As you progress in your career, one of the things that is important for you to be successful is to network.
You are building relationships at each job. As you move on to your next job or your colleague moves on to their next job, it is important that you maintain that relationship because at some point in the future one of you is going to need to call on the other for help.
What makes this process challenging is that it takes work and, although important, it isn’t urgent so it is easy for you to let it go. You don’t maintain the relationship because it isn’t right in front of you and then when you need it, you are starting off from a less than ideal situation.
Professional Relationship Lifecycle
The life cycle of professional relationships is interesting. You work with someone and because you spend a huge portion of your week at work, you get to know the person pretty well.
Think about the people you work closely with. There are people you talk to daily and people you talk to at least weekly. You talk regularly because your job requires it.
And, although you are likely talking about work, over time you are building a relationship. You get to know the person and they get to know you. You know what they are good at, the way they communicate, whether or not you can rely on them, if they meet deadlines, etc.
And then, you get a new job and move on. Suddenly, someone you were talking to every day is no longer part of your life. Someone you relied on to get your work done – to be successful in your career – is not part of your life at all anymore.
It is a very interesting phenomenon. Now, you may keep in touch with some of the people who you developed a more personal relationship with. These are people who crossed over the professional relationship divide into the personal relationship category.
These are not the people I’m talking about today.
I’m talking about the people you had professional relationships with – strictly professional. Keeping in touch with them is important for your career. The better you are at keeping in touch, the better off you will be when you need something that they can help you with.
Networking is not something you do at a weekly breakfast or cocktail hour. That type of networking, when you goal is to hand out as many business cards as possible, is really a marketing activity.
What I’m talking about is a relationship activity. You need to constantly maintain your network because relationships are important to your success.
Doing this isn’t hard – at all. But, it also isn’t easy for the simple reason that its not urgent, which means most of us won’t get to it. We aren’t intentional about networking because it isn’t in our face.
The piles of email and stacks of status reports are in our face.
The deadlines we have to meet this week are in our face.
Reaching out to Dan, who we worked with 2 jobs ago is not in our face because we don’t need anything from Dan right this minute.
Become Intentional About Maintaining Your Network
What I’m encouraging you to do is to be intentional about maintaining your network. Here are a few things you can do to make this process a more active part of your professional life:
For example, recommend a book or app or tell people about a tip they can use such as how to better organize their email or how time blocking can make you more productive.
The idea with this third activity is that you are posting something general out to your network that will both remind them of you but also be seen as something of value that will create a memory in their mind that you are someone who is always adding value.
The Difference Between Networking and Thought Leadership
I want to talk a little more about why this post should not be specific to your company or industry. What I’m talking about in this post is the importance of building and maintaining your network. I am not talking about the importance of building your reputation as an expert in your particular industry. I’m also not talking about the importance of marketing your company.
Both of those things are also important, but just not for this episode. So, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do those things. But, I am saying that you need to separate the activity of maintaining your network from these other 2 things.
My network has people in a lot of different roles. I am connected to sales people and accountants, writers and educators, marketers and developers.
If you are in accounting and the only thing you ever post is related to accounting, you are not being relevant to a good portion of your network.
By posting something that is more general, that can be useful to people in a lot of different roles, you are making connections with them. Don’t stop posting about topics important to accounting, just remember to also post about time management or goal setting or communication as well.
By doing these 3 things monthly, you’ll see a lot more traction from your network and find that when you are in need of something from your network, you’ll find them more responsive.
Being intentional about your networking will pay dividends the next time you need something!
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Are you a specialist or a generalist? The world needs both, so I’m not going to argue for one over the other. I can see the benefits of choosing either path for your career.
And, to be honest, I’m not even sure I know what the definition of specialist is because it is all relative. You can specialize in marketing vs finance – sure. But, within marketing there are a lot of different roles you can specialize in. I’ve even seen job postings for inbound or outbound marketing specialists. Apparently, there is a big difference between whether you send the message or receive the message.
The thing is, when you specialize in an area, you begin to look at everything in a certain way. You fall into patterns or routines. You know the saying ‘to a hammer, everything looks like a nail?”
To a marketer, every problem looks like a marketing problem.
To a finance person, every problem looks like a numbers problem.
We all approach our specialty with blinders on. We bring our experiences, our knowledge, our comfort zone to our actions. It is natural and expected, and doing this doesn’t make you a bad person or serve as a weakness.
Expand Beyond Your Specialization
But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive to improve. Having a broad, generalized knowledge about areas outside of your core specialty help you to find innovative solutions to problems. It helps you to connect seemingly unrelated dots in ways that others might not have thought of.
This takes effort and requires you to be a little deliberate about the whole thing.
It may require you to go a little outside your comfort zone.
It takes some effort and time, so you will need to build that into your schedule.
But, my experience has been that it is so very worth the effort.
