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Use storytelling at work

Did you hear any captivating stories as you sat around the Thanksgiving table this past week? If so, you might have noticed that the speaker used certain techniques to draw you in–vivid descriptions, facial expressions, a narrative arc. A good storyteller makes these things seem natural.

If you think about it, storytelling has A LOT of cross-application when it comes to work. In the past, I’ve discussed how it can be a powerful sales tool, but it can be useful to anyone in almost any industry. Use storytelling techniques to:

  • Be a more engaging, charismatic leader
  • Keep others’ attention when you’re presenting during a meeting
  • Snag a new client
  • Make a convincing argument or illustrate an idea
  • Present a point to your team

Ok. You’re probably convinced that storytelling is useful, but it doesn’t necessarily come naturally to everyone. How do you work on developing your storytelling techniques?

1. Practice

You probably won’t be a natural storyteller at first, but the key is to PRACTICE. Think about scenarios in which storytelling might come in handy, and then make an effort to do it. Be sure to practice the story you’d like to tell beforehand–do it aloud and in front of a mirror to work out any rough patches.

2. Consider the main point

Your story can’t just be a story. It has to have some kind of relevance to the topic at hand. If, for instance, you’re trying to prove the effectiveness of a product, tell a story about how the product helped a specific person. If you’d like to demonstrate to a potential new client that your company is trustworthy, tell about a time that your team came through in a pinch.

3. Remember the classic story arc

Every good story has a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning should hook your audience, while the end should clearly give the main message and potentially be a call to action. If your story is jumbled, others will have trouble deciphering the main message or become disengaged.

4. Use a “lead-in”

It’s odd to jump straight into a story with no lead-in. You’ll want to tie the story to the topic that’s being discussed before plunging in. Frame up your story with a lead-in like one of the following:

  • “I am confident product XYZ is a good value to our customers. One example that comes to mind is…”
  • “I think it would be beneficial if we changed to system X. One reason is that…”
  • “This reminds me of something I witnessed last year…”
  • “We have to consider statistics, of course, but anecdotally, I once noticed…”
  • “I’d like to give you an example of why I think X would be a good idea…”

5. Practice some more

You may not hit the nail on the head the first time you try storytelling. Keep at it and modify your techniques as need-be. Does your delivery need work? Do you need to use better vocal inflection? Are you having trouble articulating your main point?

Assess, try again, repeat. Skilled storytellers don’t develop overnight.

 

Need more storytelling techniques? Feel free to contact me for guidance.

 

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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meaningful career

It’s a common challenge: How do you love your job and make money? Some are lucky to achieve both, but many people feel stuck between one or the other. Unfortunately, many artistic endeavors and social services do not pay well, despite their value to society. Because of that, many people are left feeling unfulfilled in their office jobs, wondering if they should be doing something MORE with their lives.

Does that sound like you?

If so, you’re not alone. If your discontentment is severe, consider talking to a career coach (drop me a note if you’d like). If, however, your discontentment is more of a nagging tug at your conscience, you may be able to improve things on your own.

No matter what industry you’re in, there’s usually an opportunity to integrate art, altruism, community, or whatever piques your interest into your work. It only takes a little creativity, initiative, and perseverance. Start with these four steps:

1. Look For Existing Opportunities

Depending on your organization, meaningful opportunities may already exist. Some businesses have groups devoted to community projects, art, or forming connections between like-minded co-workers. Do a little research and see if anything that aligns with your interests already exists.

2. Integrate Interests With Daily Work

Interested in photography? Volunteer to take pictures for the monthly newsletter or company website. Love writing? Ask your boss for writing-heavy assignments or, if you’re working in a team, offer to take on the writing tasks. See if it’s possible to meld your interests with your everyday workload.

3. Take Initiative!

Create your own meaning by initiating groups devoted to volunteering, artistic endeavors, or other projects related to your interests. Of course, you’ll want to go through the proper channels to do this, but you might be surprised by how willing organizations can be when it comes to volunteer or enrichment programs. Chances are, other people will also be interested in your endeavor, which translates into a more tight-knit, content work community.

