Wellbeing Versus Workload? Doesn’t have to be One or the Other.

Too much to do not enough time? I’m feeling this as I write because I’m trying to get everything done before taking time off work for vacation/annual leave. I’m not the only one. A recent UK-wide study by YouGov found ¾ of ALL UK adults have felt so stressed at times in the last year that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope¹. Another study conducted by leading UK universities found 2/3 of people working in health and social care are overwhelmed and at risk of burnout². Research in the USA found similar results across a multitude of industries and professions.

In the past week alone 12,100 google searches have been conducted in the UK for the word OVERWHELM. Add in all the variations of overwhelmed, overwhelmed at work, feeling stressed and overwhelmed, burnout and it’s 10’s of thousands pf people researching it and those are just the people who taking the time and have the headspace to google it.

One of my clients has a team working in Ukraine. Yes, they are still working there 2 months after the start of the war. The day before our coaching session my client was handling the disruption in work caused by the shelling in the area where most of his team were situated while making sure his team was safe, their families were safe, and arranging if anyone now wanted to leave while managing his stress, fears and work requirements. Gratefully I’m not dealing with life and death as many of my clients are at this time.

Importance of Wellbeing at Work

The above stats underline the requirement for organizations to focus on health and wellbeing in the workplace. Decades ago wellbeing in the workplace was about gym membership benefits, health insurance, medication plans etc. A company was deemed to be progressive if the benefits extended to onsite gyms and benefit coverage for massages. It was all about health in terms of physical health. Later wellbeing extended to employee assistance programs to address some of the mental and emotional things that people face.
Now it’s about body, mind and soul – holistic wellbeing to not just cope or avoid burnout but to enjoy, contribute, be fulfilled in the way that’s best for the individual. It’s about supporting people to be authentically themselves (diversity, equality and inclusion is an aspect of this) and to be resilient to the scale and pace of change in today’s world. It’s dealing with people as full human beings and not just their head and hands who do tasks at work.

Leadership Challenge

For some in leadership positions this evolution and the current reality are obvious, and for others it’s a difficult transition. Some just want people to come into work, get the work done well and go home. There’s a discomfort around “understanding peoples’ needs and feelings,” making sure others are feeling ‘ok,’ being mindful in how work is delegated rather than just assigning tasks. This challenge can be met with better emotional intelligence (EQ). Knowing yourself and then knowing others, so you can manage the interaction to be win-win.

Wellbeing + Workload – Not a trade-off

The people are the key to getting the work done; an organization can’t succeed without productive people and for sustained productivity, people need to be healthy and well (holistically across head, heart and hands).

People + Wellbeing = Productivity

The biggest thing is to be in dialogue about this exact thing – how do we achieve our goals while looking after ourselves and others? It’s not a question of prioritizing one over the other. It’s about working in a ‘healthy’ way within a wellbeing culture. A leader’s thoughts need to be oriented around “I want you to be yourself, I can’t do it without you, your total wellbeing is key. What does that mean and how do we facilitate it?”

Tips for Working in a Wellbeing Manner

1. Be Courageous – have the courage to have the conversation about the work needs and human needs. In fact, courage is needed for each of the following tips. Courage is not the absence of fear, it’s feeling the fear and proceeding despite it. This requires self-management in emotional intelligence terms – feeling it and speaking up anyway.

2. Acknowledge Emotions– Stress is present in the workplace; the issue is to what degree? Behavioural science tells us that some amount of stress is needed to perform, it creates the energy to follow through and act, it motivates. When it’s too much it becomes counterproductive. Talk about how people are feeling sometimes. The feelings are there (‘positive’ and ‘negative’) whether we talk about them or not. Having people share their emotions can alleviate the pressure or in the case of ‘positive’ emotions make the environment better.

3. Simplify – Challenge what work really needs to be done. Are we focusing on the right things to make a difference and be successful? Question old processes, practices or expectations? This takes courage especially during change – it often feels safer to continue doing what has always been done. Are there new, faster, more efficient ways of doing some of the work? Ask because you might not know, and others might. This is vulnerable and hence takes courage as there’s a fear of saying ‘I don’t know’ in an organization and being judged poorly for it. This also included reducing the reliance on the volume of emails people send, and the amount of inefficient and needless meetings – complaints from pretty much everyone!

4. Learn how to say no or ‘set boundaries’ – what do you do when you’re being asked to do too much at work or you just have too much work to do? You talk about it in a respectful, professional, transparent manner. Tell people that consequences of taking on another task or project so choices or priorities can be clear. This touches on all 4 quadrants of the EQ model – self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and social management.

5. Foster individual resilience – promote self-awareness, reframe failure or mistakes to learnings, adopt a growth mindset, be connected to others for support and perspective, watch when your stress moves from optimal to overload, talk to others about how you feel. As part of resilience, healthy lifestyle routines are mandatory such as: eat healthy food, create good sleep habits, exercise regularly, avoid or limit alcohol, sugar, and excessive screen time, undertake regular health checks, practice some sort of mindfulness and relaxation, be in nature, have friends/family around you and enjoy some fun.

6. Ensure the practical wellbeing fundamentals are in place – ensure fair pay and benefit structures; environmental aspects such as accessible, good food onsite, physical spaces are ergonomic, legal/reasonable working hours are enforced, fitness in supported, employee assistance programs are robust and known, career development is cultivated, employees have a voice through some forum.

7. Be a values and purpose led leader (if not organizations) – be open and engaged in two-way conversation, behave in accordance with the company values and mission, encourage and role model a good personal/professional balance, create autonomy for people to do what they do, belonging and connection. Humans are social creatures and since we spend most of our waking hours at work this connection needs to be authentic and positive.

What one thing in this list could deliver the biggest improvement in your wellbeing?

What’s the leadership challenge you’re facing?

What support could you have to help your own productivity and resilience?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore how to you can optimize your wellbeing and workload and/or that of your people.

