The 20 habits that prevent you from getting to the top (part 3 of 5)

(this is the third part of a five part series)

As I mentioned before, i’ll follow-up the habits with some commentary on how I see these in my daily life.

PS: Apologies for taking too long to post these. I’m back to weekly updates now.

The 20 habits that prevent you from getting to the top

6. Telling the world how smart we are: the need to show people we’re smarter than they think we are.

This one has gotten me in trouble. When coupled with “adding too much value” this sixth habit empowers me with an abundant source of annoyance to give other people 🙂

The gist of it here is that announcing how smart you are turns them off.

Getting rid of this habit is simple: 1) before opening your mouth ask yourself: Is anything I’m about to say worth it? 2) Conclude that it isn’t; 3) Say “Thank you!”

Simple but not easy. I have been in too many situations myself (giving/receiving feedback, job interviews, meeting new friends) in where I’ve managed to close my mouth concluding that what I am about to say adds no value, only ends up passing the message that I think somebody is wasting my time (even if I don’t even mean that at all), and that I’m better off saying “Thank you” and not prolonging the conversation.

One of the situations that I was able to manage this was after announcing a lessons learned workshop in a team meeting, only to be approached later by a colleague who was a bit surprised by the announcement. In simple terms, he felt like he should’ve been the owner of this activity and I ended up not involving him. I resisted the urge to start showing how he wrong and how smart I was that I managed to take initiative when all he had done was talk about it for the past two weeks. Instead, what I did was listened to his feedback, took three seconds of silence to acknowledge it in, and said “Thank you”.

 7. Speaking when angry: using emotional volatility as a management tool.

Marshall tells the story of a buddhist legend of a young farmer who, covered with sweat, was paddling his boat up the river. As he looked ahead, he spied another vessel, heading rapidly downstream toward his boat. He yelled at the other vessel “Change direction you idiot! you are going to hit me!”. Turns out his screaming was to no avail. THe other vessel hit his boat with a sickening thud. “What is wrong with you” he said. As he looked at the other vessel, he realised there was no one in the other boat. He was screaming at an empty vessel.

The lesson is simple. There is never anyone in the other boat. When we are angry we are screaming at an empty vessel.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand anger has it’s value as a management tool. It shows you give a damn, it shows you care. But it also has a big cost.

Personally I’ve seen several instances (and done some shamefully) of this in the workplace. What is important with anger is that while promoting some weird form of respect, it also shuts people down. A strong rapport with whoever you’re communicating is important if you’re going to get angry at something that’s happening. Guidelines are to get angry at something and not someone. To focus on facts, and to make sure there’s a common shared purpose we’re all trying to achieve. Sometimes it’s OK to step back and leave the room. I’ve done so by saying: “Sorry guys, I don’t think I’m clear headed enough to be making these decisions right now. I’m a bit emotional about all this and my thought is getting clouded by these fight or flight instincts. I’m afraid if we keep talking we’ll end up fighting over the topic with scars that take time to heal. Is it OK to reschedule this to this afternoon so I’ve had some time to collect my thoughts about what we’re trying to achieve and we can have another conversation about it?”

 8. Negativity, or “let me explain why that won’t work”: the need to share our negative thoughts even when we weren’t asked.

Saying “Let me explain why that won’t work” is unique because it is pure unadulterated negativity under the guise of being helpful.

I suppose it’s a natural tendency for some people to share negative thoughts without being asked to. The flip side is that finding the negative side of things is also a sign they’re at least considering the idea being communicated.

I’ve found many people that suffer from sever negativitis over my career. A simple technique I use is to stick a mental label of a “critic”. If you look harder, you’ll always find something to be critical about. If you’re sitting in a room, presenting an idea and your critic shows up explaining why that doesn’t work, the previous mental label of a critic softens the feedback received. After all, it’s not so much your idea that sucks, but it’s your critic doing his thing – he’ll always have something to say.

This technique softens the blow, but obviously if you know who your critics are, you can choose to align with them first-hand, to avoid them altogether or to only involve people that are senior to them in the decision making process.

