Kick-Start Your Work Day

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I start most days with YouTube.

That may seem odd to you — but it works for me. Today, Gregg Allman, George Harrison, Green Day, and The Verve are my colleagues. My partners in crime. My morning coffee mates.

Yesterday, it was Aretha. Tomorrow it might be Chopin. I’m not sure. I’m completely open.

We often forget that we must leave ourselves the room to be our best. (Certainly our brains require this.) When pushed to the limit and working on only fumes, we’re likely to fail.

I’m not sure what works for you, as the seeds of creativity are quite different for each and every one of us. That’s the beauty of the workplace. We are individuals. So are the required roots of creativity.

So start your day with what works for you. Take the time to identify this. Then become brutal in its application. Take that morning walk — or listen to that audio book — or queue up Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga.

Start your day with the proper foundation.

Then push “start”.

What powers you though your day? Share your strategies here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and coach. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto.

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The Vital Importance of Being Honest in the Workplace

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We’ve all suffered momentary lapses of memory at work. Fuzzy recollections of what occurred on a specific project or initiative — time has a funny way of chipping away at facts and figures. We might lose ourselves in conversation and misspeak or dance around the truth to put another person at ease. However, knowingly misrepresenting who we are or what we have accomplished during our work lives, usually proves detrimental to both work and career. Ultimately, misrepresenting our own history has the potential to derail both promising careers and healthy organizations, alike.

As a role increases in both scope and exposure — being mindful of how we present ourselves and remaining true to our word — becomes an even greater responsibility.

Honesty about credentials and work experiences can affect nearly every aspect of our work lives going forward — and has proven to do so in many realms including government, sports and news/entertainment. Moreover, this dynamic can impact how we fill our most vital roles in organizations today — limiting our ability to match skills with organizational needs.

Of late, this issue has very publicly affected those that we most need to trust. (Network anchor Brian Williams has been suspended for an inaccuracy describing his work experiences. This week it was revealed that VA Secretary Robert McDonald miscommunicated that he served in Special Forces, when he served in the 82nd Airborne Division. He has issued a formal apology. Personally, I thank him for his service to our country. )

From inaccurate resumes to name dropping, the selection process is wrought with misrepresentations and dishonesty. During our actual tenure within an organization, other looming issues with transparency can develop. These situations can lead to problems — both undetected and catastrophic.

For organizations to remain effective, it is imperative that we not only identify needed competencies and utilize state of the art selection strategies. We must also attempt to remain transparent as contributors — so that roles are matched effectively with the appropriate candidate. This includes respecting the exchange agreement that exists between employers and employees. However, whether workplace cultures encourage honesty during selection and tenure, is another topic to carefully consider.

Breaches during these processes can create a myriad of cascading problems, for all of us.

What are your thoughts? Have you been tempted to stretch the truth, where your work history is concerned? Have you hired an employee and their resume was later deemed inaccurate? Is lying a necessary evil to move forward today?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto/NewYork. Her blog The Office Blend, has been recognized by Forbes as a “Top 100 Website for Your Career” in both 2012 and 2013.

Lower Photo: Win McNamee / Getty Images
This post previously appeared at LinkedIn.

Is 2015 a Career Transition Year for You?

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People change — that’s a given. Organizations change. That is also a given. What we desire (or require) from our work lives, evolves right alongside these elements. Although pay and benefits certainly play a role — remaining in our current role has much to do with the enjoyment derived from the work we complete. So why is it that so many of us hesitate to make a change, when the fit just isn’t there?

I often enter people’s lives when they are moving from one career chapter to another. In many cases, this transition can become quite a stressful experience. (But, not for the reasons that you might initially think of.) I’ve found that the “nuts and bolts” of this transition, are often not as challenging as the emotional struggle that occurs beforehand. We clearly fight change, for a multitude of reasons.

Transitions are not easy, but we can tackle a change. When you are at the fringe of a new beginning — things can appear very, very fuzzy. This creates much trepidation and worry, so a strategy will help.

