Focus On The Good; Not The Bad


It may have started at home as a child:

“You brushed your hair nicely and I’m glad you brushed your teeth, but your room is a mess.”

Then in school it was:

“Gets along with others, does excellent in Math but could be better in History.”

As a teenager dating:

“You’re kind and thoughtful, but I wish you were taller.”

Finally as an adult the boss says:

“You’re hitting your targets and I’m pleased with your energy, but you could participate more in team meetings.”

Many people will identify with having heard comments such as the above. When you look back at each of them, there’s two positives and one to work on; two good and one bad, two strengths and a weakness. Depends how you hear it, interpret it and understand it.

These comments and their impact divides people into two groups: those that heard the positives and are uplifted and feel good about themselves, and those who zeroed in on the one thing that they aren’t doing well and need to improve upon. Which type are you generally?

For the last two weeks, I’ve been instructing a class of a dozen people who are just learning to use the computer. It’s computer basics, starting pretty much with how to turn it on. We’ve covered terminology, creating and using email, crafting a resume using MS Word, exploring the internet, using job search skills, working with a USB Flashstick, navigating employment websites, and applied for jobs. For absolute beginners, we’ve accomplished a great deal.

Yesterday I gave each person a 13 step assignment which would give them a chance to independently use their skills. Everyone found they could do more than half of the assignment entirely unaided. I’d guess it was around step 8 or 9 where the majority had to pause and ask for help from someone. No shame in that by the way; asking for help with the computer is something I see all the time in workplaces. Eventually the whole class did complete the assigned work, and I made sure to remind them to focus not on what they failed to remember and needed help with, but focus rather on all the things they did correctly and did remember on their own. What each accomplished far outweighed where they struggled.

You see, I believe that people don’t hear the good in themselves as much as they need to. Some in fact, have gone long stretches of time without hearing much at all from anyone when it comes to positive feedback. I think successful people hear and internalize the good when they get mixed feedback, whereas those who tend to only hear the suggestions for improvement tend to have a lower self-image of themselves. Sure we can all improve, but my goodness, there’s so much I see to praise in people.

But surely some of you are thinking, we can’t go around telling people how awesome they are and how great they are doing when in fact they aren’t! If we don’t point out their shortcomings and their faults how are they to improve? I had a boss like that once. He told me it was his job to point out all the little things I was doing wrong when doing one of my yearly performance appraisals. Yet on a daily basis he was happy with my performance. That comment he made during a 3 hour (yep, he thought a 3 hour appraisal was how best to motivate people) meeting where he did nothing but point out little things I could do better resonated with me then and still does 25 years later. His words were, “It’s not my job to point out what you’re doing right, but to point out all the things you’re doing wrong so you can improve.” I started job searching the next day and soon got a better job, more income, and worked at a higher level in the new organization. Oh he motivated me alright.

Perhaps it is the consistent memory of that bad experience that has given me great empathy for people I lead, partner with and instruct. If like me, you are in a position of some authority or influence in your job, it is a responsibility of ours to build up rather than beat down. It’s far too easy to point out what others are doing wrong, where they can improve, how to be better. It’s just as easy to point out successes, achievements, label and reinforce accomplishments. Why not choose to emphasize the good?

The thing is, you and I; we really don’t intimately know the past of many people we interact with daily. We can read notes in a file, but the person is so much more rich and layered than some file. We don’t know how many times they’ve had people they trusted and respected tell them they could do better, BE better. Could be they honestly feel they’ll never measure up; they’ll never be good enough.

Imagine then – and it’s not too hard really – how impactful you and I might be if we built people up with genuine positives. Genuine of course, not invented, but positive comments and praise. Then imagine if that same person heard some good from someone else, then a third person. Why we might actually see people believe more in themselves, like themselves better and build successfully on their successes.

And that my reader, is pretty cool.

Out Of Work? Get Involved


When I’m running employment workshops, they can last as long as three weeks depending on the particular class. Even then, there’s a week which follows that involves following up 1:1 with each participant, so let’s call them three weeks and a day. One of the great benefits I hear from those participating is that for three weeks, they felt connected to something, and for most, a connection to other adults.

When you think about employment, work does more than just give you a salary in exchange for your labour. Working with others gives you an identity, daily connections with your co-workers, and depending on the organizations culture, it can feel very much like a second family. It’s ironic actually that while most of us never set out to get a job primarily so we can interact with others, it is precisely the loss of this interaction many miss most when they leave a job or retire.

If you’ve got some recently retired friends in your circle, you’ll probably hear them say more than once how they might not miss the job, but they miss the people they worked with. Some who retire miss the contact so much that they take up part-time jobs, why some even go looking for full-time jobs for another year or two. They just weren’t as ready as they thought they were for the severing of these connections.

