That Negative Attitude In The Audience


If you’ve ever run a workshop, taught a class, or led a project, I think you’ll agree that one of your hopes is that all the members of your audience actually want to be in attendance and hear what you’ve got to say. After all, when you’ve put a lot of preparation in ahead of time, you’re hoping it will be appreciated.

So perhaps you can identify with the situation I found myself in yesterday. There I was standing before 16 people, just about to welcome them formally and kick off a 7 day Career Exploration workshop. My audience consisted of unemployed people choosing (for the most part) to take this free course and learn not only what jobs or careers might be the best personally fit, but a lot about themselves in the process.

Just as I was about to begin, one person said, “How long is this? I don’t want to be here but my worker is making me. And are you paying for childcare because it’s a PA day today and that’s the only way I could come today.” Now if it were you, what would you say? There’s a few different ways you could respond; kick them out, tell them that’s too bad, maybe even take them aside and tell them you don’t appreciate their attitude. I rejected all of these; none of them actually fit with my style.

I was sad of course, because this overtly negative attitude had the possibility of spreading and infecting others, and what she didn’t know – and still doesn’t – is that she had opted to sit herself down immediately beside a gentleman with phobia’s and severe anxiety. I was sad also to think that this negative attitude was also preventing herself from benefitting from being present. However, things had to be nipped in the bud.

I’ve done workshops and presentations for a long time now, and one of the things I know is that every person in the room starts forming an opinion of the presenter right away. Just like seeing someone for the first time in an interview, or any social situation, we start sizing other people up. So heads turned to me to see how I would respond to this person and what I would say and do. Not the way I would choose to start but a good challenge nonetheless.

“You don’t have to be here; none of you do in fact. You can get up now and walk out the door and miss the extra money, gift card and certificate for attending. You only have to attend one workshop and this isn’t it; it’s optional. If you choose to stay, you’ll not only get extra money, you’ll learn a lot about yourself that you don’t know and you’ll be better prepared to talk about the strengths you’ve got. We’re talking 7 days out of your entire life, and the thing is, it will be fun. So leave now or stay, but if you stay, why not choose to be more positive? You’ll have a better time and so will everyone else.”

She didn’t get up to go. But if you think that her attitude switched immediately, you’re wrong. It did however improve slightly. When I asked people to put their names on both sides of the tent cards in front of them, she put her name on the side facing her and on the other she wrote, “No Name.” Yeah, that wasn’t going to work. So I asked her politely to not fight things all the way, and she relented and switched it around. Oh well, name projecting out and to her, a little hold on her feisty attitude; a compromise. It’s not about wining her over by completely defeating her spirit.

We did an exercise yesterday where everyone developed a personal motto or slogan based on their beliefs and things they hold important. When invited to share her own, she did so, dropping an f-bomb and expressing how the world will mess you up. I decided not to take the offered bait and just thanked her and moved on to the next person.

Later in the day when each person was adding another bit of information to their summary page, I noticed her Motto section was blank. Questioning her, I asked why she hadn’t filled it in. She replied, “I want to take it home and think about it and come up with something better.” To me, this was a breakthrough moment. She was actually investing in the process – in herself really. “Good for you. I really appreciate you deciding to stay and with a positive attitude. Thanks for that”, I replied.

You know, a lot of people have multiple barriers and want their lives to improve. They want better futures for their children and some of the good things in life that they see on television, the movies or in watching other people. I don’t know what this young woman has gone through to get where she is now, nor do I know the effort that is required just to get to class. I hope she sticks out the 7 days and makes it back in today.

Sometimes the people who present with the most overt negative attitudes are the ones who later will appreciate most the help offered them. I hope this is the case here. I also hope the way I’ve handled things is a learning moment for others in the class.

Develop The Habits Employers Want


Ever been in a job interview and been asked a question about a gap in your resume? They may have asked, “So what have you been doing since you last worked?”, or “What did you do to prepare for this interview?” All three of these questions give you the opportunity to demonstrate to the employer one key thing and that is what you’ve been doing – or not – when you’ve been in full control of the time you’ve had.

They are interested to see if you’ve taken some initiative, been proactive, made the most of this period, learned anything new, taken some training, upgraded your skills, addressed a weakness, improved your health, expanded your knowledge, etc. They are also checking to see if you’ve been complacent, dormant, passive, let your skills slide, removed yourself from the field you’re saying your interested in now. In short, have you been developing and keeping up your good habits or haven’t you?

Developing and maintaining good habits; the kind of actions and behaviours that employers desire the most, are not only a good idea, they could be the difference between getting a job or not. It’s one thing to say you’re invested in the work that you’ll be doing for a company and quite another to demonstrate that you’re invested.

Now suppose for example you’re out of work altogether and you are applying for an administrative position. You can foresee that some of the people you are going to be competing with are currently employed elsewhere in those positions which gives them a distinct advantage. You may not be employed, but you can still employ the skills that would be used on a daily basis by someone in that position. So for example you can practice your keyboarding skills, make a daily ‘to-do’ list, organize your personal or family paperwork. Buy some file folders and organize all the bills, receipts, various warranties for household items you own under categories like: Insurance, Autos, Mortgage, Vacation, Renovations, Taxes, Identification, Investments, etc.

If the above seems onerous, too challenging, beyond what you want to put energy into, then I’d suggest you might not be ready for the job you are actually saying you want to do. After all, if you can’t be bothered using these same skills for yourself, why should an employer feel you’re the right person to get things in order for them?

