Being vulnerable and authentic at work is sometimes hard to do. It takes courage.
In this conversation with Ryan Seematter, we discuss why he feels that being vulnerable and authentic at work has been a part improving his confidence, passion and energy at work. Ryan’s tips for being authentic at work:
Here are some episodes that tie into our conversation:
Episode 17: Understanding Myers Briggs
Episode 49: Introduction to Enneagram
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What You'll Learn in this Episode:
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 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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This week, I’m replaying Episode 18: Building a Reserve. It is a topic I’ve been talking about for over 10 years, and I really feel that it is core to managing stress in your life.
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Everything we do, everything we hear, or see, or participate in has a context within which it happens.
Context is very often invisible.
Although it is there, it isn’t obvious or up-front so it sometimes gets lost. But, the thing is that a lot of times it makes all the difference to the situation. Learning to look for the context in the situation you are in will help you make better decisions, build better relationships, and come up with better solutions.
The definition of context is ‘the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea and in terms of which it can be fully understood and addressed.
You can’t fully decide how you will react to an event until you have the context around the decision in order to be able to fully understand the situation.
Understand Your Process for Considering Context
Understanding how often you consider context when you make decisions is an important tool in building your emotional intelligence.
The more you understand about the context of the situation, the better able you will be to respond in a manner that aligns with your personal values.
And, I’ll take it a step further and say that when you become good at identifying context, you can help your colleagues as well. When you are in a meeting and an issue comes up, if you are able to ask questions that help uncover the context, everyone involved will have more information to fully understand and address the situation.
How To Uncover Context
There are some questions you can use to help uncover context:
One of the important things to keep in mind when you are asking questions in order to draw out context is to make sure the questions are coming from a place of curiosity. You are asking the questions in order to have a more rounded understanding of the situation; to be able to give yourself a fuller picture that will allow you to draw from a wider selection of responses.
This is curiosity.
If you ask the questions in a manner that comes across as accusatory or judgmental, the person you are talking with is likely to shut down.
Don’t React – Take the Time You Need
If you are the type of person who reacts, this may feel a little foreign to you. It may seem like it takes longer. But, reacting without gathering information about context can have consequences. Your colleagues may feel that they can’t trust you because your reaction hasn’t taken their point of view into account.
Using Context to Design a Business Process
Or, on a less personal level, a reaction can result in a less efficient or less effective process. When designing business processes, understanding context is critical in ensuring efficiency, ease of use, and even adoption.
For example, I’ve been working on designing a new customer portal for our help desk. I’m not in a customer facing role, so I don’t have a lot of context about what kinds of things our customers come to the customer portal to get help with.
As we were defining the options they can select, I had to ask a lot of questions to be able to find a solution that would be effective for them.
I asked questions like: “Does the customer know which of our products they use, or do they just think of our product as ‘our company name’? Designing a process that assumes the customer knows or distinguishes between our different software products is not effective if the customer doesn’t have that context.
Another question I asked was “why would a customer come to the customer portal in the 1st place?” I needed the context of what the customer is thinking in order to be able to define a process that will be efficient for them.
Use Stakeholder Analysis
Another important way to gather context for business process solutions is to use stakeholder analysis. When you are faced with an issue or challenge, how often do you step back and assess the people who are impacted?
Who are the people – whether individuals, departments, or groups – that are impacted? Is your solution taking all of these stakeholders into account?
In the coming weeks, observe yourself as you are faced with issues or situations. Is your natural tendency to think about the various stakeholders before you make a decision? Who are you considering when you come to a conclusion? Are you casting a wide enough net?
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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?
In the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R Covey, habit #2 is to begin with the end in mind. On the surface, it sounds like he is talking about setting goals, but what he talks about is more fundamental that that.
Begin with the end in mind means that you must have a clear picture of what you are trying to accomplish in order to get there. That seems pretty straight forward, but it is actually very nuanced. The problem is, a lot of us aren’t self aware enough to really understand what it is we are aiming for. We may have a general picture in our mind and we may think of it every once in a while, but we aren’t consciously designing our outcomes.
Let me give you an example from my life.
I got my degree in accounting and I worked in an accounting job for maybe 5 years of my entire career. I eventually figured out that what I wanted to accomplish had nothing to do with accounting. I was moving forward in my career – just not in the one that was right for me.
That was back in the early days of my career. Once I got onto the right path, my career has been a consistent accomplishment toward the vision I had of my goal. Then, about 4 or 5 years ago, I started to see a new vision. The objective was shifting and the picture has gotten clearer, although I’m still refining it. Starting this podcast is part of it.
