher-level management positions
2) having to deal with someone that exhibits a narcissistic workplace personality can be professionally damaging
3) equipped with an understanding of how a narcissist operates in the workplace can be a valuable coping tool and successful workplace strategy
Narcissistic refers to the personality type that is quite frankly disordered. Someone that exhibits narcissistic personality traits in the workplace is charming and engaging at first and on the surface. However, the person only has time to consider admiration for him or herself - both self-admiration and admiration by everyone else. The person reacts in a pronounced way and oftentimes with aggression to feedback that is inconsistent with his or her self-perception.
What does a workplace narcissist look like? Believe it or not, a workplace narcissist is very interested in his or her own physical appearance and usually the person is well-groomed with an interest in clothing, accessories - like watches, jewellery, wallets, bags - and personal material possessions like cars, houses, and stock portfolios. That said, if someone has an interest in these things it does not mean that he or she is a workplace narcissist. A workplace narcissist feels much more comfortable talking about things that make him or her feel intelligent rather than feelings (other than anger, pride or elation) or anything related to vulnerability.
There are a handful of behaviours to look for in order to identify a proper workplace narcissist. The workplace narcissist is extremely delighted when anyone agrees with his or her opinion, assessment or passing comments. The person is so delighted that he or she will befriend those that agree and will work to be surrounded by passive agree-ers. To disagree with a workplace narcissist means you have wounded him or her deeply to the core and you will be ousted from the familiar circle. Disagree-ers do not survive long with a workplace narcissist. The workplace narcissist will not recognise that assembling yes-people and casting-away people who display difference of opinion is part of their process. Rather, the workplace narcissist will pick apart the person that disagrees in usually a disrespectful, boundary-crossing way and will highlight anything that could be called a weakness. There is a term I commonly use to describe this - narcissistic annihilation - and it has probably happened to you in the workplace at least once.
The workplace narcissist will also engage in extreme self-promotion, unabashedly taking other people's ideas or humiliating and publicly criticising the work of colleagues, competitors or those that pose a status-threat. In some organisations, attention-seeking through intense negative and non-constructive criticism is not recognised for what it is - a toxic process by which workplace narcissists can thrive. Some organisations have started to reign-in some of these types of workplace narcissistic behaviours. They can be difficult to spot, however, unless you are aware that some people do in fact operate this way.
The workplace narcissist often uses aggression to communicate in organisations. Intimidating body language like pointing fingers, large and fast waving hand gestures and body-blocking are commonly used. As well, raised voices, name-calling, profanity and demeaning language - specifically using "you"-statements in place of more appropriate "I"-statements - go with the narcissistic aggressive territory. Usually the workplace narcissist pushes directives without input and tells people what to do. People often do not feel empowered when they work with strong narcissistic workplace personalities.
Other workers that encounter narcissists in organisations can find themselves stomped-on, ousted or annihilated unless they learn to identify when someone is behaving with this dysfunctional personality structure. If you can identify when someone has a narcissistic workplace personality and process then you can do something to protect yourself and actually out-smart and out-play him or her. Here are some of the strategies:
1) Admire the person just enough to keep them on-side, for example "I like your watch" or "You're so clever to have such a well-performing stock portfolio".
2) Know that out-right and public disagreement will be met with complete ousting and annihilation. That's a fact. Unless you have an advocate that is not a narcissist at a management level above your person then you have no choice but to find another way to disagree. This usually involves whispering and drip-feeding your idea(s), largely coming in from the side and undetected.
3) If you do experience annihilation by a workplace narcissist, then comfort yourself with the knowledge that this was largely about his or her very dysfunctional process, not yours. Many relationship dynamics are contingent on the two people involved. However, if you are dealing with a workplace narcissist, then his or her reaction to you is not necessarily directly related to what you did and is most likely out-of-proportion.
4) Carefully document your work and ideas and share them with colleagues and other members of management, whether they are also narcissists in the workplace or not.
5) Knowing that you work with too many narcissists is important for serving as an indication of when it is time to leave an organisation and find one that is less toxi-fied with workplace bullies.
There are many other traits and behaviours that a workplace narcissist undertakes. This article has highlighted a few of the larger ones. Having a solid peer support network, a non-narcissist mentor and a career coach can help you with the intricacies of dealing with your specific workplace narcissists and other odd workplace personalities and dynamics.
Does your organisation push employees to the point of exhaustion? Or does it support healthy workplace functioning by considering the emotional and physical welfare of those that work within it?
Does it claim to care about and value employees then contradict itself by designing unreasonable and unachievable targets and goals? Or does it talk about employees as precious resources and consequently institute guidelines and programs to help support them in their work?
In biologic terms, the parasitic relationship is one where a host supports the life of a parasite by giving up part of itself, for example, nutrients or blood. The parasite takes from the host until there is very little or nothing left to give. The parasite either stays with the weakened host or the host dies and the parasite moves-on to another host,
In the workplace, organisations create parasitic relationships when they do not prioritise the physical and mental health of their employees and neglect to consider them to be as important as corporate goals. Each employee in this relationship serves as a host for the needs of the corporate parasite. It is important for employees of any stature or level to recognise when this relationship exists. The next step is to work to put healthy boundaries in place that limit what the parasitic organisation can take from employees. Otherwise, the organisation will literally drain the life out of employees, leaving people feeling stressed, burnt-out, irritable, isolated, worthless and disinterested.
What are some signs that an organisation is parasitic? The parasitic organisation might claim as part of their corporate mantra that their employees "live and breathe" the organisational mission both inside and outside of working hours. The organisation might push employees to do "whatever it takes" or "make it happen" to meet the corporate goals. The human resources department might be limited, non-existent or mainly focused on corporate needs. Employees may not be appreciated or recognised for their hard work, either extrinsically with monetary and other tangible rewards or intrinsically with "thank-yous" and verbal acknowledgement.