One thing you have 100% control over is your personal schedule. With no employer to record your attendance, check on your productivity, evaluate your adherence to a dress code, measure your attitude, do you or don’t you have the self-discipline to monitor yourself? You may disagree as is your prerogative, but getting up, showered and dressed on a set schedule even when you are not working is a key part of maintaining good personal behaviours that are consistent with what employers expect. Many people who go months without work and then get a job do not respond well when suddenly they get hired and have to be sitting at a desk at 8:30 a.m. dressed professionally, wide awake and ready to go at top speed.

Look into free or low-cost training opportunities in your community and then sign up to hone your skills, update your resume afterwards and keep your mind sharp. Small rather simple things like adhering to a 15 minute break in those workshops and training programs is what employers will demand you do when on the job. If you take your 15 minute break and come back only to then go about making your coffee you’re not demonstrating a respect for what the 15 minute break is for.

Another key thing to keep up is your personal communication skills; both written and verbal. You can’t do either if you sequester yourself away behind the curtains of your living room and cut yourself off from all contact. Talk with people, engage in conversations with store clerks, the paper boy, mail carriers, people you meet on walks around the neighbourhood, cashiers; all the people you meet. Your people skills need to stay sharp as does your comfort initiating conversations.

Like so many things in life, what you do with your time while you are between jobs really says a lot about you and your values. You are free to do what you wish with your time and are accountable in the end to only yourself. That’s a double-edged precious gift however. There are consequences – and don’t fool yourself into thinking there aren’t – both good and bad for whether that time is productive or wasted.

Most of the people I counsel who are out of work know they should be making good use of their time. They sound remorseful and want to rediscover that drive and personal motivation they had when they were working. They bank on igniting that energy and ‘turning it on’ when they get a job. However, many also find that when they do get hired, they lose those jobs quickly. They tell me that they couldn’t work as fast as the employer wanted them to, they just didn’t fit in, they were so exhausted after three days on the job they were late on the 4th day and were told not to return. In short, they hadn’t keep up good habits when unemployed and couldn’t work at the high level expected.

Good habits are something you control. Ignore developing good habits and you’ll develop bad ones by default.

 

You With The Chip On Your Shoulder


Hey you. (Sorry about that; I don’t know your name.) You with the chip on your shoulder that’s so large no one could fail to notice it. I bet you’ve had a lot of bad breaks over your life that keep adding to it. Maybe it was rough right from your birth into this world and it’s been that way ever since, or perhaps your early years were pretty decent and it was only as you grew up that your life and all the people you’ve met in it have made it a tough go.

Either way it doesn’t really matter right now does it? I mean let’s face it; you’re the kind of person who just wakes up to battle one day at a time. I don’t know you of course, (which is exactly what you’d tell me if I was standing in front of you); yeah you’d tell me not to think I know you either. But just like you, I’ve come to eyeball people and size them up pretty quickly. You do it to survive and get what you need while I do it to size up what they need. We both have to be pretty good at reading people in order to get on.

Anyhow, we’re agreed on one thing I hope; life isn’t anywhere near what you once thought, and it’s not getting better. On the outside you’ll tell anybody who will listen that you don’t need their help or their charity; you’ve got this image to protect of being the lone wolf after all – but every now and then you’d be more than open to some help from the right person. Don’t worry; I’m not going to tell you I’m that guy. I’m too far away from where you are anyhow, and if you saw me, you’d just peg me on sight as some old guy who thinks he’s got all the answers.

Well I don’t have all the answers – no one does. All of us though, have some of the answers; it just depends on the questions we’re being asked as to whether or not the answers we have fit. Take you for example. When it comes to fending for yourself, maybe you’re the go-to guy. You know people on a first-name basis who can get you what you need so you can survive. You get what you take; nobody gives you anything for free unless its stuff no one needs or wants.

I suppose if somebody followed you around unseen, they might from time-to-time actually see that chip on your shoulder ease up ever so slightly. You’ve been known to drop a few bills in some homeless persons coffee cup, stare down some punk who otherwise would have verbally or physically abused him or her on the street as they begged for change. Imagine that, you with your own demons protecting someone else from the taunts and jeers of the better off. You can be intimidating, and when it suits you, you notch it up and that feeds both your power and your view of the world as a cold place.

This much I get – no seriously I understand this much. But it’s draining isn’t it? I mean all this energy to live on the edge, keep up that scowl that looks out and down on just about everybody you meet. Even if you wanted to drop the chip on the shoulder; (and its long past being a chip anyhow isn’t it? It’s more like a boulder now), it’s hard to let people in and take a chance on them because so far anyway, it almost always backfires and ends in disappointment. You’ve tried in the past and been burned; people making promises of a better life if you only do this or that, and even when you give it a shot, they let you down. Things don’t change; people don’t change. You’re pegged as more trouble than you’re worth; a bad one, one to stay clear of, not redeemable.  And every time things go sour, you just add one more layer to your tough exterior in order to protect yourself; you’re a survivor after all and can’t rely on anyone but you.

Okay enough. At what point do you own up and decide that despite the raw deal you’ve had in the past, you are responsible for what happens in your future based on what you do in the here and now? Look at people older than you going through the world with this chip on their shoulders and you’ll see they almost always look older than they really are. They may have bodies that are lean and mean on the outside, but they’re also hollow and thin on substance on the inside. They chose to continue to live with the chip on their shoulders when they stood where you stand now.  You can choose to keep on living the way you are now of course; you’re call and yours alone; always has been and always will be.

Not everybody is against you; the world and what you experience is how you view it and what you allow in. So you’ve been burned before? That makes you normal. Give Life and people in it a chance and you might find you get the odd break; breaking down that chip just a little – making it easier to carry.