Here is my best advice to help you move through this:

  • Accept the need to move on. We spend a lot of time forcing situations to work, that are ultimately doomed to fail long-term. This will not stop the inevitable. Change is difficult — but often worth the trouble. Entertain the notion that you can discover a better option.
  • Set your vision. Determine exactly what you are striving for — and offer that vision the respect it deserves, by defining the “edges”. (“I’m unhappy” is not a call to action.) Do the required research that will offer direction. What is working? What is missing from your work life? What role are you aiming for? What must you do, to move in the right direction?
  • Do something — anything. We often dismiss change, because change looks insurmountable. Tackle the process in much smaller steps — but start somewhere. For example, begin by completing one action a day to drive you forward. (One call, one conversation, one e-mail, one new network connection.) Not unlike earned interest, your actions will compound daily.
  • Give things time. It is often a shock to realize that your current work life, will become a part of your past. You must offer yourself time to grieve for what has transpired, and develop a positive outlook for the future. Rome wasn’t built in a day. You’ll tackle the individual elements (where, when, how) as they come. Have hope that the right solution will emerge.

Have you successfully changed your career for the better? Share your story (and strategies) here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and coach She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto.

Reflections on Honesty, Success and Ebay

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Our family is getting set to move from our home of 14 years. To be quite honest, I briefly tear up just thinking about the amount of packing ahead of me — and the work needed in our new home (built in 1948). I’ve become brutal about throwing things out, or finding items a worthy new home. I’ve hauled various things around (the paper surveys from my dissertation, for example) from house to house. No more. Time to let go.

With that in mind, I’ve been listing extra pieces of furniture and treasures found in the dark recesses of cabinets, on Ebay and Craig’s List. One such find, was a set of 10 colorful Pez dispensers. I hastily threw together an Ebay listing, which included a great Miss Piggy and a jolly looking Santa.

As it turned out, I really didn’t know what I had. Miss Piggy wasn’t the star of the show after all — and what unfolded was far more notable.

My first clue should have been the 3 “watchers” in the first 30 seconds after publishing the listing. What I finally learned, was that one of the Pez Dispensers was of quite a rare variety — and I hadn’t even bothered to call it out separately. Named “No Feet Indian Maiden” (so sorry, not my choice), it was manufactured in Austria back in the 50’s.

I had no idea. I can’t even recall how it landed in my possession. To a collector, this was a rare opportunity to enhance a collection.

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Within 10 minutes a very kind woman wrote to inquire about a “buy it now” price. She also quickly let me know what “No Feet Indian Maiden” was worth, on its own and suggested I pull down the listing and reconsider. (Its value is around $100.00, not a huge amount, but much more than I imagined. My opening price: $5.95)

I’ll have to say, I did learn that a real collector is a different type of person. (I’ve never stayed focused long enough to become one.) They respect their chosen genre, and the others who collect alongside of them.  She would have loved to own my “Maiden” — but not enough to cheat me out of a fair price in the process. I’ll venture to say that would have lessened her experience nearly as much as mine, if I had eventually discovered my error.

I believe this same principle of honesty applies to the workplace. We all have those moments when we struggle to be completely open and honest for various reasons. However, success just isn’t the same, if you don’t treat others honestly — in the manner you would like to be treated. A level playing field offers a feeling of confidence, that you have “made it” on your own merit. Holding back is just plain wrong. Period.

Here are a couple of examples, of what I’m getting at:

  • Be honest about what you really want. Be forthcoming about what you need from another individual. Don’t act as if you are offering something of value to them — if it is really only about benefiting you. People will see through the thin veil — and they will likely think poorly of you. Remember, it’s alright to call a favor, a favor.
  • Be honest even if you might lose something in the process. If possible, offer the honest feedback that can help another individual succeed. Don’t hold back simply because you may temporarily weaken your own position in the equation. Life and work  is not a “zero sum” game. Play the “long game” and lend that helping hand.
  • Be honest even when it creates a bit of stress. If you are asked an opinion concerning the quality of someone’s work, don’t completely sugar coat your feedback. If there are weaknesses that can be improved, be forthcoming. If things go wrong later on, they’ll wonder why you didn’t raise the red flag. That could be viewed as a betrayal.

So, thank you Maggie from Idaho — I appreciate your honesty. It is the small gestures like this that make the holidays rock for me.

In terms of work life success, just keep in mind that catching that prize, the big promotion or that raise — just isn’t the same if you sacrifice even just a bit of your integrity.

Somehow that kind of success, just isn’t as sweet.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto.

You’re Wrong if You Think Your Career Won’t Change

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We underestimate our own potential to evolve.

I know that I’ve made that mistake.

As a graduate student in psychology, I was certain I knew my path. At that early juncture, my interests centered solely on the development of selection tests. (Focusing on topics such as motivation or aligning work with strengths, never occurred to me.) As most of us do, I surmised that with the passage of time, I would remain relatively constant as an individual — and that satisfaction with that career direction would remain.

