Admit It: We Still Hate Failure

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I know that we should accept failure. However, in the face of it — you might have difficulty convincing yourself that it’s a good thing. Failure is certainly a fact of work life that we must accept and master. But, we may need to take another moment to consider it a little more carefully. What is your gut reaction when you reflect back on a failure or setback? (I’ll venture to say that the moment might remain cringe worthy.) Let’s be honest. Failing just doesn’t feel good.

This is where I believe the challenge with failure still lies. Our heads understand that failing can be advantageous to our work (read more about that here), but our hearts and emotions haven’t entirely followed suit. Intellectually we’ve accepted that we need to fail on the road to success — but learning how to live with that failure is an entirely different story.

Somehow we must find a way to calm ourselves and develop the ability to process failure more effectively. This may allow us to continue to move forward. ( In many cases, I find that my role is to help individuals and organizations move through experienced setbacks and problems.) This often involves dealing with the emotional remnants (and fear) that develop when things simply don’t go as planned.

Failure may be necessary — but, digesting it isn’t easy. A few things to try:

  • Alter our associations. We define failure negatively — when it actually holds useful information. Researchers routinely experience a great number of dead ends and disappointments on their way to a breakthrough. We should attempt to “unlearn” our typical view of failure — including labeling a misstep as the “end point”. A less than positive result can often lead to another, highly worthy alternative path.
  • Make perfection the enemy. We tend to equate perfection with success — and revision with failure. This can prove to be quite destructive, causing us to take fewer creative risks. Highly effective organizations, such as Pixar encourage sharing an idea early in the creative process; accepting the notion that others can develop and improve on an idea.
  • Re-frame your emotions. Research has shown that how you view a discovered obstacle is every bit important as the problem itself. Attempting to extract a positive piece from a failure, no matter how small is critical. Try to extract a lesson, no matter how small, from any misstep.
  • Utilize humor. Attempting to disarm negative emotions with humor is highly advantageous in times of stress. If you can somehow see a trace of humor in a failure or setback (give this a bit of time) — it’s a solid start in the direction of recovery.
  • Bolster fortitude. It has been shown that “grit” — the ability to stick with a task and focus on long-term goals, is key to dealing with failure. Take a break to re-gain energy, and then persevere. Promote resiliency and the discovery of “Plan B”.
  • Broaden our view of history. We often focus on the success of others, but forget that their journey included many twists and turns. Highly productive individuals such as Richard Branson, practice methods to master the emotional side of the failing — including banishing embarrassment and dwelling on regrets.
  • Take another perspective. You may have convinced others, that a setback in their work lives should not deter them from trying another route. Think of your situation. What advice would you offer them, if they were in your place? (Then take that advice to heart.)

It can be disheartening to experience a failure — but we can learn a thing or two from these moments.

How do you deal with a failure or setback? What are your strategies to help you recover and move forward?

Photo Credit: Flickr: Ben Husmann

A version of this post has previsouly appeared at Linkedin.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She also writes at Linkedin

Blamestorming & Other Telling Signs Your Organization is “Siloed”

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I interface with organizations who have every intention of being collaborative. But, their collective actions and reactions tell a very different story. We may hold the hope of functioning as a seamless multifunctional operation — working in concert to satisfy clients, while working toward organizational goals. But in reality, this is quite difficult to accomplish. There are obvious, telling signs that we’ve missed that mark.

By nature, silos develop in organizations to protect valued resources. This is often fear-based — and building these proverbial “walls” can become the kiss of death for any organization that expects to remain agile. We’d all like to think of our organization as moving beyond this developmental phase. However, it is easy to slip into “protective mode”.  In some cases, we’ve acquiesced back into a “siloed” state without recognizing the malaise.

Here are a few signs to consider:

  • Lack of a constructive cross-functional conversation. Let’s face the facts — there really isn’t a lot of communication going on cross-functionally. Your customer protocol doesn’t dovetail with other functional groups, and no one seems to be alarmed that this step is absent.
  • Customers are no longer central to the conversation. Your teams are so busy putting out fires and keeping up with the demands, that customers and clients are no longer central. When the “tail” (acute issues) starts wagging the dog (being long-term smart), it’s time to slow down and take another look.
  • You are unsure what other people are doing. Processes and procedures can evolve quickly. You can lose site of the roles that others play in the larger scheme. As result, your team really doesn’t have a grasp of how to effectively interface with other parts of the business.
  • Rampant “blamestorming”. Joint ownership of process and procedural issues is non-existent. If issues seem to be more like “hot potatoes of blame” than a “call to arms” to improve — take this an ominous warning that things are a muck. If everyone seems to point a finger, yet no one is venturing into the spotlight to say “we take responsibility”, you may have a real problem.
  • Separate cultural identities. If each functional group is more akin to an independent “pop up” shop, take note. You might blame each other for the current problems or snafus but it’s really the lack of shared vision that’s the offender. Time to re-group and get on the same page.
  • Things are portrayed as a “zero sum” game. If your group seems to feel that if  they “give up” responsibility (even if tasks are best moved to another team), they feel your presence would be minimized. Wrong. Scope of work should be assigned to the group most able to deliver the end-product of the highest quality.
  • You’ve given up trying to become a better organization. Many siloed organizations aren’t happy with the status quo — but their employees feel efforts to change the dynamic are fruitless. (I see this as a form of “learned helplessness”.) If you are so frustrated that you feel things cannot be improved, this is a telling sign that your group needs help.

