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Category Archives: Thrive at Work

young boy reading and laughing
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Revised from a post originally published in 2015.

We live in a stressful world. Research from the American Psychological Association shows that the majority of Americans experience a significant amount of stress. In a 2014 survey, 67% of those surveyed reported experiencing emotional symptoms of stress and 72% reported experiencing physical symptoms of stress.

One great way to fight your stress is through the power of laughter.

I attended a Brave New Workshop (BNW) class several months ago and one of the subjects they addressed was laughter. BNW is an improvisation group that works with people to boost confidence, connectivity, mental agility, and attitudes. Throughout their classes, you’ll often hear groups roaring with laughter. This isn’t an accident.

According to a publication put out by BNW, “Laughter is a powerful tool in helping individuals move away from fear and into discovery.” In a recent study, researchers from Loma University showed that laughter reduces cortisol, thus reducing stress. Other researchers have shown similar results of the stress-decreasing quality of laughter and have paired it with improved immune system response.

So, watch a funny movie, go to a humorous play, play an interactive board or card game with friends, or take an improv class. Begin to see the humorous side of life 🙂

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
NOW LIVE: CHECK OUT MARGARET’S NEW ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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“There are 3 things you never turn your back on: bears, men you have wronged, and a dominant male turkey during mating season.” – Dwight Schrute, The Office

The entertainment industry loves a good workplace grudge, but while you may enjoy the conflict between Dwight and Jim on The Office, it’s far less entertaining to be involved in a workplace grudge in real life.

Grudges can develop in any relationship, but there are a few reasons why they develop more naturally in the workplace. For one, there is often competition between employees. Whether multiple employees are up for the same promotion or bonuses are awarded to top performers, the emotions involved in striving and failing can easily transfer into a grudge.

Another reason workplaces are a natural place for grudges to develop is the amount of time you spend with your co-workers. With employees working increasingly longer hours, it doesn’t just mean more time at work, it means more time with co-workers. You may not like some of your co-workers, and what would normally be a small grievance can compound over time into a full-on grudge. And while you can respectfully take a break from someone in your personal life, that usually isn’t an option in the workplace.

Even if we spend a good deal of time with our co-workers, it doesn’t mean we are developing deeper connections. This is another reason grudges can develop more frequently in the workplace. Work relationships usually operate on a more superficial level, which can lead to less empathy between co-workers. Less empathy can lead a person to more easily attribute a malicious motive to someone’s actions when no malice was intended.

Whatever the reason a grudge develops, the effects are not entertaining. A workplace grudge can blind you to the talents of your nemesis. While an idea might seem good coming from a different co-worker, you may dismiss a specific person without really listening to what they have to say. Even if you try to hide your feelings of contempt, co-workers can pick up on the tension, which could affect your relationships with others.

Beyond the tendency for a grudge to hurt you professionally, the damage it can do to you emotionally and physically is the best reason to let it go. The stress that a grudge can add to your work life can be dangerous. No amount of sticking it to someone else is worth damaging your physical and emotional well-being.

It may not seem like an easy task to let go of a grudge, especially when you feel you’ve been wronged. The best way to alleviate a grudge is to address the situation directly with the person involved. Try to engage them in a healthy dialog about the relationship and see if anything can be done to resolve the tension. If that isn’t possible, it doesn’t mean nothing can be done. You can choose to let go of a workplace grudge, or any grudge for that matter. You can choose to let go of the emotions surrounding the circumstances of grudge and focus on your own performance and well-being. In many ways, this can be much harder than getting external resolution. No matter how you resolve a grudge, the positive changes you are likely to experience are worth it.

Leave the workplace grudges to the entertainment industry, because fictional characters don’t have to worry about their emotional well-being.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
NOW LIVE: CHECK OUT MARGARET’S NEW ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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Image by SnottyBoggins from Pixabay

A couple months ago, I had the privilege of seeing Tracey Jones speak at the Women’s Business Bridge annual conference in Stillwater, MN. Tracey is an author, speaker, Air Force Academy graduate, decorated Veteran, international leadership expert, scholar, and researcher. She is also the President of Tremendous Leadership. After her engaging presentation, I picked up a copy of her book, Saucy Aussie Living: Top 10 Tricks for Getting a Second Leash on Life. Told from her dog’s perspective, the book is tongue-in-cheek and goofy, BUT there are many valuable lessons embedded in its pages. One such lesson: Hang out with other top dogs and fumigate the “fleas” in your life.

