Disconnecting On The Commute In

Today as I drove in to work, (a mix of 80% rural and 20% urban) I started by doing what I usually do; turned the radio on to a talk and news station and then sat back and listened. I do this each day so I can arrive at work and know what’s going on in this big beautiful world we live in.

It’s important to me I suppose to know which country some gunman originated in and which faith he’s associated with; which religious group is claiming responsibility for the murders he committed. Then there’s the people who were flushed out into the streets in the wee hours of the morning I guess it’s important I hear about in another city. And of course, I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t hear about the night club that had a shooting just outside its doors at 2:00 a.m.

Do I need to know all of these events? My usual answer must be yes because this is my daily routine; listen to the radio, stay up on local, national and world events on a daily basis so I can intelligently contribute to discussions at work. Without consciously intending to, I’ve developed a reputation at least with a few people, of being informed about such things. This is usually great advice by the way, so you can network, connect and talk with others in your circles without having to always say, “Gee I didn’t know that” when others are talking. The radio is a great source of information that can turn your experience into, “Yes I heard that. Here’s what I think…”.

If it’s not the radio, some other drivers turn their time into learning opportunities. They have CD’s, MP3’s, Bluetooth – a multitude of services that provide access to podcasts, language development and just about any topic they feel is of interest to them. It occupies their thoughts; the driver is in control of what they hear, experience and learn.

Today however, about a third of the way along my commute, I did something that I should do more often. I disconnected entirely. I turned off the radio and with a couple of windows down, I didn’t control what I heard, I let the great outdoors bring me its sounds. Now in the country drive along a secondary highway, I heard the silence, birds, passing traffic and silence. The silence was outstanding. I became aware that my thoughts were shifting from one thing to the next, it was as if there were conversations going on and all I had to do was let go and allow my brain and its thoughts to wander aimlessly; shifting, moving, in and out, coming and going.

The stimulation was all around me. The sun was dawning over me all along the drive and as I passed through small communities, even pausing at intersections waiting for the green lights wasn’t unpleasant but relaxing. As I moved into the urban city nearing the end of my commute, I heard the beep, beep, beep of construction vehicles backing up, the voices of workers communicating. I heard the sounds of large vehicles as they struggled to move from fully stopped and proceed through intersections; their engines resisting the process of gearing up.

It was a relaxing, enjoyable experience and when I arrived a work and parked the car, I was very much aware of a sense of calm I was in. It had been a great drive in and had taken exactly the same amount of time – no slower or faster. This disconnecting thing was pretty cool.

So what’s this got to do with jobs, with work, with employment advice? Well, perhaps it’s a good thing every now and then to consider disconnecting yourself. Do you really have to be listening to music, the news, a podcast or whatever you do listen to during your commute. What if you disconnected and just listened; let your thoughts tumble around without consciously trying to focus on solving a problem, resolving an issue or mentally going over your daily agenda? You can look at the daily agenda when you arrive at work.

I’m not saying disconnecting is something to do everyday. There’s a lot of time on your commute to be productive, to be inspired and to be entertained. That’s good for you if that’s your aim. Can you disconnect however and be comfortable with the silence and the lack of activity? Have you got so programmed yourself that you can’t go more than two minutes without checking your phone for messages? If nobody texts you even though you’re online can you survive? Hmmm…look around you and there’s a lot of people who appear to need to be connected. Notice their eyes are on a screen in a subway or on a bus when they could be looking out the windows and taken in different kinds of stimulation.

Disconnecting and just looking around on a commute in or back home can change your frame of mind, alter your mood and maybe put you in a better place as you walk in the door at home or work. This is where the connection lies between disconnecting and your workday.

Have you had a similar experience on your way in to work? My experience isn’t life altering, it’s not nirvana realized or paradise gained; it’s just a small change that created a different experience; one for the better.

Try it.

Sometimes….Say Nothing

Yesterday was an interesting day. It started off normally enough, I awoke at the usual time, but knew that I was meeting with someone at work half an hour earlier than I typically arrive, so I decided to pen my blog not at home but at work on my own time. However, once at work and after my early morning meeting, I turned to jobs at hand putting off that blog until later in the day.

