Mental Health, Unemployment; Compassion


I have learned over the years that first appearances don’t always tell the story. There are many people who, upon first meeting, seem to be in earnest to find employment, but whose actions conflict with what their words would have you believe. It’s easy to mistakenly assume that these people lack commitment to finding a job. You might categorize them as lazy, attempting to intentionally deceive, not putting in the effort to get a job  while telling you they want to work. Often you come to realize however that something else is at play.

Most government programs that provide the basics such as food and shelter have expectations that people look to find income, usually obtained via employment, and work towards financial independence. At its simplest, those who work give a portion of their income to support those in society who don’t. Those with employment income generally assume that those in receipt of help are working hard to get off those programs and join the ranks of the employed. They also assume that those who administer such programs are providing help and advice to aid the unemployed to reach this same goal as quickly as possible.. They also believe this safety net built into our society is meant to support people for a relatively short time until a person finds financial independence.

Most people I believe, have compassion and care for those who are out of work, especially for those incapable of supporting themselves; for whom there is no alternative to find food and shelter. And there is the crux of the situation for a lot of people who see themselves as supporting others; some want to work and try hard to become financially independent. Others seem to avoid looking for work, and these are easier to spot to the average citizen. After all, someone looking for work is either inside some employment agency, working at finding a job from their home, or they are mingling on the street, dressed like workers, on their way to job interviews, meetings, etc.

Those who avoid looking for work or seem to be avoiding looking for work are easier to spot. These are the people we see who look to be of a working age, but are loitering about, sitting in parks and coffee shops, permanently dressed in ‘weekend’ clothes, walking with no purpose, certainly seem to have no work destination in mind. If we saw a cane, a limp, a cast on the arm or some such visible sign of disability, we’d extend compassion, believing their idle time is justified.

However, for many such people, there is no visible sign of disability. Look them over quickly and they seem to be healthy and capable of working; doing something productive. It’s likely that this person you’re looking at is dealing with some mental health issue. Now you might be thinking that this presumption is a bit of a leap, brought on the amount of time I’ve spent in my profession. Fair enough.

So let’s look at you. So you’ve got a  job and you’ve never been on assistance let alone out of work for long. You’re self-image is pretty intact and you’ve got a pretty healthy outlook on things. Suppose now you found yourself out of work. Downsized, laid off, fired, had to move to another city because your spouse took a job there, went back to school and are just job searching now – take your pick. In the short-term you find yourself in shock. No matter, you’ll be working soon.

While optimistic at first, you find your social connections; friends and past work colleagues treat you differently. First off, the work connections are only accessible when you call on them, and there’s less and less to talk about from your end. Your friends keep up at first, but you find you’re left out more and more because after all, money is tight and get-togethers for Spa Days and weekend jaunts to concerts and hotels out-of-town aren’t in your budget, so they call less on you to join them.

You cut back where you can on groceries, trips in the car, clothing and entertainment. Your parents and relatives tell you to just get a job, after all you’ve been successful before so it won’t be long. But it is. Your self-esteem has taken a hit as has part of your identity; the part of you that identified yourself by a profession and as an employee.

Making a résumé and applying for jobs seems simple enough, but you’re not getting the results you’ve had in the past. While applying for work, you’re not eating as well as you should; groceries are more expensive so you buy the cheaper, pre-made and packaged stuff. You put off dental work and new glasses maybe – you’ll get them when you’re working.

Look, the bottom line is the longer you’re out of work the harder it is to keep positive. Doubt, anxiety, sadness, depression; it’s not hard to see how these creep in and can be debilitating. When you experience these yourself or work with those who do, it’s easier to see how someone can want to work but literally be unable to do what is necessary to be successfully employed; sometimes for a long time, some times forever. And the longer ones unemployment lasts, the harder it becomes to break the routine.

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And You Are Building A Reputation For…?


Whether you know it or not, you and I are constantly building our reputations. The good news is that we have a great deal of control over the effort we put into this process; not always achieving the results we’d like perhaps but, the effort invested is entirely ours to give. Consistently delivering results is also a key factor for many in establishing their reputation.

Those we work with, those we come into contact with on a daily basis; we’re all building our individual reputations throughout the day. We may not always have our reputations foremost in our minds, but the words we speak and the actions we take which others observe adds to or diminishes how we are perceived. And it’s not just one or two things we become known for; we gain a reputation for numerous things. Hence we become known for always arriving early or being late, contributing our fair share in group projects or riding along on the strong work of others. We can have a reputation for having an optimistic outlook, being authentic, exercising patience, extending ourselves to help others or always saying, “Yes”.

What we become known for and how we are perceived can have a tremendous impact on our success or lack thereof. If you’ve got aspirations of advancing in an organization, your reputation for the quality and/or quantity of work you produce will influence the decision-making process in whether to promote you. Have a good reputation and you’re impressing others while a tarnished reputation could leave you out of the running when you want to get ahead.