It can be problematic for an employee to try to maintain healthy boundaries and feel satisfied in workplaces that are parasitic. The same rationale that helps create a parasitic organisation will most assuredly prompt those people in charge to react negatively towards and push-back on any attempts that resemble noncompliance by employees. "I expect you to always answer your emails on weekends and while on holiday!" "We need everyone to work 60 hours per week indefinitely to increase our sales and meet targets" (but on the same salary as a 40hr per week agreement). "I don't want to hear about any conflict - just work it out amongst yourselves!"
A more ideal relationship between organisation and employees is one that is symbiotic. Each party gets something important and valuable from working together. Ideally, both thrive and flourish while on the same track. The relationship that exists between organisations and employees may be on a continuum from parasitic to symbiotic. An organisation may be ruthless and self-serving across all operational facets - purely and unabashedly parasitic. Alternatively, it may be considered and measured in how it operates while helping employees with healthy personal and professional functioning - supportively symbiotic. An organisation may also float somewhere in between, with some good policies, procedures and aspects of culture firmly in place, with others that are skewed and out-of-balance.
If you realise that you work in a parasitic organisation of any degree then there are some proactive steps you can take to thrive and to avoid being overcome. You can implement different strategies to survive without wasting away in servitude. The strategies may include explicit and clear feedback and language to supervisors and high level managers about what you are willing to do and what you think is appropriate. Conversely, it may require less overt tactics that do not draw attention to your self-supportive efforts. It may be worth employing a bespoke mix of various strategies. It depends entirely on the organisation and also on what you want in both your work and in your career. By understanding your relationship with your organisation you may find you have access to more resources and choices, which will lead to more workplace satisfaction overall.
If you did not have to work for one day throughout 2018 at your job or as a parent, what would you do with your time? Assume you did not win the lottery or come across a huge sum of money, rather you magically have similar financial support as if you were to continue working. Assume an incredibly trustworthy person is selflessly helping with the children. Would you continue to work and if so, in the exact same capacity, for example, the same position, company or industry? -or would you try something new? Would you parent in the same way? Would you study an academic subject or a vocation? Would you volunteer for a charitable organisation? Would you pursue hobbies such as sewing, home-brewing or learning a musical instrument? Would you pursue fitness, sports or thrill-seeking activities? Would you give that seedling idea that you have been sowing in your mind a chance to become reality? As your read this, I imagine you are coming up with your own fascinating ideas for how you may spend your time.
If you find your answer is that you would continue in exactly the same way and that nothing would change, either you are quintessentially adept at making decisions in life that are attuned to your core desires or you may be reluctant to say that you are not 100% satisfied with who you are as a workplace figure or parent. If this is the case, I invite you to pay attention to this steadfastness and/or this reluctance. There may be a small chink in the metaphorical armour worth looking at. It may be that you have succumb to the roles you play in life instead of heeding your true passions.
Existentialism is the philosophy that people define their own meaning in life and do so by fully embracing existence, physiologically and emotionally. In this philosophy, the experience of life is paramount and people are viewed as having freedom and choice to make rational decisions to find the meaning of it. Some of the famous philosophers that developed and contributed to existentialism include Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre, de Beauvoir and Camus. To fully understand the intricacies and complexities of existentialism, you may wish to read further writings and publications by these and related philosophers and authors.
A person does not have to be a staunch existentialist to benefit from the core principles. From my perspective as a therapist, stopping to consider the meaning of life and recognising that we have control over it is very powerful and useful. Accepting that we are capable of making decisions that impact the quality of our own lives can ward off depression and help calm anxiety. Modern society makes it tricky to live a life immaculately consistent with the formal ideas of existentialism. However, we can still heed some of the key concepts and ask ourselves some higher-level questions about why we do what-we-do. We can question whether our rituals and roles are serving us appropriately.
When the daily grind of our routines and responsibilities are forefront and domineering, it can be really helpful to stop and reconnect with our individual reasons for existing. There may be an opportunity to reorient, walk along an alternative path of life or experience something refreshingly different when we question automated tasks and society-driven responsibilities. Existentially-guided ways of life manifest in unique ways for different people. Some people think that their daily run and the way they feel during it, in their body and through their senses of sight and smell is enough to give it meaning. Other people think that the experience of walking, hiking or climbing in the mountains is life's mojo. Some people think it is important to erect healthy boundaries at work so that they can reserve time and energy to pursue their hobbies and pastimes. Some people find solace in and relish the feeling of deep breathing and notice how the oxygen feeds the mind and relaxes the body.
For 2018 - or any year - I invite you to think about your life from an existentialist angle. While we may not be able to quit our jobs to engage in our favourite activities solely, we may be able to permit ourselves to break away more frequently to pursue our personal interests. Alternatively, we may also decide to shake-life-up a bit by changing our careers, parenting conventions, how or where we live, friendship dynamics or leisure activities. We may question how much money we actually need to maximise the satisfaction we feel and the meaning we make in our lives. For example, working very long hours may get us results and nods of approval at work, but do we enjoy our lives and how we feel in our bodies when we work this way? -or are we wearing ourselves down for a unidimensional and ultimately boring existence? When we focus on why we are living we empower ourselves to achieve and experience what we think is really important and end up feeling more satisfied. We also inject vitality into our lives and our souls. Happy Existential New Year to All.