Above all, stay away from overly negative or critic people as they have a tendency to drain your energy short to mid term. In lots of ways, you become who you surround yourself with, and working with negative people merges you into learned helplessness very quickly (notice how with critics, there’s always a problem, it’s always someone else’s fault, and there is always “you can’t change the ways things work around here”, or “there’s nothing we can do about it” kind of thinking).

9. Withholding information: the refusal to share informational in order to maintain an advantage over others.

I remember reading that information is power. That drives me to understand how so many people withhold information with the expectation that it sometime somehow will give them the edge they need to move further. Maybe it’s time to stop and consider if this kind of belief is still valid.

Information is not power, it’s at it’s very best potential power. It has a time-frame associated with it and a sensitivity. It is intended to reach specific receivers, and communicated assuming a context and  language that they hopefully understand. In the middle of this all, there’s mistakes. Words that were miss-used, context that was assumed but wasn’t there, receivers with different cultural backgrounds promoting different understandings of the same words, implicit assumptions made, presuppositions and just overall spelling mistakes (which in numbers can be quite fatal). Then, there’s always the risk somebody finds out you were withholding information, which makes you look like a fool at best, and mischievous at worst.

If you feel like you can control all this and still somehow use whatever information you got to your advantage, by all means go ahead. I can’t, so I default to share.

Sharing is not the something as making available (and I learned that the hard way). Sharing is purposefully carving messages to stakeholders containing the nuts and bolds of the information and doing so using the context they have, the vocabulary they know, the granularity they need and needs/asks if any.

The opposite of this is FYI e-mails. Those might seem less expensive in the short term (e-mail is free, and clicking that forward button is all too easy) but most likely have a cost mid to long term. I only send FYI e-mails if I know the receiver has a similar context and vocabulary than I do. Even then, this has gotten me in trouble as well (people assume different things based on the same information go figure!).

What I do instead, is send an executive summary alongside with the original information. This captures the gist of the message, details any needs/asks if any and still provides the full info in case anyone needs it. [more on that in a future post!]

10. Failing to give proper recognition: the inability to praise and reward.

This habit is something I don’t do. If anything I err in the side of caution and over-praise and reward (which isn’t good on it’s own, but that’s another post).

If you fail to give recognition and constantly meet every opportunity to “punish” or critique when you find someone doing something wrong, you’ll quickly find yourself with no friends, playing alone in a corner. But, in my opinion, it’s also not as B&W as saying: “public praise, private punishment”.

You see, every individual has a story and a “compelling why” motivating it to come to work every day. Additionally, some people are pain-driven while others are pleasure-driven. For example, for some people it’s about mastering their craft – they’re attached emotionally to what they produce, it’s their baby, and in their eyes it’s the most beautiful thing in the world. Imagine what happens when you tell someone his kid is ugly, not good right? For other people it’s all about the daily grind – they don’t live to work, they work to be able to go home and enjoy those sunny beach holidays they’ve been saving up to all year. Imagine telling someone like this their job is excellent, when they couldn’t care less as long as it doesn’t mean more days in the beach.

What I do is map-out the inner-why’s and motivation persona’s of the people I work with. These change over time (as do people’s lives) and it’s a generalisation and an often miss-guided attempt to define how that person is motivated to come to work. But as every model, sometimes this one is right. Further, I understand and map if the person is pain or pleasure driven, which helps me understand what kind of words prompt him/her to take action. For example, if John is pleasure driven and a daily grinder, the words “how about doing X now and you’ll be able to do Y from home tomorrow” sound better. On another hand, if Johanna is pain driven and a a master of her craft, the words “not doing X now means we’re risking not showing feature X in the demo to management next week”.

Some people react well to public praise, while others do so to private praise. As well, some people react well to public punishment, and others to private punishment. One thumb rule for public punishment, since it’s so unpopular, it’s to make it about the team. (words like “we’ve worked so hard to come this far, and you’ve let the team down by not showing up to do your piece in time – in football it doesn’t matter how well offence plays if defense is letting goals through and as football, this is a team sport. Here’s what you can do to catch up.”)

See you next week for the next 5 habits!

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