Working Human

Assumptions, Projection, and Other Ways to Kill Engagement at Work
Assumptions, Projection, and Other Ways to Kill Engagement at Work 1080 722 Jason Lauritsen

A wise friend is fond of saying, “If only people would conform to our expectations of them.”

It’s her way of reminding us (and probably herself) that much of the drama that exists in our lives with other people starts with us. And that if we’d accept people for who they are and where they are instead of projecting on them how we think they “should be,” everyone would be happier.

Throughout my career, most of my most frustrating experiences at work were rooted in my frustration that someone, usually my boss, wasn’t behaving in the way I wanted them to.

I’ve had bosses who couldn’t communicate with me in the way I wanted. Others who couldn’t create a vision for me in the way I wanted it. Others who didn’t support me or my development the right way.

In most of these cases, my response to these unmet expectations can be summarized in one word: drama. I got frustrated, irritated, and sometimes angry. This, in turn, invited my bosses to be frustrated, irritated, and sometimes angry with me.

The irony in all of this is that in nearly every case, my boss and I actually wanted the same thing. In fact, they usually were trying to help me get what I wanted.  They just couldn’t do it in the specific way I thought they should.

So…drama. What a waste.

Projecting our expectations of others to behave or be only the way we think they should damages a relationship. When relationships suffer at work, our engagement takes a hit.

Another enemy of engagement making assumptions. Just last week, I was worrying that something I’d said had offended someone close to me. I stressed about it for a day before finally apologizing.

It turns out, I hadn’t offended this person at all. It was a faulty assumption I’d created in my mind..

We make assumptions all the time, particularly when someone behaves in a way that we didn’t anticipate.

  • Why didn’t she speak up to defend me?
  • Why did they schedule that meeting without including me?
  • Why didn’t they keep me in the loop on that?

When things like this pop up, our default reaction is to assume the worst.

  • She’s trying to distance herself from me.
  • They are trying to undermine me.
  • There must be something shady going on.

Negative assumptions lead to drama in relationships.

What to do?

Assumptions and projections are something I’ve wrestled without throughout my life. As a result, I notice how frequently these happen at work. It’s so common that we don’t even notice that it is happening a lot of the time.

Solving for these issues isn’t easy because it’s so ingrained in our human nature. But there are mindsets and practices I’ve found to be incredibly helpful.

  1. Be clear about what you need and ask for it. In any relationship, when the other person isn’t behaving the way you expect, check in with your own expectations. What is it exactly that you need from this person that you aren’t getting? Maybe you need your spouse to help with the chores without you feeling like you have to prod. Or maybe you need your boss to give you more space to do your job. Regardless of what it is, be crystal clear on what you need, why you need it, and how having it would affect you. Then, share that with the other person.Most of the time, the other person wasn’t clear on your needs and is willing to work with you to find a way to make it happen. It may not be exactly as you imagined, but as long as you get what you need, you’ll be happier.
  2. Assume positive intentions. When someone else behaves in a way that you didn’t expect or doesn’t make sense to you, instead of making an immediate, worst-case assumption, interrupt your thinking. Remind yourself that the other person probably has positive intentions and means no harm. I like to practice this with my kids. When we encounter someone who does something rude (like cutting us off in traffic), instead of my default response, “A-hole!” I say something like, “Wow, they must be in a hurry. I hope everything is okay.”My kids will occasionally make up stories about what might be going on (“they are rushing to the hospital” or “they are late to work”). This simple act of interrupting a negative assumption and replacing it with a positive one is a powerful way to eliminate drama before it starts.
  3. Have the conversation. All too often, we get caught up in this drama vortex. We project our unreasonable expectations on others. They don’t behave as we expect them to, so we attribute some shady intentions to them and soon, it feels like we are at battle.I’ve been through this cycle before, feeling like I was at battle with someone at work, without the other person even knowing it was going on. It all happened in my head. I had transformed this person into my nemesis without ever even having a conversation with them about whatever was bothering me.
    In my experience, whenever I started to feel this cycle coming on, the best way to beat it was to figure out what was bothering me and go talk to that person about it. The conversation can be pretty simple: “Jeff, in the meeting yesterday when you responded to my proposal the way you did, it felt like you hadn’t really considered it and had no plan to do so. I hope that’s not what you intended because my team and I put a lot of work into it. It didn’t feel good to me, so I wanted to just come and talk it through with you.”

