Do the Hard Work of Emotional Labor

Problem:

Some manager mandates that everyone under his responsibility must do certain things a certain way.

Solution:

The reason managers do this is because they can.  They have the power and authority to tell anyone reporting to them to do a certain thing.  But just because they can, doesn’t mean they should.

This is the old ‘I own you’ mentality.  But managers ought to think of those who report to them as volunteer workers, because they are.  Do you own your customers?  Do you tell them what to do?  No, you offer something valuable that they want.  You try to persuade them that what you have is better than the competition.

How much more real power and influence would a manager have if everyone who worked for him really wanted to work for him because he was a better manager than all the others?  What if some direction or announcement from a manager was as anticipated and exciting as the launch of a new product from Apple?

How would that happen?  The manager has to put in the emotional labor of connecting with his people, finding out what their inner desires are, catering to their every need.  He must allow them to take the responsibility of making choices on their own.

Emotional labor is hard work.  It takes connecting with people at a human level, understanding them, listening to them, relating with them.  Finding out what makes them tick, and helping them accomplish their goals.

Yes, it takes a little more effort, but it’s actually easier these days with the new social tools.  You just have to know how to use them.  They don’t call them ‘social’ for nothing.

If you’re not a manager, you can still do the hard work of emotional labor.  You can do it for your team and report to the manager what you know.  You can help out your team by connecting and giving people the opportunity to share their real feelings.

Most people just want to be understood, and feel that they matter.  That takes emotional work, because you’re dealing with a human being and their feelings, not a cog in a machine.

Mandates might work for cogs, but they don’t work well for talented, passionate human beings.

What is Grootship? (Again)

I think I ought to periodically explain grootship to everyone as I gain more insight into what it is.  I know I made up the word, but the concept seems to keep evolving for me as I think about it more.

I’m all for the ‘change agent’ who is able to influence the powers that be and make some kind of institutionalized change for the better.  And maybe that’s the ultimate goal, to change the company, but that’s not really what grootship is about.

Grootship is about letting the corporate structure exist as is, but using your existing freedoms to make changes just under the surface.  It’s the grass roots that are doing all kinds of things, making connections, growing, expanding, while letting the grass on the surface appear nice and pretty.

I’m not talking about doing anything underhanded or secretive that is against the rules, it’s just doing things a little differently than the status quo.  Sometimes it’s better not to make a big splash about what you’re doing because you might awaken the lizard brains and the resistance of the status quo.  But be prepared to make the challenge if necessary. You’re not doing anything illegal.

It might be similar to changing things in your country.  Sure, the obvious way would be to influence the government, get the right people elected, push an agenda, etc.

Or, the other way (demonstrating grootship), is to use the freedoms that already exist in the country, to do things that make a difference, build a following, change interactions, create new organizations, start a movement.  Eventually, if the movement impacts the edges of the governmental structure, then the government will have to pay attention and will probably make the changes that are necessary.

But at first, you don’t need the approval of the government.  You only need to gather those who are interested in your ideas.

So this blog is just a collection of ideas of things you can do within the freedoms of a corporation.  Some ideas might have more of an impact than others.  Some might just be a way for you to exercise your freedom in some small way that makes you feel better, or helps you realize that you do have more freedom than you might think.

And if we connect with each other, and share our ideas and experiences, I think that will help us practice grootship even better because we will realize we’re not alone, that there are others in similar situations who are trying to do similar things.  We can be a grootship clan.

Grootship:

something about grass roots,

something about leadership,

and something about the freedom to ‘ship’ your ideas and make something happen.

Create a Library

Problem:

Most people in your group don’t know all the cool stuff you know or haven’t read the latest books.

Solution:

Sometimes it’s hard to have a meaningful conversation with your co-workers because they can’t relate to all the things you’re learning.  So make it as easy as possible for them to gain the same knowledge as you, create a library at your desk.

Some people are very protective of their books (I know I can be, especially the signed ones) but ideas that spread, win, so we should do our part to spread the good ones.

Bring in a handful of your favorite business books, create some kind of a check-out sheet so you know who has it and for how long, and spread the word(s).

At first, they may not all be scrambling to check out your books, so you might have to bring up the ideas in conversations a little more, or apply them in your work and tell people the source.  Then mention, “By the way, I have a copy of that book right at my desk you could check out for a while.”

