The Easiest Way to Not be a Jerk in Meetings

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

What sets you off? Frustrates you? Clouds your vision so much that what you know you should do goes out the window and subconscious reactions kick in?

We all have triggers and they bring out the worst in us at work because triggers are the things that make us feel ignored. Undervalued. Unappreciated. Sometimes they go deeper and hit at our core, and then we feel shame, worthlessness, guilt. 

Naming our triggers is critical to professional growth.

I know mine. It's taken years to figure them out + be humble enough to accept that this is who I am and these triggers have an impact on how I behave. They are:

  • Being excluded from a decision
  • Having my intelligence challenged
  • Feeling left out

By knowing our triggers, we can shut off negative responses at the source, because we're able to label exactly what is wrong. Instead of snapping at someone or ignoring them (my two most common reactions when I am triggered), when I feel the urge to behave that way, I take a few seconds to identify WHY.

And the answer is always that I've been triggered. 

Which usually means I'm feeling that someone isn't listening to me or respecting my intelligence, but sometimes I have to admit that I'm feeling left out and want to take it out on the other person. 

The danger is that most people don't know (or won't accept) their triggers.

I see it daily, and here's what it looks like: 

  • Shutting down in a meeting, refusing to say anything else because the group isn't listening
  • Pushing for ideas too hard and purposely causing friction and calling others out in order to not be seen as the one who messed up
  • Not answering emails on purpose because of the fear that the answer is wrong
  • Interrupting and challenging everyone in a meeting because that's equated with being the smartest or most important

Understanding your triggers takes a combination of maturity and humility. And it starts with this question: What are my self-doubts? When do I feel at my lowest?

Another indicator is your personality style. I love the DISC assessment, because it's easy to interpret and put into action. And knowing what quadrant you're in gives insight into the behaviors that could set you off (so if you're struggling to peel away the layers of your personality and the baggage of life because it feels too scary, start with DISC).

Self-awareness is critical to professional growth. It's also critical to keeping yourself from flying off the handle andbeing a jerk and calling your boss a crazy person in the next team meeting. Because I can guarantee that won't help you grow professionally either.

 

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Tess Ausman is the founder of CLT Leads, LLC, a virtual leadership development company that transforms overachieving young professionals into confident, self-aware leaders. She is passionate about the soft skills that it takes to grow a career: self-awareness, empathy, and a healthy dose of humilty. Check her out at www.instagram.com/thecltleads too.

A Mindset Hack to Get You Back on Track in the New Year

If it was easy then everyone would do it. 

A friend told me this as I was explaining how lately I've been in the valley of despair with being an entrepreneur. I've been letting imposter syndrome and self-defeating thoughts run rampant.

I don't really know as much as I think I do

Who am I to share about how to do anything?

No one is really paying attention on social media

I'll never be able to successfully launch a product

All because I'm not succeeding as fast as I think I should be. I'm not meeting my own, unrealistic expectations and instead have been choosing to compare myself against all the successful entrepreneurs out there who seemingly have it all together and are making all the $$$. 

Or at least them SEEM to be. Right?

We do this at work too you guys. 

We compare ourselves to those with higher titles and better cars and think that we'll never be as successful as they are. We watch someone present in a meeting and wonder why we can't be just as influential. We get constructive feedback and take it to mean we will never be able to be a rock star in our current role because if our boss disagrees with one thing we do then everything-I-do-must-be-flawed-and-I-will-never-be-able-to-get-a-raise-or-that-promotion-now.

It's so hard to overcome these thoughts, especially if you're pessimistic by nature or hold yourself to an extremely high standard (guilty). 

I used to beat myself up for beating myself up (ironic, I know) and that made it worse (shocker). But over time I've learned to lean into those feelings of imposter syndrome and self-defeat and label them. 

What am I feeling in this moment? Why? Is it true?

It takes seconds to do this. Longer if I'm going to write it down. Sometimes I do it while walking to another meeting. Or getting water. Or heating up my lunch. You get the picture.