¹ https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/news/stressed-nation-74-uk-overwhelmed-or-unable-cope-some-point-past-year

² https://www.ulster.ac.uk/news/2022/may/uk-wide-study-shows-health-and-social-care-workforce-working-longer-hours-with-two-thirds-feeling-overwhelmed-and-at-risk-of-burnout

EQ Leadership Formula Model

What can the dinosaur extinction teach us? Read here.

I’m always fascinated to hear what CEOs have to say about leadership – when they pull back the curtain and reveal their thoughts and feelings, what’s going on behind the scenes for them.

Mark Schneider, CEO of Nestlé, the world’s largest food and beverage company, talked of dinosaurs!

Asked how different he is as CEO compared with 30 years ago when he was studying finance and accounting at university he says: “Hopefully that version of me is now quite different— and not only in that timeframe, but also between now and 2017 when I took on this role. Being able to take in new situations and reimagine and reinvent yourself, to me, is part of life. The alternative is ossification, and that’s not a good thing. It didn’t help the dinosaurs, and it doesn’t help us.

I’m in the process of reimagining myself. I’ve accepted I’m a writer (an award-winning business book helps 😉). I am not a video presenter, I don’t like doing videos and I’m pushing myself to embrace that for an upcoming event I’m doing with @Sue Belton. It’s having me stretch myself with practical things such as smile more, pause, don’t talk to fast, look at the camera, and remember you’re co-presenting. It’s having me challenge my beliefs and work through my preferences for static, quiet activities.

Reinventing, and at least reimaging, one’s self is fundamental to the Self-Awareness portion of Emotional Intelligence. It starts with knowing yourself and your emotions. Understanding yourself will help you know the aspects of yourself that serve you and those that don’t. The ones that aren’t serving you anymore might point to a risk of ossification.

The key tip to doing this is booking time with yourself regularly. This is called leadership reflection time. In this time ask yourself some of the following questions:

• What’s needed from me now? This might be related to a specific situation or individual or in your role.
• What feedback have a received recently?
• What feedback should I seek out?
• When did a have a strong emotional response? What
• What skills, qualities or characteristics are my strengths that I can leverage even more?
• Given where I want to go as a leader, where do I need to stretch or grow?

Want to avoid extinction?

Have you found yourself stuck in your ways?

What changes or new situations are you facing?

If you or your people are avoiding Difficult Conversations join us on our FREE Masterclass “How to have Difficult Conversations in the Workplace.” Reserve your spot NOW here

What’s the Problem? You’re not Discussing the Problem!

What’s the Problem? You’re not Discussing the Problem!

Are you putting off having a difficult conversation?

Have you avoided talking to someone because you were scared to do it or afraid of their reaction?

Has someone complained to you about another person, instead of talking to the person directly?

You’re not alone.

80% of people are shying away from at least 1 difficult conversation at work according to a poll from VitalSmarts¹. If you read that statistic and thinks that can’t be right, here’s another research result. According to Inc.², 7 in 10 employees are avoiding difficult conversations with their boss, colleagues, and direct reports. Other studies show similar results, the clear majority of people avoid having conversations with other people. I sidestepped these talks in my corporate life sometimes, it felt too awkward to face things head on. My coaching clients often label these “Difficult Conversations.” Funnily, when we label them difficult, they often become difficult, even if just in our minds.

What’s the definition of a difficult conversation? It’s a conversation where differences appear to exist between the people; needs, wants, expectations or opinions might differ; emotions are heightened; or there’s a fear of emotions coming into the situation. They are difficult because of the emotional element.

The problem goes further than just avoiding having the “difficult” conversation; people go to extreme lengths to avoid it! That same VitalSmarts’ research reported people waste time and energy to dodge those conversations, to the point of quitting their jobs!

Instead of having that difficult conversation, people will:

• Avoid the other person at all costs (50%)
• Dance around the scary topic whenever they speak to the person in question (37%)
• Consider quitting their job or taking a different job (37%)
• Quit their job (11%)

HRMorning³ reported of an online poll that found 85% of people have problems dealing with a problem in the workplace immediately. What they did instead of dealing with the problem was:

• ‘ruminate’ about the issue (61%)
• complain to co-workers about it (41%)
• feel angry (34%)
• do extra/unnecessary work to avoid dealing with the issue (32%)
• avoid the person involved (29%)
• ‘talk around’ the topic (24%)
• feel sorry for themselves (20%), and
• drop hints to the individual involved (20%).

None of these things are productive, in fact they are counter-productive, negatively affecting productivity.

If people are avoiding the other person or dancing around topics, how productive is this in the workplace? Collaboration and interaction are needed in most jobs to deliver the required business results. If someone is avoiding another person because of a difference in opinion or expectation, is the business getting the best results? Are people contributing their best ideas and coming up with the best solutions? The answer most certainly is NO. If people are quitting their jobs to avoid these conversations, what’s the cost in recruitment fees alone? There must be a better way.

Good news – there is a better way. Stay tuned.

¹ Reported in Crucial Learning by Brittney Maxfield October 2019
² Inc. Most People Handle Difficult Situations by Ignoring Them — and the Fallout Isn’t Pretty by Michael Schneider August 2018, research by workplace resource start-up Bravely.
³ HRMorning: The hidden cost of delaying those ‘difficult conversations’ by Tim Gould 2010

Photo by Yan Krukov

Raise your Head above The Parapet? Lesson on Risk Taking

Raise your Head above The Parapet? Lesson on Risk Taking

Is this a good idea?

Do I risk raising my head above the parapet?

What will others think or say?

I felt this way two years ago as I was working with my publisher on my book. Who did I think I was to be writing a leadership book? Was this book even a good idea? Would it help people? What if no one reads it? What if it doesn’t sell? What if people don’t like it? And so many more questions and doubts.

I thought writing the book was hard, then I thought the editing process was hard, then I thought the design and layout was hard. In the end the hardest part was putting it out in the world – putting myself up for judgment – and not the good kind of judgment. I had the fear that it was a bad idea, it not being relevant, being ignored or worse maybe being criticized or ridiculed.
And I did it anyway. That old book from the 80’s, Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway, was my mantra when I was anxious and doubting myself.