With a very low barrier for them to get their hands on the actual source, you’ll make the spread of ideas easy.  And you’ll be a source of learning, the person people go to to find the latest thinking.

Plus, if you get a few people to read a book, you’ll have something in common and interesting to talk about.  It’ll bond you as a group in a different way.  You might even be able to start a small movement to implement the things you’ve learned.

That’s good grootship.  That’s being a Linchpin.

Mix Up Your Meetings – part 5 (diagram the conversation)

Problem:

During a meeting, some people can talk and talk and talk, and easily get off subject, causing you to go down ‘bunny trails’ (as they call them) of thought that aren’t relevant to the conversation.  This wastes time and tires the minds of those forced to listen.

Solution:

At the begining of a meeting where you know this is going to happen (a repeat offender) say something like, “I’d like to try a new meeting technique I learned” (from an authoritative resource of course.)  Then explain that while each person is talking, you are going to diagram their conversation on a white board. 

They don’t have to change what they’re going to say or pay much attention to it, but everyone will be able to see it.  Tell them that the purpose is to visually see the conversation so everyone can remember it better (which will happen of course, but the side benefit will be that it will affect what people say.  This is due, as you know, to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle which states that you alter the trajectory of a particle by trying to measure it, probably.)

Here’s how you do it.  If you’re familiar with mind mapping, that’s basically what I’m suggesting.

Try to capture the first subject out of their mouth in one word and circle it.  Then as they build supporting thoughts for that subject, draw lines to additional circled words underneath or around the original word.  If they begin to mention a subject that is not related, draw a long line to another space on the board and capture that subject in a word.  Then draw the supporting thoughts  of that new subject in a similar manner with closer lines and circle words.  Something like this.

Of course it’s best if they can see it while they’re talking, but if they don’t, don’t say anything.  Just quietly diagram their speech for all to see.  And yes, how you draw what they are saying is very subjective, so use dramatic imagery as needed – big circles, long lines, etc.

This will surely improve communication because after each person is done talking, you can analyze their diagram and say, “Now let me see if I understood what you said correctly.”  And repeat back the main message you captured.  Of course, the bunny trails will be glaringly obvious, but habits are hard to break, so it may take a few times before the person is aware of their speech patterns. 

Then again, maybe not.  You might just break them on the first try.

Try it.  It just might work.

(and let me know how it goes. I’ve only done it in my mind because I’m usually in virtual meetings over the telephone, but I know I’d have some real doosies.)

Carve Out Some Focus Time

Problem:

You’re constantly bombarded with interruptions, requests, action items, meetings, phone calls, emails, etc. that you can hardly get any one thing done.

Solution:

Don’t be.  In other words, choose not to.

There are two types of interruptions, 1) by someone else, called an interruption, and 2) by your self, called a distraction.

Distractions may still be difficult to overcome, but ultimately they are caused by your own choice.  Just yesterday I asked my daughter to go do something, and 15 minutes later I find her standing there watching TV.  “What happened?” I asked. “Someone turned on the TV” was her reply, implying that obviously it wasn’t her fault that she didn’t do the thing I asked.  How many times do we put the blame on others or on our circumstances rather than our own choice?  “Someone sent me an email.”

What I am suggesting is that emails and phone calls (and texts and IMs) are signals that someone is requesting to communicate with us.  To actually make the communication happen, it is still our choice to respond to that signal.  It is a distraction that is begging us to pay attention to it.

An interruption is when someone actually approaches our physical body, taps us on the shoulder, or makes an audible request for a response.  And there are ways to handle this interaction respectfully, that I’ll mention later.

You may think yourself rude or unresponsive if you do not respond to those digital signals immediately (or that others will think that of you.)  But are there times when it is normally acceptable to not receive an immediate response?  Do you sleep?  Do you go to the bathroom?  Do you attend important meetings where you are heavily engaged?

When people want to get a hold of you, many times they can’t because you are otherwise occupied.  What I am suggesting is that you can have more focus time to complete your most important tasks by just creating more of those ‘otherwise occupied’ times for yourself.

Carve out Some Focus Time

Here’s what you can choose to do.  Schedule a private meeting on your calendar for one or two hours (or whatever you need, no one needs to know what it’s for.)  Turn off your phone, email, web browser, IM, or whatever else could send you a distracting signal.  Some people call this, “going off the grid” which usually means you’re hiking in the mountains somewhere, but you really can create this same effect in your office, wires and batteries can be unplugged or turned off.  If you’re not a virual worker, you’re still susceptable to those in person interruptions.  Minimize those with a sign or signal that in essence says “Do Not Disturb.”  If they ignore the sign, respond to them respectfully, and get the information you need to answer their request later (let them know when you’ll get back to them.)