Well soon it was noon and I had a lunch meeting which was something I had looked forward to all week-long, and it was followed by a Team meeting in the afternoon. Still I thought, there’ll be time when I get home while preparing dinner. Then a headache hit, and it stuck with me from about 1:30 p..m. on. When I got home after the hour ride, I called my wife at work and told her she would find me sprawled out on the couch perhaps asleep as I fought off the pain. The next thing I knew, she was walking in the door, and it was an hour and a half later and I had indeed closed my eyes and slept.

During the evening, things improved but slowly, and my ability to really concentrate and write anything meaningful was low. So I made a decision to not share anything in my job advice blog, rather than write for the sake of keeping up a string of daily blogging. So why share this with you and what relevance does this have to the whole job advice subject?

Well I was thinking to myself, there are a number of times when the best strategy is to lie low, to avoid speaking for the sake of speaking, and to reserve your comments until you are in a frame of mind to actually add something useful to a conversation. In an interview, there too are times when you’ve answered a question sufficiently and your best strategy would be to get comfortable with the silence, without the need for filing the dead space with your words.

I know myself that I’ve used silence as a tool to elicit more from clients in my line of work. If I can refrain from speaking in a conversation, quite often the person I’m engaged with will break first and start speaking first. This is a well-known and oft-used strategy that interviewers use to see how an applicant deals with a stressful situation. And from time-to-time, I’ve caught myself being the first to start filling the dead air with thoughts that are poorly thought out; winging it as it were. Seldom have I actually done well in those situations, as my brain scrambles quickly to think of something semi-intelligent to say. Only once I’ve started talking does it hit me that I’d have done much better to have said nothing at all.

Even outside of an interview, such as in my team meeting yesterday, I contributed to the discussion, but only in areas where I felt assured that what I had to offer was relevant. After the meeting I was speaking with a co-worker, and mentioned that there had been something I half-wanted to say, but after all was glad I had not.

When for example you are experiencing a headache, or on those days when you just know you aren’t functioning at your very best, a strategy for survival in the workplace might be to lie low. This could mean putting off emails until you’ve regained your clarity. It might also mean hanging out in your cubicle instead of making the rounds if that’s your usual routine. And if you have something positive to look forward to coming up in your work or personal life, think on that it will give you reason to get on and get through your day.

Knowing when to be quiet

There is an effective technique that many interviewers use that centers around the use of silence.

 Has this happened to you? You’re in an employment interview and after you’ve given your answer to a question, there is an extended period of silence from the interviewer. This silence is sometimes used by interviewers to purposely create tension; to gauge your reaction to a stressful situation so they can actually see first hand how you will react. Other times, the interviewer is collecting their thoughts, mulling over your last response, internally checking to make sure they have correctly heard what you have just said, digesting your answer as it were.

There’s nothing worse than feeling your anxiety rise in response to the stress, and then just as the interviewer appears to be ready to ask another question, your mouth opens and a, “and” or a “um”…. comes out. Now you’re backed into a corner of your own creation, as the interviewer posies their pen ready to right down the next insightful comment you make – and you’ve got nothing. You couldn’t outwait the interviewer and now have to wing it, trying to dig deep into your past experiences to come up with another example to support your last point, or even perhaps another way of answering the question last asked. If only you could have relied on your first answer and outwaited the interviewer!

This, “gotcha” moment can be avoided if you first do a few things and learn to trust in a process. First of all, do your homework and know both yourself and the position you are applying for. Standard stuff really, but know how your skills and personal attributes will fit with the company. Secondly, listen to the question and give your brain a moment to reflect on the question asked and then the various options for choosing the answer the question. Once you have decided how to answer the question, proceeed with confidence. When you have said what you wanted to say, fight the urge to add a few things more, and exhale slowly.

If you do think of something that is critical to add to your answer, then allow it to appear as if you were giving the interviewer a moment to complete writing what you’ve just said earlier, and avoid starting your next point with the dreaded, “uh” or “um”. In other words disguise your next and last point as having always been intended to be shared, not just thought up on the spot under pressure.

Sometimes you may be able to gauge the strength of your answer from the reaction of the interviewer via a smile, a wink, a nod, a laugh. Sometimes interviewers keep the expected answers close to their chest giving away nothing. Either way, don’t get distracted from your main focus of intelligently answering questions asked with confidence, a smile, some enthusiasm, and do your best to project an image of that of someone who will be a nice addition to the company you are applying to work for.

Knowing when to stop talking is just as effective as what you DO say.