Few people want to talk about this. The subjects are still taboo. Some people don't even think they are real. Yet, it is estimated that globally 1 in 23 people (4.4%) suffer with depression and 1 in 28 people (3.6%) suffer with anxiety (World Health Organization, 2017). In Australia, the occurrence of depression and anxiety are higher than the global average. It is estimated that 5.9% or 1 in 17 of Australians suffer with depression and 7.0%, 1 in 14, suffer with anxiety (World Health Organization, 2017). Chances are that you know at least two or three people who suffer with depression, anxiety or both of these conditions. Or, you may suffer with one or both.
Untreated, depression can have detrimental effects on lives. One of the largest effects is that ultimately, it can lead to suicide. In 2015, nearly 800,000 people globally died from suicide, while many other people attempted it. It was the second leading cause of death in 2015 for people between the ages of 15 to 29 (World Health Organization, 2017). Anxiety can also adversely affect lives. Untreated, anxiety can lead to depression, chronic hypertension, chronic fatigue or neuroses. Unfortunately, these are just the largest manifestations of depression and anxiety - there are many others.
There are several relatively smaller ways in which depression and anxiety debilitate daily life for those who suffer with the conditions. For example, depression can dampen our senses so that we do not enjoy people, food, our work and other aspects of life. Life can feel like we're on a treadmill with a speed setting that is too high and we cannot keep-up. We can feel lethargic and disinterested. An example of how anxiety affects daily life is that thoughts, usually negative, circulate around in the head over and over so that we do not experience peace of mind or respite from worry. We can be short-tempered and snap at others because our body is feeling taxed and at-capacity with concerns. We can miss-out because we feel too afraid to try a new activity or challenge, though we may be very interested in it.
One of the biggest reasons people do not ask for help when they experience depression is that they think that they should not be feeling the way that they are - that they should "just snap out of it!" or that "other people have it way worse, so why am I complaining?" Some people do not know what depression is or what it feels like, so they do not know that what they are experiencing fits into this category - and is treatable. Some of the reasons people do not seek help for anxiety is that they lack trust in others or worry about what others may think of them if they admit a problem or issue. People may feel too consumed with life's activities that they cannot accommodate one more thing, such as counselling or visiting the GP.
With either or both conditions, people battle against feelings of shame, inadequacy or disappointment in reaching-out for help. Some people think that it is not OK to 'talk about yourself' too much - that it is rude or selfish. Some people feel embarrassed that they cannot sort their problems out on their own. Some people may not wish to talk about what is bothering them, especially when it is related to intimate relationships, sex or other very personal matters. Some people feel like their matters are very private and do not want to talk.
Not doing anything about depression or anxiety is not a healthy option. Leaving either condition as-is will cause your mind and body to "revolt" with mental and psychosomatic illnesses. Each of us can make it easier for people to safely speak about their mental health. We can talk about our own state of mental health in an appropriately open way and we can provide non-judgmental reactions to others when they try to speak up as well. As friends, colleagues or family members, it is not our job to treat anxiety and depression. We can listen and try to empathise with another person's struggle, however, we can best help by encouraging working with a professional. A psychotherapist, counsellor, psychologist or GP can actively and effectively treat depression and anxiety. However, that treatment cannot occur if a person who is suffering does not reach out and show-up.
I am a firm advocate of changing the taboo associated with mental health issues and especially with depression and anxiety. I talk openly about my mental health appropriately. I like to talk openly about how, for example, it's OK to take a mental-health day off from work because you are feeling sad or fragile. I also support going to work and asking for temporary respite from the pressure of deadlines or reassignment of work that is becoming all-too-much, if that is what is needed. Just as we eat, sleep, exercise, shower, brush our teeth, watch television, etc., we can talk about how we are feeling and what we need in relation to those feelings. I hope that we collectively start to feel safe to say "I feel so down right now, even though I don't know why" and "I may need to take a break". I also hope that we can feel safe to say "I am not sleeping as I should because I worry about money (or my job or my children, etc.) and I might need some help because I feel really worn-down".
We were not meant to be happy all of the time or feel positively about life and the world at all costs. Nor were we meant to not have concerns and fears. Life can be hard - no matter how much or how little money you have and no matter how good or bad you think was your childhood, as examples. It is perfectly normal and wonderfully human to experience a wide range of emotions. When the negative thoughts or the worry take hold and for some reason do not let-up, speaking-up is courageous and can lead to a world of better possibilities.
World Health Organization. (2017). Depression and other common mental disorders: Global health estimates. Geneva: World Health Organization. Retrieved November 2017, from http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/254610/1/WHO-MSD-MER-2017.2-eng.pdf
Perfectionism is the attitude that anything short of perfection as unacceptable, Many people suffer with perfectionism and spend a significant amount of time and energy striving for perfection. Perfectionism may seem to be achievable in a particular instance or facet of life, but it is unsustainable over a relatively long period of time and it is unrealistic. We all make mistakes, we each are imperfect. That is normal.
Perfectionists may fear making mistakes, screwing-up or looking "not-their-best". Perhaps, more importantly, is the "cost-to-self" in the messages they give themselves and in their negative self-talk. Not being perfect can sometimes mean that basically "I'm not good enough" and/or "I must try harder" (even though they have probably already exerted 150% of a best effort). For some perfectionists, self-confidence is entirely dependent on perfect performance on tasks, perfection in the body and in life in general.