Covey talks about all creations being created twice.
The 1st creation is your mental image of it.
The 2nd creation is the physical manifestation of it.
If that 1st creation isn’t made consciously, you aren’t the one driving the objective.
For me, I went into accounting mostly because it was what everyone around me was doing. I knew in college that I didn’t want to be an accountant. I liked business and I was good at a lot of the skills I needed for accounting – so that’s the direction I took. I didn’t know enough about the real business world to define my outcome any other way. So, my 1st vision for my career, although perfectly legitimate on paper, turned out not to be the right vision once I translated it from my mental image into a physical career.
Although I thought I knew what I wanted to accomplish, I was wrong. And, I think this is natural. I don’t feel like I failed because I didn’t stick with accounting. Once I got out into the business world and saw what other jobs were out there that could use my skills, I was able to see a different vision for myself. Once I saw a new vision, I was ready to start moving in that direction.
I think the important lesson is to look up every once in a while and ask yourself if the world you are creating is actually the one you want to be creating.
This is going to require a lot of self awareness.
Self awareness is something we talk about a lot on People Move Organizations because it is so foundational to a successful career.
Self awareness is knowing one’s internal states, preferences, resources, and intuitions.
The reason it is important that you have self awareness is that you have to have a good handle on yourself in order to be able to set a goal or a vision that will be fulfilling for you. It is so easy to fall into a habit or a pattern where you get up and go to work every day and do what you do.
Whether it brings you joy and fulfillment or not.
If you aren’t absolutely miserable, you aren’t likely to think about your vision. Defining the end state is about knowing yourself well enough to know – well, not just know – to really take positive action toward, to be motivated to act toward an end goal that will bring you fulfillment.
Daniel Goldman summed it up nicely in his book Working with Emotional Intelligence, “Self awareness is a building block of commitment: if you don’t know you own guiding principles, you may not recognize when something is or isn’t a fit.”
As you become self aware, you start to see where something isn’t a fit and you can start to create a new vision for yourself. Again, Habit 2 is: begin with the end in mind.
When was the last time you spent time thinking about your vision for yourself?
Without the vision for where it is you are trying to get to, it is impossible to take the next step – which is making progress toward the goal.
Begin with the end in mind is for processes too
Do you have a problem at work that you are trying to solve? A process that isn’t working well? Before you can fix it, you’ve got to be clear on what end state you are trying to get to.
Just this week, I found myself spinning my wheels on a problem. I feel like the process we use for forecasting our staffing levels isn’t working as well as it could. I was trying to figure out why it isn’t giving me a result I could trust and I found myself with 10 spreadsheets open and 10 partially completed analyses – none of which gave me an answer. I was in analysis paralysis. So, I literally said out loud to myself “what exactly are you trying to accomplish?” I had lost track of the end result and had to remind myself.
Whether you are using Habit 2 for big life changing decisions of for thorn-in-your-side tactical problems at work, make sure you regularly step back from the daily grind and ask yourself what are you trying to accomplish?
Before you can actually accomplish anything, you’ve got to have a vision for what it is you are moving toward.
And, don’t beat yourself up when you vision changes over time. It is natural for your priorities to change and therefore your vision to change as well.
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.
If you aren’t clear on you priorities, it will have an impact on almost every other aspect of your life. We commonly refer to work – life balance when we are talking about priorities. But, it isn’t just about what you do at work and what you do in your personal life. Your priorities have an impact to many different aspects of your life. Its all inter-twined.
If you just think about your work, you can think about how productive you are during any given week. Are you as successful as you could be or as you want to be? How can you be more productive or successful in the - air quotes – 40 hours you spend at work each week?
Now, expand beyond work and consider your family life. I will include friends really – you social life, which includes family. How fulfilled are you in your personal life? Are you accomplishing what you want in this area? Do you feel like you are giving it the attention it needs?
Lets expand again. Now, what about your community life? When you think about everything you want to accomplish outside of work and our social circle, do you feel like you have a handle on it? Are you happy with the contribution you are making?
And finally, let me expand one more time. What about you personally? For yourself? What are your goals? Do you have hobbies? Is there a hobby you want to pursue that you haven’t?
It’s a lot to keep track of.
What do you want to accomplish at work, at home, in your community, and for yourself? How on earth do you balance it all?
How do you ensure that each and every week you are taking actions that align with these goals?
How do you balance your personal set of goals with other important people in your life?
