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Category Archives: Thrive at Work

Text over a red lattice
Background image via Alicja from Pixabay

At one time, it was fairly common for a person to spend their entire career at the same company, working their way up the rungs of the organizational ladder. Today, things aren’t nearly so neat and tidy, and career paths are not nearly so straight (or even vertical). Instead of a ladder, many modern workers’ careers resemble a lattice.

How can a career trajectory resemble a lattice?

A lattice fans out in many different directions. It climbs, but not necessarily in a straight line. Similarly, a person might take on a variety of different roles in a number of different industries. They might learn various skills along the way, each one building up their expertise and knowledge base.

This type of “climbing” creates a more well-rounded person—someone who has dipped their toes into many different waters and has developed skills in numerous areas. The latticed career path also inevitably makes people more adaptable—they’ve had to learn the ins and outs of a variety of different workplaces and roles.

If so many modern employees move in a lattice style, how is it possible to map out one’s career? Is it even plausible?

Absolutely. You just have to adjust your thinking. Instead of visualizing your career as “climbing the ladder,” think instead about the different skills you’d like to learn, experiences you’d like to have, and goals you’d like to attain. How will you get there? What training do you need? What roles and responsibilities do you need to fill? These different skillsets and experiences are offshoots of your lattice.

If you’re having trouble with this visual, you can also think about your career path like a tree. While the whole entity goes up, some of the branches are more horizontal than vertical. These branches are the different career detours you might take. You might, for instance, take the time to earn your MBA, learn how to code, or take a class in public speaking. While these little detours may deviate from your main career, they make you more well-rounded and valuable in the end.

In my next post, I’ll discuss how to lay out your non-linear career goals (moving like a lattice or a tree!) in more detail. In the meantime, simply recognize that your trajectory may not be straight, but that doesn’t mean you’re not moving forward and picking up valuable skills and lessons along the way.

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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Original article published March 11, 2015

Are you stir crazy? Ready for spring? Ready to walk around in sandals and shorts again? You’re not alone! This time of year tends to make people antsy and irritable, and that kind of attitude can cross over into the workplace.

How can you fight the late-winter agitation? How can you possibly be productive when you’re feeling so tense?

One solution is to spend a few minutes each day in your “inner garden.”

By now, most people accept that meditation is a great way to calm the mind, release stress, and get focused for the rest of the day, but many of us think we’re too busy for such “fluff” like meditation. We’re Americans! We’re trained to soldier through the work day without pausing to think about ourselves or our mental well-being.

I encourage you to pause.

When you’re feeling wound-up or things aren’t quite going your way, dedicate a few minutes to yourself. Find a quiet space in your workplace, close the door, and picture yourself sitting in a beautiful garden. A warm breeze is playing on your cheeks; you’re surrounded by fragrant blooms of red and purple and yellow. Just let yourself sit and be restful—do NOT allow your mind to drift to work or the troubles you’ve had that day, and if your mind does wander, gently bring it back to the garden.

If you’re having trouble picturing your “inner garden,” hop online for a few minutes and search for images of “beautiful gardens” or “peaceful gardens.” Then, use one of those images as your focal point as you allow your mind to drift to your garden.

Try building up to ten minutes of meditation time. If that seems like too much at first, start with five minutes. Even though this may not seem like a significant chunk of time, you’ll be amazed at how relaxed and refreshed you’ll feel at the end of it.

I challenge you to visit your inner garden every day this week and see how it helps your attitude and productivity. Until the flowers ACTUALLY bloom again, I hope this technique will help you relax and rejuvenate so you can take on any challenge the day might offer.

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Microphone with text: 4 Vocal Tricks to Be Heard
Image by 19dulce91 from Pixabay

Have you ever noticed some people have the type of voice that commands attention? When they start speaking, the room listen. People pay attention.

Even if you do not naturally have a “sit up and take notice” voice, there are still steps you can take to improve your vocal tendencies and help yourself be heard. After all, what you’re saying isn’t necessarily as important as how you say it. A study by a UCLA professor found that a full 38% of our impression of someone is formed by their vocal quality, while only 7% of our impression is formed by their message (the remaining percent has to do with body language and facial expressions).

In short, vocal tone and inflection is important. Here are 5 ways to improve yours:

1. Know Yourself

Pay attention to how you talk and how your voice might be perceived. To do this, it’s helpful to record yourself speaking (as uncomfortable as that may be!), play it back, and pay attention. Is your voice low or high? Fast or slow? How do you emphasize words? Do you include a lot of filler language such as “like” or “um?”

Knowing how you speak gives you a baseline for how to improve.

