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Category Archives: Thrive at Work

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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If you are a Millennial, you’re probably already well aware that you’re fighting an uphill battle in the average workplace. Millennials have been given a lot of flak for being lazy, self-absorbed, and disloyal. Journalists love writing articles about Millennials that cast the entire generation in a poor light. While the criticisms may be true in some cases, they are absolutely NOT true in many others.

(I’ve written a couple blog posts about the fallacy that Millennials are bad employees. Check out Millennials and Loyalty and Millennials and Altruism).

Unfortunately, many people have bought into the racket and are overly cautious about their Millennial co-workers. So, how do you cut through the distrust and prove that you are, in fact, loyal and you DO want to work hard?

Try the following 5 strategies:

1. Demonstrate Your Respect

I’m sure you have tons of brilliant ideas that you’d like to implement RIGHT AWAY, but hold your horses. If you’re starting out in a new job, take your time to get to know your co-workers, get a feel for the environment, and understand protocol. Be sure to respect the ideas and practices of those who have been in the organization for longer than you have, even if you don’t necessarily agree with their methods. A little respect can go a long way.

When you do feel you need to speak up and offer an alternative opinion, do so in a courteous manner. Acknowledge the commonalities between you and the other person or people with whom you disagree, and THEN offer your alternative or dissenting opinion. Remember: your tone of voice and mannerisms can also speak volumes. Pay attention to your body language and be as polite as possible.

2. Surpass Expectations

If you’re looking for respect from your co-workers, then make sure you’re not only turning in your assignments on time and being as punctual as possible, but also make an effort to go the extra mile. Do a little extra research for that report. Help out a struggling co-worker. Turn in a project a day early.

You don’t always have to surpass expectations (and probably shouldn’t), but it doesn’t hurt to make an effort to shine from time to time. Just make sure you’re not rubbing your excellence in others’ noses!

3. Think AND Talk About the Future

What’s your five-year plan at your company? What are your goals? Think about your personal expectations for your future self (if you’d like some help with goal setting, check out this past blog post), and commit to them.

Don’t be afraid to let others in on your goals, especially your immediate supervisor or mentor. How do you talk about your goals with others? Try framing them in the form of a question. For instance:

“I’m determined to do XYZ this year, but I’m not sure about [a certain aspect of reaching that goal]. What are your thoughts?”

OR: “I’d really like to [become a project lead, take on X responsibility, earn a promotion to X position]. How were you able to do this? Any tips for me?”

4. Be Humble

You don’t know everything. Not only that, there are things you don’t even know that you don’t know! With that in mind, be open to learning and trying new things. Listen. Pay attention. Learn.

5. When Things Aren’t Ideal, Communicate

Instead of thinking about leaving as soon as things get tough or the job doesn’t seem to suit you anymore, communicate. Approach your supervisor, let her know about your discontentment, and strategize ways to overcome your slump (better yet, strategize ahead of time, and let her know your ideas in addition to a collaborative brainstorm).

Believe me, everyone has slumps. It’s possible you’ve mastered your work and are now bored, or you might feel ill-suited to the work you are doing (in both cases, a change in responsibilities might help you re-engage). It’s also possible you’ve become unhappy with the work climate and don’t care for certain co-workers or certain office practices. That is a larger problem, but can also be surmountable in some cases (it might just mean talking to certain co-workers and strategizing on how to better work together).

Direct communication is key. The last thing you want to do is mope around for a month, make everyone around you unhappy, and then quit. That doesn’t do ANYONE any good! Talking out your discontentment (in a respectful, matter-of-fact way), and strategizing solutions is a much more proactive approach.

 

How will you prove yourself in a workplace that is determined to write you off? Start with these 5 strategies, give them an earnest try, and be patient–others’ attitudes toward you may not change overnight. Remember: if you find the workplace to be overwhelmingly toxic, there’s no shame in moving on. Just make sure to give this decision plenty of thought and consider talking with a career coach before you make your move.

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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more engaging presentation
Minutes feel like hours. The effects of your mid-morning coffee have long worn off and it takes every last bit of strength to keep your eyes on the presenter at the front of the room. You know how it feels to sit through a boring presentation. Perhaps the only thing worse is being the boring presenter yourself; watching the attention of your audience decrease exponentially. Luckily, there are ways to spare everyone the pain.

Here are five tips that will help you level-up your presentation game:

1) TELL A STORY

Take the main idea within your presentation and frame it in a narrative that contains a beginning, a middle, and an end. Introduce a flaw in the status quo, describe your quest for something better, and show the great potential of what you’ve found. This structure helps your audience feel invested, as though they’re right there with you, navigating the circumstances. A story format is easy for audiences to absorb, and they’re more likely to remember your conclusion.