Risk Taking in Business

This same trepidation about taking risks shows up in organizations. This was the discussion of a coaching group I led last week off the back of this question in their 360 reports “Willingness to be the only champion for an idea or project.” There was discussion about the reluctance to speak up in a high-pressure meeting for fear of making a mistake, looking stupid, or becoming a target. CEOs have the same fear of making a mistake (it’s the #2 fear behind fear of being found incompetent) from research by Roger Jones reported in Inc.com.

Calculated Risk Taking – Why is it important?

Organizations need risk takers – not foolish, impulsive risks – rather intentional and purposeful risks. Every organization claims innovation is a key strategy they need to succeed, to keep ahead of competition, to serve clients well. True innovation does not happen without taking risks. The key is calculated risk taking to mitigate any potential issues and increase the likelihood of success.

How did I Overcome the Fear and Take the Risk?

What I did to navigate the fear over writing and publishing my book are the same things you can do in organizations.

Identify why it matters to you. When you have a bigger WHY it’s easier to overcome the fear and doubt. Remind yourself why this idea or project is important to you and to the organization. Write it out, or draw it, post it close by to give you a vision. Putting my message out into the world mattered because it had practical tips for results-driven leaders that are actually simple. It mattered personally to me because the journey of being more motivating and inspiring rather than so task-focussed was my journey.

My book writing journey started with a 10-day book proposal writing programme offered by a book coach. The programme was designed to produce a proposal for my book for a publisher or literary agent. Writing that proposal felt a bit like the cart before the horse. Upon completion of that proposal I was more committed to my book than before. While articulating the audience for my book and the main ideas of my book in that proposal, it crystalized the vision and benefit of my book and that there was an audience for the models, tools and tips in my book.

Have support. I had the support of a book coach and was part of a book-writing group that supported each other through the process. They gave me input on the book content and also on my fears and worries. They shared their concerns which made me feel better about my feelings. We were a community of support, ideas and encouragement for each other which fuelled us forward. Find people who can support you with the content of your idea and with the encouragement to take a risk, people who believe in you and your ideas.

Realize it’s a process. Take one step, the first step. People often get overwhelmed when they think of the WHOLE, BIG PROJECT. Instead, think of one step you can do to advance the idea. Electric cars for example didn’t just materialize overnight, they were broken down into a series of steps, more accurately many series of steps. Focus on the step that is in front of you and take it one at a time.

Feel the fear. Emotions have information that can be valuable for us to know. When you feel something, notice the emotion and name it (there are many emotion wheels on-line to help you articulate the names of emotions as we aren’t taught emotional literacy at school). What is the message or information in the emotion? That emotion is data for yourself. For example, anxiety can mean you need more support or input to proceed. Frustration often means you have an unmet need so identify that unconscious need and ask for it to be fulfilled.

Emotional Intelligence in Leadership and Risk Taking

In organizations and even in families or volunteer groups, calculated risk taking is made easier if you build psychological safety. When there is psychological safety there’s the belief that one can speak up without risk of punishment or humiliation. You can create this by:

 Inviting questions and soliciting differences of opinions (eg. If you knew we couldn’t fail, what would you try?).

 Promoting self-awareness so people are aware of their impact, potential biases, and triggers.

 Offering multiple ways for people to input – verbally in a meeting, in the chat function of a VC, on post-its that are anonymously collected.

 Showing concern for people as people as it demonstrates your interest in them holistically and not just on the work-side.

 Shutting down gossip, backstabbing, and ridicule whenever it appears makes people know you have their backs.

Sticking my head above the parapet and publishing my book was worth it – this year my book, Soft Skills HARD RESULTS, won The Business Book Award for Business Self-Development!

What could you create if you raised your head above the parapet?

What impact could you have? Or others in your team?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore how to help yourself and others take risks for greater innovation, trust and performance.

: A Tangible Example of Emotional Intelligence in Real Life

A Tangible Example of Emotional Intelligence in Real Life

Wondering what cricket can tell you about improving team performance?
Want to understand how “emotional intelligence” actually works in IRL?
Need actually phrases and tactics of how to “DO” emotional intelligence?

If you hate sports or don’t understand cricket, read on. There are leadership lessons for you to learn, even from bad examples of emotional intelligence on a sports field.

Last month the England Cricket Team played a Test match with India over 5 days. Spoiler alert, England were posed to win going into the final day until 1 hour of behaviour over 7 hours of play derailed them resulting in a draw. This isn’t just me saying it, Derek Pringle, sports journalist, summed it up as “England were puerile and it totally ruined their chances.” FYI for non-native English speakers, puerile means childish or immature. You could call some of their behaviour childish and I would say they were not operating with emotional intelligence. This is commonplace in many sports teams, organizations, businesses and even families.

Emotional Intelligence and Leadership

On that last day of play, the captain, Joe Root, had a poor showing at bat just after tea (gotta love a sport with a tea break I say). What I’m going to say is speculation as I wasn’t there and don’t know Joe Root. My speculation is based on what I’ve seen and heard over decades of organizational experience.

I assume he was disappointed in his batting performance. The team might have been frustrated they weren’t further ahead. They might have been anxious or worrying that Root’s at bat didn’t edge them close enough. There could have been some lingering resentment from the previous day when the Indian bowler (the person throwing the ball) bounced the ball in such a way to hit an England batter a few times. After that, England’s bowlers appeared to lose composure or forget their strengths or choose to change tactics and target the Indian batter’s head, hitting his helmet twice. Reactions were emotive across and between both teams. Please note there are many possibilities to what might have been going on in peoples’ heads and hearts – I name a few hear to illustrate. This illustrates the importance of recognizing that lots might be going on, and you probably don’t know for sure, so get curious, but I’m jumping ahead.

Leadership Lessons:

RESILIENCE – Increased resilience would have helped England during this last day of play. Resilience means the ability to bounce back after disappointment or step backs. The speed of being able to bounce back can be a game changer (literally for England’s Root).