And it works. Because by acknowledging these feelings I'm exposing them and proving they're false. 

Because feelings aren't facts. 

Most of us go through our day at work thinking that feelings are actually facts though, and we let that guide how we interact with others and treat ourselves. And that's why we're quick to anger, even quicker to get frustrated, and ultimately decide that we hate our job and can't stand showing up to work.

It's a new year and we're all trying to be better versions of ourselves because a new year holds so much promise that we can tackle anything and be all the things and do all the things. I've repeated my friend's statement probably one hundred times since that day because though I'm not feeling that rejuvenated by the new year just yet, I'm getting there.

And if you're struggling to get there too, then work on asking yourself those questions.

What am I feeling in this moment? Why? Is it true?

They'll give you perspective and clear your head. And if that doesn't work, then flip someone off under the table during a meeting and I promise that will make everything feel better. Sometimes we just have to do what it takes friends.

Four Ways to Make Your Monday Amazing

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When I was a high school teacher I dreaded Mondays. I would spend most of my Sunday afternoons worrying, stressing and complaining. That mindset left me exhausted and I rarely felt refreshed and optimistic about the week. 

I was my own worst enemy. 

Ten years later a lot has changed. I've had two careers. I've now got two young children (which leaves me little time to even think about Monday in between keeping everyone fed / wiping noses / dealing with tantrums). I've grown up. 

But most importantly, what I've learned since that time in my life is that I am in charge of my mindset if I want my Monday to be amazing. 

Not my boss. Not my husband. Not my workload.

Realizing that was a huge step because I felt empowered to change my mindset instead of relying on others to do it for me. So I started doing things differently, and it quickly made a difference.

I started practicing self-care. I know what helps me feel relaxed: cooking, exercising, laying on the couch and watching TV (no shame in that game). So instead of denying these things to myself, I've leaned into them because they make happier. Which means Monday can't get me down. 

I cleared our calendar. Packing Sundays with events left our family feeling frantic and rushed at the end of the day and then I would go to bed feeling stressed and empty. Now I'm intentional about what we let into our Sundays. And because of that the day is slow, moves at a relaxed pace, and I feel recharged and ready to take on the week.

I created a gratitude list. I'm a pessimist at heart. It's something I work to overcome and if I'm not careful the negative thoughts go crazy on Sunday afternoons. I'm never going to get anything done. I can't believe I have that meeting on Monday. I feel so tired already. Intentionally having gratitude puts me in a better state of mind. And that carries over when I wake up the next day. 

I organized my Monday ... on Friday. Every Friday afternoon I look at my calendar for the next week and make a to-do list so that when I sit at my desk Monday morning, it's all there. I'm not playing catch-up at 8:00am because I already know what's on my plate. I'm not anxious on Sunday because I've forgotten what the upcoming week holds.

Running blindly into Monday means the day will run us, but successful people don't let that happen. Instead of running blindly through the weekend, letting others dictate your schedule, identify what's most important and what you need to feel your best. Then do that and watch your Monday be amazing.

The Best Personal Development Lesson I Ever Learned

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I started my career in public education. There was barely enough money for supplies for my high school classroom, and even though it was the dawn of the age of computers in education, I had an overhead projector instead of being able to project my computer. One year I had 35 students in a rectangular, single-wide trailer (aka my classroom). Picture sardines using pencils. Heaven help anyone who needed to get to the door for a bathroom break.

When I changed course and started working in HR, I found myself in the world of discount retail. We were a small team that wore multiple hats. We developed our own leadership training and talent development programs (when you work in discount retail you cultivate a "do it yourself" mindset pretty quickly). We would walk to the ice cream shop next door for "team building" and started a book club to learn more about leadership development because there wasn't money to go to conferences or join professional organizations.

And though I'm sure it would have been nice to spend my career working at places where we had all the money to do all the things ...

.... maybe it actually wouldn't have been that great.