However, time has a way of changing us.

In fact, that original career trajectory, is far from how I would define myself today. Truth be told — we all evolve — and in many cases, it is difficult to detect the changes as they are occurring. They overtake us somehow.

Does this impact work and career? Of course.

A series of studies conducted by Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert (See the TED Talk below), have explored the process of how we view personal change over time and its impact upon our lives. Their research revealed that we tend to underestimate changes in both our core personality traits (represented by the “Big 5”: conscientiousness, agreeableness, emotional stability, openness to experience and extroversion) and our core values (measured by the Schwartz Value Inventory) over the decades of our lives. The magnitude of the illusion seems to decrease as we age, but it remains present.

We make decisions concerning what will bring us fulfillment in the future, based upon our current state. However, we underestimate how we might change over time. Essentially, we are forced to draw inferences from the past — something Gilbert aptly names, “The End of History Illusion”. We make decisions in life, as if that history has ended. So, as that carefully designed future takes shape — there is a real possibility that it may no longer align with who we have actually become.

We imagine that our history ends today. When, ultimately, our own “history” continues to evolve and shift.

The challenge to apply this dynamic work and career are clear. If we don’t consider or anticipate change — even expect it — we may not be prepared deal with what comes next.

Can we predict exactly how we will change with the twists and turns of life? No, that’s not likely.

However, we can look for the subtle changes that might affect us:

  • Listen intently. Not to others around you — to your inner voice. If you have the distinct feeling that your work is not bringing the fulfillment it once did, pause and reflect on that realization. Explore how you arrived at this impasse.
  • Embrace it. People change — it is a fact of life. You are allowed to evolve, as well. A role that brought you happiness at 25, may not suit you at 35. One that was perfectly aligned with your goals before having a child, may no longer suffice. Life and experiences will change the essence of how we might derive energy from our work. This is completely normal.
  • Respond. Ignoring a seismic shift in career aspirations, will not stop the dynamic from progressing. You do possess free will. Take a moment to determine what may need to change to accommodate your evolution. Start with a list of work life elements that currently bring you a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction — then compare with what you would have chosen 5 or 10 years ago. What changes do you see?

As the researchers observed: “History, it seems is always ending today”.

So instead, strive to embrace your ever-changing work life. A long and healthy career may center on our respect for how we might change over time.

How has your history evolved? How did you respond?

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Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto.

Utilizing Mindfulness to Tackle the Job Interview

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When we lose ourselves in a stressful moment — a workplace situation can quickly go from challenging to a potential disaster.

Job interviews are a common trigger a host of powerful emotional responses; anticipation, excitement, even fear. If you’ve sat in the interview chair, you are acutely aware of the critical struggle to remain calm and focused. As much as we attempt to stay calm — our minds can race out of control — not unlike a runaway train.

“Managing yourself” through this stressful dynamic is key.

Could the practice of mindfulness help us through an interview? Recent research tells us that yes, it can.

Tough workplace scenarios can cause our “fight of flight” response to kick in — and job interviews certainly qualify. Labeled an “Amygdala Hijacks”, by psychologist Daniel Goleman, these moments are characterized by neurological processes where our “rational brain” (Neo-cortex) becomes overpowered by our emotional brain. This renders places us in a weakened position to deal with these situations effectively.

Mindfulness — defined as “The psychological state where you focus on the events of the present moment” — allows us to observe the events of our lives from a safer distance, without necessarily reacting in that moment. One element, is the notion of equanimity, or “non-reactivity” to the events happening around us. Mindfulness tells us to pay attention and acknowledge both one’s inner experience and the outer world, without reacting.

Discussed at length concerning its impact on both our psychological and physical well-being (See here and here), mindfulness can help us remain balanced in many situations that might normally derail us. Interestingly, one recent study links mindfulness to effective workplace behavior. The research reveals that mindfulness may help with roles that require a series of decisions in quick succession — not unlike the multiple decisions/responses we face during a job interview. Managing our automatic responses, (such as becoming nervous or flustered) and re-focusing that energy toward staying composed is key.

How might mindfulness help us in a job interview? Above all, you want to well represent your skills and experience. Regrets concerning what you may have forgotten to mention, (or did mention and shouldn’t have) can prove critical. During an interview we can become overwhelmed and “lose our heads, “so to speak — quickly losing focus on the goals of the current conversation. (You might find yourself either rushing ahead or reviewing your last answer.) If you are unable to remain fully present, you may miss important conversational cues that will help you present yourself well.