Area of Focus
So, what I’m advocating for this week is that you pick an area of focus to expand your horizons. What is something that you can learn about that is outside of your area of specialty? Spend the next 6 months purposefully learning about it.
That could mean reading books about the topic.
It could mean listening to podcasts focused on the topic.
It could mean reaching out to people in your company, or in your network and asking them to teach you about it.
Not because you want to move into it as a career, but because you want to expand your knowledge beyond your current blinders.
An area of focus is like taking a 101 course in college. Your goal is to learn the basics and be able to speak the language. Whether you move beyond 101 is up to you. But, you have to be deliberate about it. It takes effort. It doesn’t just happen. It isn’t going to be part of your routine, so you need to make it a priority for yourself and give yourself enough time. Little by little, you can learn more about the topic until it is time to pick the nxt area of focus.
Over the years, I’ve had areas of focus in sales, support as I’ve already mentioned, critical thinking, nutrition, podcasting, change management, customer experience, and literacy. Right now, I’m taking a deep dive into the industry of senior living community operations.
What will your next area of focus be?
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People love to give help. Some of the most active posts I see on Facebook are those that are tagged “asking for a recommendation.”
But, when it comes to our job, sometimes we can be hesitant to ask for help. This hesitancy can be caused by our own personal beliefs, or it can be caused by the culture that we are part of. We covered the personal beliefs about asking for help in Episode 77 and I encourage you to go back and give that episode a listen.
Today, we are going to talk about the cultural aspects of companies that can lead us to resist asking for help when we need it.
Asking Can Be a Roadblock at Work
A lot of times, someone who wouldn’t hesitate to ask for help on a personal matter – anybody got a plumber you would recommend? – will hesitate to ask for help in a work setting because we underestimate our coworker’s willingness to help.
Or, you may think to yourself – ‘why would they help, it isn’t their responsibility?’
I challenge you to think about it if the tables were turned when a coworker comes to you asking for help, how do you feel?
I almost always get a positive boost of energy from it. Either I’m happy to have been able to lighten someone else’s load, or a lot of times what they are asking for help with is something that falls within my strengths – within my happy place – so the time I spend helping them is really a welcome diversion.
Don’t bring your pre-conceived notions about their willingness to help with you. The worst thing they can do is say no, and you are in the same position you were already in.
We Feel Asking Makes Us Look Incapable
Sometimes we don’t ask for help because we fear looking like we aren’t capable. If I ask for help I look weak. Or, if I ask for help, I look like a slacker. The thing is – people are smart.
They know the underlying motivator for your request for help. If your motivation is learn and grow then they know that you are coming from a positive place and are not going to have negative thoughts about your capabilities.
If your motivation is to get somebody else to deal with it so you don’t have to – then to be honest, the reputation is likely well-deserved.
But, chances are, if you are hesitant to ask for help because you are concerned about your reputation, then the likelihood you are actually operating from a motivation that deserves that reputation is pretty low.
People do not jump to the conclusion that somebody is not capable just because they ask for help. Again, think about when someone asks you for help. Do you automatically make an assessment that they are incapable? I really doubt it.
Design a Culture of Asking
Sometimes, we are part of a culture designed without obvious mechanisms for asking. If there is no built-in way to ask questions – or to forces us to ask questions – we can just get into a routine where we don’t.
Software developers are really good at building in mechanisms that encourage asking for help. They created the concept of the daily stand up where the entire purpose of the meeting is to touch base every day and tell your team what you did yesterday, what you will do today, and where you are blocked. The 1st two items are about communicating status, but the 3rd makes it ok to ask for help.
It doesn’t just make it ok – it makes it mandatory.
It makes it normal.
It makes it just another part of the day.
Think about your department. Are there built in processes to make asking for help a regular part of the job? Could you add something to your existing process that would help trigger people to ask? It doesn’t have to be a daily stand -up. Lots of departments have some kind of team meeting already established. This could be added to the agenda: ‘Is there anything that anyone needs help with or is stuck on?’
A quick round-robin of the team would give everyone a chance to surface their issues.
Even if you aren’t in charge of the agenda for the meeting you can send a note to the owner of the meeting with a suggestion. You can totally blame it on me. Tell them that you list to the podcast and thought this was an idea that could benefit the whole team and you just wanted to offer the suggestion for improvement to help the team uncover areas where one person on the team is blocked and another person on the team might be able to help. The worst that could happen is they say thank you but no thank you.
Know What You are Asking For
Sometimes we don’t ask for help because we don’t know how to ask. The 1st part of knowing how to ask is to make sure you are clear about what it is you are asking for. That seems really obvious, but the reality is that sometimes we aren’t so sure ourselves.
Do you need help to think through a problem?
Do you need help for a certain skill set that isn’t in your wheelhouse?
Do you need help getting a specific task done?
Do you need advice?
Or a different perspective?
Do you need an editor?
Do you need someone to take ownership?