Because one of the best things my career has taught me is how to be resourceful.

It's an inner resourcefulness - attitude, determination, innovation, courage - that has transformed how I show up at work each day.

Resourcefulness taught me self-reliance. Not enough money to pay a consultant to come in and create a high potential development program? I'll teach myself. I'll read all the free articles that the Harvard Business Review will allow, reach out to connections on LinkedIn who are running successful programs, and read the whole internet until I find published agendas from other HiPo programs around the world. And guess what? It worked.

It also taught me to be proactive. It never occurred to put my dreams and goals for my students on hold just because there wasn't money. When I wanted a new resource for my classroom, I researched until I figured out how to make it myself or found a similar free version that I could modify to meet my needs. If I couldn't make it, I built a case and didn't stop trying to convince others, even when I heard "It's not in the budget this year." I learned to believe that I was resourceful enough, I could make anything work, and to never let an obstacle defeat me.

And over time I became more creative. When you're resourceful, you have to think outside the box. I'm highly organized, a critical thinker, and an excellent list writer (if list writing competitions were a thing I'd medal for sure), and because of that, in the beginning of my career I struggled with anything requiring creativity and innovation. But after years of working on this muscle - after forcing myself to imagine crazy possibilities in addition to the practical ones because it was the only way I was going to get what I wanted - I became better at it.

The more I used these muscles, the stronger they became. I found myself with the courage to start my own business even though I had zero capital and no marketing knowledge. I took on talent planning for a new organization without ever actually having done it on my own. I taught myself how to use instructional design programs (can I get an amen for YouTube tutorials and free trials?) that would improve my skill set and make me more marketable.

Simply put, I started believing I could do anything.

What Are You Doing to Be More Productive?

Yesterday I struggled with focus. My mind was everywhere.

Design this class. And that class. Create a catchy title and description for an upcoming manager session. Send out calendar invites. Start prepping for upcoming important meetings. Answer incoming emails and help someone work through an urgent talent management system question. Catch up on Twitter and LinkedIn and Forbes Leadership articles.

Oh, and just that little pesky thing I'm creating on the side that I like to call start your own business.

One thing I really like about myself is that I generate great ideas and then execute on them. It makes me an effective instructional designer and talent development guru.

But it also hurts my productivity because my brain bounces in so many directions and I often start one thing, move on to something else, but then feel inspired by a song I'm listening to or a Twitter post I read and stop everything to write down the idea.

And then I get exhausted because my brain is spinning in so many directions and frustrated because I don't have a work output to show for the energy I've put into the day. Sound familiar to anyone?

On my best days there are a few things I do to keep myself focused.

I've figured out that I'm most creative in the morning and that constantly checking social media takes time out of my creative block. I know that I feel a sense of urgency to reply to emails, so checking constantly makes me less productive. I know that I need to set up my day each morning if I want feel successful.

I also do these things:

Block time. I need time to think. Regroup. Eat a snack. On a day filled with meetings or a looming to do list, I divide my calendar into chunks. I might schedule 30 minutes to myself before an important meeting or in between back to back meetings. Or block an hour of time to work on something in particular. If it's on my calendar, it holds more weight than if it's in a bulleted list in my notebook.

Identify "in the zone" windows. I'm at my best in the mornings. Because I know that, I choose to do the hard things in the mornings - the things that take the most energy or thought or creativity. I'm also my most nervous in the mornings, so if I have to schedule an important meeting, I'll put it after lunch. That way I can prepare in the morning (when I'm most productive).

Walk around. As the afternoon goes on, I get less and less productive. I stare at my to do list and then decide to search on Amazon for something I obviously desperately need to survive. When I hit the reset button every hour in the afternoon, my focus improves. I have something to look forward to and when I sit back down, I've given myself permission to switch gears and work on something else. It's when I've been sitting at my desk for hours that I lose all ability to be productive and convince myself that online shopping or social media is a better use of time.

