Our work day is made up of three main types of work: technical, operational, and social.
Technical are the things you do that are specific to your job.
Coding if you are a developer, making journal entries if you are an accountant, writing marketing copy if you are in marketing. Generally, it is specialized knowledge that you’ve been trained in and that you were hired for.
Operational work is the surrounding things that we all have to do to support our work.
Filling out HR paperwork, giving your manager a status update, a scrum meeting if you are a developer, updating the CRM with your activities if you are in sales. Operational work brings together all of the different technical specialties into a cohesive organization.
And Social – which is the hardest, is the way we interact with each other. It is the culture that is created by each person’s interactions with another person.
As you go through each day at work, you perform all three of these types of work.
Types of Skills
All three of these types of work are made up of hard skills and soft skills. It is important that you understand the differences between these types of skills and the methods for developing both.
Daniel Coyle does a really good job of defining this in his book “The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving your skills.” I recommend this book – it is short, easy to read, and contains a lot of great tips.
When you think about the three types of work: Technical, operational, and social, it would be easy to think that hard skills are for technical and operational and soft skills are for social. But, the reality is that all three types of work use both types of skill. Maybe not with the same velocity, but there is no mutual exclusivity here.
Soft skills and hard skills use different parts of our brain. Even before we had the science to back this up, we knew it. Right brain vs. left brain is something we all understand, even if we aren’t brain scientists.
The important take away here is that when you are working on developing a skill, there are different strategies for learning hard skills and soft skills.
Strategies for Hard Skills
Hard skills need to be performed consistently with each repetition.
There is one right answer with hard skills. You either did or you didn’t.
There is one path to the right result.
These kinds of skills are best developed by focusing on the fundamentals. You learn them by repeating them over and over until they are mastered.
It is best to learn hard skills one step at a time. Go slow, learn a part, master that part, and then go to the next part.
Athletes are notorious for this. How many times do you think a goalie has a ball kicked at him? You can see the training program they go through when you watch a game. When a goalie has a pretty simple save – the ball is basically kicked right into their open arms – they will still drop to the ground and cover the ball with their body to protect it. Not because there is a threat in that moment, but because their training has taught them to do this for those situations where there is a threat.
In business we have our own hard skills specific to our job.
Think about the things you do repetitively and with precision in order to accomplish your job. The next time you perform the action, look at it piece by piece – step by step. What one thing could you do to improve it? Where do errors occur? Spend time – a lot of time – focused in on that error and figure out what you need to do to eliminate that error.
Strategies for Soft Skills
Soft skills are less specialized.
They require you to make choices and recognize patterns.
I did an episode about building your skill at recognizing patterns if you’d like to learn more – Episode 30, Decision Primed Recognition Framework.
Whereas hard skills are all about consistency, soft skills are all about agility.
There is no single way to the right answer for soft skills.
For soft skills, you need to practice with a lot of different scenarios. By encountering different scenarios, you learn to notice patters and build a set of responses based on those patterns. The model is called Decision Primed Recognition Framework, and it really comes down to having the institution to make the right decision given the circumstances.
If we go back to our goalie – falling to his knees and covering the ball with his body is a hard skill. Knowing whether to jump left or right to block the penalty kick is a soft skill. He is doing this based on his experience with patterns in the field. His intuition kicks in.
Soft skills are needed in ever-changing environments.
The soccer pitch is ever-changing. But so is the meeting room. Or the customer Support call. Or the sales pitch. Each meeting you go into will be different.
Learning to read the room is a soft skill that is built by noticing patterns, trying something in response, and learning from the outcome.
In building skills, I love this quote from Daniel Coyle: “take mistakes seriously, but never personally.”
As you go through your week – notice which types of skills you are executing as you perform different aspects of your job. Notice whether what you are doing is a hard skill or a soft skill. And then use the strategies above to focus on improvement.
You’ll make more progress by matching up the skill with the right type of activity for improvement.
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Here are some things that are true about me:
What do those things tell you about me? Of course, each person who hears that list will come to their own conclusion about who I am.
But, that’s not the point.
The point is, I’ve defined myself this way. I don’t snack between meals. I just don’t. I’m not a person who snacks.
