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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“What you are shouts so loudly in my ears that I can not hear what you say.”
Do you work with someone that you don’t trust and so, no matter what they say to you, you don’t believe it? Who they are is blocking out everything they say. No matter whether what they are saying is true and genuine – your interpretation of what they say is going to be colored by your opinion of them.
I once had a boss who would spend a good portion of every conversation bad mouthing someone else. Whether or not I shared his opinion about the other person, the only thing I could think of what “how much time does he spend bad mouthing me when he talks to others?” Regardless of the fact that he would tell me that he thought I was doing a good job – I couldn’t believe that he genuinely thought that. How could it be that I was the only person he thought positively about? I didn’t trust him, couldn’t trust him, and it didn’t matter what he said, his actions drowned out the words.
By the way, I didn’t work for him for very long. I knew that there was no up side for me in that relationship. Only downside.
Today, we are going to talk about paradigm, and how it has a profound impact on your career.
A paradigm is a model, theory, or frame of reference. It is the way you see the world. Each of us has a different frame of reference because each of us brings a different set of experiences and values to our perceptions of the world. This fact has really come to the forefront recently with the global discussion that is going on about equality in the world.
It isn’t a political statement to say that my paradigm as a white, middle-to-upper class woman is very different than the paradigm of a black middle-to-upper class woman. It is simply a fact. Her experiences and my experiences are different and as a result, we bring a different frame of reference to our interactions.
My paradigm is influenced by the fact that I grew up in the restaurant business because my dad owned restaurants. Chances are good that you don’t have that same experience.
I grew up with a stay-at-home-mom, which gave me another piece of my paradigm. I went to public school, and was in the band. I’ve never been robbed or broken a bone. All of these things combine to make my paradigm – my frame of reference - different than yours.
Recognizing, and being conscious of the fact that you have a unique paradigm is important because it colors everything you do.
Stephen Covey says in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: “to try and change outward attitudes and behaviors does very little good in the long run if we fail to examine the basic paradigm from which those attitudes and behaviors flow.”
Each of us tends to think we see things as they are – that we are objective. But, this is not the case. We see the world not as it is, but as we are – as we are conditioned to see it.
If everyone you interact with throughout the day is seeing the world as they are conditioned to see it, what does that mean for you?
It means that you can easily be misunderstood, or your actions can be misinterpreted. Whether the other person realizes it or not. Whether you realize it or not.
It also means that you can easily misinterpret or misunderstand someone else. Before you react to something, stop to consider if the person may be using a different paradigm than you.
These different paradigms could easily be seen as a problem. If everyone is walking around misunderstanding each other because of different frames of reference, how will we ever get anything done?
But another word for these paradigms is diversity. This diversity helps form better solutions to a problem because when everybody comes to the table with a different frame of reference, you end up with more insights and a more complete solution is the result.
Embrace the different paradigms
The key skill that I want to help you develop this week is how to embrace these different paradigms. As I already mentioned, the 1st step is to recognize it.
Spend some time thinking about the paradigm that you have. What circumstances and life experiences have you had that have an impact on how you view the world? Get comfortable with the fact that everything you do is done through the unique lens.
Next, you need to become cognizant of the fact that everyone else is coming to the party with their own lens, and you are likely never going to know all of the things that form the lens.
For instance, I’m never going to know what experience led my old boss to a place where he thinks it is ok to spend so much of his time bad mouthing others. Somewhere in his past, something occurred that allowed him to form an opinion that this is ok behavior. My guess is he doesn’t even recognize that he is doing it. But, it is certainly part of him and definitely colors everything he does. I will never know how that came about.
So, recognizing the fact that we each have our own paradigm is step 2. The reason it is important is because, when you find yourself in a tense situation – either you are having a disagreement, or it doesn’t have to be that dramatic – maybe you are working through a problem at work and seem to be getting stuck – not making progress toward a solution. When you get into a situation like that, it can be helpful to kind of take a step back and say – ok what is it about our paradigms that are contributing to this situation?
This will help because it automatically makes you more curious about the situation. Curiosity is not confrontational. It is open and starts to engage other parts of your brain that will start making connections to things that may have been previously unrelated.
For example, I’m a rule follower. It is part of me and although I don’t really think about it, my natural tendency is to follow rules. Worse than that, I tend to impose rules that aren’t even really there. The result is a lot of times, I don’t think of options for solving a problem that others see. I may overlook an option because it is going to cost money and I have this rule in my head that you shouldn’t spend money unless there is no other alternative. So, I’ll ignore a solution and search high and low to find another solution. I don’t even realize I’m doing it until someone else I’m working with says “well, if we just bought this thing, it would solve the problem.”
My paradigm about spending money colors the way I solve problems. When someone else comes with a different paradigm, I automatically start to think more creatively because a whole new set of options become available to me.
Another tool for getting the most out of differing paradigms is listening. Now – this ain’t easy folks! Especially when you are dealing with something highly emotional.
Let’s say your manager comes to you and says your performance is not meeting expectations. You think you’ve been doing a great job, so there are obviously 2 different paradigms here. Once you get over the initial shock of it, you can recognize that you and your manager are coming to your interaction with 2 different world views.
You can get curious “I wonder what her perspective is and how it can be so different from mine?”
And then you can listen. Really listen to her point of view. Don’t judge. Don’t defend. Listen. Listen to understand. Listen to empathize. See if you can understand her world view. See if you can recognize how all of her life experiences have added up to a different perspective than yours. Look for areas where your world view may be limited by your experiences and behaviors. Ask yourself if your world view could use an update as a result of this experience.
So, back to Emerson. “What you are shouts so loudly in my ears that I can no hear what you say.”