Have you seen this operating in your organization? What did you do?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist who starts conversation about work and organizations. She also writes at LinkedIn.

10 Communication Hacks to Boost Your Effectiveness

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We all want to be heard. But do you have the skills to ensure that you are making an impact? Here’s a plan — learn how to communicate. Really communicate. Master the art of expressing an idea fully. Know your audience — and know how to receive the messages sent your way.

Here are 10 strategies to put you on the right road.

  • Curate. Yep, less is more. You are your own brand — and this extends to the content that you share with others. In our communication rich world, we are essentially vying for the attention of others. Are you worth their time? We communicate frequently, but with little forethought concerning purpose and outcome. Have a plan. Edit what you bring to the table.
  • Learn to handle difficult conversations. Let’s face it, the topic we’d most like to avoid often has the potential to make the greatest impact. Research shows that we spend a significant amount of time handling conflict in our work lives (debate, disagreements, handling egos). So, learn how to openly address underlying tension before it affects productivity.
  • Tell a great story. Great stories not only capture our attention — they help a message endure. The best thing? There are great tools to help you develop and explain the power behind your next great idea. Give RooJoom or Prezi a try. You can never have enough of an edge.
  • Get real. How are your communication skills playing out in real life? There is only one way to find out — see a video of yourself. Start with a short interview on Skype and work your way up to capturing an entire presentation. (There may be”cringe-worthy” moments. However, you cannot fix what you are not aware of.)
  • Study. Communication skills simply do not emerge spontaneously, as this is a skill set that requires focus to develop. Firstly, what are your “communication” strengths and weaknesses? Devote time and energy, by securing the training you need. By the way, you don’t have to wait for your organization to offer — check out some great ideas at Udemy. (I’d say it’s worth $49.00).
  • Create a “Vine”. A message is a message. A message that’s communicated powerfully and succinctly, can start a movement. Don’t rule out the newest methods to communicate. It’s always wise to fully stock your arsenal of techniques.
  • Study your own body. Sit in a lot of meetings? (I know that I do). What does your body language communicate? Boredom? Check yourself before you wreck yourself. Body language matters.
  • Create a powerful presentation deck. Want your next big idea implemented? There isn’t a more critical moment, than a start-up team in front of venture capitalists — so take a page out of their playbook. Can you communicate the strength of your next big project in 10 slides or less? I dare you to try.
  • Match it. Take the time to match the message with the communication vehicle. Will an e-mail suffice? Will your chosen method actually deliver your message effectively? The options should be weighed with the message in mind.
  • Meet face-to-face. The “mother lode” of communication tools is to meet in person, if at all possible. It’s the simplest and most brilliant “hack” of all — and of course, don’t forget to really listen.

Have another suggestion? Share it here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She also writes at LinkedIn. You can also find her on Twitter.

The Poor Fit: 6 Signs That Your Job is Absolutely the Wrong One

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We’ve all experienced this — the wrong job. It’s really nobody’s fault, but it’s dawned on you that your work life may be dangerously out of alignment.

Nothing is worse than throwing yourself into work, yet things just seem to go very, very wrong. The trick here? Identifying the problem for what it really is (in very short shrift) and acting to make changes. Poor matches do happen. So, let yourself off the hook and avoid a long-term “soul sucking” experience. Remember that “withering on the vine” is not a viable career strategy.