It isn’t a value judgement. It doesn’t make me better or worse than someone who does snack. It just is a sentence that describes one aspect of who I am.
Now, what if, instead, I said “I can’t snack between meals?”
That is a completely different situation.
I can’t snack now becomes a rule I must follow. A rule that takes willpower. Something that I must keep myself from doing. Something that I struggle against. It is a whole different ballgame.
Create Your Identify
When you use “I don’t” you are defining yourself. Giving yourself an identity. It takes away the struggle. It requires no willpower because it isn’t contrary to who you are.
Let’s talk about the statement “I don’t check email after 6, on weekends, or on vacation.” Many of you are saying to yourself that this isn’t possible for you. That your boss expects immediate answers to their email. That your job requires it of you. That you must be constantly connected, or you will fail at your job.
I respectfully challenge that assumption. First of all, I work in a high pressure, fast paced industry in a position of leadership. Most of my coworkers answer emails at all hours and on weekends. Yet, I’ve been very successful in my career without doing these things.
How do I make it work and they don’t?
There are a lot of parts to that answer, but the one I’m focused on today is that I simply am not a person who answers emails after 6 or on weekends. I don’t. It is who I am and – believe it or not – other people accept it.
Do I struggle or get stressed out thinking about my unanswered emails? Absolutely not. I don’t think twice about it because it isn’t who I am.
Change Takes Time
If you are thinking “that’s great for you Rachel, but I could never define myself that way,” then let me tell you that I used to be that way too.
I used to work 80-100 hours a week, frantically trying to keep up with all the email, deadlines, crises, and expectations. It was pretty much the only thing I thought about from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to bed.
And, to be honest, I didn’t sleep well back then so I guess I was thinking about it even after I went to bed.
Eventually, it became unsustainable, and something had to give. That’s when I made the decision that I wasn’t going to be the kind of person who spent every waking hour working. I didn’t want to be defined as a workaholic because workaholics never have a happy ending.
Out of that situation came some of the rules I still live by today:
It didn’t happen overnight, but over time I got to the point where I stopped checking email and nobody said a word.
And, here is a dirty little secret – I don’t have email on my phone.
One of the things I listed was “I don’t shy away from conflict.”
That isn’t true.
At least not yet.
You see, one area I need to improve on is being able to stand my ground when someone either challenges me or disagrees with me. I give in way too easy because I’m worried about damaging the relationship.
I’m learning how to stand my ground and be comfortable that I won’t damage the relationship because we have a difference of opinion.
Remember how I said that I used to work all the time? Then I defined myself as someone who doesn’t and I worked my way to the point where how I live my life and how I define myself were in line.
That’s what I’m in the process of doing now with conflict. I’ve defined myself as someone who doesn’t shy away from conflict and I’m working my way toward living in alignment with that definition.
Define Who You Are
In 2012, the Journal of Consumer Research published a study called “I Don’t vs I Can’t: When Empowered Refusal Motivates Goal-Directed Behavior.”
They trained one group to set “I don’t” goals and another to set “I can’t” goals. Later, when given the choice between a candy bar and a granola bar, twice as many people in the “I don’t” group chose a granola bar over a candy bar.
Pure and simple – I can’t feels like a struggle while I don’t gives you a sense of self.
What “I can’t” can you turn into an “I don’t”?
This week, find something you have been struggling with and create a definition for yourself that you can start to work toward.
Make yourself a little note and put it by your monitor so you can remind yourself throughout the day that you are defining yourself in a new way.
Remember that it won’t happen overnight. It takes time for your brain to wire itself with this new information. But, if you stick with it long enough there will come a day in the future where you don’t even think about it anymore – it will just be who you are.
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It's Career Day! In these episodes, I’ll be interviewing someone about their job with the goal of helping you learn:
Even if it isn’t a career you aren’t interested in for yourself, it is always helpful to have a better understanding of the roles that people around you may fill.
Today’s career is Recruiting and I’m interviewing Chad Roudebush, who is an experienced recruiter, having worked for more than 13 years in the industry. Chad brings a great insight into what makes a successful recruiter and helps give an understanding of what a potential career path may look like.