This lesson boils down to the simple truth that when we associate with high-achieving, ambitious, and positive people, those behaviors and attributes WILL rub off on us. The opposite is true too. If we spend all our time with lazy, incompetent, or negative people, we will inevitably start to take on those characteristics.

The lesson of hanging out with other “top dogs” is a great reminder to pause, look around, and notice both the positive and negative influences in your life. Do some people give you energy and motivate you to be the best version of yourself? Great! Spend as much time around those people as possible.

Do others bring you down with constant complaining, excuses, or negativity? Make an effort to step away from those people and remove their influence from your life. Easier said than done, right? How do you “fumigate the fleabags” around you? It may be extremely difficult to step away from negative co-workers, bosses, or family members. What can you possibly do?

1. Create Healthy Boundaries

Do your best to limit interactions with negative individuals by creating healthy boundaries. This may involve only checking and responding to emails from that person once per day or limiting the number of meetings with that person (or choosing to meet online or over the phone).

Creating healthy boundaries also means standing up for yourself. If you feel like someone is taking over your space, speak out. Let the individual know that you need more breathing room and autonomy.

2. Communicate

If you are less than thrilled with someone’s attitude or lackluster performance, talk to them about it. Don’t be confrontational! Instead, approach the issue from an angle of offering to help. You might say something like: “I noticed you’ve missed a few deadlines lately. Is something wrong? How can I help?”

Communication also helps put negative attitudes in check. If, for instance, someone complains about a co-worker, flip it around by saying, “I don’t see her in that light. Besides, I’d rather focus on XYZ project than talk about Amy right now. Let’s go over last month’s numbers…”

3. Find Your Top Dogs

Once you’ve identified the high-achievers around you, start making an effort to associate with those people as often as possible. When you do this, the “fleabags” will naturally be pushed to the side. Additionally, the positive, go-get-em attitude you’ll adapt from your positive influencers will likely carry over into your interactions with less-driven individuals. Your energy and zest may have a contagious effect. Instead of spreading fleas, you’ll be spreading sunshine!

Regardless of your approach, it is crucial to align yourself with like-minded, motivated individuals. Lean on and learn from them, and don’t forget to give your support in return.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
NOW LIVE: CHECK OUT MARGARET’S NEW ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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Image via Pixabay.com

“If you want to gather honey, don’t kick over the beehive.”

Dale Carnegie

I get it. You’re excited about your new position or role and you want to get in there and shake things up! You see systems that are outdated, processes that don’t make sense, and a million opportunities to improve the current system and make positive change. And that’s great, except…

You may want to pump the brakes.

Why, you ask? Because even though you’re enthusiastic, motivated, and your heart is in the right place, others may not see it that way. Before you start demanding change, you have to prove your mettle. Demonstrate that you can thrive within the system before you go about changing it. Show that you have a deep understanding of your company and your role before you bring forward your ideas for improving things. Easing into change is as good idea for three reasons:

ONE: It gives you a chance to build your credibility. People will see that you’re dedicated to your job, perform well, and work well with others. Do your best work, do it on time, and show that you are a trusted partner (instead of combative and subversive).

TWO: It helps you build an alliance. It’s difficult to make change on your own, and nearly impossible if you don’t have others’ support. As you start thinking about ways to amend the status quo, be sure to make friends, ask for advice, and gather others’ thoughts and opinions. Not only will you be more likely to rally support behind your cause, you will also gain others’ perspectives on the issue, which will help strengthen your plan of action.