So when does building a reputation start? It starts when we first interact with others be that in-person, in writing or correspondence, by association with others and when we come into the awareness of those around us. Initially it starts as a first impression, then with each bit of information the other person takes in about us, their perception of us is reinforced or changed. This is why first impressions become of such critical importance in the hiring process for example. From the first inquiry, the cover letter and resume or CV, interview(s) and follow-up, we only have a limited amount of time and exposure to make a good impression on the decision-makers in the organizations we wish to work with. We do our best to build on that initial impression, all the while establishing our reputation with these people.

Making an error in a job interview therefore could be critical as we don’t have the benefit of time to give the interviewer(s) pause to re-evaluate us and see that error as out of character with our reputation. Anyone who has ever said something they realize they shouldn’t have, or who made a joke of something that didn’t go over well and wishes they could take back knows of what I speak. We don’t want the impression we create to be one of being flippant, insensitive, having poor judgement or not being a positive influence in the workplace. It is for this reason we feel anxiety in interviews; the slightest error we might make could negatively alter the other person’s perception of us and we fear not having the ability to change their initial impression which could ruin our reputation; leaving us ultimately rejected.

Those that  fear interviews and long to just be given a chance to show an employer what they can do are typically the kind of people who are banking on their ability to perform a job to enhance their chances. They know that the speed or quality of their work and adherence to safety on the job would impress the people seated across from them, but sitting and answering questions isn’t their strength. In such situations, the strategy they might be best to use than would be to provide tangible, concrete examples of what they’ve done, how others benefitted and yes, the reputation they’ve established for high quality work, a good attitude etc.

Providing references, sharing what others have said about us is another way we hope to transfer our good reputation to these people we are just meeting in the interview. So a Home Builder will for example invite a potential client to speak with the owners of homes he or she has constructed, show photos of work performed and the classic before and after shots. They home that their good work and good reputation with one home owner convinces another home owner to contract their work. Your reputation is something you can and should pay attention to. It’s a big part of your personal brand and with every interaction you have with others, that reputation is reinforced or possibly re-evaluated.

Suppose today you sat down on your 15 minute break and thought about what you’d like your reputation to be. What would you like to be known for? What are you doing that backs up and gives you credibility with respect to this goal? Now ask yourself if your actions, words and performance achievements enhance or detract from this reputation you’d like to have. If it’s important to you, you’ll do more of what builds your reputation and less of what works against it.

So what do you want as YOUR reputation? Expertise? Communication skills? Physical fitness? Helping others? Give some thought to this; you’re building one regardless so it makes sense to determine what you want.

 

 

Authenticity, Perception And Reputation


When the person you are is the person people think you are.

We hear a lot today about reputations, self-branding, marketing etc. So many people, (and I’m one of them), encourage the idea of self-branding; where you think consciously about who you are and the image you want to project to those you come into contact with.

And companies? Companies are always marketing themselves and their products and services, striving to ensure that the quality and consistency of those messages with each interaction backs up and reinforces the identity of the company behind them. Every time the customer has a good experience the reputation grows and solidifies; and the reverse is equally true if the experience is poor, the reputation erodes and crumbles.

The same is true when people interact with you and then compare this interaction with what they previously knew or thought of you. With this latest experience, those we interact with judge whether what they’ve experience runs counter to their expectations or perhaps reinforced what they expected; i.e. authenticity.

What you should be striving to achieve is a consistent brand where people can be assured that the experience they have with you in the future can be reasonably predictable. When this is the case, people understand and rely on this identity; they not only come to expect that same consistent experience themselves, but they pass on your name and reputation with it to their friends and contacts.

Here’s the thing to remember; if someone has a good experience with you, they leave satisfied because their expectations were met and whatever they anticipated was realized. If on the other hand, their expectations of you fell short, you expose yourself to two liabilities; they themselves may not give you a second chance to deliver, and your reputation as unreliable and inconsistent may be spread to others.

If and when your reputation takes a hit, you have two choices: a) do nothing about it, b) work hard to restore that reputation. If you look around you, you’ll see examples of people and businesses that don’t do much of anything when it comes to damage control. They dismiss the person who didn’t have a good experience as an annoyance, and concentrate on the next customer; the next sale.

Other companies do stop and address the dissatisfied customer or client. They go out of their way to ask, “What can we do to make it up to you?” This is their attempt at really asking, “What can we do to restore our good reputation because you matter to us.”

Like a business, you and I – we have our reputations to build and take responsibility for. When you think of your status in your workplace and look at things objectively, what is your reputation? Are you dependable, creative, sensitive, kind, overbearing, manipulative, approachable, hard-nosed, hard-working, fun? Are you the Jokester, the Leader, the Steamroller or the Fountain of Inspiration?

Depending on how you want to be perceived and how you actually are perceived, you have likewise two choices, a) work to keep your current branding or b) work harder to change how you are perceived so that how you are perceived matches the way you wish to be perceived.

Look, suppose you notice someone going about their work in a different way; taking things a little more seriously, acting responsibly, watching their language a little closer. You don’t have to be an expert in Human Behaviour studies to see that something is up. Could be that the person has aspirations of applying for a promotion in the near future and they’ve been told that unless they show some development and increased responsibility they’ll never get a chance. So what have they done? They’ve adopted some changes which they hope will change how they are perceived, and by continued practice of this change in behaviour, they hope to match the typical qualities of people successfully picked for promotion in the past.