Now if you’re out of work entirely at the moment and your prospects are not as many as you’d like them to be, you can still find ways to connect to others, and you might need them more than you realize. If you feel isolated and shunning the company of others more than you used to, it could be an indication of some anxiety that’s taken root and starting to grow. Isolating yourself might sound like the logical thing to do – especially if you feel more comfortable at home alone most of the time. However, isolating yourself intentionally can feed that anxiety of being around others, and if left unchecked, it can manifest itself as depression – and I suspect you don’t want to feed your depression.

Now it’s true that it might take some energy to get outside and connect with others again, but it’s worth it. Beyond working, there are a wide number of groups in your community where like-minded people gather to take part and enjoy whatever it is you find stimulating. For you, maybe it’s a woodworking class, a photography night school course, volunteering with the local food bank to help those less fortunate or even meeting up at a mall to join some indoor walking group.

It’s not so much what you do to get connected, but rather that you do something you find enjoyable that gets you connected. The great thing about connecting with others who share a similar interest in something you find enjoyable is that you have something in common to begin the conversations. And no doubt many of you would be wondering otherwise, “What would I talk about? What would I say? Oh it just sounds like a lot of mental effort to talk with people I don’t know.” Of course the longer you’ve been removed from having such conversations, the harder it may seem to start them. And voluntarily putting yourself in the position of talking with other adults may just seem like a lot of work you’d rather not do.

Your reasons for getting involved don’t have to be solely to engage with others. If that alone was your motivation, it wouldn’t matter what you got involved with. No, you could initially decide to get into some activity solely for the benefit of doing something you’d enjoy, and let the dialogue and conversations with others just happen naturally. So yes, maybe you join Friday night mixed curling because the sport is something you enjoy. Not into curling? No problem, maybe you donate your time reading and recording stories with a literacy group for the benefit of those wanting to improve their language skills,

Volunteering by the way is a great way to feel good about yourself and at the same time this investment is something you can and should tag on to your employment resume. It is experience after all, explains what you’re doing while out of work, gives back to your local community, and improves the lives of those who benefit from your works of charity. Selfishly, it also gives you purpose, gives you somewhere to be, you’re counted on again by others to show up just like a job.

Look there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being comfortable in your own skin and enjoying your time alone. This is healthy actually. However, interacting with other people is also healthy and natural. You don’t have to end up with a best friend, not everyone you meet has to hear your whole life story, and you don’t have to hang around after your class, volunteer shift, game etc. is over. What you do afterwards is your call. However, you might find yourself actually enjoying being involved to the point where you didn’t realize you missed it as much as you do.

Now the benefit to your search for employment – if you are in fact still looking for work – is that not only do you have an activity to fill a gap of time, you might even make some connections that lead to a paying job!

How Have You Grown; What’s Changed?


If you’ve been in the same position for any length of time, it’s probable you’ve done some degree of learning along the way. That learning has in turn likely caused you to go about your job differently.

You’ve no doubt learned some shortcuts, ways to do things better, got your favourite stories and catch phrases down pat. In some areas you’ve made subtle changes and in others maybe it’s a complete overhaul of your message or your methods. How does the 2018 you differ from the same you, say, 5 or 10 years ago?

Working with people and helping them find employment, I can recall my approach many years ago where I started all my interactions on the premise that the person just needed to follow my well-thought-out plan of action and they’d be employed in no time. After all, it has always worked for me, so why wouldn’t it work for them?

However, I noticed in those early days that more often than not, there was a lack of follow through for many of these people. Not only did they not move forward much, they were often sincerely contrite and apologetic for not doing so. It was very much like they were sorry for letting ME down. Ah well, I’d say something like at least they wouldn’t make the same mistakes again, and I’d map out another great strategy to reach their goal; all they had to do was follow my revised plan. Tic-tac-toe and you reach your goal!

Sometimes it takes time to realize your approach isn’t working; that it’s not THEM, it’s YOU – or in this case, me. If I could see myself both in the present and in the past sitting side by side as I worked with someone, I’d see tangible differences in my approach, language, goals and yes, results.

I believe one of the most important things I learned over the years is the value in first establishing a real relationship with the person before me. This is sometimes easy and at other times challenging. While some people open up immediately and share pretty serious and personal issues, others come in with bitterness, anger, frustration and all that pent-up hostility towards anyone in a position of authority is directed at whoever is convenient and nearby; namely me. Thing is, it would be you or him or her were someone else in front of them, so it’s not me personally they have issues with, it’s everyone.

When you form a solid, trusting relationship with someone, they tell you what’s really going on more often than not. When you know what’s going on in their life, you can better strategize together some plan to move the person forward; but it may not be that the end goal you have in mind – a job – is the goal they are working on. That goal might be 5 goals away, and expecting them to hurdle the necessary steps they have to take to get there only sets them up to fail to meet your expectations.