If you make your request for help too general, it makes it harder for the other person to assess whether they can help you.
We have a tendency to assign mind-reading skills to those around us. Rather than assuming someone else can read your mind and magically solve your problem, spend some time getting clear about what it is you need from them.
So, what I want you to take away from this week’s episode is that asking for help should be a normal part of your day. Don’t stress yourself out because you aren’t asking for help when you need it. Challenge those reasons in your head for not asking. Don’t assume what others may or may not be willing to do to help and don’t assume others are mind readers and should know what you need help with. Whether you are in a leadership position or not, you can create a culture of asking by becoming a person who asks.
I used to work with someone who never asked for help. I’m pretty sure she saw it as a strength. She felt like it was important to give off the impression that she could do it all and never need to ask for help.
I’ve never been that way myself. I’ve never felt life asking for help makes me look weak. For me, its quite the opposite. I feel that asking for help makes me better. If I don’t know the answer to something, asking someone who does expands my world. Asking for help means that I’m constantly learning something new. And, my experience has been that others respect me for it. Rather than seeing me as weak, they see me as curious, engaged, and collaborative.
It is similar when asking for help with tasks. It is easy to feel guilty asking someone to do something you are supposed to do. After all, it is your job to get it done. Asking someone else to do your job can seem like taking advantage. But again, my experience is that others don’t see it that way. They are happy to help.
The thing I think is key to this idea of asking for help is balance. When you ask for help in order to get out of work altogether, you are just pawing off your work. You are a slacker and your coworkers will eventually catch on. Or, if you are constantly asking others to help you solve problems but your motivation is to not learn, grow, or elevate the outcome, then again, you will be seen for what you are – pawing off your work.
So, at one extreme, if you ask too much with an underlying motivation of getting out of work, you will damage your relationships and your reputation.
At the other extreme, if you are like my old coworker and you never ask for help, you are likely to get a reputation as someone who doesn’t meet commitments. This coworker, I’ll call her Mary, spends a significant amount of time apologizing for her lack of meeting expectations.
So, at the other extreme, if you never ask for help, you will damage your relationships and your reputation because your coworkers will come to see you as unreliable. And, you’ll have to added impact of causing yourself an awful lot of stress.
The key to asking for help is to find balance. You need to be comfortable asking for help when you need it, but not so comfortable that you end up asking all the time.
In order to find that balance, the other part of the equation is to give help. The thing about asking for help is that it involves at least 2 people. Anytime you ask for help, someone else is giving help. You’ve created a kind of transaction between the two of you.
In order to achieve balance, you need to be willing to 1) ask for help when you need it and 2) give help when asked.
If you think of asking for help and giving help as a matrix with 4 quadrants, you can understand 4 different personas that Wayne Baker outlines in his book All You Have to Do is Ask: How to Master the Most Important Skill for Success.
If you are a Scale My Skills subscriber, you’ve got the matrix and personas along with other resources in your inbox today. If you’d like to sign up for Scale My Skills, you can do so on our home page.
Overly Generous Giver
If you give help frequently, but ask for help rarely, you are an overly generous giver. Overly generous givers get a self esteem boost from helping others. They revel in the adrenalin boost they get from helping others purely for the sale of being helpful. If you are familiar with Enneagram, these are the Enneagram 2s. The issue is overly generous givers will eventually burn-out. And, they can be seen as unproductive because they spend so much time helping others that they don’t get their own stuff done.
If you ask for help infrequently and you give help infrequently, you are a lone wolf. Lone Wolves are big on self reliance. They see life as a race to the top, which means that their relationships take a hit. And, because success in life and especially in business, is heavily dependent on our relationships with others, they usually fall short in their race to the top.
If you ask for help frequently, and you give help infrequently, you are the Selfish Taker persona. The Selfish Taker rarely pays generosity back. In the short run, they may see their star rising because it looks like they are accomplishing so much. But, in the long run, those that they are taking advantage of figure out that they are just pawning off their work and will eventually stop helping.
If you ask for help frequently and give help frequently you are a Giver-Taker persona. Giver-Takers are very productive. When they ask for help, their motivation is to learn and grow. When they give help, they are creating space for the person who asked for help to also be productive. And because they have a reputation for helping, they generally have a wide circle of contacts who have a high level of respect for them.
This week, I challenge you to assess yourself on the asking for help continuum. Which of the personas are you? How can you move more toward the Giver-Taker persona?
I find the social science of the brain to be a very interesting topics, which means I read a lot of books about it. It is a fairly new science, and scientists admit that there is still a lot to learn, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take what is known and apply it to the way we work.
Work, by its definition, involves other people. So, the more you know about how other people think, the more you can tailor your work in a manner that will be more likely to be positively accepted by the people you work with.
Our social connections are necessary for our survival – not just at work, but in life. If you think about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the lowest level is the physiological stuff, and then comes safety, and next is social. Without social connections, you can’t move up into the hierarch where you get into esteem and self-actualization.