As humans, we evolve and change; we mature, our priorities change, our outlook on things alters and with all of these shifts, it’s only natural that we may want different things at different points in our lives. We may start off ambitious, put in the overtime and work with zeal. Possibly we get comfortable and settle in to our titles, then grow restless later and feel we’re up for more challenges and more money to go along with them. Later, we might re-evaluate and ease back on the driving force we once had and then ride off into retirement.

As people come and go in our professional lives along our own journey, they will perceive us based on what they learn about us when they meet us. Meet us when we’re hungry and working with drive and hunger for more and more and we’ll be tagged that way. Come to know us as we are rounding out our career and they may see us as laid back, set in our ways, going through the motions.

If you feel you’re being perceived as too young or too old, first evaluate what about you is giving off those vibes; creating that branding. It’s not just the gray hair nor the remnants of teenage acne. It’s how we move, talk, act, behave etc.; all part of how we are perceived.

Change if you wish how others perceive you to fit with how you wish to be perceived.

 

“Um, Ah, If I Wrote Like I Talk, Then Like, Ah…”


Can you imagine how painful it would if we had to communicate in writing the words we actually speak? Come to think of it, this might be precisely how educators go about transforming the horrendous language skills some people have.

I was conducting a mock interview not long ago with a person who was pretty sure their interview skills were top-notch. While they had great content to share from their present and past to prove they had the experience to compete for employment, what they also had was a constant use of the words, ‘like’, ‘um’ and ‘ah’. At one point, I actually realized I had shifted from evaluating the strength of their answer to counting the number of times they used these three words.

So why do people consciously or unconsciously overuse these words? I believe the words, ‘um’ and ‘ah’ are used most often to hold the speakers place in the conversation, while their brain accesses memory files and arranges their thoughts in a meaningful way so that when the spoken words are uttered, it sounds coherent. It’s as if the person is saying, “I’ve got something else I want to add, just give me a moment to organize things in the way I want to share them; here it comes…right, I’m ready.”

Every now and then this kind of behaviour creates for the speaker a real unexpected problem. The overuse of, ‘um’ and ‘ah’ can cause a person to finish a thought and then the mouth almost instinctively throws in one last, ‘um’. The listener’s interest is piqued as the speaker has something further to add, so they themselves go silent and wait with anticipation to whatever is about to be said. The problem? The speaker who uttered the dreaded ‘um’ has nothing further to add whatsoever, and so lamely says something like, “Ah, it’s okay.”

What I find most interesting myself as someone who is often on the receiving end, is that the speakers either know they have this habit as others have mentioned it to them, or they are completely oblivious to this habit. They may say therefore, “I know, I know it’s a bad habit; everybody tells me!” Or they say, “Really? Wow! I had no idea!”

Here’s the thing about your language skills: you communicate much more than words alone. When you listen to someone, words combine with tone, body language, voice intensity, vocabulary, facial expression, eye contact etc.; all of which strengthen or detract from the content of the message you are delivering. If for example someone says, “Help me please, I’m desperate” and has a strained expression, their words are barely audible but intense and their eyes a wide and fixed on ours, – we do not doubt their plea. However, were they to say, “Help me please, I’m desperate” while shrugging their shoulders, grinning ear to ear and the words uttered in a mocked tone, then we might be left with an impression they aren’t really serious.

It’s the same when we overuse the word, ‘like’. “Could you like, help me, ’cause like, I’m – you know – like, desperate.” Is the visualization in your head right now of the person uttering this sentence a young, poorly educated female? If I told you it was really a university educated senior management person in the commodities sector would that image seem genuine? No probably not. So how we communicate does conjure up things we associate with people who talk a certain way.

Therefore others who hear us make assumptions about our education level, our professionalism, our income level, our intelligence; all from our vocabulary. Lest you think that it is wrong of people to make all these assumptions and judge you based on these alone, don’t exclude yourself from judging others based on the same criteria. As we listen to others speak, our minds take in all this data and access past memories and experiences we have had dealing with others who have appeared to us to be similar. In a matter of seconds, we think, slang = casual, overuse of ‘like’ = valley girl, overuse of ‘um’ and ‘ah’ = slow thinker. Of course these associations might not match your own experience, but they might match other people; people who are interviewing you for a job, or deciding whether or not they can help you in some way.

One way to change how you are perceived if you wish to do so in the first place of course, is to simply pause and be silent instead of using the dreaded, ‘um’ or ‘ah’. Silence is actually very effective when used in speech as it shows you are reflective.

If something is similar to something else, by all means say that this thing is like that thing in a comparative sense. However saying, “This apple is like amazing!” isn’t any more effective than just saying, “This apple is amazing!” The word, ‘like’ in this sense is unnecessary and inappropriate. Do yourself a favour and stop overusing it and using it in the wrong context.

The wonderful thing about your language skills is that unlike so many barriers to employment or promotions is language is entirely within your control to use and improve. Not only should you choose your words wisely, you can improve your skills in this area as you can with any other skill.

Then, you’d be like, totally amazing.