    So much of our workplace angst could be resolved if we’d just have the conversations like these instead of harboring our negative assumptions and letting them fester.

Engagement flows when our relationship with work and those who do it is healthy and positive. This isn’t always easy, but it’s always worth it.

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5 Podcast Episodes to Change How You Think About Work
5 Podcast Episodes to Change How You Think About Work 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

I am a podcast junkie.

I struggle to find as much time to read as I’d like. But podcasts have helped me feed (or distract) my brain in times when I can’t read but I can listen (walking the dog, running, doing yard work, etc.). I love them.

That said, I don’t only listen to brain-nourishing podcasts about work and success, etc. I also love great true crime podcasts, but that isn’t what I’m here to write about today.

Over the course of the past several years, there have been some specific podcast episodes that really interrupted my thinking and challenged me to think differently about some aspect of work and life.

Most of these episodes introduced me to a person, idea, or body of work that became important in some way to my continued learning and the evolution of my own work.

So, for those of you who love podcasts, I thought I’d share these with you. For those of you who don’t listen to podcasts, seriously? It’s time. And these would be a great place to start.

  1. Podcast: Invisibilia. Episode: Emotions. Invisibilia is one of my favorite podcasts overall. I don’t think they’ve made an episode I haven’t enjoyed. But, this particular episode really left a mark on me. In it, they highlight the work of neuroscientist, Lisa Feldman Barrett. In short, it will challenge everything you think you know about where emotions come from.  I also found the episode titled Reality to be really thought-provoking.
  2. Podcast: Freakanomics Radio. Episode: People Aren’t Dumb, the World Is Hard. In my opinion, behavioral economics may be the most important field of research when it comes to fixing work (and a lot of things). And, one of the most important and accessible experts in that field is Nobel Prize Winner, Richard Thaler, who is interviewed in this episode.   If you aren’t familiar yet with behavioral economics, this interview is a great way to whet your appetite.
  3. Podcast: Revisionist History. Episode: The Big Man Can’t Shoot. This one of Malcolm Gladwell’s podcasts. I am a fan of all things Gladwell. This particular episode is about basketball players Rick Barry and Wilt Chamberlain. It’s a thought-provoking piece about conformity and the power of social norms. It’s also an example of why behavioral economics is so crucial to help us understand why humans do such irrational things.
  4. Podcast: Hidden Brain. Episode: Life, Death and The Lazarus Drug: Confronting America’s Opioid Crisis. There are several reasons to listen to this podcast. We all need a deeper understanding of the opioid crisis and this will give you another perspective. More than that, it’s an exploration of unintended consequences. This episode really had an impact on me and left me pondering how thoughtful we need to be when trying to solve big problems.
  5. Podcast: Against the Rules. Episode: Ref, You Suck. This is a project from Michael Lewis, author of Money Ball and Liar’s Poker. It’s an exploration of implications of living in a time when the referee’s in our life (those whose job it is to ensure fairness) are under attack. I’m recommending this episode because it’s the first one. But really, I’m recommending listening to the whole series. If you are like me, you’ll be left feeling both unsettled and motivated to do something by the end of the season.

The list could go on, but these are the best of the best in my opinion. I have linked to the show pages here, but they should all be available wherever you get your podcasts.

Please let me know what you think of these.

And if you have any episodes or podcasts that have profoundly impacted your thinking, please share them in the comments of this post. I’m always on the lookout for great ones.

Enjoy!

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How Did Your Parents Impact the Way You Experience Work?
How Did Your Parents Impact the Way You Experience Work? 1080 721 Jason Lauritsen

When I was 14 years old, my dad quit his job. It was a job he’d had since I was born.

He didn’t quit because he’d accepted another job. He quit because his boss asked him to compromise his integrity.  Let me explain.