Some ideas for you to consider include:

  • Creating an artists’ club for knitting, painting, photography, or whatever you’re interested in (Instead of a weekly happy hour, host an “art session” instead!)
  • Volunteering in the local community (soup kitchens, book drives, etc.)
  • Initiating fundraisers for schools, safety, health and wellness, or whatever you’d like
  • Starting a “green” group that occasionally gets together to do roadside cleanups or raise money for parks, clean water, etc.
  • Founding a wellness program that focuses on clean eating, meditation, weekly yoga, or whatever you’re passionate about

4. Look For Resources

Some organizations have funds set aside for “extracurricular” work activities. Do your research! Might your company be willing to sponsor your initiative? Don’t forget, people count as resources too. You may be surprised by others’ excitement and willingness to help.

 

Do you feel invigorated? Energized? Ready to dive in and figure out how to make work more meaningful for YOU? I hope so. Finding meaning in your work is vital for your sustained happiness.

If you’d like a little more guidance, I’m here to help.

 

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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This blog post was first published in October, 2012.

Cell phones, e-mail and the internet were intended to help ease the stress of life, yet it would appear they actually make the work week longer, the pool of contacts larger, and the deadlines closer together.  We instinctively fight to stay afloat, throwing ourselves through all sorts of hoops without a moment’s rest. After all, how can we expect to take even a moment for ourselves when our to-do pile grows bigger by the minute?

 

take time to pause

We can, and we should, insists Nance Guilmartin in her book, The Power of Pause. Herein she argues that pausing before undergoing a task gives you a better shot at success, in that it provides you with the opportunity to reflect, weigh options and make judgment calls uninfluenced by charged emotions:

“We’re quick to say yes to someone’s request because we don’t think we have a choice. We just hit the Reply All or Send button on an e-mail instead of considering our options, picking up the phone, or walking down the hall. We jump to conclusions based on assumptions, expectations, or wished-for outcomes that are frequently far from reality.”

Taking a step back while under stress is counter intuitive and takes practice to master. Yet, whether you wait a minute, an hour, or a day, “your ability to make better choices is sharpened, and that can lead to significantly better results for you and for your clients,” says Guilmartin.

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A moment of pause enables us to see the big picture of our circumstances. An angry e-mail from a client, for example, seems to demand immediate reply. But is action without true pause the best route to take in this situation? No, Guilmartin says, because during a stressful, disagreeable exchange, the chance is high that our emotions will get in the way of maintaining good relationships with those around us.

In a situation such as this, a pause allots us time to ask key questions aimed at the heart of our stress. To do this, Guilmartin suggests that “you use a simple phrase to help you shift from jumping to a conclusion, even if you think you are right and have the facts. Ask yourself this seven-word question: What don’t I know I don’t know?

In other words, are you missing something important you haven’t considered? In the angry client e-mail example, it could be you didn’t communicate sufficiently with the client at the outset or some important detail was lost in the shuffle.  Pausing to reevaluate both what went wrong and how to respond will optimize the chances of moving forward with the client in a fair, productive manner.

To put it another way, pausing actually increases brain performance. The next time you’re faced with overwhelming circumstances, remember that you have the choice to take a time-out. I encourage you take it. In so doing, you’ll give yourself the gift of perspective, time to weigh your options, and a moment to clarify your goals. Not only do you have this choice, even though it may not seem like it at the time, research shows that choosing to slow down helps you in the long run.

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Herbert Benson, “Are You Working Too Hard?” Harvard Business Review, November 2005, 54-56.

Nance Guilmartin, The Power of Pause: How to Be More Effective in a Demanding, 24/7 World (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2010), 36, 153.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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find voice and own it

Your thoughts matter.

Do you believe that simple sentence? Have you internalized your worth as both a human being and a key component of your workplace?

I’ll say it again: Your thoughts matter.

Far too often, people feel like their ideas, opinions, or points of view do not mean as much as others’. They feel minimized or silenced. They feel some kind of invisible barrier, holding them back from speaking up.