Default Mode Network
And the science supports this idea. There is a region in our brain called the Default Mode Network. This are of the brain becomes active whenever you think about people and your relationship to them. Science shows that 2 day old babies have this Default Mode Network. They don’t have social networks yet, but their brain is already wired for them.
When everything is going well, there is nothing to worry about. But lets be honest – most of us don’t go for very long without running into some kind of social pain. A fight with a spouse. A misunderstanding with a co-worker. Feeling like someone else is getting credit for something we did. Somehow, we don’t always give this the same amount of weight we give physical pain. But, the science proves otherwise. Your brain doesn’t distinguish between physical pain and social pain.
When you have a stomach ache or a headache, you attribute them to a specific part of your body. But, we know from hundreds (or more) of examples that placebos can treat these physical ailments which means that the stomach ache was really in your brain, not your stomach. So, just because social pain doesn’t have a physical spot on your body that you can point to, doesn’t mean it isn’t as real to your brain.
So, keep this in mind the next time you get into a tussle with someone. For both of you, the pain felt is as real as if you had stubbed your toe. Give yourself the grace and space to deal with the pain. Give the other person the same.
Your Brain Determines Your Tolerance For Pain
Science also shows that there is a genetic reason that some people seem to be able to deal with pain better than others. We all have a mu-opioid receptor that determines how we feel and handle pain. Depending on which receptor you get, you will be more or less sensitive to pain. Its funny because I think humans have known this for a long time even though we’ve just recently gotten the science to prove it.
Have you ever heard someone say “I’ve got a high tolerance for pain?” While someone else may say “I’ve got a low tolerance for pain?”
I’d bet if we tested those two people, we’d find that they have different mu-opioid receptors. I think they key takeaway here is that if someone else has a lower or higher tolerance for pain – which includes social pain – you should remember that it is genetic. No different than the color of their eyes. Rather than spending time judging them, recognize the difference and understand that we are all genetically driven when it comes to tolerating pain.
Theory of the Mind
Another area that brain science has made strides in recently is the development of a concept called Theory of the Mind. Theory of the Mind is this thing that happens when we realize that other people have their own thoughts that drive their behavior. We can understand that what another person believes is driven by their own experiences and beliefs. So, for example, when you are in a small store and you walk up to the counter to pay, you understand in your mind that the store employee will interpret you standing there to mean you are ready to check out so they will stop stalking the shelf and come over to ring you up. Neither of you had to tell the other what you were thinking. Your Theory of Mind allowed you both to draw conclusion s about what each other would conclude.
The interesting thing is that we aren’t born with this ability. Scientists have conducted a study to prove this. Sally and Anne are in a room with a basket and a box. A 3 year old is observing. Sally puts a marble in the basket and walks out of the room. Anne moves the marble to the box, and then Sally returns to the room. Where will Sally look for the marble. You and I would say she will look in the basket since that is where she left it and wouldn’t know that Ann had moved it. That is Theory of Mind at work. You and I can separate what Sally is thinking and how she is likely to behave from what we know to be true. But, when scientists asked the 3 year old, they say she will look in the box. Since they know it is in the box, they can’t separate the action they would take from the action Sally will take based on her experience.
It is fascinating to think about how much of our social interaction each day is driven by Theory of Mind. Start observing when you are using Theory of Mind to recognize when another person’s behavior is being driven by beliefs that differ from your own or that don’t line up with your reality.
And, lastly, closely aligned with this is the idea of mirror neurons. This is some of the newest science and is still really being disputed in the scientific community. But, what current studies are showing is that we all have an area of the brain called the mirror neurons. When you pick p a peanut, this area lights up. The interesting part is tha t if you see someone else lean over and pick up a peanut, the same are of the brain lights up. Scientists think that this is why we might wince when we see someone else stub their toe.
Theory of the Mind allows us to imagine what the other person’s reaction will be and our mirror neurons mimic that reaction. This whole process allows us to better understand the experience – something like empathy – which results in a better social connection between us and the other person.
So, you might be saying – this is great scientific information about the brain, but this is a business skills podcast – what does brain science have to do with business skills?
Well, there is a lot of scientific evidence that our brains work to ensure our social interactions with others. And, of course, a large percentage of our social interactions with others occurs at work. Your success in your career is going to be somewhat dependent on how well you can execute these social interactions. If you are a developer, your career success will be heavily dependent on your ability to code software. If you are a marketer, your success is heavily dependent on your ability to get leads in the door. But, if you are good at those career-specific skills, but not good at getting along with your coworkers or clients, then you ultimately won’t be as successful as you could be. We need to be able to execute our unique job-related skills within the bigger context of social interactions. Business is wholly dependent on social interactions.
So, understanding how our brain works in these social interactions is important. How we use this knowledge at work can help us build deeper relationships with our coworkers. It can help us influence others and understand why a coworker might behave the way they do.
