We can justify just about anything, can’t we? It’s a stand-in for lack of patience or a tired imagination or a distracted agenda. It’s good enough, right? Maybe. Sometimes.
Whenever you’re ready to sign off but you have even the slightest doubt — you know, that visceral nudge that can be easy to ignore — pay attention. If you can wait an hour or a day until you’re more refreshed, revisit it later. You’ll know what needs fixing, and you’ll have the energy to do it.
If time is not on your side, find your reserve forces by asking yourself if finishing now will bother you later. Will someone else point it out what you instinctively knew could have been better? Will you be relieved that you summoned the extra effort?
When I was 23 years old, I found myself in a job for which I was vastly under-qualified — associate managing editor of Ms. magazine. I’d walk around with a clipboard, creating and enforcing deadlines for the rest of the editorial staff, including the magazine’s beloved copy editor, Joan. She was a wise and patient woman, more than twice my age, who had been at Ms. for as long as anyone could remember. One night, in the frenzy of putting the latest issue to bed, the ever-meticulous Joan became a workflow bottleneck. So, I approached her, clipboard in hand, and impatiently explained that she needed to pick up the pace.
“I’m tired,” she said. “I’d really prefer to finish in the morning when I’m fresh.”
“I understand,” I said, not understanding in the least. “But we need to finish tonight. I’m sorry, but you’ll just have to keep going.”
Joan dutifully stayed late and miraculously caught typos at 2 a.m. And even more miraculously, she continued to treat me with far more graciousness and respect than I had earned.
I think about that exchange whenever I feel my humanity receding at work — which still happens far more often than I’d like, despite having accumulated two more decades of professional experience.
The sad truth is that working life can often make us put on an armor that hides our own humanity and distances us from that of our colleagues. And when we lose touch with our humanity — when we replace empathy with efficiency, when we get curt instead of curious — it’s a surefire way to get stuck. We stop recognizing the value of human connection, and it makes our working hours less joyful, our working relationships less stable, and our work product less meaningful.
Sometimes it’s obvious when the armor is up. But other times, it’s more subtle. Here are a few of the signs I’ve noticed in myself and others over the years:
1. You give one-word responses when colleagues talk about life outside of work. “Cool,” you say when they tell you about upcoming vacation plans. “Ugh,” you say when they mention being up late with a sick child. You don’t ask about it. You’re just eager to register the comment, move the conversation along, and get to the “important” stuff.
2. You become impatient when people need time to learn or adjust to something new. Whether it’s the new guy on the team who doesn’t have all the information or a colleague trying to master new skills, you expect them to go from 0 to 60 immediately.
3. You treat physical and psychic nourishment as a luxury. Maybe you schedule a meeting from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and expect everyone to make do without lunch. Or you harbor a grudge against a colleague when he leaves work a little early to go to yoga. Or you fail to understand why a creative colleague is stymied when she doesn’t have time to play and explore a little.
4. You go days (or weeks) without asking people how they’re doing. It doesn’t occur to you to check in with people — you’re doing fine, so they must be too. Or maybe you just don’t want to know: You’re so fixated on the ends that you’re willfully blind to how the means may be affecting people.
5. You shut people down. Maybe you deliver criticism without the constructive part, with phrases like “I thought you would have” or “If you had done what we agreed to.” Or you block opposing points of view with phrases like, “I get it, but…”
5 WAYS TO BE YOUR BEST SELF ON THE JOB
So, how do you shed the armor — or prevent it from forming in the first place? First, recognize that your humanity is not a weakness. Actually, it can be your greatest source of strength at work: the starting point for building relationships, the spark for your most productive conversations, the escape hatch when you’ve backed yourself into a corner. And the more humanity you show, the stronger it becomes.
Here are five humanity-affirming habits that have helped me:
1. Treat every relationship as one that matters. Express a genuine interest in what people care about. Give them your energy and time without hesitation. Taking people for granted or seeing some work relationships as less important can be a big mistake. For one thing, the person whom you ignore or mistreat is inevitably someone you’ll need to rely on down the road. But more important, so many opportunities open up when you treat every relationship with care and attention. You learn things from and about people. You build the kind of trust and camaraderie that makes you able to watch each other’s backs, promote each other’s interests, and seek each other’s advice.