Connect. When I'm struggling with focus or getting stuff done, it might seem counter intuitive, but if talk to my coworkers, the connection that's made leaves me feeling refreshed. It doesn't have to be a deep conversation (I'm introvert and those are painful ) - it just needs to reset my brain so that when I sit back down I'm recommitted to getting something done.

It's taken years for me to realize and commit to doing the things that make me productive. On my best days I practice all of these tips, and on my worst days I give myself grace (because I'm human and mess up) when I'm unproductive because I didn't follow my own advice.

Self-awareness is a key component to effective leadership and an easy way to practice it is to understand what it takes to be at your peak of productivity. Without this, we glide through the day on autopilot, feel like we've been pulled in twenty different directions, leave work exhausted, and then go to bed feeling like there's nothing to show for it. 

When We Show Up

What do you want to be known for? What values and traits are most important to you?

We all have different answers to these questions, but these answers have something in common: they all come from a place of good intentions.

I can guarantee you weren't thinking -

"I want to be known for throwing others under the bus. And for having low integrity. Oh! And I also want to be known for being rude and unfriendly.

-or-

"I value being passive aggressive. And making others feel like they're not good enough because I don't like them."

How we show up matters.

On our best days, we think about how we're showing up - we are intentionally kind, choose our words and tone carefully, think something through before we say it. (And on our very very best days, we might even think: How will this make the other person feel?)

But on our worst days? Pessimism, frustration, stress, or negative events can all dictate how we treat others. It happens subconsciously and as a result, we don't even think about we're being perceived, don't see a problem with our behavior, or worse - don't even care.

Once these emotions come out and start controlling our actions, it's hard to stop. That's where these questions come in.

Asking yourself: What do I want to be known for? and What values and traits are most important to me? are centering. They create pause, help to set an intention, and make us proactive, instead of reactive, to feelings.

Taking one minute to think through these questions works, and it works any time: Before getting out of bed, walking into an intense meeting, or talking to that annoying coworker who needs extra direction and guidance. While responding to a rude email, participating in a team brainstorm session, or dealing with a random drive-by while trying to get something really important done.

Here's what it looks like in action:

  • It's the weekly team meeting- no one really gets along and your manager is talking down to everyone for not hitting numbers and as a result there is finger pointing and blame being passed around. Instead of joining in, the intention could be: I want to be seen as flexible and a team player here, someone who is willing to do whatever it takes to get the team back on track. I value integrity and collaboration.
  • It's Monday morning and you're expected to stop working when new hires are brought around for introductions - but something blew up over the weekend and you're trying to get back on track and answer all the emails that came in Sunday night. Instead of just giving a quick smile, barely looking away from your computer, or even worse, ignoring them (thinking, why does it even matter if I say hello and act nice), the intention could be: I value friendliness and want to be seen as someone who cares about others and puts people first. I want to be known for making others feel good about themselves. I don't want to be known for being the standoff-ish one who is always too busy to say hello.

How we show up matters. Be intentional about it.

The "F" Word

Feelings.

There, I said it.

Most of us have been conditioned to not discuss how we’re feeling at work. Maybe we’ve had leaders who didn’t do it, so we grew up in the workplace thinking it was taboo. Or our current boss judged us for sharing something pretty personal so we shut down and stopped altogether. Or we don’t even think about it because we’re by nature introverted or results focused and could care less about uncovering how someone is feeling.

In Gallup’s 2016 State of the American Workplace report, only 21% of employees say they are managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work. If you have a team of four, that’s one person. One.

We can’t live like this.

Motivating employees is an art, but it all boils down to one thing: the need to be noticed. Ask me how I’m feeling – you’ve noticed me. Talk through goal setting and help me understand the strategic plan – you’ve noticed me. Give me feedback (positive or constructive) – you’ve noticed me.

When we don’t discuss feelings, we are leaving out a critical part of motivating an employee. Being able to openly share is a gift, and it doesn’t come naturally for a lot of teams, which means it’s up to the leader to ask the right questions.