So building a trusting relationship; how do you do that? Well, for starters, I’ve come to start most interactions by sincerely asking the person what they’d like to talk about; what’s on their mind. Most aren’t ready for this simple question. No, they’ve been used to being told what the purpose of the meeting is for and asked how their job search is coming. So do you want to hear what’s really going on that you need to consider or do you want them to tell you what you want to hear?

While I don’t recommend setting the bar so low that meeting all their goals still doesn’t do much for them, having lofty expectations of what they are to carry out before your next meeting might set them up to fail. Failure you may know, is not always the greatest motivator, especially with people for whom failure is a familiar presence. Sure failure can be a great teacher, and you have to fail many times often before you become successful. It’s equally or more important however to realize people may be very fragile before you, and without knowing how many times they’ve failed up to the present, you’ve no way of knowing how many more failures they can tolerate before giving up completely.

So what about you though? How have you grown or changed over the years? What is it about your personal philosophy or your approach that’s developed for the better? How you go about your daily job now vs. then might be something you see in others just starting out in their own careers. As much as you can pass on advice and suggestions, wouldn’t you agree that people need to ‘get there’ on their own to a large degree? The changes in approaches they’ll take they might learn from observing you.

Things like Servant Leadership, backwards planning, listening skills; these are but three things I’ve come to value, use and show over the years. When I started out, I didn’t even know what Servant Leadership was, and backwards planning; what’s that?

One thing I’ve really come to see the benefit in is providing a label for others strengths and positive qualities. Telling a struggling single parent that you admire their resiliency and showing them how they prove they have it can be a conversation stopper as they pause and consider that.

 

Experiencing Mental Health Issues?


Be positive. Look on the bright side. Turn that frown upside down. You’re never fully dressed without a smile. See the glass as half full. Don’t be a sour puss.  Things can only get better. You’ve got nowhere to go but up. Nobody wants to be around a grumpy Gus.

Sayings from the past and present that all send the same message; look at things with a positive point of view and present yourself to others with a cheerful disposition. Easier said than done for some folks; at least for some folks some of the time.

It’s likely true that most people do enjoy being around other people who are upbeat and positive. When you surround yourself with optimistic people who are positive, you feel some of that positivity rub off on you. When you walk away you feel better, encouraged, hopeful and in a better mood. Whether that feeling lasts but a moment or you carry it forward for a while depends entirely on you.

On the other hand it’s also the case that if you spend some time with someone who is moody, brooding, negative and talks about doom and gloom, you’re likely to walk away feeling down yourself. Given the choice of the two, most would certainly choose to surround themselves with positive people.

The challenge for some people however is that they are not accustomed to smiling or looking positive. When they are at ease, their faces take on what the rest of us might consider a serious countenance. They look intense, maybe even uninviting; radiating a, “I’d rather be left alone thank you” impression. Unfortunately this may not be how they are really feeling at all, but they come across this way and they know it. They know it because people have told them over and over for ages to smile and look happy.

This issue becomes compounded of course when they experience stress and pressure, especially if it lingers as in the case of a prolonged period of unemployment or financial hardship. As job searching can be fraught with highs and lows, built-up expectations and dashed hopes, it becomes even harder to stay upbeat and hopeful. That advice to put on a smile and fake it until you make it just sounds near impossible.

Empathizing with people who are anxious, depressed, edgy, stressed and immobilized means in part to accept them where they are; appreciating the circumstances in which they find themselves and having a measure of respect. Unless you’ve experienced what they have experienced – (and if you recognize that each person experiences things in their own unique way) it’s difficult to understand sometimes why they can’t change.

Telling someone to just snap out of it and expecting they’ll immediately slap a lasting smile on their face is unreasonable. If it were that easy, they’d have figured that out on their own. They’re likely to think or say, “Don’t you think I would if I could?” What if perhaps this condition you later discovered wasn’t so much a conscious choice the person is making to come across as sad and morose but rather an ongoing mental health issue?

What continues to be difficult for many to truly appreciate is that sometimes this mental health condition isn’t one of choice. No more than say, telling someone with a broken wrist to, “just write or type with it anyhow”, or “suck it up buttercup and deal with it.” That would be insensitive, and at the first sight of the cast on their wrist and forearm we’d be much more likely to acknowledge their injury and perhaps offer our help, extending some empathy or at the very least some sympathy.

But a mental health issue is so much less obvious isn’t it? We don’t know if a person is behaving the way they are by choice or not. Unlike seeing someone with a cast on their wrist and making small talk about how it happened, it’s highly unlikely we’d go up to someone who looks depressed and say, “Are you just sad or are you coping with a mental health disorder?” The other person might be so shocked at this that they wouldn’t know how to respond. They might respond with a, “Mind your own business”, “Is it that obvious?”, or possibly a, “Thanks for asking, actually I am…”

Imagine how much energy it would take to mask and attempt to cover up a condition like social anxiety or full-blown depression. Picture yourself having to force an insincere smile and generate some artificial laughter with those you meet, feeling that to fit in you have to be someone you’re not at your authentic core. That would be exhausting. How long could you keep that up? Could you pull it off? Don’t we all want others to accept us for who we are; aren’t we being told again and again to just be ourselves?