And, anytime you can improve your interactions with others, you will be more successful in your career.
If you want to learn more about these topics, I recommend the book Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect by Matthew Lieberman.
There is one thing that will, without a doubt keep you from being successful in your career. If your coworkers and bosses don’t have trust in you, you will be like Sisyphus, pushing your career up the mountain only to see it slip back down.
Mahatma Gandhi said it very well, “The moment there is suspicion about a person’s motives, everything he does becomes tainted.”
A lack of trust is something you can’t afford in your career. And, the thing is, trust is something other’s get to decide. Do they trust you or not? Of course, it is based on your actions, but the decision to place trust is still theirs.
So, how do you increase your chances of ending up in a place where your coworkers and bosses make a decision to place their trust in you? On this episode, we are going to talk through the different components of trust. By understanding the components, you can determine if there are any levers you can pull that may help you improve your trustworthiness in other’s eyes.
A lot of the basis for this is based on the book “The Speed of Trust – The One Thing that Change Everything” by Stephen MR Covey.
How Do You Define Trust?
First, think about what it is that you consider when you decide to place your trust in others. Think about someone you trust. What makes you trust them? Now, think about someone you don’t trust. What makes you lack trust in them? What would they need to do to build a reputation with you that would lead to you trusting them?
Even the most trustworthy person you can think of can lose your trust in a given situation. It is hard to make an argument that Mother Theresa was untrustworthy.
But, would you trust her to fix your car? No.
Would you trust her to treat your cancer? No.
Trustworthiness is relative because one component of trust is competence. In your career, your level of trustworthiness can not be separated from your competence.
Obviously, you are not going to ever gain competency in all areas. Nobody is. This is why trust is relative. Your goal is to build your competency in your particular area of focus. If you find yourself struggling to gain your bosses trust, you should consider whether or not the lack of trust is driven by a competency issue.
Competency is made up of: capability, results, and your track record. It takes all three to build trust.
Capability is your skill level for a given area. If you are in finance, it is your skill level understanding financial models, data modeling, your ability to manipulate a spreadsheet. If you are in customer service, it is your ability to solve problems, to stay calm under pressure, and to learn your company’s product or service well enough to answer questions from customers. If you are in sales, it is knowing how to read the room, how to build a business case, and how to listen for what your prospective client really needs.
Whatever role you are in – what you need to do is understand the skills that are core for your area and determine how you increase these so that you become known as competent.
By the way, if you are a Scale My Skills subscriber, you’ve got a guide in your inbox that will walk you through this process.
We don’t trust people who don’t give us results. You need to be seen as someone who gets things done.
Keep your promises.
Do what you say you will do.
Under promise and over deliver.
Are you someone who delivers results? More importantly, are you someone others see as delivering results?
We build trust by delivering results consistency over a long period of time. Trust deepens each time you deliver, and you build a track record that becomes a foundation of trust with someone. We will give someone who breaks our trust the benefit of the doubt if they have a track record with us. We see the episode as out of character for them and we think to ourselves “this isn’t like Jim – he usually delivers on his promises. Something must be going on.” Someone without a track record won’t get that same level of benefit.
So, one side of the trust equation is your competency – your skill level, the results you achieve, and your track record over time. If you feel like you aren’t getting the respect you deserve at work, take a good hard look at these areas and see if there is something you can work on.
The second side of the trust equation is character. Whereas competencies are situation, character is constant. Character is made up of integrity, motive, and intent.
Integrity is honestly, congruence, humility, and courage. Are you telling the truth and leaving the right impression. Are you acting in harmony with your values and beliefs? Are you concerned more about what is right than about being right? And, do you have the courage to do what is right even when it is hard?
Having integrity is foundational to building trust. Can you imagine trusting someone who has no integrity? It is table stakes. Without integrity, it’s a non-starter.
Intent is also important when it comes to trust. Intent is your reason for doing something. When your intent is in the right place, but you screw up anyway, people are likely to give you the benefit of the doubt. They won’t penalize you as much for the violation. Its like you just got off with a warning instead of a speeding ticket. Having a positive intent is character building.
Character is also influenced by your agenda. People will determine whether or not they can trust you by whether they feel your agenda is self serving or seeking mutual benefit. How often do you operate with an open agenda versus one where you maybe have an alternative motive? When you catch yourself in alternative motive mode, remind yourself that you are not acting in accordance with building trust.
And finally, character is built on your behavior. Behavior is simply the manifestation of your intent and agenda. People can see when your behavior is not trustworthy. Behaving out of alignment with intent is a sure fire indicator of a hidden agenda.
Every single one of us has a lot to learn. You may be an expert at something, but a complete novice in another area. Or, maybe you have only been out of school for a short time and you are pretty much a novice at everything. So, whatever your situation, you are going to be put into a scenario where you are not the most knowledgeable person on the topic, and you are going to need to rely on the advice or feedback of someone else. When this happens, one of the most important things you can do is accurately assess how much weight you should give to their advice.