Set a goal for what you want to have done within that time frame, and then focus and finish.  It might be hard at first (it still is for me) but with practice and discipline you’ll be able to get better at it and go for longer periods.  You’ll feel so good about yourself because you were able to accomplish that really important task, and all the action you missed while you were disconnected will seem miniscule.  Besides, when you emerge from your cave of productivity you’ll be able to answer all those email and phone call requests (or at least put those actions in their proper place in your priority list.)  If you crave attention and love responding to all those emails, it’ll be like Christmas, the longer you wait, the more presents you’ll get to open.

“Where were you?” people might say.  And at least for one of them you can respond, “I was working on your item and it is now complete.”

I promise you’ll get more accomplished.  It’s mathematically proven.

(Inspired by my productive friend, Bodo.)

Write Poetry

Problem:

People get too many emails every day that are just boring.  The same old thing, somebody wants some information, or to have a meeting, there’s an announcement about a charity fundraiser, a broadcast message that the parking lot will be under construction, you know what I mean.

Solution:

If you’re going to write so much every day in emails, why not make them interesting? Write in poetry or prose.  You’ll really catch someone off guard and maybe even spread a trend.  You’ll find other closet poets emerge sending you their masterpieces and you get to know who has much of a right brain or sense of humor in your office.

If you need to send a short message or give a quick reply, just try putting a little rhythm and rhyme to it and see what happens.  If your note needs to be longer, just throw in a little poem at the end

Granted, it will take you a little longer to put the words together, but you’ll have created something worth reading, and will have injected a little fun into someone’s day.  It’s something to talk about.

It doesn’t take much

Just an arrangement of words

In a familiar form

So they all get heard.

See, it’s as simple as that.  Try it.  It’s good for your brain.

Hold a Contest

Problem:

There’s no excitement in your office.  There’s nothing interesting for people to talk about.

Solution:

Hold a contest.  It doesn’t matter what for, how you set it up, or what the prize is, just have one, and make it something people will talk about.

You don’t need to ask permission, just make it sound like some big company contest and no one will ever know.  Or just keep it within your organization, it’s up to you.

Put up flyers, send out mass emails, post it on your blog, in your newsletter, or set up a sign on your desk.  However you want to spread the word, make it sound like a big deal.  And just go buy a nice prize if you want to, a gift card, dinner for two, or free massage.

I’m sure you can think of your own creative ideas for things to do, but here are a few off the top of my head.  The winner is the person who:

  • can solve this puzzle first
  • writes the best quote of the day
  • draws the best cartoon of the CEO
  • comes  up with the best idea for a contest
  • designs the coolest logo
  • has the funniest true company story
  • knows the answer to this trivia question
  • can guess correctly the exact weight of the receptionist this object
  • has the best new product idea
  • has the best idea for saving the company $millions$

Now wouldn’t that be something people would talk about?  It may even produce something valuable to the company.  In fact, I know it will,  because it will be something for people to get excited about, to try their hand at winning, a reason to connect with each other, a reason to pay attention when you announce the winner, it’ll be something different, something remarkable. 

That value is worth more than money because it’s taking a risk, shaking up the status quo, and making a difference.  It’s grootship!

Take a Power Nap

Post by  Eric, Third Degree Enigma

Problem:

You get a little drowsy in the afternoon and have a hard time being productive.  Your mind gets fuzzy.

Solution:

Research has shown that taking a 20 minute nap in the middle of the day resets the learning centers of the brain and significantly improves learning during afternoon activities.   As a developer, it is not uncommon for me to get very drowsy around 1pm-2pm and be unable to write any decent code for several hours afterward.  Unless, of course, I can get a power nap. 

Napping at work has been problematic for eons.  Your body is screaming at you for a few minutes of brain reorganization and everyone else at work is prone to take a narrow view of your somnolence.   Besides the career-limiting potential that an open nap can have, it is also naturally difficult to get a good nap if you know other people are aware of it.   This is your caveman instinct protecting you from hostile males and predators taking advantage of your lack of consciousness.