Propping-up self-confidence and self-esteem with a perfectionistic track record can be detrimental to building an authentic and resilient sense of self. In other words, what we achieve in life and how well we do it can comprise numerous reasons to feel proud and self-confident, but what happens when we make a mistake or mess-up? Self-confidence can take a nose-dive leading to feelings of low self-worth, isolation, shame or deep disappointment. There needs to be something else to help us appreciate ourselves and to remind us that we are wonderful, even if we are not perfect. In fact, it can be helpful to remember that when we are imperfect, we are beautifully human with a greater capacity to learn, grow and reflect on life. We are also able to relate better to other people that are also imperfect. Relationships tend to last longer and develop to have deeper meaning when we embrace imperfection.
I recall one of my own experiences with perfectionism, when I was younger. I had to have perfect handwriting and to the point that I would start writing on a new piece of paper if what I was writing was not in perfect form. I could not even use a cross-out or white-out because that would still be a remnant, a sore reminder to myself, of my mistake or imperfect performance. As you can imagine, I would rarely be able to finish writing a piece of work. If I did finish with mistakes (bad handwriting or white-out or a misspelling), then I would degrade that piece of work and feel very negatively about it. Now, when I write something and notice I don't like my handwriting or need to cross-out a mistake, I remind myself that I can still read what I wrote, I focus on the content of what I'm trying to write and I celebrate my ability to evaluate myself in a fair and compassionate way. As a result, I accomplish much more satisfactory work.
Coping with perfectionism can start by noticing that the boundary has been blurred between 1) what you achieve in life and 2) who you are as a person. It can also help to notice if you are thriving on attention for doing selfless things for others, by producing exemplary work or similar. It is worth noting whether or not you are spending a disproportionate amount of time managing your appearance. It can be helpful as well to realise that perfectionism often has origins in how we were treated as children and young adults. As children, it can be difficult to make sense of the criticism, attention and feedback we are given by adults and peers. However, as we grow and develop through life, we can make appropriate meaning of the past and learn to support ourselves in healthy ways in the present and in the future.
It can be a long journey to depart from perfectionism and one worth travelling. In adopting a more realistic approach to life and a compassionate viewpoint for yourself, you can experience more freedom.
Speaking spontaneously or "talking on your feet" is an art that can be developed. Like other forms of art, communication in the moment can be a beautiful and powerful method of personal or professional expression. So, rather than prescribing a script that will enable you to speak well in front of other people such as friends, family, work colleagues or strangers, I offer a different way of supporting yourself in this endeavour. Tend to the emotional state of your mind, your cognitions/mental thoughts and the physical state of your body and very likely, the words will fall into place.
Whether you intend to talk to another person individually or talk to an audience of people, the emotional state of your mind will have an effect on your style of communication. It is initially helpful to be mindful of what your emotional state is - for example "Am I feeling sad today?" or "Am I feeling really happy today?" Whether we like it or not, often our emotions influence our tone of voice, the pace of our speech, our ability to articulate words and ideas, and other important aspects of communication. While you may not be able to change your emotions, you can at least be aware of what they are and what role they will most likely play in interpersonal exchanges. One advantage of doing so is that you may be able to calibrate your expectations to help them be more realistic. If you are feeling really sad because of something that is going on in your personal life, you may find it difficult to give your employees a believable, motivating pep-talk related to boosting productivity. If that is the case, either you give yourself a break and recognise you are not perfect or perhaps you decide to postpone the pep-talk, -just as examples.
It can be really useful to be aware of your mental thought processes that are playing in your head when you are trying to communicate. Do you believe you are bad at communicating? If so, your negative thoughts could be influencing your communication as part of a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, if you think you speak poorly and never get your message across to people effectively, then your mind is most likely influencing your actions out of your awareness, or subconsciously. Your mind may be preparing to live through yet "another bad experience" of communicating with someone. If this happens, you may be left with less mental resources that are required to focus on what it is you are trying to say. Another example of how your mental processes can influence your communication is when you believe, say, a conversation is going to be difficult. An example is when you need to discuss an issue with a colleague who has a different work style. You may wish to talk about implementing a system that you know the colleague will not like. As a result, you prepare yourself to go into "battle" with the colleague. Your communication with that colleague might be influenced by the idea that battle will most likely take place, which can make you feel defensive. Alternatively, you could avoid being influenced by a preconceived expectation and end up communicating on a relatively "clean slate" or in the present with that person. The outcome could be significantly different, depending on your mindset.
Lastly, it can be helpful to pay attention to the body process when we are communicating. How many people physically shake before speaking before a group or an audience? Does your heart start racing? Does your breathing become shallow? Most likely, if these are the physiological responses, then they are indicating that the body is responding to fear of speaking. It can be helpful to recognise this fear and then to address it. It rarely is effective to tell yourself to "not be afraid", but it can help to actually breathe deeply, slow the heart rate down by sitting or soothing in some way (like looking at a peaceful image or quickly meditating) and steady the shaking hands. The mind and the body work closely together and therefore soothing the body and addressing your physical state can ease the mind.
Speaking spontaneously - "on our feet" - can be an extremely satisfying act. It helps us to express ourselves and to feel heard. It also helps us to feel connected to the world and what is going on around us. When we do not communicate in the present we can end up feeling frustrated, left-out and alone. I encourage people to experiment with different ways to communicate and find what works best for them as individuals. I also encourage people to pay attention to their emotions, thoughts and body. Each play a vital role in effective communication.
Whether you are in a relaxed conversation, a formal discussion, business meeting or heated debate, oftentimes 'what is said' (verbalised) is just the tip of the iceberg. There is usually an enormous amount of material that 'goes unsaid', like the lower 2/3 of the iceberg that is below the surface the water. Taking the iceberg analogy further, crews that man ships at sea know there is significant weight and volume under the tip of exposed ice. They also know that successful navigation involves sighting the ice above the surface of the water (1/3 of the total ice volume) and then taking into account the actual, full dimensions of the iceberg. When we communicate with other people, it can be helpful to understand that some critical messages 'go unsaid'.
