The excellent blog at WorkHappyNow.com is the brainchild and creative work of Karl Staib, who offers tips, advice and stories to help any employee or CEO improve their work environment. Mr. Staib conducted the following interview.
Sometimes you meet a person and you just know they have a good understanding of life. Maybe it’s their body language or the way they tell a joke. Whatever it is, if you want to learn from that person then you need to approach them to get a more in depth look. Dr. Rick Kirschner was this person for me. We’ve never spoken in person, but we began to email each other and developed an instant rapport, which grew into a friendship.
I asked Rick if he would do an interview with me and he agreed. His websites and blog are great resources for any person looking to improve their Emotional Work Quotient (EWQ). My favorite part about his blog is his detailed approach to helping his readers improve their ability to communicate well.
Rick has been interviewed by FOX, CNBC, and CBS. He has also spoken at some of the world’s best known organizations such as Starbucks, Heineken and NASA. He has a great deal of expertise and Work Happy Now was lucky enough to get an extended interview with some great advice.
My first question got right into the thick of helping all of you improve your working life.
Karl - Work Happy Now: When people are trying to get ahead at work, what do you believe is the single most important reason that they plateau?
Dr. K: People plateau at work for any number of reasons. Sometimes it just takes too long to get where they want to go, and the motivation is ground away over time by the daily grind. Sometimes, a person runs into a ceiling or a wall, in the form of some kind of bias, or another person who is difficult for them to deal with, or persistent conflict with others about the best way to do things. And sometimes a person’s motivation changes because they enter a new moment of life with unanticipated challenges, like children or health or aging or financial changes, and everything they’ve done and cared about becomes less relevant to where they find themselves and what matters most now.
But I think the single most important reason for coming to a stop may be the weakness of interpersonal skills necessary for continuing forward. Consider that in the relatively rarified atmosphere of fewer people managing a broader scope of people and projects, an entirely different level of communication skill may be required than what was sufficient before. To the person who has focused on getting ahead through hard work and persistence, persuasive communication is a soft skill that may have been unrecognized for its importance, or neglected in favor of seemingly more practical skills related to doing one’s immediate work. When it comes to changing one’s circumstance, education is key, and communication skill essential. Only through persuasive communication can we enroll others in our efforts, win hearts, hands and minds to expand the scope of our own ability, and slice through seeming opposition with effective strategy.
Karl - WHN:
I think that I’ve got a good grasp on what you mean by improving education and communication. Let’s say that I’m at my job for five years and I don’t want to go back to school, but I still want to get ahead. I like the phrase persuasive communication because I’ve noticed that some of the really talented people that I’ve worked with had this ability. How would someone go about learning this skill?
Dr. K: One of the best ways to learn is to pay attention. All around you, people are attempting to persuade each other to achieve various objectives. Some of those attempts are wildly successful, and some fail completely. I think it is a useful practice to review any attempt that you witness, determine for yourself what worked and what didn’t work, and what you might do differently if it were you seeking to be the persuasive party in the exchange.
Persuasion finds common ground as a starting point, speaks to interests and motivations, moves people from their positions and opinions, and gains traction by engaging others at core levels of who they are. So any time you find yourself persuaded, ask yourself why. What persuaded you? What moved you? What engaged you? How did it engage you? Pardon the metaphor, but in this way, you can fly over the terrain of persuasion and begin to get your bearings. Next step, land, walk around, find the landmarks. From there, it’s a matter of blazing your own trail.
Karl - WHN:
Most of our success comes down to overcoming fear. If I want to be promoted at my job, but I fear that I might not be able to handle the extra work load then there is a conflict within myself. On your website you talk about embracing the change. If we fear the unknown then how do we begin to embrace this?
Dr. K: Actually, I think most of our success comes down to using fear as part of the impetus for change, by pulling ourselves forward with desire. A little fear and a lot of desire creates in us an unstoppable ability to change for the better. So if you want to be promoted, and you fear not being able to handle the extra work, then perhaps your fear is misplaced. Instead, what fear might you have of staying in place, of not pursuing the promotion? For example, the business is going to change. Not everyone employed today will be around tomorrow. Fit in, fall out. Stand out, move on.
Though I know it’s true that many, if not most, people fear the unknown, I find it rather ironic. Because everything about life, outside of this moment, is unknown to us. We have no guarantees. We can’t be sure that what we have will remain the same. We can’t be sure that we will ever have another opportunity to make a choice. I could die of a heart attack. A tornado could suck me up into the sky and an earthquake could swallow me whole. The surface of the earth is unstable, and so is the surface of our lives, and clinging to the unstable is like waiting for disaster to strike. I think life is all about navigating the unknowns, and it’s my observation that those who experience the most fulfillment and success, the most joy and happiness, are those who embrace the opportunity of the unknown, and use the moment to aim for what they want rather than trying to hold on to what they have.
Karl – WHN: Let’s say we start to embrace the unknown and we really feel good. We are really getting somewhere, but after six months we feel like we are just spinning our wheels and can’t make long lasting change. How does someone make the switch from being motivated to instilling new habits that help us succeed at our jobs?
Dr. K: To meet the challenge of changing habits successfully and sustainably, you need strong resolve and effective tools. I’ve developed a method for strengthening resolve that I use with myself and my clients. I call it stacking motivations. It’s based on my motivational model, which proposes six motivations for change that have both a desire side and a fear side. You simply fill in the blanks until you have one of each, then mentally stack them in sequence, the strongest on the bottom and the weakest at the top of the stack. This serves as a motivational reference point, so you never have to wonder why you’re developing the new habit.
Next, the tools. Here’s a six step tool that anyone can use to bring about a desired change.