Your homework for this week is to get to know your paradigm. Think about how you show up, and what lens you bring. Because to be successful in your career, people need to be able to hear what you say.
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
I was recently talking with a friend about the process for dealing with customer service calls at a food service delivery app company. When you get on one of these apps to order food from a local company, what are your expectations? What would lead you to call the customer service department of the app?
Let me tell you something about myself before we go any further into this discussion. I personally have never used one of these apps. Now, you’ve probably formed all kinds of ideas about me in your head because of this admission. I’m ok with that. Before these apps came into the mainstream, I rarely ever ordered carry out. It just isn’t a habit I have. I either cook at home or go out to a restaurant to eat. I don’t and never have, ordered carry out. It just doesn’t fit my lifestyle. So, when the apps came along, I just never had a reason to use them.
So, back to my conversation with my friend. She works for one of these app companies and had called me because they were having some growing pains in their customer service department. I had asked her to give me some examples of reasons people call them for support. She said, “well maybe they get their order and the drink is missing.”
Ok – now hold on a second.
I was totally confused. Why would you call a software company about a missing drink in your order rather than calling the restaurant?
This is a concept that makes absolutely no sense to me. The software company has developed an app that facilitates a connection between you and a local restaurant. That software company, and its customer service people could literally be located anywhere in the country – in the world. You’ve ordered from a local restaurant. Presumably within around 10 miles of your house assuming you want your food to still be warm when it gets to you. They forget to send your drink. They are local, and responsible for messing up your order. But, instead of calling them, you call the app. I really can’t get my mind wrapped around that logic.
I wonder how many people called the phone company back in the day before the internet when the only way to get food delivered to your home was by telephone. Hello? AT&T? Yes, I’ve just called and ordered a pizza and now that its been delivered, I see that it is missing black olives.
Today’s episode is about the false conclusion effect. You see, the fact that this makes no sense to me is irrelevant. Obviously, a lot of people think about this differently than I do, or else my friend wouldn’t be getting these calls. A lot of people obviously think that it is the software company’s job to fix the missing drink problem. They’ve reached a different conclusion than I have. The false conclusion effect says that we tend to believe the world at large shares our beliefs and point of view more than they actually do. We tend to use our own perspective as a proxy for the likely perspective of others.
The false conclusion effect is pervasive in companies. Not because of any bad management or nefarious intentions, but because of good old fashion human nature. We are just naturally included to think that other think the way we do and if we don’t exercise some self-control, we can really miss important inputs into our process. Why is self control important here? Because it takes self control to set aside our perceptions in order to look at things from other perspectives.
Once I became aware of this idea that other people come to the conclusion that the correct course of action when a drink is missing from your order is to call the software company, I needed to shift my perspective. This was an eye opener for me. I was immediately faced with the fact that I don’t have the only world view on how these things work. There are two primary reactions that we have when we are faced with the false conclusion effect. We can either reappraise or we can suppress.
Reappraisal means that we reconsider our approach given the new perspective we have. If you get fired from your job, reappraisal is at work if you tell yourself it was a horrible job anyway and you are now free to go do what you want to do with your life. We know from scientific brain studies that reappraisal engages the region of the brain responsible for self control. But, more importantly, it is engaged early in the episode.
The other possible reaction to being faced with a new perspective is suppression. Suppression is when you control your facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language so that others can’t tell what you are thinking inside. Suppression will make it look to others like you aren’t distressed, but your mind is substantially more distracted because of the energy you are putting into maintaining your calm exterior. People are not going to enjoy being with you while you are in this state, and it is more likely that you will forget portions of the event. The self-control region of the brain is engaged later in the event when you are in suppression mode.
Why is reappraisal & suppression important to understand? Because we trust people with self control more than we trust people without it. Trust is the foundation of social interactions. And, without it, you can not be successful in your career – or life. In the book Social, Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect by Matthew Lieberman, he says “self control is the price of admission to society.”
We’ve talked a lot about how self control is an important part of self awareness on this podcast. Emotional Intelligence requires us to understand how we interact with society. Understanding this concept of the false consensus effect – and more importantly, recognizing when we are in its grasp - is important in allowing us to recognize our biases with society.
Having a bias doesn’t make you a a bad person. My bias toward thinking that it is logical to call the restaurant rather than the software company when my drink is missing doesn’t make me a bad person. We all have biases. Recognizing that this is true and then managing your response to it is what leads to improvement.
Once I was able to recognize this other point of view, I was able to incorporate it into my understanding of the issue being faced and provide a better suggestion for solving the problem. Any solution I gave without this expanded world view would have been inadequate.
This is why it is important to get a lot of varying inputs into your process. Talk to others about their experiences. Dig deeper into their thoughts. Ask a lot of questions. But always with the understanding that you are a victim of the false conclusion effect – we all are. Becoming aware of this alone is making you better at your job.
Episode 39: Self Control
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At People Move Organizations, we believe that you will be more successful if you are self aware. Knowing your internal states, preferences, resources and intuitions is what makes you self aware, which makes you better at making decisions, interacting with others, and more productive.
Self Control is one aspect of self awareness which we will dive into in this episode.
Self Control = keeping disruptive emotions and impulses in check.
People who are good at self control:
Self control is invisible – it is the absence of drama.
There are tools that can help you keep disruptive emotions and impulses in check:
Give it perspective
Think about your situation in terms of who will die as a result. This really gives you perspective to realize that although you are currently feeling stressed, it isn’t – literally – the end of the world.
Recognize your personal filters
Something that may be devastating to you might be a great opportunity to someone else. Every situation can have multiple, legitimate responses. Your response may be legitimate for you, but remembering that it isn’t the same for everyone can help you stay composed.
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