·        What’s been your biggest success this week? What are you most proud of?

·        How are you feeling about __ project right now? Why is that?

·        What can I do to help you feel that your work is meaningful?

·        What in your work is really inspiring right now?

·        What are your top work values? How are they being met right now?

Feelings. We all have them, yet at work we pretend not to have them. We sit in 1:1s with our boss and say everything is fine, or don’t share about the big personal issue at home that’s affecting our ability to concentrate, or see our boss’s poker face all the time and think that’s the only way we’re supposed to be.

Or, we want to share but are never given the chance.

There's a new "F" word on the block. And using it could make all the difference.

The Struggle is Real

Four years ago I became a mom. I had changed only a handful of diapers in my life and was never a babysitter growing up, but I thought for sure that motherhood was going to be easy, that I would quickly learn how to feed, bathe and change my daughter and then everything would be smooth sailing.

Ha.

The first four months of my daughter's life found us parenting a baby with colic and acid reflux. This meant she cried every time she ate, every time she was uncomfortable, every time she felt like it (so, 5+ hours a day for roughly 120 days). And suddenly I was forced to learn an entirely new set of skills that I had rarely ever practiced before, both personally or professionally (truthfully I thought I was already good at them):

Flexibility. Patience. Not always being right.

The crying was brutal. Just when I thought I'd mastered the "thing" to make her stop , it would stop working. The different reflux treatments we tried each took time to gauge its effectiveness - there wasn't one single thing that immediately made a difference - because babies aren't robots and there isn't a one size fits all solution (try telling that to a sleep deprived mom who is barely eating or showering).

My over-achieving, A player, smarty pants personality could barely handle it. I was wrong often. Forced to be flexible, bending to her needs every hour, giving up plans with friends to stay home. Patiently waiting out the crying. Patiently waiting for the new medicine to show results.

And isn't this just like being a manager for the first time? We promote employees to lead others because they seemingly have it all together. They know the subject matter and get great results, so because of that, they'll be great at managing, right? Read a few books, ask for advice from a few trusted sources ... the rest will be easy.

That's certainly what I thought about motherhood.

Managing people requires flexibility. Patience. Not always being right. And new managers have a hard time with that. Weren't they promoted for always being right? Taking charge and fixing things? Suddenly they're being asked to step back and get results through others. That's tough on the ego if you've been the one doing all the things and getting all the results for your entire career.

Without a good leader to emulate and a mentor to coach and develop, most new managers find themselves in the same situation as motherhood found me: forced to learn new skills in the moment and pushing back on the self-awareness that inside was telling me to "slow down, be flexible, have patience, try again."

We promote employees who are good at their jobs, rarely wondering if they're good with people. Yet we're surprised when they are miserable and the team starts complaining about being micro-managed or not managed enough.

No one is surprised when a first time mom admits she is struggling, so why are we surprised when a first time manager admits it? The assumption is that the employee, having had the magic wand of promotion waved over them, will suddenly know how to manage people. Schedule a 1:1 (aka learn how to feed and change the baby) and everything else falls into place.

I realized I needed a huge support system (still do) when I became a mom four years ago, but it took me months of misery to put my ego aside and reach out for help. It's a guarantee that the same thing is happening to new managers. The only difference is they're probably showering every day.

Why Does it Matter?

If you had to list your top values and how describe how each one is being met at work, could you do it?

Most people can't.

Think about a time something at work didn't feel right -

  • A colleague threw you under the bus in order to take the credit on saving a big account from cancelling
  • Your boss didn't recognize you for the revenue-generating project you spent months leading
  • No one on your team collaborates, instead preferring to work independently and in a silo
  • Overtime is often expected, and it comes at the expense of missing important family events

Why are some situations bigger triggers than others?

This is where values come in.

Our values are our personal bottom line.

They are our parameters for decision making and the principles by which we operate (I wish I could take credit for this line, but it's from The Leadership Challenge, which every manager should read).