How to be more resilient – Be self-aware enough to know what might trigger or derail you. What things (people, situations) throw you off your stride? An example for me is if two people in a group training I’m providing start talking among themselves, that CAN derail me, make me more concerned about what they are talking about, then what I’m doing with the rest of the group. Because I know that, it rarely knocks me off my game. Knowing what might upset you beforehand helps you see it before or just as it’s happening, to then be able to tell yourself “oh, I’m being triggered”. Beforehand, decide how you want to “be” in those situations and then in those moments choose what you’ve predefined. A post-it note on your monitor to remind you of how you want to be is helpful.

REACTIONS – Humans react to things, full stop. As much as we say business is rational, emotions are present all the time, even in offices and in virtual settings. Employers want the emotions of loyalty, commitment, positivity, excitement, gratitude, and many more. Employers and most humans don’t want the “negative” emotions of disappointment, unhappiness, overwhelm, anger, frustration, resentment or sadness. We can’t have it both ways.

How to handle reactions or emotions – Just as we can be triggered or derailed by situations and people, other people can be too. And they can also be triggered by what we do or say potentially. Best way to handle both our own and others’ emotions is to breath. When there’s time you can get curious by asking what are you feeling? What’s going on for you? I sense you might be frustrated, what’s happening? Naming an emotion can often diffuse it or at least clarify it for further exploration – much more productive than avoiding it as the person will still feel it. If there’s not time, such as on a cricket pitch mid-game, help point people to who they are when they are being their best and/or to what the goal is. For the cricketers it might have been for Root to: remind the bowlers of their what they had done well yesterday (“probing a good line and length to take advantage of cloud cover and an uneven pitch” according to Pringle); or what their strengths are; or that the goal/winning is in sight, they need to put aside any frustrations and be smart about how they play this to win (and then give them specific behaviours); or give them a positive mindset to hold (that was maybe discussed in training) such as “we are better than arguing on the pitch, let’s be the winning team we can be by playing how we can play”; or maybe set out an aspiration which could be asking “what would Ben Stokes expect or want for us now in order to win?” (Stokes is a star England cricketer who is on a break for mental health attention).

STEPPING UP – Yes, the captain of the sports team is the captain. The manager of a group at work is the manager. And a leader can be anyone who is present – both literally and emotionally (in the meeting, focused the moment/being present). By definition, a leader is someone who sees what needs to be done and rallies people towards that vision or goal. There could be a number of leaders in any situation, the leader is the one who sees what shift needs to happen to perform better and influences others towards it. Leadership is not a title, it’s the fact of having followers, people who choose to follow your direction hence leaders giving big direction (company vision or department goals) and leaders giving “small” direction (what’s needed right now, in an interaction, to get the most of out people in a way that’s mutually satisfying to achieve the task at hand).

How to be a leader, no matter your position – If there’s tension, anyone in the room can say “I sense we might need a break, how about we reconvene in 10 minutes after a breath of fresh air or glass of water?” Alternately, really courageous leadership would be pointing out the tension and getting curious about what’s happening for people. To do this type of courageous leadership requires trust amongst the team. Anyone can make any of the suggestions listed in the above ‘How to handle reactions or emotions.’ Any of the England team could have stepped in and said, “what do we need to do right now to win this?” Leaders often don’t have all the answers, they often have the best questions to unleash peoples’ potential to deal with the issue at hand.

In the case of this Test match and many meetings I’ve been involved in and heard about, keeping one’s head is paramount. That’s emotional intelligence. It doesn’t mean denying an emotion or feeling, it means knowing and managing yourself and your responses so that you can be aware of others’ feelings and manage your interaction with them to achieve the desired result. A captain exhibiting emotional intelligence would have recognized he was disappointed in himself for few runs; realized his bowlers were not using the tactics that had been successful up-to-now (maybe because of frustration or anger); rallied his team at any number of points in this 90-minute time span to focus them on their strengths, who they are when they are at their best and point them to the goal of winning.

Which of these leadership lessons matters most to you?

When have you seen such emotionally intelligent leadership? In sports or business?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore your leadership, and how to help yourself and others keep your head in the game to win.

Photo by Patrick Case from Pexels

Why it’s Okay to Show Emotion (and even Cry) at Work

Why it’s Okay to Show Emotion (and even Cry) at Work.

Organizations, and if we believe stereotypes male bosses, often hold the belief that people should leave their emotions at the door when they come to work. Some leaders say business is logical, factual, and shouldn’t be personal. In working with countless organizations on leadership development and coaching hundreds of clients the truth is that organizations want and need emotions at work. The key is which and how to manage them.

Truth of Emotions at Work

When leaders tell me they don’t want emotions at work I ask, “you want them to leave ambition, loyalty, trust, calm and inspiration at the door?” Usually not. Organizations want those emotions and others (happy, grateful, practical), they just don’t want the ‘difficult or uncomfortable’ ones.

Crying at Work

Emotions such as extreme anger in terms of outbursts and sadness or frustration especially if expressed in tears are the ones people don’t want as they don’t know how to deal with them. We aren’t taught emotional literacy in school like we are taught language and numerical literacy. Hence, not knowing what they are (is loyalty an emotion? Yes) or how to be with them.

Emotions as Data

The idea that some emotions are welcome and some not highlights the belief that some emotions are good, and some are bad. Emotions are just sensations and data. Fear is good sometimes as It alerts us to danger. Anxiety is the belief something might hurt us, but we don’t know what, so it is good to keep us vigilant. Tears might be good to indicate passion/commitment or overwhelm and potential burnout. Many people report crying when frustrated at work. There are no good or bad emotions; they are just present. The key is how to use that data to improve your effectiveness in achieving the organization’s agenda.

Crying at Work

Crying in some work environments might cause others to think you are weak. Articulating verbally that you are frustrated, having the emotion below the surface in your voice for authenticity, can be very powerful. This is why storytelling can be so effective in motivating and inspiring people; it conveys and evokes emotion.
Depending on your environment if you feel the need to cry, do it in private. If you do cry in public, name it, what’s the emotion that prompted the tears. Be comfortable being with your own emotions and teach others with your example of how to be with them. Reassure the other person that you don’t need them to do anything with the tears, potentially you need them to do something about the situation if applicable.