As a cattle buyer, my dad’s customers were the farmers and ranchers who lived within driving distance of our home. He’d known many of these people for a decade or longer. This was a business that ran on relationships and trust. Deals are made with one’s word and a handshake. Contracts come later, but they were really just a formality.

One cold winter morning, dad had made a deal to buy some cattle from a customer based on the information he’d been given at the start of the day. When he called in the deal to his boss, he was told that he needed to go back to the customer with a different, lower-buy price. In other words, my dad was told to go back on his word.

It’s important to note that my dad really disliked his boss. Thirty years later, I still remember the guy’s name because Dad had talked so much about him when I was growing up (and not in a good way).

Instead of going back on his word with his customer, he called my mom to tell her to get ready to drive the 150 miles on slick, icy roads to pick him up because he was going to turn in his car and quit his job.

There was no backup plan. A line had been crossed. Dad could put up with working for an a-hole, but his integrity wasn’t for sale.

The following weeks were a little crazy. My mom’s desire for stability and low risk meant that her stress level went through the roof. I thought for sure our family was going to move out of state, so I was preparing mentally for that reality.

But then he found another job locally where he could do what he was good at, make similar money, and be much happier.

For those who know me well, this story probably helps explain a few things about why I think about work in some of the ways that I do. There are so many lessons that I took and internalized from this experience.

  • Never compromise your integrity. Your word is everything.
  • Bad bosses cause a negative ripple effect at home.
  • Quitting your job is never fatal. Things will work out.
  • Change is good.

These lessons, probably because of my age, became part of me. They are deeply ingrained into how I have approached and thought about work throughout my career. Fortunately for me, the lessons were all good ones that have helped guide me in a pretty remarkable way.

I started thinking about this recently after listening to a podcast episode of Sacred Conversations on Work. The podcast is hosted by Carol Ross, a colleague and really wonderful coach, and her guest is my friend Sara Martin Rauch, COO of WELCOA.

Much of the episode is about how Sara’s experience of watching what a terrible job did to accelerate her dad’s addiction, abuse, and other destructive behavior. She found her calling to do the work she does today in part because she lived through that trauma and turmoil and wanted to prevent it from happening to others.  It’s a powerful story. I recommend you check out the episode.

So what?

On an individual level, to find our way to a healthy relationship with work, we need to understand what we are bringing to the table. If one of your parents was fired or laid off when you were a kid, you might have some trust issues with any employer. If a parent was harassed or demeaned regularly by their manager, you might carry some pretty negative baseline emotions about managers in general.

I sometimes wonder in what ways I am biasing my kids’ perception of what work is. As far as my kids know, “work” means sitting on the couch in your pajamas, typing on your laptop, or going to the airport to fly someplace and speak to people. It also means no boss. They might have a tough time joining the traditional working world.

I’d encourage you to spend some time reflecting on your memories of what work meant for your parents as you grew up. What stories do you remember? What impact did your parents’ jobs have in your life? By being aware of these things, it might help you either navigate around negative mindsets or lean into the lessons that are more positive. It might even help you identify a barrier that’s been preventing you from getting farther ahead in your career.

As a manager, it is always valuable to know more about your people. Every single person on your team has some biases and mindsets about work that they didn’t chose but learned through what they observed growing up. This can be either positive or negative. In either case, it’s good to know because it impacts how they will experience work and you as their leader.

On occasion, asking your people about when and where they grew up can lead to a conversation about their parents. Don’t push if they don’t want to talk about it, but people are often very open to sharing their story. Listen closely when they do and ask them what they think they learned about work from watching their parents.

So, how did your parents’ work experience shape how you feel about work today?  

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The Blindspot in Employee Engagement
The Blindspot in Employee Engagement 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

A couple years ago, as my wife and I were returning home from an employee engagement conference where I had spoken, she said something to me that I didn’t fully understand at the time.

I remember it sounding something like this.

“The content here was good, but it was all focused on the happy, positive side of being human at work. Where’s the conversation about all of the hard, painful stuff that humans bring with them to work? Why wasn’t anyone talking about that?”

I agreed with her because she’s always right (joking, kind of). But, the gravity of her wisdom didn’t set in with me until much later.