The reasons why things 'go unsaid' are so numerous that it would be virtually impossible to write them all down. However, one common reason is that we tend to censor ourselves -- sometimes with awareness & calculation and sometimes without awareness (we might not even know we self-censor). We might feel like we cannot/should not say something or that what we say will evoke an undesirable response or outcome. For example: "I better not say that or they'll think poorly of me" or "that is not appropriate to say here" or "no one is going to care about that".
Another reason is that we make assumptions about what is commonly understood and/or valued amongst people and what is not. "Team-playing" is a great example of a phrase that is tossed-around in conversations with an assumption that it means the same thing to all people - when it actually looks, feels and manifests differently depending on circumstances. "Trust", "conflict" and "loyalty" are a few more words that we think mean the same thing to everyone - however, lo and behold, they do not represent the exact same meaning to all people.
Lastly, we tend to think that our reactions, especially as they are emotionally based, are not important or relevant in communication. How often do we feel irritated or annoyed and then find ourselves communicating in short sentences with sharper tones to someone? If you ask your colleague for an overdue report or your partner to help you do a chore when you are feeling frustrated/irritated/annoyed/angry then they may feel confused about what is going on for you. We may end up evoking a similar 'unsaid' reaction in the other person. "Why is she angry with me?" or "Gosh, he's so rude!"
Some of the most critical information in communication is in the 'unsaid' part of the message. It can be a worthwhile endeavour to learn to be explicit, to declare our reactions in mindful ways and to foster a safe space for clarification and deeper discussion of matters. Like the iceberg analogy, perhaps what 'is said' is only 1/3 of the whole message, sometimes. Without knowing about the other 2/3 of the message, we can end up steering ourselves into various interpersonal shipwrecks. In recognising that people have tendencies to self-censor, make assumptions and ignore their own personal reactions we can explore different ways to harvest these hidden messages. The rewards include more satisfying contact - feeling understood and understanding others - at home, with family and friends, at the shops or in the workplace.
Professional Development Workshop:
Misunderstandings and conflict between people in the workplace is common. When not addressed, relationships can suffer and consequently pathways for ideas and execution of work become less functional. Individuals end up feeling frustrated and dissatisfied. In this workshop, ideas and techniques are presented about how to 1) foster an environment where it is acceptable to show difference and to have a healthy misunderstanding or conflict and 2) support resolution of matters through acceptance, respect and the power of apology.
Location: Perth CBD
Monday June 20, 2016 6pm-8pm
Earlybird registration 20% discount by May 23, 2016
Registration closes on June 10, 2016
Follow this link to register: http://www.professionaldevelopmentworkshopsperth.com/tools-for-workplace-conflict-management.html
Professional Development Workshop May 3-24, 2016: Tools for Thriving in Organisations
In this workshop, tactics will be presented that can help individuals in organisations thrive amidst challenging circumstances by building and maintaining healthy, functional relationships in the workplace. Healthy relationships and high-functioning relational dynamics serve as pathways for technical and creative ideas and are therefore key for achieving professional and personal goals - and for feeling more satisfied. In this workshop, presentation topics include:
-Self-support in the workplace
-Cooperative relational dynamics
-Contact and mindfulness in the workplace
-Working in an aggressive environment
-Coping with workplace stress
-Tools for workplace conflict management
-Managing people effectively
-Developing your leadership capacity
**Expecting 15-30 participants**
4-Week Course, Meeting for 2-Hours, One Evening Per Week
Location: Perth CBD, WA
Tuesday May 3, May 10, May 17 & May 24, 2016
4:30pm-6:30pm Book Now! Offering an Early Bird discount of 20% if registration is before April 1, 2016. Registration closes on April 22, 2016.
Register via the following link: http://www.professionaldevelopmentworkshopsperth.com/tools-for-thriving-in-organisations.html
How are the New Year resolutions going? Been to the gym as often as you would like (or promised yourself you would go)? Eating healthier - less chocolate bars, etc? Spending less time on social media? Putting in your best effort at work?, etc.
Whatever you have decided you would like to change in your life, at least for 2016, hopefully you are seeing some results so far. It can feel rewarding to set goals and then achieve them. Important question: What has the process been like in pursuit of your goals so far? Are you enjoying it, or hating every step, or some mix of the two extremes? It can be easier to maintain a goal if you enjoy, learn from or appreciate the experience along the way.
If you find that your progress is stalled, you can experiment with the Paradoxical Theory of Change: long-lasting, meaningful and unique (appropriate for you) change can only occur when you first accept yourself for who you are - right now. This does not entail a negative listing of all the things you hate about yourself or things you may think that you "do wrong". Nor does it entail listing why you are "so amazing", though you may be. Accepting yourself for "who you are" commences with a descriptive process that involves looking around and within yourself. Describe who you are in terms of the roles you undertake in life. Describe the relationships you have with people and your experience in the different interpersonal dynamics. Describe your feelings - not just the positive ones - that you commonly experience (example: anger, happiness, sadness, pride, jealousy, fear, shame, etc). Gather feedback from people that you know - sometimes we have attributes that we are not aware of and seeking feedback from our environment is helpful for increasing our awareness of how other people experience us. Honestly assess what your strengths and weaknesses are - without self-deprecating dialogue. Notice and appreciate your physiology and how you tend to it (example: do you breathe - and deeply?, do you drink water and eat properly?, do you exercise appropriately?, do you meditate or have thoughtful time to yourself? or other).