THREE: It gives you time to learn about the status quo, what works, and what doesn’t. While it’s tempting to barge in and overhaul an entire system that seems to be flawed, it’s a good idea to pause and study the system you’re attempting to fix. Are there parts of it that are actually working? Are certain things going well for certain people? Will there be resistance to your change? If so, why? Taking the time to study the current mode of operations will help you understand the greatest flaws and greatest assets of the system, and what should be fixed first. Your thoughtful approach will also demonstrate respect to those who have been working within the current system for years, and have not (for whatever reason) acted to improve it. Change can be a touchy thing, and you certainly don’t want to imply that everyone has been doing things wrong, and you’re the one with all the answers.

In short, don’t kick over the beehive when you begin a new role. Ease into it, learn how things are done, and start gathering information about what works and what doesn’t. Then, test the waters by floating ideas past others. Build your alliance, and then take action. With this methodical approach, you’re bound to gather some honey, rather than a few angry stings!

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
NOW LIVE: CHECK OUT MARGARET’S NEW ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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You tried to do something and failed, but all is not lost. Failure can be a valuable learning experience if you take the time to examine what happened and make a plan to try again. Following the steps below can be useful for overcoming failure in any aspect of your life.

1. Disconnect your self-worth from this one instance of failure.

Sometimes the hardest part of overcoming failure is getting past the emotional implications. Failing at something doesn’t make you a failure. That would mean everyone is a failure because everyone has failed at something at some point in their life. It may help to say it out loud or even write it down. Once you internalize the knowledge that you are not a failure, you can take what you learned and use it move toward success.

2. Figure out what went wrong.

When you can look at the situation objectively, take some time to examine exactly what happened. What did you do or not do that contributed to the result? It’s important to focus on the things that were within your control. If you’re having trouble, a sequence of events is a good place to start. Be sure to note what you did well along with what you could have done better.

3. Make a plan.

You now know what needed improvement and what you did well. For each thing that needed improvement, what are the alternative actions you could have taken? Which of the alternative actions are realistic for you? Can any of the things you did well be improved further?

4. Decide whether to implement.

This is an often-overlooked step to making a plan. Break each action of your plan down into the steps it will take to execute. Do these actions look realistic for your life at this moment? Be honest and gentle with yourself. If the answer is no, that doesn’t mean you should scrap the plan. You may Simply need to rethink a step or two to get you where you need to go.

Here’s an example of what this process could look like:

Scenario: You didn’t pass a professional certification exam.

  1. Realize that failing a single test doesn’t make you a professional failure.
  2. You got high marks in one section, but the others weren’t great.
  3. Search for prep courses or other study materials; try to find out how much time the average test taker spends studying.
  4. Decide whether the additional time spent studying is feasible for your current life and whether having the certification is worth the extra time you would spend.

Don’t internalize failure and allow it to inform who you are as a person. Take the information you learn about the process and yourself and use it to improve your chances of success the next time around.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
NOW LIVE: CHECK OUT MARGARET’S NEW ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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communication-in-4-colors-insights-discovery

Updated August, 2019

A Note From Margaret:

In the history of the UXL Blog (which has been active since 2011), this post is by far the most popular. That says a lot to me. For one, it means that people are interested in effective communication and developing a deeper understanding of their colleagues and co-workers. It also means that many people suspect that Insights® Discovery is a useful tool for digging in and approaching communication issues from a science-based, practical approach. 

If your team is struggling with communication (whether among team members, between bosses and staff, or with clients), I can help. As an Insights® Discovery Licensed Practitioner, I offer workshops and training to individuals and teams of any size, in any industry. I invite you to contact me today for more information.

Now, on with the post…


Do you ever wonder why a certain co-worker is so quiet? Or why another co-worker always wants to work in teams? Or why another won’t make a decision until everyone’s voice has been heard?

Assessment tests, such as Insights® Discovery, can unearth the mysteries behind your co-workers’ communication tendencies. Insights® is a science-based personality test designed to help you gain a better understanding of your own and others’ behaviors, tendencies, and perspectives. As an Insights® Licensed Practitioner, I have introduced many teams to Insights® and have witnessed improved communication, better leadership, and greater team cohesion and empathy.

One of the things I like best about Insights® is its approachable model, broken down into four main color energies (blue, red, yellow, and green). The idea behind the model is that everyone has the capacity to exhibit and embrace all four distinct personality types, but we all tend to lead with or prefer a certain personality type. Here is a brief overview of each color/personality type. Which one do you immediately identify with?