2. Lower Your Voice

According to an article by Susan Berkley in BottomLine magazine, a study revealed that a lower voice (for both men and women) makes that person seem “more competent and trustworthy than those with a raised pitch.” She goes on to say that you can work on talking at a lower pitch by placing your hand on your sternum (for women) or beneath your sternum (for men) and strive to create a vibration.

NOTE: You never want to seem inauthentic when you’re speaking, so don’t try to go too deep. Just lower your voice so it’s still within your natural range.

3. Pay Attention To Pacing

There’s a balance between talking too quickly and talking slowly. If you tend gab at a mile-a-minute, it may be difficult for people to keep up, and you’ll eventually lose them. On the other hand, if you speak too slowly, you may leave room for people to interrupt or talk over you.

Practice speaking at a comfortable pace (again, record yourself OR, if you’d really try to nail your pacing, try joining Toastmasters). Be sure to ask questions as you go, so you can gauge how engaged your audience is.

4. Practice What You Will Say

If you’d really like to be heard, it’s worth it to practice what you’re going to say before actually saying it. This way, you’ll go into the conversation with more confidence and sound more sure of yourself. When you practice, make sure to focus on eliminating filler words such as like, uh, um, or ah. Also pay attention to your pitch and pacing.

You deserve to be heard. Try putting one or two of these tips into practice and let me know how it goes! Also, if you have other tips to share, I’d love to hear them.

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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Purple Lotus flower
Image by Ri Butov from Pixabay

Have you ever worked in an office that’s brimming with hostility and disgruntled staff? Have you ever felt like just a number–like you’re practically invisible to everyone else? Or, on the other side of the coin, have you ever dealt with a pushy, aggressive boss or co-workers?

Sure, all of these situations are bad for morale. They make you uninspired and unexcited to go to work every morning. BUT, the consequences of an unfriendly workplace are even more widespread than that. This type of environment can decrease productivity, increase turnover, and actually affect the company’s bottom line. A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that, “ostracism, incivility, harassment, and bullying have direct negative significant effects on job productivity” and lead to higher job burnout.

In short, hostility in the workplace affects the both entire organization and the individual.

But, what do you do? You’re just one person, right? While it’s difficult to change an entire workplace dynamic, there are a few steps you can take to try to make improvements. Make kindness part of your leadership brand—truly live by the golden rule and treat others how you’d like to be treated (or, even better, treat others as they want to be treated).

To get started, try implementing these five practices:

1. Greet others

It may seem like a small thing, but the simple act of greeting someone you pass in the hallway can make a significant impact. According to author and Georgetown professor, Christine Porath, it’s a good idea to use the “10-5 rule.” When someone is within 10 feet, acknowledge them, make eye contact, and smile. When they’re within 5 feet, say hello. In one study, healthcare facilities that implemented this practice saw a marked increase in civility and patient satisfaction.

2. Hold inclusive meetings

There is, perhaps, no easier way to shut down voices than to hold non-inclusive meetings. Ideally, meetings are a chance for everyone to ask questions, propose ideas, or voice concerns. If only one or two voices are heard during most meetings, that quickly sends the message that the rest of the team is not valued.

Be a meeting leader. Bring others into the conversation by saying things like, “This topic would directly affect Kelly’s department. Kelly—do you have any thoughts about this?”

3. Don’t gossip

The office gossip machine can be cripplingly toxic. Just don’t do it. For more about shutting down gossip, take a look at my past post.

4. Acknowledge achievements

You don’t necessarily have to give out plaques or achievement pins, but it is a good idea to acknowledge people’s accomplishments in some way. Whether a shout-out at a meeting or a handwritten thank you card, make an effort to let others know they are valued members of the team.

5. Listen

You may not have the solution to cure workplace woes, but others might. Especially if you are in a leadership position, it’s a good idea to meet with people one-on-one and LISTEN to their ideas on how to improve the workplace. After all, your perspective is not the only perspective. You might be missing a key piece of the worker satisfaction puzzle.

Start making kindness a central part of your leadership brand. If you’re working within a less-than-friendly environment, start becoming the change you’d like to see take place. Acknowledge others, be inclusive, don’t give in to gossip, and (above all), practice active listening. Your actions could make a world of difference.

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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Two people in a cafe with tables

It’s necessary to take occasional breaks during the day. In fact, we need them if we’re going to maintain a high level of productivity and accuracy. In past posts, I’ve discussed Tony Schwartz’s Energy Project, which maintains that people work best when they take a break every 90 minutes. That’s a good rule of thumb, but it’s not just about the quantity of breaks, it’s about the quality. Some breaks, as it turns out, are more replenishing than others.

If you sit at your desk, flipping through social media updates, your break is not going to deliver the kind of replenishing results you’d get with an intentional, unplugged break away from your desk.

Daniel Pink explores replenishing breaks in his weekly “Pinkcast.” According to Pink, science shows that the quality of your break matters.