Here are 6 signs that you should be paying attention to:

  • You feel lost. Have you ever had the nightmare where you arrive at class, only to find that you’ve not read a single page of the book and its final exam day? This should not be your experience with your work during waking hours. If every task or project leaves you feeling unprepared, take note: selection errors do occur. Sometimes that “next step” in your career or organization, is the wrong step.
  • You are in avoidance mode. Be honest with yourself — the process of going to work is absolutely excruciating. If you had your druthers, you would never set foot in the office again. If you’ve tried to make things work and you still can’t envision a future for yourself in your current role, you have a serious problem.
  • Your strengths aren’t being tapped. Ultimately our work should align with our strengths. If this is not the case, it’s time to start exploring other options. If you feel that your weaknesses have taken center stage, it’s unlikely you’ll stay energized for the long haul. Have a conversation with your supervisor now — and don’t wait.
  • You feel disconnected. Does it feel as if everyone else is on one page and you are on another? Whether you work in customer service, sales or consulting — if it feels as if you are not aligning with the vision of the organization, the person-job match may be way off. If you see yourself as an island (and everyone is speaking an entirely different “language”), it may be time to explore moving on.
  • You can’t seem to complete anything. Everything seems pointless and your level of motivation is at an all-time low. Are you dealing with looming deadlines with a blank screen continually staring back at you? Have you simply stopped caring? These are telling signs.
  • You are entering self-blame mode. You certainly can own the part of the problem that you’ve controlled (you’ve ignored your “inner voice”, for example). However, I guarantee there were plenty of other factors in play. The bottom line is this: You are not happy and it’s time to act. Blame doesn’t help things resolve — only a plan to move forward will.

Of course — please pay attention to physical signs of stress. If you are not sleeping or eating take heed. Feeling depressed or anxious is a clear indicator that something is off. Time to take the issue to a trusted mentor of career professional.

Has this ever been your experience? Share the story with us.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She also writes at LinkedIn. You can also find her on Twitter.

Learning to Say “No”

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I’ve made my share of good decisions during my career. But, as far as time management goes, I freely admit my struggles. Last year I drafted the post The Ugly Truth About Time Management, based on my own issues with time. (Interestingly, it has been the most well read posts at The Office Blend). Which leads me to believe that time — and our relationship with it — is a universal challenge.

I thought we could probe the topic a little further. Possibly scratch a bit further beneath the surface. (Examine the underbelly of time management and see what is lurking there).

Which led me to a critical time management issue: Learning to say “no”.

I find this difficult at times, as most of us do — even though I’ve had years and years of practice. Many of us feel a deep sense of anxiety with the prospect of saying “no”, for various reasons. But, saying “no” can contribute to our long-term success. If we don’t treat our own time as a precious resource, we can find ourselves without adequate “bandwidth” when we need it most.

I am “all in” when it comes to helping others — and developing healthy workplace relationships should be a priority. However you’ll find the need to draw the line in some situations. Setting boundaries is simply required, because some individuals do not grasp the essence of “Give and take”.

The truth is, saying “no” does become easier with practice. (You can rehearse a set of diplomatic responses, so they become second nature.) The trick is recognizing the situations that clearly deserve that response. So, let’s start the “No” motor going, and discuss the biases we bring to the table and the types of individuals we might come across.

You’ll likely recognize some of these:

The Preconceptions:

  • The “Angel” Trap. I get it, you want to be nice. Nice people are…well nice. People who say no, not so nice. The flaw here? It’s just not true. Savvy business people say no a lot, and many of them are nice. Why? They want to stay in business. You are the only one who suffers, if you don’t make it clear that your time is valuable. You have to get over this.
  • The “I’m missing out” Trap. It can be in our best interest to say “yes” to opportunities — however, you’ll need to weight the time investment against the potential outcomes. If you never say no, you’ll likely become over-committed in a hurry. That is a serious problem.
  • The “Bad things will happen” trap. Many of us live in fear, that if we say “no” our careers will suffer. The wrong person might be angered, and this may lead to dire consequences. But, in some cases we can say “no” — we just have not explored the option. Obviously, you must consider who is doing the asking, but we often say “yes”, reflexively.

The “Time Offenders”:

  • The Greedy. You know this individual. They only contact you when they want a favor, and the relationship is not even close to being considered reciprocal. Enough said. This one should be easy. Run the other way.
  • The Narcissists. Wow, they are “so, so busy” — so could you complete this entirely worthless task for them? OK, offer a little rope. Offer your help as long as you feel comfortable, then see if the favor can be returned in some small way. If they don’t ever give back, you’ll feel justified to saying “no” the next time around.
  • The Pilferers. They’ll steal you blind time-wise, if you let them. They’d like to “pick your brain” and hear your best thoughts on a topic or challenge. The problem is this: as soon as they accomplish this they are gone. It’s shocking. Be mindful. These individuals are both smooth and savvy.
  • The Thankless. The absolute worst of the worst. They will ask for your valuable time (which you freely give), and never, ever says “thanks”. It hurts doesn’t it? Remember this the next time around.

When all is said and done, if you do help someone and are offered a sincere “Thank you” — don’t say “You’re welcome” in response. Take the advice offered here and respond with the following,

“I know you would do the same for me.”

Anything to add to the conversation? Share your thoughts.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She also writes at LinkedIn.

