WORKPLACE WISDOM FROM LINDY KARNS
I am 65 years old. An impossible age, one I never thought to see. To many of you, this must seem hopelessly irrelevant. How to define this time in life? First, people my age are baby boomers (that used to be cool, now synonymous with someone who will suck all the dollars out of the social security system). I am a grandmother (this IS cool). Most importantly, I am a worker, and 55 years in the workplace. Longevity alone gives me some bragging rights to have acquired a few bits of wisdom. These I hope to share, with the caveat that most people find their way in any event, and pick and choose what might work for you.
YOU ARE NOT IRREPLACEABLE or INDISPENSABLE
Once a year, in the spring, when all the plants are new and fresh, I go to Lexington Cemetery, sit on a bench, and remind myself of this. Graveyards are absolutely chock-full of indispensable people, yet the earth continues to spin on its axis and the sun rises in the east. Don’t give up your child’s school play, your hair appointment or lunch with your BFF because you are irreplaceable. You may be important, and even necessary to a work project, but you are neither irreplaceable nor indispensable.
Do not wake up at 3AM and writhe over a mistake. Having grown up with a parent who believed mistakes were malignant and unforgiveable, I accepted the responsibility for mistakes I made, mistakes others made, mistakes that almost happened and mistakes that didn’t make any difference. Finally, an employer helped relieve me (somewhat) from this sleep-stealer. He said, more or less, yes, you made a mistake. So, should I fire you and hire someone who will never make a mistake? Do you know where I might find this person? Ah, humanity, is so hard to accept.
Many deadlines are fake. You will stay up all night to get something done, and on the boss’ desk by 6AM, only to find that she didn’t read it for two more days. Yes, this will happen over and over again. Since deadlines are set by other people, not by us, it is hard to sort fake deadlines from real ones. Try to feel the pulse of a deadline and do not kill yourself for nothing. Communication is key here.
SOME PEOPLE ARE NOT WORTH IT
People who consistently raise their voice at you, curse at you, make you feel small, insignificant or stupid are not worth it. You do not have to put up with it at work. If the offending party is your boss, find another job. If the bad actor is a coworker, complain. If it is a client/customer, ponder how badly you need their business. They will not get better. Now, we can all forgive the occasional lapse in behavior of others, but constant, mind numbing abuse….run fast and far.
BE GRATEFUL, ESPECIALLY WHEN IT IS EASY
All of us have tucked into our desk a note someone wrote us, an e mail that we received, or some other memento that made us feel good and appreciated, and which we revisit when we need a boost. There is nothing like the feeling that someone noticed your efforts (see irreplaceable and indispensable, above), your looks or just your overall shining character. So, why not spread the wealth? A quick note of acknowledgement, of thanks, or of sympathy will make you feel better as well as the recipient. After all, you can’t do good without getting some on you. I used to keep a journal on gratitude, three things a day. You may not have to write it down but try to feel it, at least several times a day.
Figure out what it is you are selling, and even more importantly, what you are not. For example, organized…I am not. Coworkers have done “office makeovers” while I was on vacation. We are a hopeful people, and we believe we can improve, but if you can’t, just give up, hire someone, and do what you are good at doing. The dividends are much bigger.
Find someone who will be a confidant and cheerleader. Maybe that person is your spouse. My spouse generally sees a confidence as an opportunity for instruction, usually not what I am looking for at that moment. If you are looking for an opportunity to vent; a sharp intake of breath validating how ill you have been treated, or just someone to use that soothing phrase, “you are right”, get a good friend, whose only investment is in you, and keep them. Try to reciprocate.
SKIP THE JUDGEMENT
New flash: other people will let you down. They will also surprise and delight you. You can’t get one without the other, but there is some natural tendency to focus on the former. If you are negative about others you will be negative about yourself. Recognize their flaws, and yours, but find acceptance. Don’t ask an unorganized person to organize something (see YOUR BRAND) and then hate them when it doesn’t work. Everyone has aces and spaces. Play to the aces.