4-colors-good-day

RED: Those who lead with red energy tend to be assertive, bold, and to-the-point. They are natural leaders and love to take charge and make quick decisions.

YELLOW: Yellows are bright, sunshiney, and social. They love working in teams, brainstorming ideas, and connecting with new people.

GREEN: People with a strong green tendency are typically empathetic and inclusive. Above all, they care about the happiness of their team members and want to make sure all voices are heard.

BLUE: Blues are data-driven, analytical, and contemplative. They like to mull over an issue and consider all angles before making a decision.

Now that you know a little bit about each color energy, let’s hone in on communication. Each group of people–reds, yellows, blues, and greens–has a different communication preference. The image below outlines how best to approach those who lead with a certain color energy:

Insights Discovery communication preferences
Yellow: Involve me.  Green: Show me you care.  Red: Be brief, be bright, be gone.  Blue: Give me details.

If you have a good hunch about someone’s leading color, take the time to stand in their shoes and consider how they might prefer to communicate. Should you be brief and bright with them (red)? Should you take the time to be social and ask about their family or weekend (yellow)? Should you ask about their emotional reaction toward a project (green)? Should you present them with a complete set of data and analysis (blue)?

This, of course, is just the tip of the Insights® Discovery iceberg. For more information on Insights®, or to find out how to acquire an assessment kit for your team, please contact me today.


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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Stacked rocks on shore
Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

It happens to all of us: we reach a tipping point that makes us want to explode, run away, or do something completely rash that we’ll later regret. Maybe a troublesome co-worker hasn’t completed their portion of a project again. Maybe a client is making unreasonable demands. Or maybe you’re about to give a big presentation, and you’re all nerves. How can you deal with a stressful situation and maintain a confident calm?

Try these three techniques:

1. Use the “100 years test”

Picture this: A car cuts you off in rush hour traffic as you’re making your way to work. You can’t find a parking space in the employee lot due to a big client event, and you’re late to an important meeting. At the meeting, you realize you’ve misplaced your notes and have to bumble your way through your presentation. THEN, just to put the cherry on top of your awful day, you realize you’ve parked illegally and your car’s been towed.

You’re fuming—mad as a bull in a china shop. You’re about to return home to your family, and probably lash out at them (unfairly) and make everyone around you feel just as rotten as you’re feeling right now. But wait! This is the perfect time to utilize the 100 years test. The test goes like this:

Will any of this matter 100 years into the future? Will the dangerous driver, your tardiness, your flubbed meeting, and your towed car be remembered in the annals of history? Likely not. All of those unfortunate events pale in comparison to the way you treat your family and the legacy you leave with them.

Remind yourself what truly matters. Every day, we have to deal with a hundred minor inconveniences. Don’t let yourself get hung up on those unimportant annoyances. Instead, use the 150 years test and instantly put things in perspective.

2. Excuse yourself

If you feel yourself reaching your boiling point, sometimes it pays to physically remove yourself from the space or the people who are causing you anger or anxiety. Just creating some temporary relief from the stressful situation can help to give you perspective and restore your calm. Take a short walk (outside, if possible!), meditate at your desk for five minutes, or squeeze a stress ball for a few minutes. Think about the situation while you’re physically removed from it, and then return to the space when you’re feeling calm and ready to deal with whatever has set you off.

3. Assess the “threat level”

Like the 150 years test, assessing something’s “threat level” is a good way to look at a non-optimal situation from a more neutral standpoint. This is a concept articulated in the book True Blue Leadership by Tracey C. Jones. Ask yourself, “Does this current annoyance threaten my family, my life, or my soul?”

When it comes down to it, these three crucial components should be first and foremost in your mind. If the annoyance is non-threatening (a chronically late co-worker, a bad hair day, an upset client), remain calm! There’s no need for a “fight or flight” response. Tell yourself, “I’m dealing with a nonthreatening situation. It’s best to stay calm and collected.”

How will you Keep Calm and Carry On this week? Try one or two of these three methods and let me know how it goes!

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
NOW LIVE: CHECK OUT MARGARET’S NEW ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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