Caught in a Vortex of Expectations? Listen to Find Your Way Out.

I’ve always had a strong dependency on words. They help me get a grip on the world around me and the nature of people who could hurt or help me. They’ve often saved me from myself.

There’s so much going on around us, all day, every day. Most of us live in an expectation-heavy, activity vortex, struggling to avoid being consumed by it.

When the vortex wins, we lose.

Listen closely.

Most of us doesn’t listen well. We hear but don’t listen. We forget that people (and we’re people too) say things in order to get us to:

  • Do what they want
  • Change our minds
  • Think the way they do
  • Affect the way we see ourselves
  • Makes purchases
  • Desire things we do or don’t need
  • Follow the crowd

The list can get long.

The noise of expectations, requirements, and cautions is everywhere. TV programs, texts, email blasts, radio announcements, and talking heads galore distract the focus of our minds relentlessly.

Our challenge is to listen closely to what is actually being said and implied. Then we need to figure out what, if any of it, is something we want to incorporate into our way of living and working.

When we sort through the words that come at us and understand the messages they contain, we become the drivers of who we are and the paths we choose to follow.

Consider personal brand management messages like these:

The image expert says: “These are the fashions, personal grooming products, cool cars, and technology devices/apps that are the rage this year among the up-and-comers. Adopt them and you will build a personal brand that signals you’re ‘with it’ and current.”

The message heard is: Getting ahead today, socially and in business, means adopting whatever is trendy.

You’re tempted to think: “I need to look younger or more chic, get the latest smart phone, dye my hair, get a new car. If I don’t, I’ll come across as un-cool or old school. If I invest in these trends, I’ll increase my chances of getting ahead.”

Your truth: What positions you to get head is your personality, your energy, your vibe. It’s in your ability to get things done, engage others, be reliable. You’re genuine, kind, and positive. You don’t need to buy a new look. Just be your best self.

Now, consider words you might hear at work:

Your boss says: “You have excellent people skills, especially when dealing with unhappy customers and working with stressed out coworkers. You have a great future here and I see you supervising others in time.”

The message heard is: You could be promoted one of these days.

You’re tempted to think: “I need to keep demonstrating my people skills, so my boss won’t change his mind about me. Getting promoted to supervisor would be an unanticipated challenge. I need to be ready for it.”

Your truth: You like working with customers and peers, and increasing the scope of your existing job would be great. But you never wanted to supervise, because the requirements of the role don’t fit your personality. It’s not the career path that feels good to you. Let your boss know that, so s/he can develop you in different directions.

Make decisions on your terms

I lived that last example. I loved being a manager but I never wanted to become an executive. I knew I was being considered and wanted to be sure my reasons were delivered in my words. So I invited the CEO to lunch to explain and my career then proceeded along the best lines for me.

You ‘re not like everyone else, so there’s no reason to believe that you should want what everyone else has. As an individual, you are wired to be unique.

The words that swirl around you are both hooks and anchors that are yours to accept or reject. Own the words that are good for you and discard the rest. That puts your next steps on your terms.

Turning Employees Around—What It Takes | Feedback Power

Under-performers are part of the landscape in any workplace. You know who they are and so does your boss.

None of us is perfect. Without guidance, it’s easy to adopt behaviors and habits acceptable to us that, ultimately, don’t wear well with others.

As employees we need feedback from day one. There is no better (or cheaper) way to teach us the skills and behaviors we need to be successful.

Performance feedback is one of the most important roles of any supervisors. It’s how problems are nipped in the bud, skills are polished, misbehavior is corrected, and a continuous performance growth culture is built.

Getting through 

Supervisors resist giving feedback because they’re uncertain about:

  • What to say
  • How employees will react
  • What to do if there’s pushback
  • Whether they’ll make matters worse

Employees resist feedback because they:

  • Don’t want to change
  • Don’t get it
  • Don’t respect their supervisor
  • Don’t see any upside or consequences

To make the situation stickier,  employees may perform exceptionally well in some areas like production but terribly in others like on teams.

As a supervisor you need all employees to deliver value in all aspects of their jobs. That’s what you’re paying them for. To accept poor performance in one area is to accept paying a full salary for only part of the job.

“Can you hear me now?” 

Delivering feedback is one thing. Getting employees to hear and act on it is another.

That means you need to:

  • Follow up on your feedback to make sure it’s being implemented
  • Reinforce it through repetition, review, and discussion
  • Reward or deliver consequences based commitments

Feedback only works when you have your employee’s attention. It starts with a conversation where you and your employee talk to each other. Each needs to hear what the other is saying and come to agreement on next steps.

It takes real commitment from both supervisor and employee. And often it takes repeated effort, time, and sometimes consequences.

Michael Vick, a dramatic case 

Michael Vick was a high performing employee as the quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons football team. He could throw and also scramble for yardage like few others.  Vick was a superstar who came from a rough background where he, as a kid and young man, he struggled to avoid the vortex of the streets.