Managing Emotions at Work

The key is understanding your emotions and eventually others’ emotions. What are the emotions telling you? How does that serve the work? What emotions do you want others to feel? What can you do or say to or how can you be with them to create that feeling? This is what can build trust, passion and loyalty. What emotion is someone feeling about a request you’ve made? Sensing this (or asking) will help you know how to influence them better.
It’s how you express emotions at work, how you influence others to feel and sense how others are feeling that is key to building your credibility, effectiveness and having the impact you want.

Do your emotions help you at work?

Do other people’s emotions throw you?

Click on the various free resources I offer on my website that I’ve listed here:

Gratitude Template

Creating Better Interactions

Giving Feedback Template

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore managing your, and others’, emotional responses further.

Photo by Liza Summer from Pexels

How to Deal with Poorly Delivered Negative Feedback at Work

How to Deal with Negative Feedback (Ouch) at Work

No matter how well you perform at work everyone experiences receiving negative feedback (or at least they would in a learning or continuous improvement environment). Technically, feedback is feedback, we judge it as being positive or negative. All feedback, even positive feedback or the things we do well, is about improving ourselves even if that means continuing to do the good things we do.

Negative feedback can hurt. Our ego can be sensitive. It can go further and trigger feelings of shame or ‘not being good enough’ as some of my coaching clients experience. If negative feedback affects you in that way, then pay close attention to the BEFORE tips below to better prepare yourself (and consider working with a coach or therapist to get to the root of the issue).

Here are things you can do BEFORE, DURING and AFTER receiving the feedback (any feedback actually, positive or constructive).

BEFORE Getting any Feedback

1. Change your mindset about negative feedback. Think of it as constructive or developmental; meant to help you improve or be more effective (even if it’s delivered to you in a clumsy, less-than-ideal manner). Yes, this is a bit of mental gymnastics. Often, it’s said that feedback is a gift (imagine a beautifully wrapped box) think of it that way so when it comes you have that visual to ground you in the positive.

2. Identify what feedback would you give yourself. Proactively think about the areas you could improve to increase your effectiveness right now. Chances are you know the feedback others would probably give you (and sometimes we’re tougher on ourselves than others would be). What would you advise yourself to do differently to improve? How could some of your strengths help you make those improvements?

3. Reflect on your past experiences of receiving feedback. What did you think and how did you feel? What was it about that feedback that caused you to feel that way? What did it remind you of in your past? What did you tell yourself about that feedback? Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and consider their perspective in giving you that feedback? It can often be what we imagine or assume about the feedback that threatens us, more than the feedback itself.

DURING the Feedback Itself

1. Listen. Breathe. Listen. Listen to understand not to respond or defend. Breath while you are listening to stay present and not become reactive. Try to understand what the other person is saying. My executive coaching clients find simply nodding signals listening and buys them time to compose themselves and put their attention on what’s being said rather than the icky feeling inside.

2. Ask questions to understand better. As Stephen Covey, the famous educator, businessman and author said decades ago, seek first to understand before being understood. Ask them to repeat it again (in case you didn’t hear it the first time because you were listening to the little voices in your head defending yourself). Ask for specific examples to help you understand. Ask, in a curious tone, questions about what they see or hear you doing that’s impeding your performance such as:

• What behaviours am I doing that aren’t effective?

• What am I saying that has that impact?

• What specifically would you suggest I do or say?

• How should I do or say it differently to improve?

These types of questions can even help people that are poor at giving feedback to be better.

3. Acknowledge having heard the feedback. Restate what you have heard so you can confirm you’ve received it as intended. Tell the other person you will go away and consider how to act on their feedback. Depending on the feedback, the situation and the individual who said it to you, you might want to say you will come back to them to talk it through further or share your improvements. Say thank you (even if it’s thanking them for just caring about your performance!).

AFTER Getting Feedback

1. Consciously decide where to “take” the feedback. This tip relates back to the idea of feeling bad about ourselves when we receive negative feedback. There are different “lens” through which you can “see” the feedback. You can see it at a behavioural level (hence, why you ask them what they see or hear you doing, to focus them on giving you feedback about behaviours). At the other end, you can see it at an identity level, that you are a bad person or not good enough for the role. A useful structure to help assess where to take (and give) feedback is below. Its origins are from The Logical Levels, a tool or model in Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) developed by coach, consultant and trainer Robert Dilts and Todd Epstein. Focus on receiving the feedback at the outer 3 levels and ask questions to get the feedback at those levels.

Copyright Anne Taylor, Soft Skills HARD RESULTS, Practical Inspiration Publishing, London 2020

2. Decide what you will take on board. As with any gift, you can decide whether to receive it or not. Firstly, find the 2% truth in the feedback. You might not agree with anything the person is saying but often there is 2% truth in there somewhere. You had an impact, in the case of negative feedback, an ineffective impact. How that impact has been interpreted by the ‘giver of the feedback’ may not be entirely inaccurate. Putting your ego and self-doubt aside, what truth is in the feedback they are proposing? Secondly, decide if you will do anything with the feedback. Depending on the feedback, the situation and the giver of the feedback you need to consciously decide what’s best for you personally, for your performance and potentially your career. Lastly, if you decide all or some of it is relevant then develop a plan of action to improve it. You already have ideas from them when you asked what you could do differently to be more effective.

3. Follow up as necessary. You might want to follow up with the person that gave you the feedback to get more clarity by asking more questions. There is no harm in re-visiting it to understand more or to get suggestions on what to do better. You could also let them know what you are doing with the feedback, if anything. This very much depends on the situation, the feedback and who gave it. Some of the positives of doing this are: positively reinforcing that person to continue to give feedback, creating a feedback culture, showing you value them and their observations, and potentially having them think more highly of you as you take your impact seriously.