Assess How Much Weight to Give Advice
How do you do that? By considering how much experience the person has and what their track record is on the subject. So, someone who has been working in sales for 20 years and has won top sales person over and over is very reliable when it comes to topics related to sales. But, you may not want to take tax advice from them. For tax advice, you will go to someone with a CPA who has 20 years of experience doing tax returns.
It seems pretty obvious when I use those examples, but in day-to-day situations, it isn’t always so clear cut.
If you want to improve your ability to make good decisions, you need to evaluate your decision making process. When you make a decision, who are you relying on? Are you taking into consideration the advice you are being given weighed against the person’s experience and expertise? Not every person is right for advice on every topic. Someone who is super smart in one area can still give you horrible advice in another area.
You must be able to distinguish the person’s believability when it comes to the topic. What most people do is they give equal weight to everyone in the room. Or, they may give weight based on likeability or how long they’ve known someone. But, even in those cases, they are usually doing it unconsciously.
Consider Experience and Track Record
When you are trying to make a decision about something and you are involving others, you must consider their experience and track record when weighing the impact their opinion will have on your decision.
When you are considering someone’s advice, ask yourself:
This 3rd point is really important. A lot of people have opinions they are willing to share, but when you dig into it, you find out it is not based on any personal experience. Many times, it is based on something they’ve heard someone else say. A person’s believability is tied to first-hand experience. If they don’t have 1st hand experience, then they aren’t the right person for you to be getting advice from.
Separating your respect for someone from the fact that they aren’t believable in certain areas is an important skill. In order to do that, you need to ask yourself if they have a good explanation for their advice. If not, you should consider how much weight you give it.
What Role Are You Playing?
The other thing to think about when making a decision based on other people’s advice is the role that you are playing in this specific instance. When considering your relative experience to the other person’s – are you a student, a teacher, or a peer?
If the other person is relatively more experienced than you on the topic, then you are in the role of student and you should be asking questions in order to gain understanding.
If the other person is relatively less experienced than you on the topic, then you are in the role of teaching. You should be explaining the process and experience that led you to your conclusion.
And, if you and the other person are relative peers – have a similar level of experience, then your role is to debate. To balance open-minded exploration of the experiences that led your colleague to his opinions while also being assertive in explaining your own experiences and opinions.
If you have signed up for Scale My Skills, our weekly newsletter, you received a matrix to help you assess your role and the actions you should take when you find yourself in each of the roles.
Willpower is a funny thing. We all have willpower – we just all have it in different areas. Improving your willpower obviously helps you in life, but it will help you in your career as well. Understanding willpower can help you influence others, which can also help you in your career. So, there is a lot to be gained by better understanding it. There are a lot of different topics we can cover related to willpower, but today, we are going to focus specifically on the concept of social proof.
Social proof is the phenomenon that when the people around us do something, we think it’s the smart thing to do.
Do you think that because you are an adult, you are past peer pressure? Well, you’d be wrong!
When everybody else is doing it, we want to do it.
In California, researchers put door hangers on 371 homes that encouraged people to conserve energy*. Some homes got a door hanger that focused on the impacts to the environment. Others got a door hanger that appealed to their impact on their grandchildren. Others got a message about how much money they could save. And the last group got a door hanger that said ‘99% of the people in your community reported turning off lights to save energy.”
Each house received the same door hanger for 4 weeks in a row. Energy usage was measured at the beginning and end. The only message that resulted in reduced energy usage – you guessed it – was the message that ‘everybody’s doing it.’
Logically, you know that using less energy is better for the environment, your grandkids, and your wallet. Just like logically, you know that eating more broccoli and less chocolate cake is better for your health. But, for some reason – and psychologists call it social proof – the biggest motivator is what those around us do.
Kelly McGonigal, in her book Willpower Instinct says it well, ‘Social proof can strengthen self-control when we believe that doing the right thing is the norm.’
So, if you want to improve your willpower, the best thing you can do is find a group of people for which the things you aspire to is the norm. If you go to the gym everyday, you are going to be around people who consider daily exercise to be the norm – no willpower needed. Pretty soon, you start to think that way too.
If you want to get your customers or coworkers to behave in a certain way, you need to look for opportunities to help them feel that your desired way is the norm. Similar to our California door hangers, I can picture a client newsletter that you send out that says ‘99% of our customers never need to call the help desk because they found their own answers in our online knowledge center.”
Ok – that might not be the best idea.
But, how could you encourage your customers to believe that the behavior you want to encourage is the norm? The same with employees. If you’ve had more than one job, you’ve probably noticed that different companies have different norms. At first, if the norm isn’t what you are used to, it is a struggle, but eventually, you fall in line so that you can fit in and before long, you forget that you ever used to do it a different way.