You really can’t set your priorities without taking your bosses priorities into consideration. If you are in a relationship, you can’t set your priorities without taking your partner’s priorities into account. It can get overwhelming very quickly. That is exactly why so many people just ignore their priorities and let their life unfold the way it unfolds.
When you let life unfold, it has a tendency to be driven by the urgent things – regardless of how important they are.
North Star List
There is a tool that I use to help me keep track of it all. It helps me keep an eye on my priorities so that I can feel confident that I’m always acting in accordance with my priorities. I call it the North Star List, and although I’ve talked about it a lot on this podcast, today we are going to deep dive into it. My goals is that you leave this week with a North Star List of your own.
The way I describe the North Star List is that it is the job description for your life. Just like a job description outlines what you should be spending your time on at work, your North Star List outlines what you should be spending your time on in life.
As you think about the different areas of your life – work, social circle, community, and yourself, you are going to write out a description of what you want it to be for you. Don’t feel like you have to cover every scenario. Your North Star List is going to change over time because – well – your priorities change over time. Let’s just take work as an example.
When you first start working, you may have a priority to find a good solid job that has good potential for growth. Or maybe that has good potential to learn a specific skill you want to pursue. Then, over time you may decide that what you really want out of work is a certain title or a promotion and climbing the ladder is your top priority. And, if you are like me and you’ve been working for nearly 30 years, your priority ay move from climbing the ladder to just maintaining a paycheck because your priority is shifting from career to retirement.
Obviously, the same is true for your social circle. When you are young, your priority is likely a circle of friends. As you get older and start a family, it is likely your immediate family – your spouse and children. And, as you get older and your kids move out, it is likely going to shift back to friends.
So, as you can see, the priorities in each are of you life are going to shift over time. There will be times when your work/life balance is completely focused on work, and times when it is completely focused on life, and everything in between.
What the North Star List does is it helps you think about your priorities and ensure you are acting in alignment with them at all times.
So, let’s put together your North Star List. When you think about your life, what is your job description?
Start with your work. If you were writing a job description for the role work plays in your life, what would it be? Is it the central responsibility you have? Is it an important part of your job, but not the most important thing? Or is it one of those nice-to-have things that they always put in the last section of a job description? How would you describe the role your work has in your life?
My current North Star List has work listed as “provide for my family through a job that pays enough to provide the lifestyle we desire.” What does that tell you about my priorities? There is nothing in that statement about doing something I love or enjoy. There is nothing in that statement about a certain title or achieving anything other than – honestly – a paycheck. This is because I’m at the stage in my career where I’ve done everything I want to do and my job is no longer a focus for me. Don’t get me wrong – I still have to work and I still want to enjoy what I do, but as far as my priorities go – it doesn’t go beyond the paycheck. Practically speaking, what does it mean? It means that as I make my way through my week and I have to make decisions about my limited time, I let this priority drive those decisions. I don’t put a lot of overtime in because my priority isn’t to climb the ladder. I used to make decisions based on what might be good for my career. Now, I don’t because it is no longer such a priority. It is a subtle difference, but is so helpful in providing direction when I’m faced with decisions.
Ok, so lets turn to your social life. This includes family and friends. The next line in your job description should describe what you want this area of your life to look like. Knowing that you have to balance work with your social life. What is the priority for you when it comes to family and friends?
For example, my North Star List says “support my family by being present as a wife, daughter, sister, and friend.” That means I show up in meaningful ways for those people I love. Since I don’t have kids, there is no need to talk about the kind of parent I want to be. Your focus may be a lot more narrow if you are in a new relationship or have young children.
Next, think about the wider community. What role do you want to play in your community?
It may be that your answer is none. And, that’s ok. Again, over time, our focus changes. If you are young and have a new family and new career, you may not have any time for the wider community. There was a time when I very consciously called out my community involvement was limited to supporting organizations or causes I cared about financially because I could easily write a check, but giving my time was a much bigger challenge.
You can see how having this outlined in my North Star List made decisions easy. When I was asked to volunteer for something – having the North Star List to refer back to made it easy for me to say no because it wasn’t one of my priorities.
My current North Star List says “support my community by using my strengths too benefit organizations that serve missions that I believe in.”
Finally, it is important that you don’t forget about yourself. In your life’s job description, what is your current priority for yourself?
How do you take care of yourself? What is the top priority for yourself?
It may be tempting for you to say something about your work or family. Don’t. You’ve covered those already. It may feel selfish at first, but just do it anyway. If you don’t put yourself on your priority list, I can guarantee you won’t give yourself permission to do whatever it is that is important to you. And, that will lead to burnout.
For me, it is my podcasts. What will it be for you?
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