Meaningful Conversations

“One of the most eye-opening realizations I had in our weekend away was the profound LACK of meaningful conversations at work and in our personal lives.” – Michele M. Martin

For some people, the workplace is full of conversations, but most of them are transactional. We spend 40, 50, even 60 hours at work, and the lack of meaningful conversation can dull our minds.

I found two posts that help me find ways to develop a habit of meaningful conversation:

“Don’t get too excited about your next thought. People can tell when you aren’t truly listening because you just can’t wait to spit your next thought out.” – John Hall (read his 12 other tips)

“I came prepared with three questions that I felt would cultivate a meaningful dialogue.” – Amber Rae (read her full post)
How do you invite meaningful conversation into the workplace?

Perception

When I think through meetings – how did it go, I ask myself – the perception can be negative. Sometimes our memories are influenced by how we are feeling, and feelings aren’t directly tied to reality. For example, if I go into a meeting not feeling great about myself or my talents, I might remember the meeting as being less successful. And if I go into a meeting feeling like the queen of my subject matter, I may leave the meeting overestimating the quality of my performance.

My mentor taught me a little trick. Write down exactly what happened, but none of the feeling-infused perceptions. Break down the event into its truths and occurrences, every detail of what people said, what they did, and the outcomes of the meeting. For example:

“My manager hated my idea.” – NO
“My manager told me the idea could not be implemented.” – YES

In the above example, I can’t make the first statement. I don’t really know how my manager felt unless he or she specifically said, “I hate your idea.” The more truthful statement will be what was actually said or what action was actually taken.

Time in exchange for time

A friend of mine is working in a temporary job. Her temporary boss needs someone just to “be there” at the front desk. There are very little other expectations; she was told she could “bring a book.”

What if, in this situation, all you did was sit there? Not even a book to read? Then you could wrap up your current use of time in this statement: “I sit at a desk at the command of another person from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day in order to pay for how I use my time after 5 p.m. on those days and on Saturday and Sunday.”

My friend does more than just sit there. But there are people who view their time in jobs as “jail time” that must be spent in order to use their “free time” as they want, with the means to do so, meaning surviving (food, housing, medical care) and beyond (travel, movies, material goods, education, philanthropy, etc.).

What makes a job more than just “jail time?” Does paying a person by the hour exacerbate the effects of this mentality? What is the difference between working in a role where you feel “job satisfaction” versus working in a role that you consider your life’s calling?

We see that our “job time” is spent to support our “free time,” but it is also the other way around. We check our work email when we leave work. We stress about a meeting, distracting our full attention from a conversation with a loved one. We work on projects on the weekends. We show up late to a dinner party because work went late. We spend a lot of “free time” currency on supporting our careers… and sometimes buy on metaphorical “credit.”

Where is the balance, and when do you know you are spending your time fully in every moment, so that you never feel you are trading “time in exchange for time”?

Meetings Should Have Goals

We make goals for our projects – key performance indicators – and we measure our performance by those goals. They may be quantitative or qualitative. However, projects aren’t the only type of work that have goals; meetings also have goals. Questions to ask yourself when you go into a meeting, whether or not you are the person running the meeting, and whether or not it is a group gathering or one-on-one:

  1. What is this meeting meant to achieve?
  2. What are my personal objectives for this meeting?
  3. What actions will I take in this meeting to meet my objectives?

The Fork Model: How to Empower Others

I recently learned about the Fork Model. My mentor sent me the web address and said it might be of interest. Enjoy this excerpt from the home page:

“The ultimate purpose of helping clients is not only that clients’ goals are reached or their problems solved, but that they become empowered citizens and cultural creatives.”

One part of my vision is to enable and empower clients so they can in turn impact others in the organization, expanding the influence of correct principles to more people so better quality work will be seen in all departments.

There are four parts to the Fork Model:

  1. Self-guidance
  2. Goal-oriented project
  3. Identity and personal development
  4. Development of the whole to which you belong

How can we use these principles when advising others?

5 Steps for Assessing Your Job Description

It’s coming up on that time of year when I assess my activities as an employee. By the time a year has passed, I find that I must redefine my job description. Needs have come up that have required me to step beyond what I was originally hired to do, for example. And I have a bigger vision of what I could be doing to be a more effective member of my team.

My mentor suggested going through the following steps:

  1. Write down everything you currently do – how do you spend your time at work?
  2. List all the elements of your job description – the one that someone would find in your personnel file.
  3. What else would you like to do? List things that are absent from both lists that you want to do as part of your job that you currently don’t do and aren’t in your job description.
  4. Determine the percentage of time you spend on each current activity. Write these values next to each item in your first list.
  5. Determine the percentage of time you want to spend on each item on all three lists.

What have you learned from this exercise? How different are your actual activities from your job description? How different is your vision of your job from what you actually do?

Asserting My Expertise

This week a few people asked for my advice and expertise regarding some projects. In one case, I told the individual that what they needed for their project was an in-person or screen-sharing consultation because it would involve visual, hands-on work. The individual got back to me with a quick response that they had a really busy schedule and that they’d be available by phone.

In this case, I wasn’t establishing boundaries for my own work-life balance or learning how to say ‘no’ to people asking for too much of my time. Instead, I offered more of my time and effort in the name of doing the project correctly: I was asserting that for this specific stage, the meeting had to be both auditory and visual with live editing (it is a visual project and in this case no one has impaired hearing or vision). This means we had to be in person or use online software to communicate effectively.

I have decided to call this principle “asserting my expertise” because in this case, someone with little understanding of the appropriate process for a specific type of project was trying to set the terms of the process. I needed to step in and assert my expertise. And, I did. I replied to the individual that I could not be involved in the project if the meeting were not on the terms necessary to complete the project successfully.

Passionate Leadership

I read an article today by Erika Andersen on Forbes.com entitled, “Passionate Leaders Aren’t Loud – They’re Deep.” Andersen discusses great leadership as not loud speechmaking, but something deeper, in six qualities. Passionate leaders are:

  • Honest and genuine
  • Clear and powerful, yet respectful
  • Open to others’ points of view
  • Walking their talk
  • Committed despite adversity and setbacks

The the most important principle Andersen brings up is purpose. “What a leader is passionate,” she says, “people feel a deep sense of being led in a worthy direction by someone who is committed to something more important than his or her own individual glory.”

Purpose

“Successful companies keep this idea front and center: People seek purpose.” – Rich Karlgaard, Forbes.com, “Purpose-Driven Leadership

In the same Forbes article, Karlgaard lists two examples of why purpose is so important:

“Abraham Maslow had it right. Once our physical needs are met, we long for love, belonging, esteem and finally what Maslow called ‘self-actualization’–that our lives count.”

I seek for purpose in my work. I don’t want just to “get tasks done.” I want to make a difference, meaning a great positive impact, in the world.