Many people who experience mental health issues are getting some form of help. They are doing the best they can to fit in but their not always successful. They experience the world around them from their unique perspective which may be different from others. Treatments vary as does the outcomes of these interventions.

If you don’t understand it or get it, can’t really empathize with them but wish you could, don’t compound things. Tolerance; acknowledging and accepting them as they are is a start.

A Nod Of Thanks To The Invisible Ones


Jobs; there are good ones and bad ones. Then again, what I think is a good job might be one you’d rather not do or absolutely run away from. You have no doubt jobs and occupations you believe to be menial or stimulating, worthwhile or nothing but a waste of your time, excellent all the way to terrible.

Thankfully, there’s enough diversity in the world to go around. There are people who will not only do the jobs you and I might find disagreeable, but they’ll do it with enthusiasm, put in the required investment of energy and commitment to be successful at. These don’t have to be dangerous, dirty, low-paying positions to qualify. In fact many jobs you and I might find unsuited to our particular tastes are good paying and prestigious. Some might not come with fancy titles or be high on the most desired jobs list but we’re still extremely grateful that there are people who do them.

As you go about your day today, how many ‘invisible’ people do you see working? These are the people you benefit from as they go about doing their jobs either directly or indirectly. Take the road crew involved in repairing potholes, widening a road or building a bridge overpass. As your vehicle slows down and eventually stops in front of the Flag Person who stops traffic to let a dump truck turn onto the road in front of you, it’s typical that we think, “Oh great! If I could just have been the last car let through ahead of this truck, not the first car stopped and now behind it!”

But that crew working on the roads makes our drive so much better in the long-run. The Dump Truck Drivers, Flag Person, Coffee Truck guy, Surveyor’s Architects, General Labourers, Pavers etc. they all have their jobs to do. They’re out there in the inclement weather,  sometimes working 24/7 do get work done with the least inconvenience to the throngs of daytime motorists. But do we typically roll down the window of the car and say thanks or give them the thumbs up as we pass? Not likely.

What of the Crossing Guard who holds us up so our kids can get to and from school safely? Who’s the women and men who designed, built and installed our traffic lights, laid our sidewalks, built and service the cars and trucks we drive? We rely on these people to do top-notch work on a daily basis but rarely give them much thought until that moment when our vehicles have a problem, the lights malfunction, the sidewalks crack. Then they are foremost in our minds and we appreciate their expertise in what they do – jobs which we have little to zero interest in doing ourselves.

There’s the teachers who instruct and train our children, role-modelling the love for learning we hope our kids embrace. While we appreciate for the most part the role these people play in our societies and generally elevate the stature of the people in these instructing roles, not everybody would comfortably and confidently want to stand in front of 30 children and be responsible for their education.

Many more people we rely on each day don’t work in the kinds of jobs we typically place a lot of value in. Take the people who brew and serve your morning beverage at a drive-thru. Minimum wage earners, all expected to smile and be friendly with each customer, doing repetitive work for 6 or 7 hours at a time. How many coffee’s and teas do they pour in an hour, a shift, a week, a year? Too many to bear thinking of no doubt. We appreciate that steaming cup of ‘get up and start your day’ but you might not be enamoured with doing their job on a long-term basis; you might need more stimulation.

There’s the people who build our homes, erect the light standards we see by, build the tunnels for the trains we ride, drive the buses we take, print the materials we read – and yes create the tablets, laptops and phones we’ve come to rely on so much. Those jobs might not be high on our list of desired jobs, but we all benefit from the work of those people in them.

So first here’s a nod to them – to you – if you’re in a job where you don’t get a lot of praise or thanks from end-users. You might not get the customers standing in front of you watching how you go about your business and complimenting your good work but it’s appreciated.

Whether you’re an employee in a variety store, a Salesperson in a retail operation, or the people who collect, clean and stack those food trays in food courts of large malls, I thank you for doing what you do each day.

What one person finds menial or hard work is meaningful and a joy to do for someone else. So maybe that could be your goal today – our goal today. You know, thank two people who are seemingly invisible but vital to making the day run smoothly. A quick nod of thanks, a raised cup in salute, a friendly smile or a mouthed, “Thanks”.

What if it started with you? We might make someone feel a little prouder; a little more appreciated. So there’s your challenge. Oh and here’s to YOU for all you do!