When we don't know our values, we say things like "I'm unhappy at work but I can't pinpoint why" or "I don't know what would make me happy." We wallow in self-pity because we aren't empowered to change the situation. We job hop because we can't define exactly what we want, but maybe the next job has it. Guess what? It never does.

When we consciously know our values and someone acts with low integrity, or we don't feel needed and appreciated, or don't feel like part of the team, we can pinpoint exactly what's wrong.

Knowing personal values can help articulate why we stay (or leave) a job. It improves communication with our manager about how we want to grow (or explain why we don't want that promotion, because not everyone values growth). It identifies what we will (and won't) put up with at work.

There are a lot of great online resources to help determine personal values. A favorite of mine is from MindTools and can be found here. After going through this exercise, code each value with either a red, yellow, or green highlighter:

  • Red - this value is not being met and probably will never be
  • Yellow - this value is not being met but there's hope
  • Green - this value is being met

Then, let it marinate.

Why do you stay at your job? Why are you happy? Or are you unhappy? Why did <insert latest annoying behavior from a colleague here> get under your skin so much last week?

Let your values be your guide.

Creating a Sense of Belonging

I've talked to a few friends recently who either don't feel like they have friends at the office or don't want to get a new job because they don't want to struggle at building relationships. It made me think about how difficult it can be to have colleagues become friends, but it's critical to feeling a sense of belonging at work. Otherwise, who can we bounce ideas off of, vent to when we're having a hard day, or share successes with?

I have a colleague who refuses to share anything personal about herself at work. She keeps a wall up and to others it comes across as rude and unfriendly. And guess what? She feels like others don't understand her and that no one supports the work she does. Guess how often she's willing to go above and beyond for people? 

We don't have to make work colleagues our best friends (though at one job I had that and it did wonders for my engagement), but creating relationships and building a sense of belonging is critical to engagement. It's also a crucial skill for leaders (I call this interpersonal savvy), because employees need to see their boss as "real" and not just a work robot. 

If you're struggling to build relationships at work, try one of these tips: 

Ask someone out to lunch. It seems simple, but introverts rarely do this. Getting off campus to learn about someone you work with creates friendly, casual conversation. If it feels out of your comfort zone, start with someone on your team (And if you've got direct reports, then please, please start with them. Going to lunch with other colleagues and never going to lunch with direct reports sends a bad message). Then, ask someone from another department, telling them that you're trying to learn more about the business. 

Start doing informal drive-by conversations. When I am trying to establish a relationship with a colleague, I will pop over to their desk to say good morning or ask how they're doing. It doesn't have to be a long conversation, but I'm betting that the more you do this, the longer the conversations will become, because you'll discover more and more things to talk about. 

Ask questions. I'm guilty of only focusing on myself in a conversation - what I've got going on, what's not working well, what I'm doing this weekend. Flip the script and stop talking! Ask open-ended questions (people love to talk about themselves). You'll learn more about the person and they'll think you're a great conversationalist because they got to share about their life.

Ask for feedback or ideas. I've made some pretty good work friends by simply asking for feedback on a project I'm working on or getting their thoughts on a leadership topic. Using someone else's feedback builds trust and creates a support system. If you've found someone who willingly gives you feedback about your work (bonus points if they're not on your team or if you get that feedback over lunch or coffee) then you've found a friend. Trust me. 

Smile. Results-focused people rarely smile around the office. They're too focused on what's next on their task list or what went wrong in the afternoon project meeting. Looking people in the eye and smiling invites them to talk to you. My colleague who refuses to share about her personal life also rarely smiles at coworkers or makes small talk in the break room. If you have direct reports, how often are you smiling at them and inviting small talk? 

When I started working in HR I rarely did any of these things. They were learned behaviors that a mentor had to teach me and that I had to watch others doing. Now that I incorporate each of these into how I work, I have better relationships, and it makes my job easier. Try it.