Have you ever felt this way? Have you ever been at a meeting and decided against speaking up or voicing your opinion? Have you ever felt shut out of a conversation, even though you had something to contribute? Why?

Unfortunately, a few dominant voices tend to rule the workplace. Whether they became the “big players” through experience or by aggressively asserting their point of view, these are the people who do not easily share the floor with others.

So, how do you break in? How do you find your professional voice and speak it?

Start small. Try a few of the following steps and keep building your confidence–and your voice–through intentional actions.

  • Practice speaking your mind in one-on-one meetings or informal lunch gatherings.
  • Build your confidence before you go into a meeting. Try using Amy Cuddy’s power pose or repeating affirmations.
  • Set a concrete goal (i.e. I will speak up at least twice during our next meeting).
  • Have a candid discussion with those who shut you out of meetings (they may not even realize they’re doing it!). Don’t be confrontational, be conversational. Present your case by using the D4 feedback model.
  • Involve others. If you notice someone else itching to say something, be an advocate for them. Say something like, “It looks like Susan has something to say.” Your gesture won’t go unnoticed and (hopefully) the favor will be returned at some point
  • Be prepared and know your stuff! Do your research before walking into a meeting and come prepared to ask at least three good questions (I’m a huge proponent of asking good questions!).
  • Keep it up. Even when you’re not feeling especially assertive, keep up your confidence through affirmations, intentional breaks (get away from your desk!), and by practicing good all-around self-care.

Your voice is valuable! It’s time others heard it.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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Get things done

David Allen has influenced people all over the world with his best-selling book, Getting Things Done. What can we learn from his methods? I’ve highlighted seven key lessons for increasing productivity, each and every day:

1. Focus on your workspace

Where you work is important. Set up your workspace so that it is your “cockpit of control.” That means everything is intentionally organized and you have efficient, instant access to information or tools you need.

2. Don’t multi-task

Focus on one task at a time and give it your full attention. Multi-tasking ultimately slows you down because your attention will be disjointed and you may not complete tasks to the best of your ability.

3. Cut down on distractions with a Thought Bucket

When you’re working on a specific task and something else comes to mind, jot it down in your “Thought Bucket.” That way, you won’t lose your thought and it’s less likely to control your mind. Every week, take a look at your notes in the Thought Bucket. Remove unimportant items, complete 2-minute tasks, and plot out appointments/deadlines in your calendar.

4. Break down goals

If you’re staring down a big-picture goal, it may seem intimidating (and you may turn and run the other way!). Instead, break down your goals into bite-sized pieces and tackle those pieces one at a time. The most urgent step on the project list goes to the Next Action list.

5. Pay attention to time-sensitive items

Allen suggests keeping track of time-sensitive tasks in something called the Tickler File. Use this file to set reminders for deadlines that are coming up within the next 31 days and also 12 months into the future.

6. Keep a Someday/Maybe list

Dare to dream. If you have ideas for projects you’d like to tackle or initiatives you’d like to start in the future, keep track of them on your Someday/Maybe list.

7. Regularly update your information

Allen suggests reviewing and updating all lists weekly. In his view, daily to-do lists are inefficient because of their warped view of time. Weekly lists help you think “bigger picture,” but do not overwhelm.

How about you? Are you a list-maker? How do you organize your day/week/quarter/year? Do you tend to multi-task or lend your focus to one task at a time? If you’re finding that your current system isn’t working, you may want to give David Allen’s a try!

 

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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Good things come to those who wait. But who has time for that? No one likes waiting, particularly in this digital age of speedy convenience and instant gratification. The truth is, patience is a skill we’ve gotten lazy with and a lesson we undervalue. Here are some techniques to help you build acceptance for time, people and circumstance:

REDEFINE IT

For some people, the thought of patience makes them groan. They view patience as a sacrifice–a compromise of their genuine frustration. Because, let’s be honest, when things aren’t going the way we want, the last thing we want to do is take a deep breath and count to ten.