 

 

 

My Issue With Human Data Reporting


No matter what job you are in or what company you work for, you undoubtedly have measures in place that mark the organizations performance or production; captured in statistics. If you work in production, you may be counting the units you produced, maybe the number of sales if you’re in retail, or the number of complaints and goods returned etc.

If you work as I do with people, then your statistics might turn to the number of people who walk through your door each month, or as I work with people in receipt of social assistance, you might be tracking the number of folks who gain employment and drop off assistance altogether.

One thing that’s harder to measure however and I believe of far greater importance, is the number of people who make individual progress in their personal lives. How do you count and enter into some database the moments where someone comes to value themselves as a person after a lifetime of being told they would never amount to anything? How do you capture the empowerment a person realizes who calls you up on the phone and with great joy in their voice tells you how well their job interview went when previously they were filled with dread and anxiety just thinking of the interview process?

That’s the difficulty and challenge of working with people and yet needing to provide some measure of your effectiveness to those you are accountable to. If you just count the number of people who attend a workshop or drop-in to your building, you’re only counting physical bodies. If you capture only the number of people who exit ‘the system’, then you’re ignoring the people who on a daily basis are making individual progress and getter closer to their personal goals.

Yesterday I had a phone call from an excited lady I spent two weeks with in February. A significant amount of our time together was centered on interview preparation, practice and follow up. Now to be honest, she came to me with natural enthusiasm. In interviews however, she was unfocused, her answers to questions were exhausting and missed the mark. By providing her with some structure in the answers she gave in interviews, her chances of success had to improve; and in her case it wasn’t about trying to draw her out more, but in reality about trying to make sure that what she did share was on topic and confined to the questions asked.

Well, yesterday as I say she called. She has now had two interviews with an organization she is very interested in working for. The 2nd interview had just occurred yesterday and she was phoning to share her success; for even though she didn’t land the job as of yet, she feels the interview itself went well. They kept telling her things like, “Great, that’s exactly what we want to hear”, “You’ve really done your homework”, and “I like that answer!” so she felt encouraged as the interview went along. The 1 ½ hour 2nd interview was an enjoyable experience she told me, and I contrasted this statement with one of my earliest encounters with her where she said she was always nervous, stressed and filled with anxiety both before and during the process.

So how do you measure this kind of confidence and growth? This is the very kind of experience that won’t get notched into a database and passed on to funding bodies. These are the important stories however because the commodity we deal with is people; transitioning people from fragile and vulnerable to resilient and confident.

The wonderful thing about being on the receiving end of the phone call is that the good news she shared also has a residual impact that spreads out beyond just our mutual interaction. One of the things I had a chuckle over was that she told me how during the interview, she just pictured me being the person asking her the questions, and all of a sudden she felt relaxed and just started talking like she was having a conversation. Now I’ve never suggested a client picture me during their interview; I think that would be distracting personally and wouldn’t be all that helpful. However to her it was.

As I got off the phone though, I found I was smiling and happy; happy for her of course, but happy that I had played a part in helping her find her self-confidence. This positive feeling carried over without question as I encountered other people I met following the call. Call it a ripple effect if you will; I felt happy with my teachings validated by her success, and others are going to benefit as this reinforces my own need to make sure what I’m sharing is relevant in the real world. But again, how do you capture this kind of thing in some statistical report for a Ministry official who may be charged with determining a level of funding an organization receives in the coming year?

So do you work with people? If you do, then I certainly applaud you for the good work you do in having such an impact for good on their lives. If you deliver Hope and Possibilities delivered with Enthusiasm and Empowerment, you’ll have your own stories of Change and Enlightenment on those you work with. Turning a frown upside down sounds trite but isn’t it what we do?

What’s Your Working Philosophy?


How you approach the relationship you have with the people you serve reveals your broader philosophy.  So how does the philosophy you’ve adopted fit with: the organization you work for, other team members and most importantly your target audience? Some employees never reflect on their own working philosophy, which is problematic when it comes to finding the right organizational fit.

When you can articulate a working philosophy, you’ll find it extremely beneficial. It governs how you view the people you serve in terms of whether you call them clients, customers, end-users, people or recipients and guides your decisions. You’ll also interact with these people from a consistent perspective when it comes to planning and delivering service. Do you for example include people you are designing services for in the planning process or do you plan without them in a silo?

Imagine yourself seated at a table designing some program which you’d like to roll out to your target population. You and those assembled want to design this program to respond to the needs of your target audience; it’s got to be attractive, the benefits real, affordable, easy to access, and be perceived as being of value. It also has to be cost-effective and make use of available resources. Now looking around, who else do you see seated around the table?