Let’s Banish Bad Bosses

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I’d like to pose a challenge. Let’s reconsider promoting an individual to the position of managing others, if we even remotely suspect that they are not up to the task. On another level — please think twice about accepting the responsibility of becoming a manager if you feel at all unprepared. Unfortunately, there seems to be an ancient and unwritten workplace law operating — telling us that when we reach a certain level of tenure or performance, we are automatically bestowed the responsibility of managing others. This may be exactly where the original problem lies; a complete lack of awareness concerning what is involved to manage others effectively. We need to consider these junctures more carefully, as we have more than our share of problems with managers already.

Let me talk you out of your decision, delay it, at least until you or the employee are adequately prepared for the challenge. A solid technical expert does not “a manager make” — and truthfully, there are only a handful of people who should be given the privilege of becoming a “boss”. Most of us require appropriate training or the benefit of a mentor to build this skill set.

It’s difficult to move forward without addressing this critical issue. Providing great bosses for our employees, is a formative step in building healthier, happier organizations. It is likely the single most important factor impacting employee engagement. However, its impact upon organizational performance may not be universally recognized. The true power of “excellence in managing others” is not be fully embraced. There are certainly great bosses in the workplace and we need to collectively learn more from them. Who are they? What are they doing?

There is no time like the present to attack this problem. Developing better managers may actually be less complicated than we might expect — but we have to make that all important commitment to explore this fully. We should consider addressing the managerial basics first: Showing concern for employees, building resiliency, serving as a “motivator” (money only takes us so far), providing direction and developing others.

But, above all, do no harm.

I am alarmed to learn what employees are facing with their own managers. The collected expressions of frustration and bewilderment, cause me to pause and consider a number of the raised questions concerning managers:

  • What are best practices for recognizing, developing and encouraging effective managers? (I propose a Department of Managerial Excellence.)
  • Who is ultimately responsible for a poor manager?
  • What recourse do employees have if their manager is ineffective?
  • What is the organization’s role to monitor and intervene, in response to poor management?
  • Are poor managers offered feedback concerning their lack of skills, as managers, so they might improve?

Have we been missing the boat, in terms of weaving the shared value of “management excellence” into the workplace? Have the economic times caused us to become forgetful of its importance? If so, what can we do to reverse the trend?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She also writes at LinkedIn.

Getting Out of Our Own Way: Employing a Life Strategy

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At times, we’ve all felt a bit lost — and finding our way back to the right path is imperative. This process can prove both confusing and painful. Often, we believe that the root problem lies externally; the wrong boss, team or organization. But, are we overlooking the obvious? In fact, looking inward might just be the best place to begin. Truth be told, we put enough obstacles in our own career paths to last more than a lifetime. When it comes down to it — we are usually right there in the mix, adding to our own troubles.

What if you could find that vital guidance, that mantra of direction, to actually get out of your own way once and for all? Well, developing a life strategy may be the needed prescription. It’s not fluff — it’s just plain smart.

We assume we’ll traverse through our careers (and our lives for that matter) without taking a single moment of pause to formulate a plan. (An organization wouldn’t think of moving forward without first considering a clear-cut path.) Strategy, can allow us to focus on our goals. Because at the inflection points that challenge us, we often forget to stop, breathe and look in all directions.

A great read to find that path is Allison Rimm’s, The Joy Of Strategy. (Her concept of the “Joy Meter” is a stunner, and that alone is worth the read. Apply the meter to your work life — and you will never view work or career, in quite the same way.)

A few things The Joy of Strategy would also like us to consider:

  • Listening more. Not to everyone else — to yourself. Stop shopping for the advice that would allow you to support what you already know you need from your work life. Trust that inner voice. What have you left behind? As Rimm describes so aptly, “Don’t die with your song still inside of you.”
  • Taking another look at purpose. We can easily confuse being busy with purpose — and defining a “clear intention” can help to filter out the “noise” surrounding our most important career decisions. When I began blogging two years ago, a colleague was less than enthused with my career pivot. This caused me real stress. But, when all was said and done — the path fulfilled my purpose to help others gain fulfillment in the workplace.
  • Visualize, visualize, visualize. Where do you really want to be? What would you be doing? What do you really want to accomplish? One solid strategy for change, is to thoroughly consider the “future state”. Go there — dream a little — it will help you master your future.
  • Defining what you really need. Be brutally honest. If you could move forward to build your best career life, what materials would you collect to ensure your success? A trusted mentor? More opportunities to lead a team? Sharper communication skills? Take the time to define these.
  • Time and Emotion.  We spend our time — but what do those moments really offer us? As Rimm explains, “We should all derive some measure of joy from our work.” I couldn’t agree more. That indeed, is a winning strategy.

How have you built your own life strategy? Tell us a little about that here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She also writes at LinkedIn.