1. You define and describe your present state (know your starting point.)
2. Define and describe your desired outcome (desired state.)
3. Identify what resources are available to you to move you closer to where you want to go.
4. Identify small ways to leverage those resources.
5. Take advantage of them.
6. Use them to assist you in making your desired change.
Taking off the brakes is the fastest way to get some acceleration. That’s sort of the opposite of how most people go about change, which is trying harder, doing more, working harder, struggling more. I’m a fan of working smarter instead of harder, of making simple choices instead of complicated ones, of getting more results with less effort.
So the next step is identify the restraining forces that keep you in place, spinning your wheels. And the last step is you determine how you can inhibit these inhibitors. All that’s left after that is to act on what you’ve learned from these six steps. The longest journey begins with a single step. And one step at a time is how we get from here to there.
Karl – WHN: Now that we have a good understanding of how we can optimize ourselves at work, I want to work on improving the people around us. The cornerstone to being successful at work is impressing the people who manage and supervise us, so my next question to you is how do we get a boss that doesn’t communicate well to become more open and willing to share information?
Dr. K: First, get over your reaction to the fact that you’ve got a boss that doesn’t communicate well. Communication may not be his or her strong suit, but then, that also may not be how they got to where they are. Instead, seek to understand their motivations and intentions. Learn what you can by observing, what they value, what engages them, when they are more open and receptive and when they are reactive or non-responsive. Learn about their strengths, and where you might have something to contribute that could prove helpful to them.
If you can stomach it, turn your boss into a mentor. Come right out and ask! Ask for guidance and direction. Ask for feedback. Turn your relationship with your boss into a real relationship! It’s amazing how seeking to understand feeds a mutual interest for understanding. Just as in any relationship, you can learn the power of giving information in the form of questions instead of making power-challenging assertions. Learn to be patient when needed. It’s not rocket science, but it takes commitment and self awareness to build bridges and open doors where there are moats and walls, but it has been done before elsewhere, and you choose to do it too.
I’m not being a pollyanna about this. I’ve known bosses who were tremendous people on a personal level, but ruthless in their position. I’m of the opinion that you should always maintain the option of walking away if your best efforts produce a less than acceptable result. But you’ll never know until you try, and the strength you develop from putting out the effort may prove invaluable to you at another place and time. So it seems to me that you have nothing to lose by opening up, reaching out, and engaging in a new way and at a deeper level than you had in the past.
Karl – WHN:
What is the single most important thing an individual can do to enjoy their job?
Dr. K: One of my favorite stories involves Ben Franklin and a drunkard. Franklin was giving a speech about the newly formed United States of America. A drunk in the back of the hall began making noises and drawing attention to himself. He demanded “Where’s my happiness?” Franklin looked around the hall, then centered his attention on the disruptor and said, “The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.”
How does one catch happiness in this troubled world? How do you find it in your pursuits? I think a different tactic is the useful one here. Instead of pursuing happiness, which implies that happiness is somehow out of reach, you can choose to be happy in your pursuits. I’m fairly certain that happiness is a choice, not a goal. If you are happy and bring happiness TO your pursuits, you will certainly find it there. But if you are in search of happiness in your pursuits, reaching for it, hoping for it, alas, it is likely that, other than the fleeting accidental moment, there is no happiness to be found. How can this be?
Because happiness is an internal state, like motivation, satisfaction and fulfillment. And while we talk about such things as if they are dependent on external-to-ourselves variables, the reality of life is that we can’t find outside of us what does not exist in us. No one can love you more than you love yourself (They can try, but their efforts will be met with sabotage and disdain.) No one can appreciate you more than you appreciate yourself (You will simply dismiss it and explain it away.) In the words of George Bernard Shaw, in his Man and Superman: “This is the true joy in life. That being used for a purpose conceived by yourself as a mighty one. That being a force of nature, rather than a feverish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that life will not devote itself to making you happy.”
We enter a state of happiness in only one place and time: Here. And now. The idea that we’re going to get another chance at happiness in some future time can be a foolish one, in that there are no guarantees in life for anything beyond this moment. In the three time zones of life, dead past, imagined future and right now, only one time zone is real. Because all that ever was and ever will be happens in this one moment. We look back and learn from the past NOW. We look forward and imagine our future NOW. And right now, whatever we are doing, we are human beings, and to get better results, it just works better to be better before we can do better.
Now all that said, I’m convinced that the happiest and most fulfilled people I know, the ones who find the greatest happiness in their pursuits, are those who meet the following conditions:
1. A purpose to fulfill 2. Healthy and helpful habits 3. Sustaining attitudes 4. Supportive relationships
I’ve invested my adult life in planting and cultivating these elements in my moment, and through my coaching and training work, helping others do the same. In this moment, we can make choices around purpose, habit, attitude and relationship. And why make such choices? I can say it best when I speak for myself. Because if I die tomorrow (and I hope I don’t!) I want to know that I truly lived today, gave my best to my work today, and that the work I do today will touch tomorrow. It drives me, delights me, and even when things go other than I hoped, I am fulfilled in being and doing my best today. Right now.
I want to thank Dr. Rick Kirschner for doing an interview with me. I know that I learned a lot and hopefully we can all take these ideas and run with them. Don’t forget to check out Rick’s blog for more great ideas on how to improve communication with your co-workers and in your personal relationships.
He also has a teleseminar coming up. Check out the CommunicationTuneUp.com web site and see if it fits your needs. I grabbed a quote from his site, which should stir a little excitement.
"As everything changes around you, what is your response? Taking your next step is how you gain traction and momentum. Next steps lead to progress. What is your next step? At work and at home, in times of challenge and change, the best change you can make is to improve your ability to interact with others so you can use your influence to bring about positive change.”