Most of us will visualize our teammates, perhaps someone in a Management role (which if you included as part of your team good for you!). Did you stop at this point or did you see one or more chairs occupied by the people who are representative of your target audience? If you didn’t see any of these people seated at the table, then your working philosophy is that you and your collective group know your audience well enough that you can plan for them in their absence. If you included them seated at the table in your visualization, then your working philosophy uses a partnership approach, where their voices are heard first-hand, and in addition to their input, they act as checks and balances right from the start.

So if not at this initial starting point, at what stage if any do you include the target population in the planning before the service or program is rolled out in its final form? Some people who work in organizations don’t actually include the client, customer, end-user – the people – in the process whatsoever. There is no partnership; there are no test groups, no sample audience. The program is rolled out seemingly with a, “we know what’s best for you” attitude. Guess right and the people flock to the service or program. Guess wrong, and the people stay away in droves, or the numbers don’t justify the service or program and you’re left wondering why these people seemingly don’t appreciate the value of what you are offering them.

Now imagine some chairs around the table are indeed occupied by the audience your service or program is going to target. So whether they are job seekers and you’re a team of Employment Counsellors and Workshop Facilitators, or they’re bank customers and you’re a team of Investment professionals, how would your conversations change with your target audience sitting right beside you?

One thing you might notice is that some of the assumptions you use as starting places would be challenged. You might take it as a given that your meeting to discuss this new service or program would start at 9:00 a.m. sharp. After all, that’s half an hour or a full hour after you and your fellow employees start your work day. Your target audience however, say a youth population of 17 – 24 year olds, would better attend the meeting if it were at 10:00 a.m.; their bodies work on different time clocks then older adults. So right off the bat, you just learned something and you haven’t even got to the table yet. Your initial assumption about an agreeable meeting time is flawed, so what other assumptions will you make that don’t respond to your target audience? Maybe your target population could also benefit from a working breakfast of bagels and jam?

The importance of having a personal working philosophy can also make your place on the team a harmonious or trying experience. Have different working philosophies from your peers and you might ponder, “Why don’t my team members invest themselves as much as I do?” vs. “I don’t do anything outside my job description” or “I’m the professional with 5 years’ experience so I know what’s best for them” vs. “I’ve never lived your unique experience so teach me.”

Getting into a team discussion about personal and team philosophy isn’t very sexy. Some will roll their eyes and you can observe them mentally disengage from conversations. They aren’t interested in what they may perceive as frivolous, obvious, or maybe they feel the objective is to force everyone on the team to conform to a single perspective. When you work with people on a daily basis, there can be great value in knowing and sharing your personal philosophies, based on what each person has experienced and learned and holds as valued. These insights can help each member understand others points of views, and how these align or are at odds with the organizations philosophy and delivery of service.

Working philosophies are not static either; they evolve over time as we interact with others.

So what’s your working philosophy?

 

The Secret Fax Machine Feature


Have a fax machine in your place of employment? Can you do anything other than fax documents with yours? Maybe your fortunate to have a large photocopier that has the capability to fax, scan, email, add digital signatures and re-size documents as well. Is that it? If that’s all your fax machine does, trade it in.

I have found a feature on the fax machine where I work that ironically is also available on the photocopier too. I’ve been using this secret and most amazing feature for years and figure it’s about time I share it with those of you who may have yet to discover it.

There’s a feature on all the technology equipment in my client-shared workspace and it’s the Empowerment and Conversation Starter feature. Now not everybody knows how to use these commands. So when someone says, “I need to fax something to my Caseworker”, some folks will just take the item from them and go fax it for them and be done with it. That’s fast, moves the client along, provides the quickest way to accomplish the intended action – and completely misses an opportunity to teach and share a skill, empower them with independence and start a conversation!

Now me, I’m different. (My co-workers say that all the time; “Kelly, you’re different!”) What I like to do is take them over to the fax machine, show them the instructions on how to fax which are right at eye level and simple to both read and follow. Then show them the fax cover sheets and have THEM fill it out. Then I show them the other sheet at eye level which has the fax numbers for the 4 offices where our Caseworkers work out of as the number they want is usually one of the 4.

At this point I ask them if this is their first time faxing. Then as they get ready to fax and go to hand things to me, I make no movement to take it from them and tell them I like to watch. So directing them again to the simple instructions, they cautiously start to do things themselves. Put the papers in the top of the machine face up, dial 9, then the area code and fax number, then press the start key. Then I usually say, “Tell me when you get to the hard part.” Almost without fail, they’ll say, “That’s it? That was easy.” And then I conclude by saying, “Congratulations, you are no longer a faxing virgin.”

I have yet to have a single person not smile and chuckle. But I’m not done. For the fax to go through to those busy offices, it can take anywhere from a few seconds to 10 minutes. While the client is standing there waiting, I move past this task-oriented conversation on how to fax, to the more meaningful relationship-building chat with this captive client.