Remember, just as you might have struggled with receiving negative feedback others might too. Take that into consideration when you are giving feedback to others. Keep it focused on things they can change like behaviour, skills and capabilities. Don’t get personal, don’t give feedback at an identity level. Frame it as developmental and express your intention to help them improve their effectiveness. For more information on how to give feedback well see my blog, How to Give Constructive Feedback to Empower People.

What feedback would you like to address to improve your performance?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore feedback you’ve received and how you can become more effective, satisfied and successful.

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Are You in Danger of Potentially Being a Workaholic?

Are You in Danger of Potentially Being a Workaholic?

Workaholic? Long working hours? Many people struggle with long working hours and a lack of boundaries between work and home, especially when working from home is now widespread. Anecdotal evidence from interviews I’m conducting estimates that white-collar office workers are working 90 minutes to 2 hours longer per day while working from home.

Workaholism Meaning

Workaholism is different than working hard or working long hours. It is an addiction, a mental health issue like alcoholism and drug addiction. Psychologist Wayne E. Oates created the term “workaholic” in 1968 as someone with “an uncontrollable need to work incessantly.” Like an alcoholic, it’s the compulsion, you must, not because the excess is good or enjoyable. It isn’t the quantity of work, it’s about how you engage with your work and predominately your inability to disengage from it.

Workaholics – Common Indicators

Workaholism is typically long-term, it’s not related to a short-term burst as you strive for a promotion or deal with the initial crisis of a pandemic. The key indicator is the amount of head space, thought, energy and in some cases time you dedicate to work.

Some indicators are:

• Work late and/or take work home often and unnecessarily

• Checking messages at home, maybe even in the middle of the night

• Working or continually checking messages on holidays

• Time and relationships with others are compromised

• Lack of sleep or poor sleep

• You’re defined by your work

A notable ‘test’ for workaholism is The Bergen Work Addiction Scale. It was developed at the Faculty of Psychology, University of Bergen (UiB) in collaboration with Bergen Clinic Foundation and Nottingham Trent University and outlines 7 criteria for identifying work addiction. Score each criterion on the scale of: (1) Never, (2) Rarely, (3) Sometimes, (4) Often, and (5) Always:

• You think of how you can free up more time to work.

• You spend much more time working than initially intended.

• You work in order to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness and depression.

• You have been told by others to cut down on work without listening to them.

• You become stressed if you are prohibited from working.

• You deprioritise hobbies, leisure activities, and exercise because of your work.

• You work so much that it has negatively influenced your health.

Doctor Cecilie Schou Andreassen’s work at UiB shows that scoring «often» or «always» on at least four of the seven items may suggest that you are a workaholic.¹

Health Impact of Being a Workaholic

Research by Lieke ten Brummelhuis and Nancy P. Rothbard of 3,500 employees identified the differences between the behaviours of those who worked long hours and the mindset of workaholics and the effect on health. They also conducted medical checks on 763 of these employees to ascertain the health impact.

Among people who worked long hours this research found they suffered no adverse physical effects (of note, separate research shows continuous, stressful hours of prolonged work is harmful to cognitive ability especially in those over 40 years of age). Whereas, those who were workaholics, whether they worked long hours or not, had more health complaints and increased risk factors for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.²

5 Steps to Address Workaholism

Acknowledge you might have a problem. That’s the first step of any recovery programme. If those closest to you, especially if it’s multiple people, have commented on your work preoccupation consider that you might be workaholic. You can’t address what you don’t acknowledge.

Reflect on what might be the root of the problem. What might be the underlying reason(s)? One might be because you don’t feel good enough so you’re chasing ‘approval’ by achieving the next goal, doing the next task or being recognized for your ‘passion and commitment.’ Another might be perfectionism. Trying to live up to a self-imposed standard to prove you are competent or live up to an unrealistic expectation from a boss or society. Another could be to avoid other aspects of your life.

Imagine a balanced, successful life. The first step to any goal is knowing where you’re going. As an entrepreneur you have an idea and strive to bring that to life. You create. Do this with your own life. Imagine what a balanced, successful life looks like for you. What do you want people to say about you 50 years from now? What values, relationships and impact do you want to be known for? Once you have the vision, start working towards it.

Create boundaries. Success at work is impossible if you are tired and risk sickness and ill health. Put boundaries in place in terms of amount of time working and mental rejuvenation. Commit and schedule other activities that you can get lost in. What are your dormant passions? Learn mindfulness to be less obsessive about work thoughts and worries. Put reminders in your diary throughout the day to breath down to your belly, to walk around, to leave at a certain time.

Get support at work, from family, friends and professionals if needed. Professional help might be needed if you feel you are a workaholic, and/or you identified an underlying cause of the problem that isn’t healthy. Also, ask for support from friends, family and colleagues to disengage from work and be fully present with them and in other activities.

Manager of a Workaholic?

Whether you manage a workaholic or know someone who might be a workaholic, here are some ideas:

• Help the person find their intrinsic motivation for working that’s healthy. What makes the work meaningful? What enjoyment do they derive from work? As author, Simon Sinek, says great leaders inspire action by starting from the WHY, what’s the purpose? Leaders need to know why they get out of bed, and it usually isn’t to hit a target or make money.

• Point them to time management tools for greater efficiency and effectiveness.

• Foster a culture of appropriate boundaries, work/life balance and engagement as this will help everyone be productive, energized and creative.

• Communicate clearly about what’s acceptable and expected for after-hours communication and work.

• Show them this article.

To re-iterate, if you answered always or often on 4 of the Bergen Work Addiction criteria consult with a health professional to get support and a robust assessment. If you scored less and are struggling or want to create different working schedule get support.

What would improve with better boundaries at work?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore your working situation, boundaries, or those of people that work for you.

