Applying personal lessons to the professional world

HappinessProject_RightColumnGretchen Rubin, bestselling author and blogger on The Happiness Project, posted a fantastic article titled “5 Mistakes I Continue to Make in My Marriage.” The article describes five problem areas in her marriage the strategies she uses to address them.

While I was reading the article I found myself thinking about how her marriage challenges have parallels in the work environment. Not only are some of the processes similar, but the resolution strategies also apply.

Gretchen’s problem area #1: demanding gold stars. Gretchen says she’s a gold-star junkie. She likes her contributions to the house to be acknowledged and praised by her husband—and she used to feel unappreciated and frustrated when this didn’t happen. She changed this dynamic by being honest with herself about why she does these things. She realized that she handled some jobs around the house because they made her happy, not because they made someone else happy. Changing her mind frame sets her up for success, in her words, because she doesn’t expect her husband to respond in any particular way.

At work you can also feel the need for gold stars. For example, you take on completing a report because you want your boss to say “good job!” However, you’re likely to be disappointed if a culture of positive reinforcement doesn’t exist at your office. Stop and ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. I’d bet you complete your work or an extra project because you want to help out your team or someone else, not because you’re waiting for thanks or praise. Feel good about that! When you can clarify expectations and needs for positive reinforcement up front, there’s less disappointment.

Gretchen’s problem area #2: using a snappish tone. Gretchen states that she has a short fuse, something her husband doesn’t appreciate. She came to realize that if she’s hungry or cold, she gets crabby. Therefore, of course, she tries to tries to keep herself from being hungry or cold. And, when she notices herself getting crabby, she tries control her voice to keep it light and cheery instead of accusatory and impatient. She also tries to control her non-verbals and minds her facial expressions and body language.

Things happen at work that can make even the most patient person in the universe, well…crabby. Take time to notice what triggers your upset. Do you dislike clutter? Does it make you noticeably shorter with your coworker when you see that their desk is messy? Awareness is the first step. The second is to try to avoid putting yourself in situations where your triggers might be a problem. Of course, you might not always be able to do that so be mindful of how you’re acting and do your best to control your reaction.

Gretchen’s problem area #3: not showing enough consideration. Gretchen cites research showing that married people treat each other with less civility than they show others. She states that she’s working very hard on remembering basic considerations such not reading emails while talking to her husband on the phone.

This isn’t simply a married couple concern. It’s a human concern. We’ve become so accustomed to the technology that we’ve forgotten that it’s also a barrier to interpersonal communication. When someone walks into your office to talk to you that’s not an interruption to workflow–it’s an opportunity to engage. Engage. Stop typing. Engage.

Gretchen’s problem area # 4: score-keeping. Gretchen is a self-proclaimed score-keeper, always calculating who has done what. This can become what she calls “unconscious over-claiming” when you over-estimate your contributions relative to other people’s. So for example, Gretchen says she complains about the time she spends paying bills, but she overlooks the time her husband spends dealing with the car. From her point of view, we are far more aware of what we do than what other people do.

If you’re like me you just thought, “Oh wow, I do that…a lot.” This same process can happen in the workplace. Step back and remember that every employee is different and makes a different contribution to the organization, even if they have the same title. They are human beings with strengths and weaknesses that are unique. What each of us does is uniquely important to the success of the organization and each of us needs to complete our jobs for it all to work. In fact, I encourage you to learn the names of the janitorial staff…immediately. Trust me, if they didn’t clean your workspace at night, you’d be less productive. Say “thank you” instead of questioning what they do.

Gretchen’s problem area # 5: taking her husband for granted. Just as Gretchen finds it easy to overlook chores that her husband completes, she also says it’s easy to forget his many virtues and instead focus on his flaws. But if she steps back and thinks about it, she remembers all the things she loves about him. Gretchen is proud that her husband rarely speaks harshly, especially at times she finds it hard to resist using an irritable tone. She is working on letting go of petty annoyances and focusing on the good.

At work, don’t take anyone for granted either. This one seems simple but it’s just not. Say thank you. Say hello. Check in on people. Get to know them. If you make a mistake, apologize. If they need support, provide it. I’m lucky to be on the TDS Telecom Training team where folks get this – we really put each other first. I believe this is because TDS Telecom has a shared value to place team above self. When you’re working towards a common goal, as a team, with a team, it makes letting go of “petty annoyances” easier. It makes it fun, lasting, and rewarding. It’s meaningful. It’s authentic. And there’s simply no replacement for authentic.

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