He says there are five basic rules for taking intentional breaks:

  1. Something beats nothing (1 or 2 minutes is better than no break at all)
  2. Movement beats stationary (get out and get moving!)
  3. Social beats solo (this is true for introverts too—find a friend a start up a conversation)
  4. Outside beats inside (catch some fresh air, if you can)
  5. Fully detached beats semi-detached (Don’t talk about work. Don’t bring your phone)

If you tend to gloss over break time, it may be time to re-examine your approach. Leave your phone in your desk, get up and visit co-workers, and take frequent walks outside. These kinds of breaks will help give you the kind of replenishment and rejuvenation you need during a long day.

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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4 Ways to Stop an Interrupter

Are you dealing with a chronic interrupter? Whether in the workplace or your personal life, it never feels good for someone to talk over you, ignore you, or minimize what you’re trying to say.

How can you possibly deal with the strong personality of someone who constantly interrupts? Try these 4 methods:

1. Speak to the Interrupter in Private

Instead of getting mad, posting about the interrupter on social media, or fuming to your friends or colleagues, it is worth it to have a conversation with the offender. Though it’s never easy to have tough conversations (an issue I addressed in a past newsletter), there are tactful ways to approach the person and convey your message without sounding accusatory.

Make sure you schedule a private meeting with enough time to talk things out. Then, use the D4 model to address the issue:

Data: What are the facts? What actually happened?

Depth of Feeling: How did the instance make you feel?

Dramatic Interpretation: How are you interpreting the situation? What meaning have you given it?

Do: What do you want to do? What do you want the other person to do? Focus on actions taken and actions required.

In this case, the D4 model might sound something like, “I’ve noticed that you often interrupt me when I’m speaking. That makes me feel frustrated and belittled because I get the impression that my ideas and perspectives are not valuable. I wanted you to be aware of this so we could come up with a solution together…

2. Lean On Your Allies

If you’re too nervous to confront the interrupter OR you tried speaking with this person and nothing has changed, try reaching out to others. Let them know the situation and how you’re feeling (it’s possible others are feeling the same way you are!). Then, ask them to help by sticking up for you at meetings and saying, “Now, wait a minute. I’d like to hear what [YOUR NAME] has to say.” Be sure to offer the same support to them, if they need it.

3. Call Out the Interruption

If the interrupter starts talking over you, have the confidence to call them on their bologna! Immediately counter with, “Just a sec. I wasn’t finished,” and then finish what you have to say.

Part of this technique involves being confident that what you’re saying IS valuable. Know that it is. Your voice is important and deserves to be heard.

4. Change Up Your Meetings

If things are really bad, you may want to talk with your supervisor and ask about using a meeting moderator. This is someone who is designated to run the meeting (it may be your supervisor a designated point person), call on people for their thoughts, and stamp out bad behavior, such as interruptions. Though it may feel a bit like a teacher monitoring a Kindergarten classroom, sometimes that’s what it takes!

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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Post first published in 2016.

It’s Thanksgiving month, so you’re likely seeing constant reminders about gratitude and giving thanks. A lot of it may seem fluffy, but there are actually concrete benefits to being grateful.

Studies have shown that moods lift, outlooks become more positive, and relationships are healthier when we practice gratitude. From a business perspective, showing appreciation for your clients, co-workers, support staff, or employees helps to foster a more pleasant atmosphere, boosts morale, and slashes employee turnover.

But, gratitude shouldn’t be treated as a one-off thing. We shouldn’t get through Thanksgiving and go, “Well, that was fun. Now, on to Black Friday!”

A grateful mentality should be a sustainable one. We’re talking about an attitude shift here, not just a temporary state of mind. Why change your thinking for a month, when you can change it for a lifetime?

The trick to sustaining an attitude of gratitude? Practice every day.

The moment you wake up, instead of dreading the day ahead, think about the many blessings in your life. These could be simple things–the hot coffee in the pot, your friends and family, the roof over your head. Think about three things that bring you joy, comfort, or stability. You can choose to write about these things in a gratitude journal, or simply meditate on them for a few minutes.

Then, see where your day takes you. This morning burst of gratitude should help give you a positive boost and, if you confront rough patches throughout the day, you can always think back to your morning meditation and remember the three things that you were grateful for.

(It is worth noting that being a grateful person doesn’t mean that there aren’t negative aspects of your life. If the negative parts get too overwhelming, it may be time for a significant change. But that’s a topic that I’ve addressed in other posts.)

When you’re grateful and appreciative, the world changes. Your personal outlook becomes brighter, the people around you seem more pleasant (or at least tolerable!), and your relationships become more amiable and love-filled.  Try adopting a gratitude-filled lifestyle and watch your world transform!

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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