When we have a non-judgemental and factual description of ourselves, we can next consider the information carefully and with awareness we can decide how best to support ourselves in the changes that we seek, or more importantly, design change that best suits us. Often, with the information that we gather about ourselves, it becomes more clear on how to proceed. Additionally, the steps towards change or a goal feel more natural and easy. How often do we actually rebel or subconsciously sabotage when we feel forced to do something? Yet if we individually design our change based on our personal realities, the two phenomena are more likely to be congruent or in-line with one another. Change will occur with more enthusiasm, kindness, interest and longevity.
We all do it, regardless of gender - some of us more frequently than others: We let things that bother us go unaddressed. But these things do not go away just because we did not address them, rather, they accumulate or add-up. (In some circumstances the mathematical operator could be a multiplier or an exponent!) Often we think "Oh, I can't be bothered to deal with that right now", especially if there are expectations, fear or anxiety that a conflict will occur in addressing that issue. The trade-off in not facing the fears that can be associated with assertiveness is dissatisfaction. Our "unfinished business" aka "baggage" - unresolved, lingering issues - ends up being assimilated in unhealthy ways, forming habitual patterns. When we gather too much unfinished business we struggle to engage in the present and enjoy relationships for their own merit. Unfinished business gets in the way and can lead to larger-scale conflict or suffering or both.
Often, unfinished business contributes to the deterioration and the end of relationships, especially intimate ones. Sometimes there is an undeniable track-record of conflict erupting between two people when they try to address issues, so the fear that arises in new problematic situations is justified. "If I bring this up, it will make her angry with me - like always, and she'll probably shout at me. So I'll just go without or deal with this on my own." Hurt feelings, resentment, sadness or other can arise when we feel like we cannot tell our loved ones what we want or need or how we feel.
The advocate for unfinished business and the accomplice to conflict are the "you" statements we may use. "You hurt my feelings." "You didn't listen to me, you never do!" "You need to sort yourself out!" It is much easier for the person on the receiving end to address a problem if they don't feel like they are being accused of something - especially if they don't agree with the accusation. Offered in a different way, we may find that it is easier to resolve issues and not fall into destructive conflict. For example: "I feel really sad that you said that. Did you mean that?" Or "I feel hurt, it seems to me like you weren't listening to me. Is that the case, or did I misunderstand?" Or "I feel really frustrated with that tone of voice, it's really upsetting me. I'm imagining something is going on for you, do you need to talk about it?" We don't need to assume a template for communicating and using our natural voice and language is ideal - the critical component is: steering away from "you" and sticking to "I" and how "I feel when...".
A substantial amount of self support is required to tune-in to our emotions and offer them to another person when problems or issues arise. We often feel vulnerable when we expose our emotions to another person. Without self support, that vulnerable position can seem like a scary place and in it we might even expect to be disrespected, ignored or disregarded. With healthy self support we are capable of showing ourselves clearly and then hearing and considering feedback without self-induced shame, judgement or criticism.
There is no healthy way to circumvent mutual understanding and acceptance in long-term relationships. Unfinished business left to accumulate and pile-up will occupy the space between people, where healthy, therapeutic, deep, and loving contact normally would reside. Tending to unfinished business together in a respectful way can be hard - and it is also therapeutic and nourishing. There is a real sense of satisfaction to "put the past to rest" and to deal with problems as they arise. The reward is that excitement, fluidity and enrichment returns to our relationships.
Sometimes, especially when we are in a hurry, we deliver commands to others around us to "do this!" or "do that!" and we expect that our subjects will comply. When we relate to one another in this way, we are engaging in "I-It" dynamics. "I" am clearly one party and the other person is not a person, rather an "it" or an object, and that object serves a purpose. Problems arise in relationships when "I-It" is played out too much. Yes, we can reasonably tell someone what we need in a moment and have expectations that it will be done, but if this way of relating is prolonged and habitual, it leaves the other person - the "it" - feeling dismissed, overlooked, left-out, objectified, hurt, sad, angry and/or other. The "I" ends up feeling powerful, in control and "right". Unfortunately a common result is that the relationship becomes dysfunctional and a divide or separation naturally occurs between the two people.
When we engage in "I-Thou" dynamics, the "I" remembers that the other person is a living, breathing organism with feelings, thoughts, opinions, and preferences that are equally as valid as their own. "I" considers the other person when making requests, hears feedback from them and takes their wants and needs into consideration. "Thou", the other person, feels appreciated, equal and an integral part of the relationship. While relating in an "I-Thou" way requires negotiation between two people - and therefore sometimes more time and energy - it usually helps two people to remain close, to feel mutually respected and with a desire to continue to work together cooperatively.
It is easy to slip into a way of relating to others using "I-It" dynamics, especially if it works when we try to get what we want. However, what we may not notice is that we become isolated when we treat others as objects because we do not experience fully the therapeutic consequences of healthy contact with another person. When habitually practicing "I-It" ways of relating, we may end up thinking things like: "I have all of these friends, but I feel like I'm missing something" or "Nobody understands me" or "There is no love left in my intimate relationship".
When we respect the fact that the other person we relate to has feelings, differences of opinion, needs and wants of their own that are equally as valid as our own, then we are primed to thrive in relationship. It may seem counterintuitive that if we give the other person room and space to contribute to life's experiences and problems that we will actually get more of what we want. However, we often overlook that many of our basic needs are for authentic, healthy connection with other people. So, we may give up something like how a meal is prepared and cooked - by involving another person's opinion about how it should be done - but we gain rich connection and experience in cooking together, involving both people, in the "I-Thou" way.