We needn’t wait for your next interview to develop techniques to become more mindful. Weaving techniques into our every day lives can prove worthy.

Try these techniques:

  • Practice the art of “micro-meditation. These are 1-3 minute periods of time to stop (perhaps when you feel most distracted) and breathe. While you are waiting for an interview to begin (seems these are always delayed), utilize the following acronym taught at Google: S.B.N.R.R. — Stop. Breathe. Notice. Reflect. Respond.
  • Tame the “inner voice”. Don’t let an inner monologue take over. (For many of us it is a panicked conversation.) Be aware of a “less than supportive” inner dialogue, that might rear it ugly head. Consciously interrupt it and replace it with a more positive message.
  • Refocus on your ultimate goal. Remind yourself of the purpose of the interview: to accurately portray yourself as a contributor. We all have triggers that cause us to lose focus and react with fear or anger. Monitor these (certain topics, etc.) and remind yourself to stay ahead of an emotional response pattern.
  • Breathe. While, we can’t halt the interview — we can silently “tap ourselves on the shoulder” to stay focused. When you feel your mind racing, mentally pause and “tap”. Collect yourself and return to the moment.
  • Bring along a mental list. Enter the interview with 3 or 4 critical points about yourself, that you want to leave with the interviewer. Use a reminder to circle back and inject these points into the conversation (try wearing your watch upside down or a green rubber band on your wrist).

How do you stay calm and focused during an interview? Share your strategies.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a Senior Consultant at Allied Talent. She is also serves as an Influencer at LinkedIn.

When You Arrive at Your New Job — You Are Still There

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My first full-time role after earning my master’s degree, literally imploded one afternoon in a matter of minutes. Not that my relationship with the organization had any indication of going sour — it was a great entrance into the world of work — and began gloriously. Over my tenure, I was offered increased responsibility, earned a promotion and worked with a lot of great people. I felt it was my dream role.

However, there was one colleague in particular, determined to make my ride a very bumpy one. (I was entirely unaware of the brewing competitive dynamic.) When all was said and done, I was left standing in front of my car, at 4:00 PM on a Friday with a box of my personal belongings. It was awful. I cried quite a few tears over that weekend. It took time (and work) to move through that experience.

I listen to stories of work and career nearly every day — and if you listen closely, trends do begin to appear. One that I often see, is “leftover” emotions or associations from previous job experiences. Like other negative experiences outside of our work lives, you have to work through completely them before you can offer the next experience a fair chance. If something is left unresolved (whether related to a person or experience), it may rear its ugly head once again.

Consider the following:

  • Note the trends. If you find yourself getting tripped up in the same general area where you have experienced issues previously, acknowledge the pattern. For example, you find you lack trust in your co-workers/supervisor or you patently avoid presentations.
  • Reflect. Be mindful and take a moment to see where the pattern may have originated. What negative experiences are re-surfacing? Were you criticized when making presentations and this now deters you from speaking in front of others? Were you treated unfairly in another role?
  • Keep things in their place. As human beings we tend to draw similarities between situations and individuals that we meet. However, that dynamic can backfire. Your boss from your role 5 years ago may seem much like your current supervisor — however, they are not the same person. You can create new problems, by treating them as such.
  • Share your concerns. Talk to your supervisor, mentor or trusted individual about your concerns. The only way to process the “leftovers” is to acknowledge the situation and speak of them openly. Make every effort to move through your obstacles — it is worth the time and trouble.

Of course, we are all individuals. So, be patient with yourself. Hopefully as time goes on, you’ll find your career is back on track.

Have you had this experience? How did you address it?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto. She is also serves as an Influencer at LinkedIn.

Want to Launch Your Career? Try These Strategies

 

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With all that is written about how organizations are evolving to engage today’s employees, I can’t help but think about the opportunities that we have as contributors to transform those very same organizations. Our own actions shape our careers, and the fact remains that workplaces are built upon a two-way partnership — where both employers and employees contribute to eventual success.

I would venture to say, that the dynamic between the two becomes more vital with each passing day. Yes, the door swings both ways.

To consider this, we should examine the unspoken “organizational contract” that we make with our employers. What should we (as employees) do to maximize our contribution? I’ve talked to supervising managers (from sales to consulting) to get a handle on the attributes they often see in their high potential contributors.