DRESS THE PART
The rules are all different, and every employer struggles with what is professional attire. No one, not even the most bold among us wants to approach someone and tell them their clothes are inappropriate. So, own at least one power outfit….you know what that means, I bet you recognize it when you see it! Black dresses don’t cost much, and they always look good. Keep a blazer at work in case you get called into a meeting and want to look polished. Cheap shoes and cheap purses are telling. Make an investment for these, plus, your feet will love you too.
TELL THE TRUTH…At LEAST WHEN IT MATTERS
Once I had to take a test for a job, and one of the questions was: If you lost an important piece of paper would you a) immediately tell your supervisor; b) look everywhere you can think of c) pretend you never had it. What kind of question is that? Of course, b), then a) would be my answer, but don’t think c) wouldn’t cross my mind! Point is, it isn’t always easy or convenient to be truthful. Sometimes it can also be unkind, and unnecessary. When telling the truth matters, and is important, you just have to, even if it has negative repercussions, because I can’t think of anyone who likes a liar.
Yes, you have it. You earn political capital by doing a good job, being a good friend, volunteering, yes, even working out. You can choose how to spend it. In the workplace, it is mighty tempting to squander it. I don’t like my seat, why don’t we have tab in the refrigerator, and the thousand little things that annoy us and then, we use to annoy others. Save it up, hoard it, and spend it on something important….raises, promotions, bonuses. Try to keep a good gauge on just how much political capital you have.
POLITICAL CAPITAL IN RELATIONSHIPS
Many of us demand a lot of ourselves, and in turn, we are prone to demand a lot of others. Never try to spend chips you don’t have. If you have good friends, don’t always share the hard times with them, let them share your positive moments. I had a good friend in my same profession and we went through a period where we kept trying to one up each other with the “awfuls”. Finally, we realized we weren’t enjoying our time together because we were only reliving bad times…so we took up flower arranging.
NEVER ATTRIBUTE TO MALICE THAT WHICH IS ADEQUATELY EXPLAINED BY STUPIDITY
A great quote by Robert Hanlon, and one that I try to keep at the ready. People don’t generally want to hurt others, or go out of their way to do so. If you run into someone like that, flee. Don’t get your feelings hurt over imagined slights or perceived injustices. If someone doesn’t speak to you, maybe they just didn’t see you, had just gotten a piece of bad news, or were otherwise distracted. If you were left off a list, maybe it was a computerized program and they just changed software (usually doesn’t happen with the IRS). If you aren’t particularly sensitive, thank God for that. If you are sensitive, please try to find other explanations to a perception of malice, as why make yourself feel badly about someone’s ill intent when they probably didn’t have any?
Contemporary business is about fear of liability, risk management, but relationships should and can transcend that. “I love you”, “You are the best” may be higher rated, but “I owe you an apology” is also sweet to hear…”I will fix it” is even sweeter.
I am sorry you are upset is not an apology. It is an acknowledgment. Sometimes that is enough, but mostly it is not. The words “I am sorry” are also hard to choke out, even if you are sort of sorry.
At work, try these:
“I am sorry about this, how can I make it right?” It is general enough not to have claimed specific responsibility, and enough ownership to satisfy. If you feel responsibility, own it.
For example: “You know, I hate to make mistakes, particularly when it impacts you, an important customer, a boss, a friend, fill in the blank.”
Personally, try: “I wouldn’t have hurt you for the world. How can I help to make this right?” If this is true, it is easy to say and hopefully easy to make right. Sometimes, we just absolutely are not aware of the impact of our behavior on others.
WHEN YOU GET DOWN TO IT
What makes you successful is basically treating other people the way you would like to be treated, and doing it more often than not. None of us is perfect, none of us offers enough praise, apologizes enough, worries too little, is grateful enough, or colors inside the lines all the time. Mostly right is good, whether it is the mostly right job, you married Mr. Mostly Right, or your children are mostly right. The perfect is the enemy of the good, be kind to yourself, and to others, and you will do well.