This week's episode is a repost of Episode 31: Productive and Unproductive Multitasking
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It’s a very rare thing to find someone who has never been dissatisfied with their job. There are, of course, a range of intensities when it comes to dissatisfaction.
On one end, you might have a bad encounter with someone at work and feel dissatisfied with the situation. On the other end, you may have the Sunday Night Blues – dreading the thought of going into the office because you are so dissatisfied with your job.
What I want to do today is give you some tips for how to effectively deal with dissatisfaction. No matter how intense your feelings of dissatisfaction are, having some tools you can use will help you get past it faster.
In High Performance Habits: How Extraordinary People Become That Way, the author Brenden Burchard, talks about how high performers are really good at recognizing their feelings. They manage their feelings rather than letting their feelings manage them.
Step 1: Recognize Dissatisfaction
Sometimes the most important step is to just recognize the fact that you are experiencing dissatisfaction in the first place. For some of us, recognizing the emotions we are feeling can be a challenge.
Dissatisfaction isn’t one of those emotions that is in-your-face.
If you are scared – you know it because our body has the fight or flight reaction that is designed to get our attention.
Being excited is also pretty in-your-face. It is hard to be excited about something without knowing it – that big grin on your face is clue #1.
Dissatisfaction isn’t so obvious. It has a tendency to creep up on you.
Its like the frog in the pot of water that is brought up to a boil. You don’t realize it is happening until the bubbles start.
So, the 1st thing you need to do is to learn to recognize what dissatisfaction is for you. What does it feel like? What are the things that trigger it? How do you respond to it?
Dissatisfaction is different for all of us. Something that makes me dissatisfied may not make you dissatisfied.
There isn’t one specific answer. You need to learn to recognize when it happens for you. What are the signs for you that you are becoming dissatisfied?
Step 2: Label It
There are a lot of studies that have shown that the best way to deal with emotions is to label them. If I’m feeling a negative emotion and it is making me uncomfortable, if I can label it as dissatisfaction then I’m making myself aware of exactly what the problem is.
Labeling feelings helps us accomplish several things. First, once you label it, you can decide how you want to deal with it.
Back to High Performance Habits, Buchard talks about being intentional. You are having this feeling – now set your intention for how you want to deal with it.
If the dissatisfaction is minor, for example, you don’t like the tone of the email you just got, you can set the intention that you will treat this as a misunderstanding. Tone doesn’t come through well in email, so rather than be dissatisfied, you can let it go.
If the dissatisfaction is not so minor, maybe your boss is treating you in a disrespectful manner, you can still determine your intention. You can set the intention of being resentful or confrontational or avoiding it all together.
High performers are intentional when dealing with emotions.
In order to go through the process of setting your intention, you must start by labeling the emotion.
Step 3: Take Action
Now that you can recognize and label dissatisfaction, you can start to address it. I like to think of dissatisfaction as a cycle. You are dissatisfied, you take action, you experience satisfaction, something changes, and you are back to dissatisfaction.
A job change is a perfect illustration of this cycle. Most people are very excited when they start a new job. If my LinkedIn feed is any indication, every single person is “excited to announce” that they’ve taken a new position. Only in the most extreme circumstances is someone disappointed to announce that they’ve taken a new position.
So, you are starting this new job and you are excited about it. Time passes, and the job progresses in whatever manner it progresses. At some point, you are going to become dissatisfied with it. There could be a million reasons why – some good, some bad – but regardless of why, something changes and dissatisfaction comes. Eventually, you take action – you make the decision to find a new job. The new job puts you back to a place of satisfaction and the cycle begins again.
Dissatisfaction is Normal and Temporary
One of the important things to remember is that this dissatisfaction cycle is natural. It happens to everybody. It isn’t a reflection on you personally. It is just a reflection of your current state.
It isn’t permanent. It Is the state before growth, so when you are feeling dissatisfied, you can remind yourself that something great is on the horizon. You only need to identify which action to take that will move you from dissatisfaction to satisfaction.
Find something that is causing you dissatisfaction and think about it in terms of a cycle. You are in the dissatisfaction stage of the cycle right now. What is the action you will take to move you to the satisfaction part of the cycle?
Episode 34: How to Get Unstuck
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