While this may not always be the case, quite often we can learn how to be anxious from our parents or from other primary caregivers that we might have had when we were growing up. As children, naturally we learn from our parents or caregivers and quite often by modelling them. Also, when we are young, we have very little idea of what is "normal" and what might be "anxious" or "abnormal" behaviour or other. We only know what is right in front of us, until we start experiencing the world outside of the home. So, if Mom and Dad are anxious and if they behave accordingly, then we are primed to learn from them by watching and behaving similarly. We may even actually feel as anxious as them. If a care-giver feels anxious, then he or she will convey tension, heightened alert and other behaviours that demonstrate that a threat is expected or detected. Children that grow-up around adults that cannot settle themselves in their fears, imaginings and assumptions about the future usually feel unsettled as well.
To be fair, being a parent is difficult. Being a parent that is not anxious at times is nearly impossible. So, the point of this article is not to castigate or propose resentment towards parents that experience anxiety. Rather, the point is to raise awareness about a possible source of anxiety for those that suffer from it. Understanding anxiety is a key to coping with it.
Anxiety is a fear of future events that may or may not happen and often that fear is not warranted or rational. It includes worry about what "will" or "might" happen with regard to life. Anxiety can be extreme and include phobias. It can be chronic: ongoing and all the time - like social anxiety; or it can be acute: fear about particular events or situations - like flying in airplanes or swimming in the ocean. Anxiety starts as a thought in the mind. The thought achieves influence and activates the body. The body responds to the vivid imagination of the brain and physically feels a heightened sense of energy. The body may even poise itself to react. Yet, that poise and energy is triggered by the imagined threat and not something that is real in the environment. Often there is no healthy place for the anxious energy to go (because there is no way to pragmatically act on an imagined event and/or fear impedes any alternate actions) and so it will not dissipate, rather it may build and feed more imaginings.
Anxiety is not easy to tackle, confront or solve alone. When we have grown up with and have learned anxiety from our parents or caregivers, then we can really struggle to help ourselves. Especially when we do not know other ways or alternatives for responding in life and to stressors - in other words, we think that the anxious behaviours that we have learned are normal. As well, coping mechanisms that we develop in response to our learned anxieties can be very effective: either the anxious states are denied or ignored or we simply resolve to accommodate them (never fly in an airplane, swim in the ocean or engage in social functions). Modern lifestyles help distract us from confronting the basic emotions or energy around our anxiety. Hand-held devices - like smart phones and tablets, along with jam-packed personal and professional schedules can effectively keep us from sitting with our anxious thoughts. --And yet, the anxious thoughts do not go away, rather they persist or compound.
It can be useful to pay attention to our surroundings and to attempt to take-in real environmental data. When we ground our experience in what is actually happening around us, then we are less likely to feel anxious and/or resort to our learned patterns of anxiety. Another extremely rich source of information to help us depart from our imaginings is our true inner physiological and emotional experience. When we pay attention to ourselves and honour what is going on for us in the moment by noticing our physical pain and/or naming our emotions, then we are more empowered and better able to help and give ourselves what we need.
Tempted to work extended hours without taking breaks? Inclined to skip lunch? It is wonderful to recognise that work goals and deadlines are serious and important enough to perhaps warrant personal self-sacrifice. However, when we work long hours, we overlook our own physical and mental needs for rest, food and drink. As a result, our professional objectivity and critical thinking are negatively affected. Our brains need glucose and rest to function properly. Numerous studies demonstrate time and again how our thinking deteriorates, suffers and struggles without this basic care.
A study I came across recently clearly shows how the decision-making capacity of well-seasoned and experienced professionals was negatively affected as time progressed from a break in work. These professionals were more likely to render critical decisions that deviated from the status quo at the beginning of a work session: at the start of the day or just returning from a food break. They were also more likely to render decisions that required less critical thinking towards the end of a work session. The professionals studied were judges, although in a similar context, it could easily be one of us.
The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2011, and is titled “Extraneous factors in judicial decisions”, by Shai Danziger, et al. I came across it when I was reading a book about decision-making processes by Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow (2011). I decided to cite the original study in the PNAS journal so that I could better understand it. This study consisted of 1,112 rulings in 50 days over a 10-month period by Jewish-Israeli judges. The parole judges were more likely to grant a prisoner’s request for parole if that judge reviewed the case right at the beginning of a “decision session” (or work session): at the beginning of the day or right after a food break. The prisoners who had their cases reviewed at the end of a decision session were more likely to have their parole request denied. The researchers proved this to be true after testing for the effects of many other variables that might have influenced the parole judges’ rulings. The single most significant variable that influenced the likelihood of a prisoner being granted parole was the ordinal position of the review of their case with respect to the beginning of a decision session. It was simply unlucky for those prisoners who had their cases reviewed later in work sessions as they were more likely to have their parole denied, regardless of their offenses, etc.
The authors of the paper say it best: “our findings add to the literature that documents how experts are not immune to the influence of extraneous irrelevant information.” They go on to highlight that their findings are consistent with “previous research demonstrating the effects of a short rest, positive mood, and glucose on mental resource replenishment.” Kahneman’s book develops these phenomena further.
If it is true that our judgement and critical thinking suffer as we progress through our work sessions, how can we use this information so that our work, what we produce and who we affect is not adversely impacted? How can we plug that variable into the work equation?
Can we notice when our mental resources have deteriorated to the point that the need for food, rest or other is winning over quality of critical thought? Are we able to check-in with ourselves and see if we become fidgety, impatient, annoyed, more direct, less empathetic, less interested or other? Is it possible for us to notice the feeling of rejuvenation and recognise when fatigue moves in?