If we look at the other side of the coin – what happens when you feel rejected from a tribe? Well, it’s a fast way to lose your willpower. Once the tribe has rejected you, you think to yourself – “well, why should I even bother?” And, you’ll give into your willpower right away.
So, it turns out that the tribe that you surround yourself with is very important to your ability to stick with your willpower. And, you have an influence on those same people. Their willpower is influenced by you. What are the norms that you’re telling yourself are ok because everybody else is doing it? Are you late to meetings because everybody else is late so its no big deal? Do you not follow through on commitments because you see others around you do the same? Do you gossip about coworkers behind their back? If that is the norm for your tribe, then you better believe that they are talking behind your back too.
Recognizing that you are influenced by peer pressure and that you are the peer pressure that others are influenced by can be a life altering paradigm shift. Be diligent about recognizing what your tribe is telling you is normal when deep down you suspect its not. Recognize that you can find other people to surround yourself with who have a different definition of normal. Recognize that you can and do influence others with your definition of normal.
Want your coworkers to show up on time? Make it normal to do that. Want to get people to follow your process? Let them know that everybody else is doing it. There may be 100 logical reasons why doing your process is the best option. Just like turning off your lights is good for the environment and saves you money. But -logic doesn’t always get people to change their ways. You are more likely to win your bet when you bet on social proof.
Your homework for this week is to identify an area where you feel your self-control isn’t where it should be. Are you surrounded by people who are making this unwanted behavior the norm? Are you telling yourself that its no big deal because everybody’s doing it? If it doesn’t feel right in your gut, then you are probably not surrounding yourself with the right people. Or, think of a role model who you can call to mind if you can’t change your tribe.
*Energy Conservation Study – Nolan, JM “Normative Social Influence is Under detected” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 2008
Do you have a 1:1 meeting with your manager? If not, why not? If you do, do you feel like you are getting value out of it?
Sadly, I think many 1:1 meetings are less effective than they could be. I think that many people – both managers and employees – don’t have a clear idea about the purpose of the meeting. And, because of this, its hard to make them effective. Let’s start with a discussion of what a 1:1 meeting is. It is a meeting where you and your manager met on a regular basis. The idea is that this is a recurring touchpoint between just the 2 of you. The reason 1:1s are important is because managers have multiple direct reports, so they need the opportunity to spend time with each one on a regular basis. If they don’t have something on their calendar, it would be easy for weeks, months, or even quarters to pass by without any meaningful conversation between the two of you. The demands of day-to-day work, special projects, fighting fires will all consume a work day about it can easily lead to a lack of time for something that is important, but not urgent.
1:1 meetings are important for a lot of reasons:
So, 1:1 meetings are really important. But, they are in no way urgent. As a result, they can easily be put on the back burner. Rescheduled or worse, cancelled altogether. It is something you need to be aware of. Where many employees go wrong is to assume it is the manager’s responsibility to manage the 1:1. It is just a much your responsibility. Your relationship with your manager is very important for your career. Whether they are a good manager or no is not something you are going to be able to control. But, what you can control is your ability to meet 1:1 with your manager. With a bad manager, it might take more persistence, but it is within your control.
If you don’t currently have a 1:1 with you manager, you are going to take the bull by the horns and schedule one.
Now, let’s turn to the topic of what makes an effective 1:1. A 1:1 is a time to step outside of the day-to-day hustle and bustle. It is a time to check in about the bigger picture. To align on priorities, direction, and vision. In some cases, it is a dedicated time for addressing questions that you’ve saved up during the week. Many people treat it as a status meeting. Of course, your particular situation is going to dictate the content or agenda for your 1:1. It is hard for me to give any specific agenda that would work for everybody.
There are some things you can think about that will help you ensure that your 1:1 is giving you the benefits you deserve.
In episode 9, we talked about preparing for your annual review. You should be preparing for it monthly by documenting each month what you accomplished. This process helps you with your 1:1 also. You can refer to this list when meeting with your manager to highlight what you’ve done since your last meeting.
4. Think about your career development. What coaching do you need? Do you know what skills your manager thinks you should develop? Does your manager know what your long term career objective is? Are you at the point in your job where it is time to be talking about what’s next for you? Some portion of your 1:1 agenda should focus on this longer-term career development topic in whatever form makes sense for you in your current situation.
5. You may want to build time into your agenda for addressing current issues you are having that you need your manager’s help solving. This could mean helping to remove a roadblock, giving you a steer in the right direction, being a sounding board to talk through the issues with, or giving you the answer you need. You may or may not have current issues that need to be addressed, but if your manager’s time is hard to come by, using your 1:1 to get what you need might be a good option. So, those are some of the things you should consider when you are planning your 1:1 agenda. If you get our newsletter, you’ll get a guide this week that will help you think through this process and come up with an agenda. If not, you can sign up for our newsletter here and you’ll get access to our full back catalog of guides.