Well, I’ve been powernapping successfully as part of my work for many years now.  I find short naps to be an indispensible part of having work-life balance and I’ve figured out a few things to make naps easier and more effective.  Here are some things I have learned: 

  • Take a nap when you are sleepy.  Once your body tells you to nap,  you have 20 minute window to get it.
  • It is critical that you actually go unconscious.  If you stay awake and just rest for a few minutes, you won’t get the benefit. 
  • 20 minutes is plenty.  I set a timer for the 20 minutes, but I almost always wake up before it goes off.  I often find that I have had a little dream, which is my signal that I had a good nap.
  • If you can nap in a semi-private location (such as a closed office), most people, even bosses, don’t particularly care.  They will even be apologetic about  disturbing you.   Napping in the open, however, makes people feel uncomfortable.
  • An office with a door that closes is great, but it is still important to put out a sign to keep people from barging in.   My favorite sign is “email only, please”.
  • If you don’t have a private office for sacking out, try any of the following:  Your car, a nearby park, a forgotten corner of the building, underneath the stairs at the bottom of a deep stairwell, or an unassigned office or cubicle.
  • Put your sleeping supplies (blanket, small pillow, earplugs) in a sports bag so that people don’t question why you are headed out of your office with a blanket and a pillow.   

Sweet dreams!

Eric, Third Degree Enigma

Always Have a Side Project

Problem:

The work you do doesn’t seem interesting or lend itself to “making a difference.”

Solution:

That’s okay.  The trash still needs to be taken out, those TPS reports still need to be checked for accuracy, and someone needs to process those expense reports.  I know, there are whole groups or even large organizations created solely to do routine work that some people might not find too interesting. 

Sure, you should definitely follow your passion, do something you love and all that, but right now, at this moment, if you don’t see yourself jumping ship to start a blogging career as you travel the world, then try starting with something a little bit smaller.  Create a side project.

What this means is that you have a little idea or effort you’d like to move forward.  It could be an idea for a new product, or an improvement to your process, or a meeting of like minded individuals, or even organizing a pot luck or fun event for your group.  It could be anything.  It just needs to be something that gives you a little extra juice, something you look forward to, that would make you happy to see happen.

And you don’t even have to tell anybody about it until it’s ready.  I’m not suggesting you neglect your other work and responsibilities, I’m just saying use those small free times that are available.  Maybe it’s during lunch or a break, or maybe you’ll have to put in a little extra hours.  It’ll be worth it. 

If it’s really relevant to your work you’ll probably be allowed to spend some regular work hours on it.  That’s the goal.  First get it ready to present to your boss or whoever needs to hear about it.  Gather the data, create a compelling case, write the story.  Then toss it out there.  If it gets rejected, so what?  Try again with something else, or a approach it from a different angle.

The bottom line is, those who are able to go beyond the call of duty, to do more than expected, to step out and take a risk, usually create more opportunities for themselves.  So think about what would really get you jazzed, and just go out and do it.  Your boss really does want creative people who make things better.

You can make a difference by doing something small and different.  That’s all there is to it.  So do it.  Get through it.  Just move it.

And don’t use silly rhymes (unless that’s something small and different.  Hey, it is.  See how easy that was?)

Mix Up Your Meetings – part 4 (rearrange room)

Problem:

Not every one participates in your meetings.  People get comfortable in their favorite seats.  Your group needs a change.

Solution:

Rearrange the chairs in your meeting room.  There’s probably that guy who always sits in the back so he can get away with not saying anything.  Or there are only the few who are engaged because they sit up front and close together.  Or your current seating arrangement could be just fine, but you still want to shake things up a bit to get people out of their comfort zone, to help them think differently, or to be open to new perspectives and ways of doing things.

Many sources will say that the best unifying, everyone-on-equal-ground type of arrangement would be to put all the chairs in a circle facing inward.  Sure, go ahead and try that if you want to, or can.  But you don’t have to.  You can do two semi-circles, or a big square, or a triangle for that matter.  You could even do two parallel lines facing each other (if you want to start a fight), or one long single file line (choo choo!)  Experiment.  See what happens.

I know there are some rooms that aren’t completely flexible (we have a bunch with a huge, immovable board room type table in the middle. ugh.)   But you can think of something.  The least you could do is talk from the other side of the room.

Seating arrangements can really affect the dynamics of a meeting.  So use that small little freedom to affect the meeting in the way you want. (That’s grootship.)

And instead of trying to convince that guy in the back that he should move up front, just make it so he doesn’t have a choice.