 

Endnotes
¹https://www.uib.no/en/news/36450/driven-work
²https://hbr.org/2018/03/how-being-a-workaholic-differs-from-working-long-hours-and-why-that-matters-for-your-health?registration=success

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How to be More Empathetic at Work and Why It’s Important

How to be More Empathetic at Work and Why It’s Important

Being empathetic or showing empathy is being mentioned by my coaching clients more and more lately. These leaders feel its importance has increased with new generations in the workforce, the focus on employee engagement and more so with the stresses and uncertainty of the pandemic. Research detailed below suggests they are right to make it a focus as 1 in 3 employees leave their organization for a more compassionate one.

Let’s start with some definitions because language does clarify.

What is Empathy?

Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another’s position. It’s putting yourself in the shoes of another, to see and feel from their perspective, not yours. You don’t necessarily agree with what they are feeling or their predicament. It’s an emotional link between people. Empathy doesn’t require me to have experienced that emotion before. It can be used for both ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ emotions.

What is Compassion?

Compassion is a sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others. It’s the idea that you can be with someone, and with their emotions while keeping your own emotional centre. A leader would do well to be compassionate with an employee they are firing, rather than empathetic. Being empathetic might cause you to be in their perspective and feelings so much that you engulfed in their fear or grief.

What is the Difference between Sympathy and Empathy

Sympathy is sharing the feelings with another, often with the expression of sorrow or pity for their troubles. There’s a sense of agreeing with the other’s misfortune and sharing it. Sympathy does require that you’ve felt that way yourself previously in order to share it. For example, we say we sympathize when we hear about a death, that means we connect to our own feelings of grief and loss and feel those feelings so can share how they are feeling.

Empathy and Emotional Intelligence at Work – The Business Case

Annual research by Businessolver shows the importance of empathy on employee engagement, productivity and retention and even more so for Gen Z.

In fact, they’ve found each of the last 5 years that they’ve being doing the survey that employees would sacrifice pay or work longer hours to work for an empathetic employer. In 2020, 74% of employees said they would work longer hours for an empathetic employer, and 80% said they would switch companies for equal pay if the employer were more empathetic.

Their research found that empathetic organizations were even more important to Gen Z with 83% of Gen Z employees saying they would choose an employer with a strong culture of empathy over an employer offering a slightly higher salary. 83% of Gen Z would consider leaving their current organization for a similar role at a more empathetic organization.¹

Furthermore, the research shows that CEOs overestimate how empathetic their organizations are versus how employees perceive it. Same for CEOs views of themselves: 5% of employees view CEOs in general as empathetic— representing a four-year low—versus 87% of CEOs.

What Makes Empathy at Work Difficult?

• It takes time, effort (emotionally and mentally) and is vulnerable as you have to name emotions of another person which might mean you are wrong.

• Different beliefs about the focus hence management prioritize what they believe vs their employees thereby losing the benefit. CEOs think empathy improves the bottom line, rather than the day-to-day work environment. Versus employees who think empathy creates a better workplace which increases their productivity and loyalty. CEOs and leaders miss the opportunities for empathy in the everyday which is what employees want.

• Different beliefs about who is responsible for building an empathetic culture, employees say their manager vs senior managers and HR having it as an initiative.

• We are not taught emotional literacy at school or work. At school we are taught reading, writing and numerical literacy not emotional. Many of my generation, the senior leaders today, weren’t taught about emotions at home.

• It can’t be measured.

• Empathetic people in an organization can be taken advantage of or be expected to “be the empathetic one” taking time and emotional energy.

Showing Empathy at Work

There’s a 3-part structure that’s helpful for conveying empathy as follows:

Acknowledge what the person is feeling – name the emotion

State what is making the person feel that way – seeing it from their perspective

Hypothesize why they might be feeling that way – give the person a sense or guess of why they might be feeling that way, be humble as you might not be correct

Here are some examples:

“I hear you are frustrated, Lisa, with your interactions with your colleague, Teo. I guess that’s because he’s not giving you the information you need in a timely manner.”

“I see that you are angry about the fact I’m not agreeing with you. I sense that’s because you wanted to just get on with it. “

“You sound really pleased that your recommendation got approved. I guess it’s because it’s your first one.”

Tips for Empathy

Listen from their perspective, meaning you need to be silent to listen and sense their experience. Actively listen, take time, clear out your own thoughts, beliefs, opinions and listen to put your attention on the other.

Ask questions. Don’t try and solve things initially (if at all), seek to understand the root cause of the other person’s thinking and feeling. Probe don’t interrogate. Clarify your understanding especially if the other person isn’t as clear as you want or need.

Suspend your assumptions about the person, the topic or the situation. We assume multiple times a day, if not more. Assumptions are from our experience, they are probably not shared as everyone’s experience is different.

Prioritize issues wisely, not first-come-first-serve. Giving priority to critical or more pressing issues shows people you understand.

Give empathy to those who are empathetic, as they often carry a heavier load.

Give people the benefit of the doubt if they are having a bad day or struggling. Don’t assume the worse in others especially if they make a mistake or are being difficult. More on this bias of attributing people’s mistakes to their character rather than external causes in a previous blog here.

Be present. Smile at people. Remember their names and ideally those of their family. Turn off your notifications and distractions when you’re in conversation with them.

Being empathetic doesn’t mean their issue becomes yours. In fact, you trying to solve it or make it better might make them feel they haven’t been heard or understood.

Show your own vulnerability. Share some of your worries (those that are ‘acceptable’ given your role) and positive emotions too. Share a few acceptable personal things. This makes you more relatable.

The key to empathy is to see your colleagues as people with feelings. Those feelings can be because of work or what’s going on personally for them. Get to know people as individuals, it doesn’t mean you have to be friends rather it means showing some interest periodically beyond just the task at hand. This is not a quick fix, it will be a journey for you and the organization’s culture to compassion and empathy leading to greater loyalty and productivity.

Book a COMPLIMENTARY coaching session with me here for support in further developing your leadership. Where would being more empathetic and compassionate benefit you or your team?

Endnotes
¹https://f.hubspotusercontent40.net/hubfs/378546/Empathy-2020/2020%20State%20of%20Workplace%20Empathy%20Executive%20Summary/businessolver-2020-state-of-workplace-empathy-executive-summary.pdf

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Asking for Help is a Leadership Quality - Really!

