What is the Impact of Stories on Participating with a Purpose? (part 1/3)

You may not realize it, yet you tell yourself hundreds of stories per day. I don’t mean bedtime stories with princes, princesses, dragons, and castles. I don’t mean stories that you share with others about what happened to you when you were a toddler, in college, or at the mall last week. I am referring to the dozens of stories that you tell yourself everyday to explain why something bad happened or why another person is behaving poorly. These are the stories that solidify your mindset in ways that do not help you raise your visibility in your organization and industry.

Unfortunately, in your organization, situations frequently occur that impact you in a negative way and colleagues often do not do what you expect them to do. To rationalize why these situations or behaviors occur, you create and tell yourself stories to help you explain the inexplicable. You may be telling yourself a story about a less-than-positive interaction you just had with your boss. You are likely getting all “storied-up” to explain why a colleague you just passed in the hallway ignored your greeting of “Hi!” You might remember a recent lunch where a colleague explained her version as to why a significant change in organizational structure was abruptly announced. “Well, if you ask me…” Sound familiar? Where do these stories which you and your colleagues tell yourselves (and sometimes others) come from?

Generally speaking, your stories come from two places – your ego and your inner critic. Your ego exists primarily in the external world and acts like a shield to protect your need for status, self-worth, and contribution. Your inner critic exists in your internal world and works to erode your self-confidence. Watch for parts 2 and 3 of the blog in the coming weeks for more helpful information on ego and inner critic.

Are You Too Busy?

You are being asked to do more, faster, and with too few resources. You feel as though you are doing the jobs of three people. Your Outlook calendar is triple-booked. Recurring acquisitions add new responsibilities with no additional resources. Consolidations and downsizing shift the jobs previously handled by your colleagues to you. You wish a magic wand existed to take away all of the urgent emails, last minute requests, and unexpected phone calls that are created by your colleagues.

You could establish agreements with colleagues on how to interact with one another in productive ways. This is a best practice used in project management when teams are about to embark on a new project. However, in day-to-day relationships that exist in fast-paced organizations, your role and responsibilities change often and agreements disappear faster than a rabbit in a hat.

Without a magic wand, it is difficult to control the behaviors of others. I am reminded of the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” You can spend all your time and expend all of your energy attempting to change the behaviors of others, without any likelihood of success. Plus, there are a lot more of them than you. Just as you think you may have made progress on modifying the disruptive behavior of a colleague, your colleague gets promoted! The best place to start is you – you and the stories you tell yourself about why you cannot participate.

What is the Difference Between Interacting and Participating?

Interact with Others is comprised of ways in which you can raise your visibility “one-to-one” with others. Unlike interaction, Participate with a Purpose is focused on “one-to-many” experiences with colleagues. Participating is comprised of activities where you raise your visibility when many of your colleagues are present.

Do you find the time to participate in activities where many of your colleagues are present? Are you known for never being around? Are you known for never being able to attend an activity sponsored by your organization or an industry affiliation group, for one reason or another? Do any of the following characteristics seem familiar to you when you think about participating with a purpose?

– You “no-show” for training classes, cancelling at the last minute because “something important” has come up.
– You claim that you can’t go to all-employee meetings because it is your busiest time of the ________ (week, month, quarter, year, decade, millennium).
– You always seem to have “important” meetings or conference calls scheduled during a company activity.
– You never attend an after-hours work activity as you always have to get home.

What is preventing you from participating in activities sponsored by your organization or industry affiliation group? Is your lack of participation a reflection of your mindset? Is it a mindset of just being too busy?

What is the Impact of Mindset on Participating with a Purpose?

The most dramatic symptom of our newly christened professional trauma stress disorder (PTSD) is the belief that “I can’t afford to be out of the office!” If you believe that this statement is true, “I can’t afford to be out of the office!” is at risk of becoming a mindset that hinders your ability to raise your visibility. Mindset is a habitual mental attitude that determines how you will interpret and respond to a situation.

You may hate Bruce Willis and scowl anytime you see one of his movies advertised. You might love eating out for lunch and organize your schedule to ensure you make this happen. You may hate conflict and do everything you can to avoid a confrontation Whatever your mindset may be, it is at risk of pre-determining how you interpret and respond to a situation.