2. Express gratitude liberally and regularly. Whenever you have a positive thought about something someone did, tell the person. It makes you both feel good instantly. On our Teamworks team, we always spend at least a few minutes a week to share appreciations about each other — it’s amazing how many examples you can come up with when you take a minute to think about why you’re grateful for other people. And it never fails to restore our connections with one another and reset our empathy levels.
3. Be counterintuitive about when you take breaks. Make time to walk around the block with a colleague when you are at your busiest. When you’re on deadline, eat lunch with someone, instead of at your desk. On your way out the door, stop to have a conversation with someone you haven’t seen in a while.
4. Name your fears and uncertainties. Robot-you pretends to be invulnerable; human-you tells people when you’re confused or afraid. So, the next time you’re in a conversation and you find yourself starting to get frustrated, angry, or defensive, take a moment to understand why. That night with Joan, I could have said, “I’m worried that if you don’t finish tonight, we won’t get the magazine to bed on time.” That would have opened up a conversation where we could have jointly looked at the situation and come up with a plan together.
5. Ask more questions; make fewer assumptions. When people do things contrary to our expectations, it’s very easy to explain — and often judge — the behavior based on our own preconceptions. But when we ask clarifying questions, we often discover that those preconceptions are incomplete or even dead wrong. So, instead of assuming the new guy is slow on the uptake, ask him, “Hey. I noticed you didn’t say much during that meeting. What were you thinking?”
One final thing I’ve learned since my days as the enforcer at Ms.: You sometimes have to sacrifice a deadline in order to preserve something far more important — a relationship, a person’s well-being, the quality of the work. Deadlines can be a wonderful mechanism for structuring work and staying accountable. But when the effort to meet a deadline starts to wall off your compassion and perspective, it’s time to go looking for your better self.
PRINTABLE TIP CARD: 6 ways to stay human on the job
Julie Felner has worked at SY, creator of Unstuck, for more than a decade. She currently serves as product lead for Teamworks, the latest offering from SYProducts. Teamworks helps managers and their teams work better together so they can achieve great results. Before moving to SYProducts, Julie was VP of the SYP Way, where she developed SY’s one-of-a-kind onboarding program and courses on the art of storytelling and feedback. And she was a director of strategy at SYPartners, working with leaders at Deloitte, Yahoo, Gap, and Pacific Sunwear. Prior to joining SY, Julie was a senior content strategist at Sapient. She started her career as an editor and writer — working at or contributing to Ms., Salon, Health, Mother Jones, Vanity Fair, and others.
Next week: The perils of being perfect — and what to do about it
Last week: More patience — is there an app for that?
Dreaming of a new career can (temporarily) lessen the bite of a bad job, but it may not motivate us beyond our musings. To build momentum, do something — anything — that gets you excited, increases your knowledge, or expands your connections. Here are 7 ideas ranging from tiny to whoa-look-what-I’m-doing!
1. Make a vision board
2. Go on an informational interview
3. Start a side business on eBay or Etsy
4. Write a guest article or blog post
5. Resist the urge to complain
6. Give tennis lessons to kids
7. Write your autobiography: it might reveal things you forgot about yourself
Thanks to Karen Amster-Young and Pam Godwin for this list. You can find hundreds more ideas in their book The 52 Weeks: Two Women and Their Quest to Get Unstuck, with Stories and Ideas to Jumpstart Your Year of Discovery
Not so long ago, we at Unstuck experienced a small stuck moment of our own. It began when we opened a customer service email from a potential Unstuck app user, which simply read: ANDROID! NOW!
After a few seconds of shock, we landed on a sense of indignation: How dare this person shout at us this way? We provide free software that helps people. And it works. And it’s free! Doesn’t this shouter know that it costs us time and money to create free apps?
But it nibbled at our subconscious long enough that we decided to turn our indignation into a question: Why did this person feel it was okay to demand — to scream — that we deliver a free Android app?
We’ll spare you our meandering logic and fast-forward to the conclusion: Among all the wonderful things technology does for us, it also feeds a primal desire for instant gratification. Want it? You got it. Now.