2) KEEP IT SIMPLE

“Short and sweet,” as they say. Keeping a presentation short means a greater chance that your audience will stay attentive the whole time. This means cutting out any unnecessary information or redundant data. Slides should be free from visual clutter. Too many bullet points means focus pulled away from the presenter’s voice and onto reading the screen. You are conducting your presentation, the powerpoint is not.

Images are your friend. This includes graphs/charts, but again, nothing convoluted or difficult to interpret.

3) GET YOUR AUDIENCE INVOLVED

Active involvement from the audience exerts spontaneity. People are more likely to stay engaged when there’s an opportunity for something unrehearsed to occur. The use of props, asking for a volunteer, leading an activity, doing a demonstration or initiating discussion are all great ways to lift up the energy in the room.

4) SPEAK EFFECTIVELY

What if you could take information that you want to convey, and rephrase it in an enticing way? You can! Use the power of questioning to your advantage. Rhetorical questions work well as transitions and plant curiosity in the listener. You voice is a tool, use it! Exclaim important things! Find a section of your presentation that could use a boost and change your inflection.

Alternatively, take a power pause. A brief pause is an effective way to let a message resonate. It can also replace any dreaded ‘Um’ or ‘Uhh’s.

5) MOVE WITH INTENTION

Don’t underestimate the role of body language. Engaging presenters stand confidently and use hand gestures that reflect the tone of their voice. Try making eye contact with someone long enough to finish a sentence or two instead of continuously scanning the room. Your movements are an extension of your words–your physicality can impact how your words are received.

Regardless of the topic or how experienced you are, following these tips will shut down the snore-factor at your next presentation. Remember that the more you believe what you’re saying is important, the better your audience will listen. Your ideas are worth hearing.

 

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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promotion worthy actions at work

Work. We all know to go above and beyond, we all know to be on time, meet deadlines, and dress for the job we want. But what about the things not everyone is keeping in their mental rosters? Things that have the opportunity to set you apart and give you an edge? Start with these four out-of-the-box tips:

1. People Like Being Around Likable People

Remember the cursed group projects of high school or college? Remember the characters you got stuck with? The slacker who never showed up, the bossy pants who refused others’ contributions, the walking vanity incapable of seeing beyond their lip gloss, or the one who was so emotionally strung out they spent most of their time crying in the bathroom? Don’t be those people!

Yes, you’re going to have a bad day. Everyone is going to have a bad day. But remember that people like to be around people who make them feel good. People feel easier working with someone engaged, easy-going, prepared, and generally friendly. When those new projects come up, chances are co-workers are going to opt for someone pleasant to be with and work with on their team. The better you can make someone feel at work, the more they’re going to feel good working with you.

2.Pretend This Is Your Favorite Underdog Movie

Someone needs to show Russia who is boss? Rocky punches in. Someone needs to herd a bunch of sheep? Babe the pig starts running in circles. Whatever your film genre, you’ve seen it – a job needs to be done, and someone unexpected comes along to do it. Now, don’t sign up for designing posters if you’ve never opened Photoshop. But, do get out there, take a chance on accepting a new responsibility and succeeding in it. Yes, there might be a learning curve or surprisingly unpleasant aspects to the job, but show you are willing to fill gaps. Show you are a more valuable asset than your coworkers by having a broader range of skills and greater willingness.

3. Manage Your Time

Engage in your work. By no means should you morph into a workaholic, but when you’re working, get to work. The best way to do this is to cleverly manage your time. If you have multiple projects, make a guesstimate of how long each one will take, rate their priority, organize the steps for each one, and maybe throw the more entertaining ones between the snore-fests.

Then, block out your time. Excel spreadsheets can be great personal tools. Keep track of what you do with your time so you can use it most efficiently, and hopefully clock out a little earlier. This also comes in handy when the boss comes knocking with another task. Simply shoot her your schedule of the things you are already doing, show her how much more still needs to be done, and convince her that another employee might have more time to do a good job on it.

Keep in mind: businesses want organized managers. Having proof of your time management skills might come in handy when a promotion opens up.

4. Take Care Of Yourself (Treat Yourself Like a Human Being)

The work day is long. No one can sit and stare into the abyss of a computer screen for eight hours and maintain their brain power. Do things to keep yourself somewhat functioning. Try:

  • yoga on your lunch break
  • going for a walk
  • reading your favorite magazine or a book for a few minutes
  • drawing a few pictures while you brainstorm

Each person is going to feel rejuvenated by something different. Yeah, a full spa treatment probably isn’t going to fit into the workday, but maybe grabbing a foam roller and getting those office chair kinks out of your back will make the rest of the work day easier.

 

Now, get out there and start using these tips to get ahead of the pack and to be a better YOU.

 

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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