Asking for Help is a Leadership Quality, Really!

Think asking for help is a weakness? Especially if you are a leader? Think about when someone asks you for help, you are usually flattered and feel valued for the contribution you can make. Others often feel the same way. Also, there are few Solo heroes – even Superman had support from Lois Lane. We as humans are social beings, interdependent within organizations and life.

When I was writing my book, Soft Skills HARD RESULTS, I had to ask for help often. I asked coaching clients’ permission to use their experiences as case studies (anonymously), asked target readers to give me feedback, and thought leaders and corporate leaders to endorse the book to name a few. Each time I did that my book was better and the people were grateful I reached out and chose them.

Few jobs or tasks can be done in isolation, organizational structures are complex, people are remote yet connected so there’s actually an inherent expectation in today’s organizations of working together in various forms.

Why is Asking for Help a Strength?

Self-aware – asking for help shows you are self-aware by knowing when you need support or information you don’t have. You are not blind to your gaps in knowledge or behaviour.

Resourceful – asking for help shows you can identify alternate resources to get the job done.

Confident – asking for help shows you are confident enough in yourself and your ability to reach out to others. You can overcome any associated fear. You have humility – you recognize you don’t have all the answers.

Results-oriented – asking for help demonstrates your commitment to getting the job done, to the best of your ability and actually beyond your ability as you involve others’ knowledge and abilities too.

What Stops Us from Asking?

Most of the barriers we have to doing something are self-imposed, few come from external sources and asking for help is no exception.

• Fear of rejection

• Worried about being seen as needy

• Thought of as incapable or incompetent

• Insecurity of not knowing, not being able to handle it on your own

• Personal shame/feeling you’re not good enough

• The issue didn’t seem worthy of getting help

 

When asking senior leaders to review my book I was fearful of rejection and being seen as needy. I knew I couldn’t write my own reviews or endorsements (obviously), so I wasn’t worried about being thought of as incompetent.

The bottom-line of what stops people from asking for help is vulnerability – being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, at work it’s about being thought less of. Vulnerability and courage are two sides of the same coin. As researcher, Brené Brown, shared in her book, Dare to Lead, firefighters are some of the most courageous people, running into danger, putting their lives at risk which also demonstrates they are vulnerable – to death, injury, risking others’ lives.

The Leadership Benefits of Asking for Help

Beyond the obvious benefit of getting the work done to the best standard possible as you’ve gotten help from someone, there are many other leadership benefits to asking for help such as:

1. Role model the importance of collaborating with others. When a leader asks for help it sets the tone for what’s accepted in the group, and demonstrates that collaborating, getting others involved is acceptable and desired.

2. Enrol others in your ideas and solutions. One of my coaching clients always did things on her own, to her own detriment at times, to appear strong, capable, able to handle anything single-handedly. She got feedback from people that she was closed minded when in reality she loved input from others. She started asking for help to solicit the input she loved, and a side benefit was that she engaged others. It’s worked brilliantly, she’s found people more engage in the projects earlier, gotten better solutions with their input, not only making it better for the business outcome but also easier and more enjoyable for her.

3. Allow people to play to or use their strengths. Not everyone can be good at everything, and ideally your organization has a diversity of skills, talents and abilities. Asking for help allows people to use their strengths not only for their work but to help others’ work. Imagine if everyone in your organization was leveraging their strengths? Happier people and better results.

4. Makes us mentally stronger. When we practice a skill, we get better at it. Asking for help is no exception. It gets us out of our heads to some degree thereby sharing the burden and lightening our load, both in terms of completing the task but also emotionally. This sharing makes us more resilient and saves energy for when we are required to deliver individually.

How to Ask for Help

Sometimes the very expression “asking for help” makes people cringe at the thought of saying it. If it does make you cringe, and we were in a 1:1 coaching relationship, I’d be tempted to probe what caused that reaction in you or how you could say those words in a way (tone, attitude, come from place) with which you could be comfortable (if that was of interest) and I digress.

There are ways to achieve the same end (better results with less personal angst) such as:

1. Have people ‘volunteer’ their strengths. Have your team members share what they are good at and what types of things they could help others with. Having people publicly share their strengths, offering them up to others creates a shared understanding of who can help with what. It opens the door to be of service to another.

2. Ask in a way that feels right for you. There’s lots of ways to ask for help. Can I get your input? What would you suggest about…? Can I bounce something off you? Would you have time to collaborate on…? Can I pick your brain? I’d like an outside perspective please on…

3. Create a buddy system. Rather than asking for help being a one-way exchange, create a give-and-take with another person. Find someone inside or outside your organization who is complimentary to you and create a buddy system for giving each other help. This can work for both intellectual and emotional help.

4. Get clear on what help you need if possible. Identify what the obstacle or problem is that you’re struggling with and therefore what you’d want help with. Sometimes identifying the problem is what you need help with – and that’s good to know when approaching someone so you can articulate “I’d like your assistance identifying a block I’ve encountered in this project.”

5. Get a mentor. Be a mentor. Mentors are people senior to you, outside of your reporting line, even outside your organization, that provide training or advice about career progression and professional development. I’ve done training sessions for formal mentoring programs and the mentors were all volunteers and thrilled/honoured to be involved. They also said the relationships ended up being reciprocal – they learned from their mentees and sometimes asked them for help (on using social media for example).

6. Be genuine. Ask for help when you need it or when it would benefit the project, don’t use it as a ploy to engage people or shirk your responsibilities. People can sense when you’re passing the buck or going to the trough too many times needlessly so make it a win-win – everyone feeling good about their involvement.

In summary, organizations are simply systems of interconnected people designed to achieve a goal, purpose or specific outcomes. Everyone in an organization is dependent on someone for something – payroll to pay you, IT to provide support, manufacturing to produce the product for the customer. Your need for help is no different, how can you engage with others, by asking for help when needed, for better results?

Book a COMPLIMENTARY coaching session with me here for support in further developing your leadership. Where would asking for help make you more effective?

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