Once “I can’t afford to be out of the office!” becomes your mindset, it becomes your way of interpreting and responding to opportunities to participate in your organization and industry. You start to believe you cannot get out of your office or workstation. You start to accept that you do not need to participate in activities at your organization in order to be successful. You stop looking for opportunities to participate. Your visibility evaporates.

Greg Nicastro, the Executive Vice President of Development at Veracode, a leading cloud-based provider of application security, speaks passionately about the mindset of participating with a purpose. “You have so much traffic coming your way that you must be pragmatic about how you spend your time at work. You must actively shape your environment or you are at risk of your environment shaping you. A key way to be pragmatic with your time and positively shape your environment is to purposely participate in activities that help your clients and your business become very successful.”

Do You Suffer From Professional Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

The most dramatic symptom of our newly christened PTSD is the belief that “I can’t afford to be out of the office!” If you believe that this statement is true, “I can’t afford to be out of the office!” is at risk of becoming a mindset that hinders your ability to raise your visibility.

You may hate Bruce Willis and scowl anytime you see one of his movies advertised. You might love eating out for lunch and organize your schedule to ensure you make this happen. You may hate conflict and do everything you can to avoid a confrontation. Whatever your mindset may be, it is at risk of pre-determining how you interpret and respond to a situation.

Once “I can’t afford to be out of the office!” becomes your mindset, it becomes your way of interpreting and responding to opportunities to participate in your organization and industry. You start to believe you cannot get out of your office or workstation. You start to accept that you do not need to participate in activities at your organization in order to be successful. You stop looking for opportunities to participate. Your visibility evaporates.

It is not surprising that Carl has anchored himself to his desk chair with an invisible mindset chain. Carl believes he cannot afford to be out of his office, rationalizing that the work he has to do is preventing him from participating in activities at his organization. If you are like Carl, the “which comes first, the chicken or the egg?” metaphor is at work. Do you have the mindset that you are too busy to participate? Or, are you disinterested in participating and you are rationalizing that you cannot participate as you are too busy? Regardless of your answer, in today’s fast-paced and fast-changing organizations, you must have a mindset that supports participating in organization and industry activities.

Beating “Interacting with Others” Hurdle #7

What is your interacting with others hurdle #7?

I do not send a thank you email or note to colleagues.

What can you do?

– Buy a box of professional stationery and send out a thank-you note as soon as possible. State what your colleague did for which you are thanking them and why his or her actions made a difference. Close with a note of appreciation.
– Create three or four thank you templates on your computer and save the templates in your draft folder. This is an easy way to send a basic thank you note quickly.
– Take a few moments to thank a person “in-person.” While a note is great, nothing beats a physical stop-by to thank a colleague in-the-moment.

Beating “Interacting with Others” Hurdle #6

What is your interacting with others hurdle #6?

I telecommute almost daily or travel away from our organization’s offices three or more days per week.

What can you do?

– Schedule time to work from your organization’s offices, attend meetings in person, and meet with key colleagues. If you are “never” at your organization’s offices, face time with your organization’s leaders, your boss, and your colleagues is even more critical.
– Attend “all-employee” meetings and your organization’s social events.
– Participate in online conversations (i.e., blogs, company updates, newsletters) with colleagues to maintain your visibility, even if you are physically absent.

Beating “Interacting with Others” Hurdle #5

What is your interacting with others hurdle #5?

When a new colleague joins my immediate team, I do not schedule time with him/her so we can get to know each other.

What can you do?

– Schedule time with a new colleague (give him about a week to settle in) to ask how you can help him in his transition to his new role.

– Find time to meet and welcome a new colleague (maybe over lunch!); discuss what you do, how you do it, and what you will need from him in order to do your job well.

– Be persistent if your attempts to schedule time with a new employee do not materialize. Schedules can fill easily and time can pass quickly.

Beating Interacting with Others Hurdle #4

What is your interacting with others hurdle #4?

Whatever network I have at work is comprised mostly of colleagues from my functional area (i.e. I am in marketing and everyone in my network is from marketing).

What can you do?

– Create a list of colleagues outside of your functional area with whom you should raise your visibility if your network is comprised solely of colleagues from your functional area.

– Ask a colleague if her network expands beyond her functional area and how she went about building such a network.

– Speak with your manager about volunteering for a project or committee outside of your functional area. This is a great way to meet colleagues outside of your functional area with whom you will share a common goal.
Question: What can you do to improve your interaction with colleagues outside of your functional area?