As I started to pay closer attention to the conversations happening about making the workplace more human, I started to notice what she was talking about. Most of the focus is on how to create a more connected, inclusive, mindful, nourishing, affirming work experience for employees.

All great stuff. All important stuff. Do that.

The problem, however, is that humans carry with us a lot of baggage when we show up to work each day. Regardless of how much we try to convince ourselves of the separation between work and life, it’s a lie.

Life is everywhere and everything we experience is life. Work is just one place where life happens.

Remember, work for employees is a relationship. The test of a good relationship is how you show up when things aren’t so good. The friendships that sustain are with those who are not only around when it’s time to celebrate, they also show up when things are hard (through an illness or breakup, etc.). It’s how they show up in these moments that creates the commitment and loyalty that lasts.

The same is true of the work relationship. It’s great that you celebrate victories and birthdays and new childbirths, but how do you show up during hardship and tragedy? That’s where the rubber meets the road.

This came into stark focus for me last week when I attended and spoke at the WELCOA Summit, the premier event for workplace wellness professionals. It seems that while most of us focus on creating the shining, happy workplace where all humans are welcome, these wellness champions are the ones worrying about the not so shiny, not so happy reality of being human.

The opening keynote by Mettie Spiess is a shining example of what I now realize is the real work of creating a truly human workplace. She sharing her gut-wrenching personal story of losing both of her brothers to suicide and of her own experience of living with mental illness. Her life’s purpose is to create a world without suicide. And she believes that’s possible, but not unless we make some major changes.

The statistics on suicide and mental health in the U.S. are alarming, to put it lightly.

Here’s the truth. Even if you have created an amazing, engaging workplace–these stats make clear that there are people walking through the door at your workplace each day who are silently suffering, maybe fighting a solo battle for their survival.

The bad news is that they aren’t likely to find much support at work because we aren’t looking for them. It’s easy to ignore the realities of mental illness unless you or someone you love is living with it. And to make matters worse, there’s such a negative stigma around mental illness (i.e. “I didn’t know you were crazy”) that it rarely feels safe to ask for help–even when there’s some sort of structure in place to do so.

One of the core messages I took from Mettie is that we must dramatically raise awareness and kill the stigma around mental health. To do this, we have to be very intentional in our efforts around education and awareness of mental illness and suicide in the workplace.

But beyond that, she reinforced the importance and power of authentic human connection and compassion to break some of these cycles. The CDC identified social connectedness as a key factor in the prevention of suicide. Fostering the creation and formation of healthy relationships through work could literally save someone’s life.

But, so too can showing care and concern. Simply paying attention to others and asking “how are you doing?” can make all the difference. This seems so simple and obvious but is easy to neglect in our steadfast commitment to being “busy” all the time.

Suicide and mental health probably feel pretty uncomfortable to read about, let alone talk about. I know. For me too.

But I think this is the essence of the work to create truly “human” places of work. We must create a place where humans connect together to not only create work product together but also to find belonging and acknowledgment and support–real support for both the good stuff and the bad.

Even the people in your work lives who seem to have it all together on the outside are probably struggling with something beneath the surface. It might not be mental illness or suicide, but it might be something that feels just as debilitating to them.

Maybe they are experiencing burnout.

Or maybe they are suffering abuse at the hands of an intimate partner. (20 people per minute are abused by an intimate partner in the U.S. and some of them work for you.)

Many are suffering from serious financial stress. One study reveals that 1 in 4 Americans suffers from PTSD like symptoms caused by financial stress.

The list goes on. Life is hard and the challenges are real.

If we are going to create a truly “human” company, this is the hard work. It’s not enough to simply focus on appreciation and connection and encouragement. We must also make room and provide support for the other side of the human equation.

Creating an engaging work experience for employees is meaningful, important work. But, changing or saving someone’s life is a whole different level of impact that we can and should have on the people who we employ.

Not sure where to start? Let’s chat. I’ll help nudge you in the right direction.

Oh, and how are you?  If you are struggling and need to talk, please reach out.

For more great reading on this topic, check out my friend Rachel Druckenmiller’s summary post about the WELCOA Summit. It’s full of goodness.

Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255 or Suicide Prevention Lifeline