If it is not feasible to schedule a break (as the study with the parole judges shows: even with regular breaks, our decision-making is impacted with time) then can we order our work to reflect the natural tendency of our energy levels to wane? At the very least, by being aware of our internal physical processes and needs we are better equipped to make more deliberate and well-informed choices. We can also simultaneously produce high-quality work and maintain healthy functioning.
Danziger, S., Levav, J., & Avnaim-Pesso, L. (2011). Extraneous factors in judicial decisions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(17), 6889-6892.
Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
Click here to follow a line to access a copy of the article in the PNAS journal
Say you cut your finger while preparing food. It’s only a “small” cut but it is bleeding. Since it is only small, are you going to ignore it? Are you going to not apply pressure? No antiseptic? No bandage? Just let it keep bleeding, because it’s only small and it “should not bother you”? No, we would pay attention to the cut, try to stop the bleeding, assess it and then either bandage it or take further action.
When dealing with a worry, "bother" or small stressor in life, I life to follow a similar process. The issue that catches our attention may not be as obvious as a bleeding cut, but it is not necessarily less worthy of investigation. To classify a worry as “small” prior to having a closer look is to jump to a conclusion. What if the “smallish” worry is an indicator of a larger process that has a negative impact and requires some aid before it will “go away”? Or what if the “smallish” worry is accompanied by many other “smallish” ones that are adding up to a complex sum?
If something is bothering us, then ignoring it will not make it go away. When we ignore, we push something from our conscious awareness to our unconscious mind where we have fewer choices for dealing with an issue. Also, telling ourselves that we “shouldn’t worry” about something just distracts us with another worry: “I should or shouldn’t be doing this or that”. We could continue to self-reprimand in a very unhelpful way to tell ourselves that we “worry too much about things”.
When we abide by introjections – those attitudes or ideas that dictate our actions unconsciously and usually originate from our environment – we override our own actual and real needs with someone else’s idea of what those needs “should” be. Introjections come from parents, teachers, society or similar authoritative sources and they aim to direct our actions. The problem arises when the introjecting agent does not have access to all of the relevant information that can guide healthy personal decision-making and functioning. For example, a parent can tell a child that he or she “needs to eat all the food on the plate” out of principle, but the parent may not realise that the child is already full and does not want to continue to eat. So, the child may end up eating to satisfy the wishes of the parent, not to satisfy his or her own needs related to hunger and nutrition. My least favourite introject is “Want does not get!” Many people who have grown up with this introjecting statement truly believe that it is wrong for them to want anything or to declare to another person that they want something. In my opinion, it is perfectly normal to want something and it is also okay to act to fulfill a desire, generally speaking, as long as it does not cause harm to another person.
When something bothers us, it may be more helpful to stop and pay attention to the worry than to dismiss it because of an outside judgement and/or its perceived size. When we experience a worry, we may want to notice and characterise what is going on in our body: -are we sweating? -is our heart beating rapidly? -are we breathing? -are we tired? We can concentrate on the worry, sit with it and experience it fully. It may become evident what we need at that precise moment. We can seek to support ourselves in satisfying that need through our own measures or we can request assistance from someone else. If a situation arises where feelings of panic or extreme anxiety are associated with the worry, then it is important to seek external support from a qualified mental health professional. When we fully explore a stress – whether we choose to do so alone or with outside support – we can approach its source and work more productively with the variables that impact the stress for longer-lasting outcomes.
I cannot take credit for this concept: Smart Talk versus Smart Actions, rather I am citing a small part of what I think is a wonderful book - The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilised Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't by Robert Sutton (2007, 2010).
Research shows that one of the reasons why aggressive tactics and "mean" behaviours persist in organisations is that we collectively perceive individuals that act this way as being smarter than others. Many business leaders have gained power in organisations through the practice of intimidating gestures and language, insults and condescending language. Staff will often mimic leadership and use similar tactics to manage their hierarchical status - and it often works for them.
Robert Sutton cites research by a woman named Teresa Amabile who wrote an article called "Brilliant but Cruel" that was published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Through controlled experiments she found that "negative and unkind people were seen as less likable but more intelligent, competent, and expert than those who expressed the same messages in kinder and gentler ways" (quotation from Sutton's book).
It is a nasty game that is played when people pick each other apart in front of an audience and use "smart words" to try to portray their competence - and it seems to work for people who use this strategy to get more power and status in many organisations. But what does this type of cold repartee actually add to the bottom line? And what damage does it actually do to staff, partners and potential clients? Are we too busy as managers to pay attention to the shallowness of this behaviour and the lack of substance behind it?
Personally, I like the sound of the following questions that seek to explore "smart actions" in the workplace beyond "smart words":
What work is actually being produced?
What is the thought and data to support the work?
Is the work robust? What are the relevant alternatives?
Are people collaborating cooperatively to produce the best work?
Do staff help each other?
Are comments - especially in meetings, where there is an audience - regarding produced work adding, detracting or worse - destroying?
**Useful links to external resources:
Link to Amazon if you are interested in purchasing Robert Sutton's book, which I thoroughly enjoyed and gained insight from (ships to Australia)...this book does retail in some bookstores in Australia
Robert Sutton, The No Asshole Rule
Link to Robert Sutton's professional page on the Stanford Graduate School of Business website
Robert Sutton, Stanford University
Link to Robert Sutton's personal webpage
Robert Sutton, Personal
Link to Teresa Amabile's abstract (and option to purchase full text) for her "Brilliant but Cruel" article at Harvard Business School website
Teresa Amabile "Brilliant but Cruel"
Blogging about mental health issues for personal and professional development. All material is authored by Cori Lambert unless explicitly stated otherwise. Authentic Consulting and Counselling is located in West Perth, Greater Perth Area.