One thing to note about the agenda. You may not cover all of these topics each time. For example, it may make sense to only talk about career development topics each third time. Or, you may not talk about status as a regular agenda item, but some specific situation causes you to add it to the agenda for your next 1:1.
What I’m hoping you take away from this episode is that it is important for you to establish a 1:1 with your manager. If your manager hasn’t taken responsibility for it, then you should do so yourself. There are 2 people in the 1:1, and you are one of them. So, the responsibility is yours to make sure that you have this important mechanism in place to keep an open dialogue with your manager.
The circle of influence is a concept popularized by Stephen Covey in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Although Covey takes no credit for the idea, he was a master at explaining it in a way that is so clear and actionable that it has become part of our business lexicon.
Today, I’m going to do my level best to explain it to you in a manner that will allow a light bulb to go on and for you to be able to walk away from this episode and put a new habit into practice. Even if you think you’ve got the concept down, I encourage you to listen to this episode. It is always good to have a refresher.
I fall into this category myself. If you were to ask me if I live or embody the concept of circle of influence I would have said yes. I think of and employ the concept frequently. I’ve talked about a lot of the ideas in one way or another on previous episodes. I would describe this concept as a core of my philosophy and personality. And yet – I just re-read the chapter in 7 Habits and found myself learning more. Being reminded of little nuances I’ve forgotten. Being shown a different way to approach it. So, there is always something more you can learn.
Let’s start by defining the circle of influence. Think about your world in 3 buckets:
This you can’t control
Most people are pretty good about how they deal with the things they can’t control. There is a recognition that you can’t do anything about it, so you adjust your behavior in whatever way is relevant and you move on with your life. The majority of people recognize this situation the majority of the time.
The weather is a classic example. You can’t control the weather. You know it and, although you may be disappointed when an even gets cancelled due to the weather, you don’t let it eat away at you.
Another example I like to use is a sports example. When a referee makes what you think is a bad call, there is literally nothing you can do about it. You can yell and scream and post as many bad tweets as you want, it isn’t going to change the outcome. The reason I use this example is because I think it is an example of where people who otherwise generally recognize situations where they don’t have control temporarily lose sight of that fact.
When it comes to the things you can’t control, your best option is to recognize as quickly as possible that you have no control, which takes away their ability to control you. If you feel like this is an area where you need to so some additional development work, I suggest you listen to Episode 20 about Productive and Unproductive Worry.
Things you can control indirectly through influence
Within the circle is the circle of influence. These are the things you can control indirectly through influence. These are things that other people are responsible for, but for which you can impact their actions. Your circle of influence with your children, if they are still young, is pretty large. And, although it decreases as they get older, it is still a very large part of your circle. Your circle of influence at work is likely smaller than your circle of influence at home, but you still have influence. Your objective should be to increase your circle of influence to be as large as it can be.
I believe influence is a mindset issue. You need to 1. Believe you can influence the situation and 2. Take responsibility for your actions or response. The way you know if you are doing this is by looking at the language you are using:
Is the issue someone else’s fault?
Do you feel like you are the victim?
Are you talking in terms of ‘onlys’? If only I had a better boss. If only I had this certification. If only management understood that our customers are impossible to deal with.
You have influence over each of these if only’s. And you can take action to influence them. When you give up your right to take action, you’ve made the choice to dis-empower yourself.
“If only I had a better boss.” What about your boss do you have a problem with? What can you do to build a relationship with your boss to gain influence that will change the impact? If they are a micro-manger, it means that they need a high level of detail to be comfortable. Increase the level of detail you provide when you communicate with them. By proactively doing this, they will become comfortable with you – they will trust in the work you are doing and will no longer feel the need to micro-mange.
“If only I had this certification.” If you think you aren’t getting considered for a role because you are lacking a skill, what are you doing to go get the skill?
“If only management understood that our customers are impossible to deal with.” How can you help them understand? Are you documenting the scenarios that come up? Have you investigated the steps necessary to address the scenarios? Have you asked management for what you need to address the scenarios?
And, taking responsibility for your actions means that if you feel you’ve tried to influence and the outcome is still not acceptable, then you take action to move on.
Things you can directly influence
Which takes us to the final part of the circle of influence – things you can directly control. These are your habits, your mindset. Taking responsibility for your actions proactively is one of the key things that sets highly productive, highly effective, people apart. Taking action on your own behalf is a fundamental skill. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that you believe that you are the architect of your career.
As human beings, one of the things that sets us apart from other animals is our ability to be self aware. Our freedom to choose how we respond to a situation. When there is some sort of situation thrust upon us, we are the architects of our response. I’m not trying to imply that by having a positive attitude, you can turn a bad situation into a positive situation. Bad things happen. Sucky things will always suck. But, you have 100% control over how you choose to respond. You can let bad things eat away at you, impacting the rest of your life, or you can let bad things be one part of your story rather than the whole story.
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