“So are you in school or looking for work maybe?” Something like that to get the ball rolling. Depending on the answer, I might gleam a little about their career or job interests, problems, challenges, family life, criminal record or any number of things depending on how much they share. What we talk about isn’t as important as just talking.

I point out before they leave that not only have they themselves faxed their documents wherever they needed to go, but the next time they need this done, they’ll perhaps be able to do this themselves without needing help. That’s empowerment people. Now some of you might be thinking, “Big deal!”

Ah but you’d be surprised to look at things as they do. Some of the people I assist and serve have very little self-esteem, accomplish very little in their eyes and feel entirely dependent on others. They depend on social services for their rent and food money, bus fare or gas money, help with their bills, help with their childcare, resumes, job search skills, help with dealing with their stress, anger, self-esteem etc. So learning something they didn’t know previously and can now do on their own IS a big deal. It’s a start.

And not to sound overly dramatic, but I have also had more than 1 person say to me later, “You actually talked to me and didn’t want anything; I’m not used to that.” Isn’t that sad? The person is used to people only talking to them when other people want something from them and so for someone to just want to chat with them and take a genuine interest in what they are up to is remarkable.

Simple opportunities to engage and connect with people present themselves all the time if you have your eyes open to the possibilities and seize them. Showing people how to fax can be frustrating if you have to do it 15 times a day when the instructions are so clearly visible and simple. But to just sit at a desk, not move and say, “Help yourself, the instructions are on the wall over there”,  is an opportunity missed.

So do you have this secret feature on your fax machine, photocopiers, computer or even the simple telephone where your clients meet and mingle? Empowering clients, using some humour to lighten someone’s moment, taking an interest in the person standing before you, it’s pretty simple stuff. Maybe not remarkable, maybe just obvious and mundane.

On the other hand, maybe the first small step in starting something bigger.

 

 

 

 

Social Anxiety Got You Missing Opportunities?


I recently finished up working with a group of 12 individuals, all of whom came out of work and on social assistance. In reviewing their files, through conversations with them and observation, it struck me and not for the first time, how many people are impacted with social anxiety.

Now this particular workshop is one that is only made available to clients if they are referred by myself or my fellow Employment Supports co-workers. What this means is that in order to even get to the point where they’d be considered for admission to this specific workshop, they have to be employment ready. So my criteria is basic computer skills, willing to come for 10 days from 9:00a.m. sharp to 2:30p.m. dressed in business casual clothing, (no jeans and t-shirts). They have to know what kind of work they are after, be open to constructive criticism and feedback, and more than anything else, they have to want to be in attendance and want to work. In short they have to want work more than I want it for them.

So with that kind of criteria, and with the expectations clearly laid out to them weeks before the program begins, you’d think that the people referred, screened and accepted would (for lack of a better term), be the cream of the crop. However, social anxiety isn’t one of the things that up to now I’ve thought about discussing with potential participants. Maybe that responsibility is something I’ll have to own myself in the future. Yes, learning all the time.

Now to some extent, I think everyone if you ask them feels some moments of uncertainty when starting something new. Most of us would call it nervous excitement; the anticipation of beginning something meaningful and wanted, coupled with the questions about who will be there, how you’ll fit in etc. So to that extent, we all have thoughts about the uncertainty, or possibly the anticipation of wanting to see if things turn out the way we imagined or are something different.

So what then is it that causes some people to physically and mentally experience a higher degree of intensity with respect to these feelings; an intensity so rich that they may literally have to withdraw?

In the group I ran, one person didn’t even show up on day one. It took her boyfriend apparently to convince her to show up on day two. As a facilitator, missing day one is extremely annoying quite honestly because so much work goes in to assimilating the participants with one another, going over expectations and ground rules, creating a climate of trust and reassurance. For someone with social anxiety, missing day one can be a disaster therefore, especially if you then on day two you are entering a group already established. This is akin to self-destructive behaviour.

One participant who eventually dropped out altogether exhibited behaviour that made her eventual decision predictable. It started with her stating she took some time to warm up to people, then not voluntarily participating, missing a day due to illness, then a second of illness with an email saying she’d understand if she wasn’t welcomed back. Then sending another email withdrawing even though she’d be told she was welcome to come back. She was obviously wanting the decision to not attend to be made by me, rather than having to take the responsibility for it herself.

What I find sad personally is that so many of the people I interact with who state they have social anxiety are good people, with marketable skills and qualifications, who state they want to work. It would appear that in some cases they are truly incapable of overcoming their anxiety at present; debilitating them to the point where they cannot physically take advantage of opportunities. In other cases I’ve had people eventually tell me that they’ve just got too comfortable not working, but know they have to make a show of looking for work, and therefore use social anxiety as an excuse to quit courses and they put their energy into other things. That is more than unfortunate, it’s deplorable.