There’s Uber for instant taxis, Netflix for instant entertainment, Glam Squad for on-demand beauty services, Zeel for same-day massages, Postmates for speedy food delivery. The list goes on and on, and includes Unstuck. (Yikes! Are we part of a problem?)
This kind of immediacy is something we’re all getting very used to — lots of quick fixes throughout the day — to the point where the idea of waiting for something becomes a distant memory. It’s supposed to make us more efficient. And we admit we’re enamored with the innovation it’s breeding (check out these three products). But it’s also making patience a rare commodity.
What patience does for us
Patience is an unsung hero. It enables us to make better decisions. To appreciate the process as well as the result. To tap into empathy, compassion, and understanding. To see things through to the end. (This reads like a short list of abilities that come in handy when we need to get unstuck.)
But it doesn’t seem to be holding up particularly well these days. Maybe that’s because patience is a skill, and like any skill, it requires practice. Of course, as logic goes, with all our insta-apps delivering what we want when we want it, there isn’t as much call for us to practice patience. But we submit that it’s just the opposite. In a world gone on-demand, we need more.
To put a fine point on it, without patience we lack the wherewithal to see things through, to wait for the better outcome, to strive for our heart’s desire when it’s not in front of us at the moment. And that lowers our quality of life in all kinds of ways. Like ulcers and heart issues. Anxiety, anger, and depression. Torn relationships. Compromised quality. Colossal amounts of energy spent on achieving very little.
That disturbing scenario has put us in pursuit of patience.
First, we took a deep breath and wrote back to the Android device owner. We explained that we’ve developed a web app designed to work well on Android, and we invited feedback on the experience (when you meet stuck moments with patience, it helps others tap into their own). Then we came up with ways to exercise our patience every day. We share them here, with the hope that you, too, believe that patient people should not be an endangered species.
When you’re feeling short on patience:
• Consider what goes into making your request happen. If you found out that it was going to take at least 30 minutes to receive your entree, like the famous chicken served at Zuni Café, where they begin preparing it the day before and roast it in wood-fired brick ovens, would you still insist they hurry it up? If you would, are you okay with a wing and thigh from a fast food joint instead?
• Project how important this moment of impatience will be in a year or a week or even a day. Be honest, will you even remember why you caused such a fuss? And will it make a difference in the long run?
• Notice the angry person you are in this moment. Is this the person you really want to be in the world?
When you’re feeling calm and want to stay that way:
• Take the long way and enjoy what it has to offer. Instead of texting, handwrite a note. Instead of the highway, take the back road and stay under the speed limit. If you’re riding the train, put away your phone and look around.
• Be grateful for what is. When you spend time adding up what’s good in life (and we don’t necessarily mean possessions), it brings on an awesome feeling of contentment. If you do that every day, you get to feel that contentment every day. Contentment and impatience are mutually exclusive.
• Don’t try to multitask. We emphasize “try” because, unlike computers, the human brain isn’t wired to compute more than one thing at a time (here’s why). So when we attempt to, we get frazzled, and that can lead to impatience.
• Meditate. It does take practice — that alone will increase your tolerance levels. And once you get the hang of meditating on a regular basis, you’ll be equipped to combat impatient flare-ups. Here’s an easy primer to get started.
Final thought: By its very nature, there is no insta-fix for patience. But if we pay attention to it, and practice it, we can make it more of a habit.
Next week: How to work like a human
Last week: How to make the most of a big mistake
Don’t be fooled by the pretty words “honey wheat” or “golden oat” in the bread aisle. If the first ingredient listed on the package doesn’t say “whole wheat flour,” you won’t reap all the benefits of this healthy grain.
There are three good reasons that 100% whole wheat has the upper hand to white bread. It contains:
• more protein,
• more fiber, and
• less processing.
This simple switch could make a huge difference in your:
• satiety (you’ll feel fuller so are likely to eat less), and
• digestive system (which could reduce bloating and irregularity).
Thanks to REFIT® for this tip. REFIT is a community-centered fitness program that engages the heart as a muscle and a soul. Learn more about this revolutionary fitness community at www.REFITREV.com