Here’s a list based upon that feedback:

  • Strive to be industry savvy. If your are not keeping up with the current  “hot buttons” in your industry, you are probably letting yourself and your employer down. The internet offers endless possibilities to tackle industry specific topics. (You can have a brief chat with an in-house expert as well.) Get up to speed as quickly as you can.
  • Bolster your level of business acumen. Not sure how your role affects the bottom line? What your boss really does? Do you understand exactly how your organization makes and loses money? Devote an hour a week to develop this business “muscle”.
  • Take a broader view of your work. When completing an assigned project, try not to simply just check off tasks on your “to do” list.  Always focus on the end-user — whether it is an outside client or someone within the organization. How can you craft your work so it becomes more valuable to them?
  • Work with a sense of urgency. High potential employees see the necessity to build a clear road map and stay on task. As one Senior Vice President described, “They get up in the morning, have a plan, and want to accomplish their goals”.
  • Ask about company initiatives. Be as concerned about your organization as you would like them to be about you. Inquire about current challenges and initiatives. Offer help where appropriate — you’ll be the better for it.
  • Know your fellow team members. Are you assigned to a team? Being a team member is an art form — and an important part of work life today. So, do your research. You’ll be more invested in your team if you know the backgrounds of your fellow team members. If you have a tendency to “turn off” opposing opinions, you may look at things quite differently, when you know a little more about the source.
  • Don’t play the career comparison game. Career progress is an individual process. It may be frustrating when a fellow employee climbs the career ladder more quickly than you — but there may be a perfectly good reason. Don’t “abandon ship”. Trust in your value, and have confidence that you will also excel.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist, speaker and coach You can also find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

Mastering the New “Normal”

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Our beloved Krups coffee maker decided it would brew its last wonderful cup of coffee this week. That might not sound like much to you — but, I assure you — to the finicky beings that are my taste buds, it is. I loved that coffeemaker. Each day it brewed the perfect cup of coffee, that would sustain me through many a morning meeting or assessment report.

However, I had no choice in the matter. Done. Kaput.

So — I reluctantly charged off in search of a replacement. The same machine was no longer available. (Why have you messed with success?) Change is hard. Even the small ones.

When change unceremoniously arrives at work, all sorts of havoc can ensue. A little like my coffee machine dilemma — we’re not always fully consulted when these changes are about to occur. Whether you are anticipating a new boss, a revised performance rating system or company-wide reorganization — change is challenging. It really is. I’ve been there. I’ve lived through lay-offs, sudden resignations and client shake-ups. (I’ve also helped teams move through those very same challenges.)

Embracing change is another story, and that is difficult for most of us.

How do we deal with change? I’d say, as best as we can — but I’m sure that is the last thing you’d like to hear. On some level, we simply have to construct (or wait for) that “new normal”. In most cases, we manage to find that new path and we adjust.

While you are waiting, here are a few things to consider:

  • Embrace the need. While uncomfortable, long careers demand that we appreciate and recognize the need to adapt. Organizations evolve. In some cases, the need to revise our course is inevitable.
  • You can maintain your identity. Remember, that the qualities you personally bring to the table will remain — even in the midst of change. Don’t assume that revisions to your work life will entirely derail you or force you to become less of a contributor.
  • Learn more. With any change, learning more about what is about to happen can alleviate accompanying fear and anxiety. Do a “reference check” on your new supervisor. Ask for the “expanded” explanation as to why that new procedural change is necessary.
  • Ignore the “naysayers”. The last thing you need around you, is an individual who isn’t going to give the situation an iota of a chance. Inoculate yourself against the negativity that they might be spreading. It’s really not wise to borrow additional trouble.
  • Give it time. Once the changes occur, offer the situation time to settle. Some of the initial bumps that pop up, work themselves out. There is a period of “re-calibration” that must occur.  Once that is complete, a clearer picture may surface. You may actually like a bit of what you see.
  • Look for the up-side. Change often opens the door to more change — and there could be opportunity lurking there. If you have a new supervisor, for example, they may just be the person willing to listen to those piles of ideas you’ve carefully stored.

I hope you discover your “new normal” quickly. Meanwhile, our new Krups #KM7508 12-cup programmable coffee machine sits on our counter. It has big shoes to fill. But, I’ll have to admit — today it brewed a pretty mean cup of coffee.

Is change difficult for you? What are your strategies to deal with it.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and speaker. The Office Blend, has been recognized by Forbes as one of their “Top 100 Websites for Your Career” in both 2012 and 2013.