So is social anxiety somewhere between full-blown agoraphobia where people can’t leave their homes and simple shyness? I’m no expert and don’t pretend to know. What I do know is that whatever it is, it’s robbing people of the ability to take advantage of many opportunities. It is through socializing, human contact and the discussions that take place that people feel inclusiveness, belonging and a rise in self-esteem and personal confidence as a result.

Social anxiety can lead to isolation, withdrawal, feelings of missing out, and possibly depression as a result. Always good to remember is that other people have issues too, sometimes obvious and self-declared and sometimes hidden, less obvious but every bit as real.

It’s also the case that in joining any new group, all of us have the choice to reveal our barriers immediately and gain support or conceal it as best we can and that can be good too if we can pull it off. After all, people only know what they see and what we tell them.

You have to do what works for you. If you are experiencing social anxiety, having someone tell you to, “just get over it” isn’t helpful. Consider getting counselling if you haven’t already, and take some small, safe risks.

 

Get Your Attitude Under Control


When you are looking for work, one of the best things you can do is manage the things within your control and your attitude has got to be at the top of this list. I get that job searching is frustrating, rejection happens a lot, and you can feel isolated. I think we all get that.

Bitterness however, is one of the most least desirable personality traits a person can exhibit, and at the very time in your life when you could use the helpfulness of those around you, why alienate yourself? Here’s a newsflash for you; you’re not the only person who has, is or will go through what you are going through right now. You’re not entitled therefore to feel that everybody around you doesn’t understand what you’re going through. Most of us know exactly what you’re going through.

This week I’ve had the opportunity to spend both Monday and Tuesday supervising our drop-in resource area. In this space, people who are out of work and on social assistance can come in, sit down and use a computer, phones, fax and photocopy machines, post letters and all of it free of charge. They can work independently or they can ask whomever is supervising that day for help.

There were three people exhibiting very different attitudes that were in this space just yesterday, and all at the exact time. In my position, I ended up interacting with all three of them, and I hope by sharing my observations you might profit personally or share this with someone you know in the hope that they might benefit.

The first fellow is a regular. He struggles with alcohol and drug addiction. Sometimes like yesterday he’s floating in that zone between full self-consciousness and responsibility and the effects of recent use. In other words, you feel like you are getting into a lucid conversation at one point and then it’s clear his mind is muddled. He was frustrated and his social filters weren’t functioning as evidenced by his inappropriate comment to a man from another culture with a long beard that he’d be happy to give him some razor blades to shave his face. Fortunately, the man didn’t hear him and I re-directed my regular back to his computer. This guy’s bitterness is open, easily recognized and he can be engaged with help offered and he can be leveled with. He knows when he’s out of line in other words.

The 2nd person to contrast the above is someone I only met yesterday. He asked for help initially and I responded as best I could to help him. Unfortunately, the restrictions on our computers set up by our IT department in accordance with our policies wouldn’t allow him to access what he wanted. Now he started muttering about my incompetence and how he himself knows more. He then quickly moved to making further personal attacks, judgements, assumptions, and dismissed me. All of this I might add was done with a calm voice, almost a respectful politeness; if it weren’t for the words themselves.

The chip on this 2nd fellows shoulders is huge. If you can meet his needs, good. If you can’t meet his needs, you’re useless and don’t have the intelligence to match his own. That was the gist of his message. This bitterness he is carrying makes him a person to avoid, to watch certainly but provide the most minimal of direct help with lest a full confrontation be provoked. Best to back away, observe in case there is some escalation or developing problem with someone else.

Finally, a 3rd person who is also unemployed. She is a 20 year-old regular who is on Methadone, doesn’t have her grade 12, doesn’t know what she wants to do work-wise, but is always friendly, open to talking, listening and taking advice. Yesterday she was in working for almost three hours on both her own resume and that of her boyfriends. She’s frustrated with her current situation and doesn’t want to get stuck with a minimum wage job. By asking for a bit of help and being open to a conversation, we’ve agreed to set aside some time and do some short and long-term goal planning over the issues she raised.

Three unemployed people on social assistance. Three very different ways of coping with frustration and interacting with the people around them. One openly venting but harmless, the 2nd less obvious at first glance but far more dangerous, the 3rd staying friendly, open to conversation and trying to be positive.

When out of work or facing any personal challenge for that matter, you can sometimes feel you’ve lost control; you’re a victim of your circumstances. The one thing no one can take away from you unless you let them is your attitude. How do you measure up when times are tough, and your resiliency is being tested. A true measure of a person isn’t always how they behave when times are good but how they behave and act when times are tough.

If you are feeling isolated and abandoned, have the courage to first ask yourself if your actions, gestures and words are in any way contributing to turning off other people from approaching you and giving you any meaningful help. Yes it starts with you so take responsibility for your attitude. Getting fired, laid off or downsized might not be something you can control; but your attitude is your responsibility alone.