After he went into the pros, he remained tethered to some unsavory people from his “old life.” For years he received feedback from coaches and others about his need to break those ties. He didn’t heed the feedback.

In 2007, he was implicated in a dog fighting ring and pleaded guilty to federal felony charges that resulted in 21 months in jail. Feedback didn’t get his attention but the consequences of not listening did.

Vick had to come to grips with what he’d done and turn it into advocacy. He had to restart his NFL career and recover from bankruptcy. Coach Andy Reid of the Philadelphia Eagles gave him a job as a back-up QB in 2009 where he faced relentless negative public reaction. It was another round of feedback, often painful,vitriolic, and deserved.

It took positive performance to turn things around for Vick.

On Sunday, September 11, 2011, Michael Vick snapped the ball as the starting QB for the Eagles, winning the game 33-13 over the St. Louis Rams. He ran for 98 yards and threw two touchdown passes. He’s now playing with a multi-million-dollar contact, his life clearly on the upswing.

Michael Vick took a long time to hear it and paid a big price for ignoring feedback.

Hearing feedback pays 

It’s one thing to listen to feedback and another to hear it. It’s one thing to hear feedback and another to act on it.

Good feedback generally comes from people who care about us—people who want us to perform well, so we can experience success and growth.

Each of us is both a giver and receiver of feedback. We are positioned to help others turn around and ourselves too. There’s power in feedback. Let’s commit to using it well.

Photo from Matthew Straubmuller via Flickr

Want to Get Ahead? Take 5. Learn to Be Quiet.

Seems counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? When we want an opportunity or a raise, we need to ask for it. If we’re being mistreated, we need to speak out. When we see wrong being done, we need call attention to it. 

So how can being quiet help us get ahead? Crack this case and reap the benefits! 

Size up the situation 

The workplace is a din of noise. Everyone’s tuned into to multiple channels at the same time: 

  • Engaging in live conversation
  • Texting and taking cell phone calls
  • Checking email on mobile devices 

We believe that staying “in the know” is essential to success, so we’ve become gourmands of information in a buffet without limits.

When everyone around you is gobbling up and spitting out the details, tidbits, and finds, you’ve now given yourself a career edge. 

Ideas and innovation move careers. S/he, who can put the pieces together to solve problems and create something unique, earns the reward. 

Quiet is your ally. 

You don’t miss things when your mind is quiet, you discover them. 

Quiet is a lot of things, particularly the absence of noise, turmoil, agitation, and trouble. What we need for our careers is internal quiet. 

When everyone else keeps their thinking fragmented, swatting at bits and pieces of disjointed communication, you need to use quiet to intensify your focus.  Zone into your internal strategist and set out to make your mark. 

Putting quiet to work 

Quiet is a powerful tool when you use it effectively, so: 

  1. Listen and ask—We learn from what we hear, so it’s up to us to be quiet and listen to what others have to say. That’s where the insights are. The better you listen and the more you ask, the more you learn. When we’re quiet, others will talk.
  2. Listen to yourself—We spend an amazing amount of time talking to ourselves instead of staying quiet within. It’s better to listen to our inner voice than to think over it. When we quiet our minds, give our subconscious a chance to reveal its insights, it will deliver powerful aha moments. Skeptical? Just try it.
  3. Remove distractions—Learn to be alone with yourself. Distractions get in the way of your internal listening. If you’re scoffing at this, think of the last time you sat alone with no one around and nothing to distract you. If you can’t remember that’s a message to you. If you do remember and the experience was uncomfortable, you need to figure out why.
  4. Stop forcing thoughts—Self-imposed pressure to come up with new ideas and solutions often becomes internal noise that blocks the quiet you need. If you have to come up with an idea, pronto, do something unrelated to your job: go work out, read a novel, take a walk, or take a shower where many good ideas are revealed!
  5. Pick up on vibes—Vibes pierce the quiet. It’s what happens in the spaces between the noise. We get vibes about people, risk, and opportunity. Even when we’re in the thick of things, a quiet mind gathers up those vibes and triggers our next move. When we’re distracted, we miss those vibes or misread them, so it’s in our best interest to stay tuned in. 

Quiet practice 

We’ve been conditioned to run a fast pace. We’ve come to believe that the faster we run the more success we’ll have. Just look at the movers and shakers where you work. Some may have “arrived” by running over people, but most had their wits about them and showcased their focused, clear-headed, and centered way of getting the job done. 

So we need to practice internal quiet. Career success is, in large measure, about differentiating ourselves from others, by standing out through the way we achieve essential outcomes. Not only does learning to harness quiet help you to get ahead, it also helps you the manage stress. Now shush…. 

Photo from jumpinjimmyjava – iKIVA via Flickr