The truth is that patience is not gritting your teeth and trying to bare reality while you wait for something better. True patience is not tense or unhappy. It is a soft and open understanding that, “This is going to change, but right now, it can’t be other than what it is.” It’s our willingness to recommit, time and time again, to accepting that when we can’t control things, we are in control of our relationship to them. Being angry at morning traffic will not make it move any faster.

So ask yourself, “How do I want feel in this moment?” And give yourself permission to feel that way.

USE PERSPECTIVE

Tired, hungry, and overworked are not qualities that set you up for patience but sometimes they’re unavoidable. When the present moment is too overwhelming to make space for patience, try simply acknowledging impatience. Find the awareness to see that you’re short on clarity and, therefore, now is not a good time to confront that co-worker. Realize that your perception is clouded by stress and that you’re very likely to think differently after lunch. Is this something worthy of ruining your week? Or is it a minor inconvenience that will sort itself out? Perspective and patience go hand in hand.

SET MINI GOALS

Long term goals are great for giving us direction, but less great for giving us motivation. When the pay-off is so far down the road, it can feel like we’re moving in slow motion to the point where we question if we’re even making progress. Set mini goals for yourself and celebrate your small successes! Its easier to be patient with your goals when you can track your progress with check points.

DELAY GRATIFICATION

Modern technology has spoiled us. The convenience of instant messaging and endless resources at our fingertips has trained us to believe that if we want it, we should be able to have it right now. We start craving convenience over quality. Why wait for something great when something good is available right now? Because you deserve the best. Because patience is a virtue worth cultivating.

 

The more you practice anything, the easier it becomes. Patience takes time to develop, so if you find these techniques to be more challenging than you thought, that’s okay. Be patient with yourself.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

 

 

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Defeat the Workplace Jerk

Sometimes the office can feel like junior high. There can be cliques, hurt feelings, and even bullies. Unfortunately, some people never outgrow their habits of picking on others, over-asserting themselves, or acting just plain mean. Instead of trying to change a bully’s ways, focus on yourself and utilize a few strategies to make bullying behavior more bearable.

NOTE: If bullying is emotionally or physically damaging, that’s MORE than bullying. It’s harassment and should be reported.

1. Surround yourself with positive allies

Strength in numbers! I think (and hope!) you’ll find that the majority of people you encounter in the workplace are perfectly decent, respectful human beings. Find those people and befriend them. Life is too short to try to befriend and change the office bully. Surround yourself with positive influences and you’ll find your days at the office much more enjoyable.

2. Think “big picture”

Will the annoying behavior of an office jerk affect you tomorrow? Next week? Think in terms of the big picture and don’t let a few irritations get to you. You’re bigger and better than that.

3. Minimize the bully

Bob Sutton, author of The A**hole Survival Guide: How to Deal With People Who Treat You Like Dirt, suggests thinking about workplace bullies like bugs in a jar—they are fascinating specimens that you can examine from a dispassionate distance! When you think about it, bullying really is clownish behavior. It’s someone trying to scrabble up to the top of the heap by being cruel or downright nasty. When you think about bullying behavior as something immature and ridiculous (what is that bug doing in its little jar?!), then the behavior seems less harmful and more laughable.

4. Build up your reservoir of confidence

Don’t let bullies diminish you. Build up your confidence before and after you meet with a bully by reciting positive affirmations, talking with others who are positive and affirming, or practicing your power pose. Know that you ARE a worthy person and a valuable contributor and no single person can change that.

5. Report it

If the bullying is so bad that it is inhibiting your ability to work and thrive, you need to report it. Sure, everyone has their moments, but if those moments are more like months, something needs to be done. If you feel comfortable talking with the bully, you may want to sit down with him/her first and let them know what’s on your mind. If you are afraid of a nasty backlash, go directly to the bully’s supervisor. No one should feel threatened or belittled at work. If you’ve tried the first four tactics and things are still not improving with your bully, it’s time to formally report their awful behavior.

 

Don’t take bullying lying down! Start with these five strategies and, if you find they’re not working, there’s absolutely no shame in taking action and reporting the toxic individual.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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