What exactly is a Work Relationship?

“…there are people who try to look as if they are doing a good and thorough job, and then there are the people who actually damn well do it, for its own sake.” John D. MacDonald, Free Fall in Crimson

Further to the first article, I wrote “Work is a relationship” on the nature of work and the relationship we have with it, I got some interesting and thought provoking feedback:

“It is strange that work is so often NOT seen as a relationship.  Even though we hear the words ‘The Psychological Contract is strong (or broken)’.  The Psychological contract (whatever its state) is a relationship.  There is something in our culture that seems to want to keep the word ‘relationship’ off (or even under) the table.

Maybe it is time to wake up to the fact, there is more going on in the workplace than we have been acknowledging  in many instances!”

I completely agree that the idea the working relationship is often ignored.  If you consider that on average you spend over 50 years working and the majority of your waking week is spent at work (on average over 40 hours plus);  its importance is so often missed. People often refer to “employee engagement”, but it is more than this; much more. If you disagree, please feel to comment.

Where does the level of personal engagement come into it?  Like all relationships, is it the level of commitment to deliver; often in challenging and difficult situations; versus just turning up?  Is it commitment, or is it engagement built on trust? This got me thinking about what is the “work relationship”? What are its key characteristics? Is it, in fact, any different from a personal or social relationship?

I want to see if the work relationship is a fallacy or is in fact real. Also, what is your understanding? I believe the following are elements that go to make a “work relationship”:

  1. Having common Values – nor necessarily the corporate ones, but a sense of belonging to a common set within the workgroup
  2. How you get along with each other – how you work, talk, engage, and interact with each other
  3. Respect each and every person – consistent and truthful respect, is the glue
  4. Emotional Intelligence and Responsibility – this is a separate topic in its own right 
  5. Empathy, Compromise, Patience, Flexibility, Acceptance and Openness – speaks for itself

  6. Simple kindness – to one another and to oneself
  7. Mental flexibility – to deal with the stress of the work environment
  8. A sense of humour – laughter, fun, affection and connection
  9. Conflict – how you manage and handle conflict. In addition, how you learn through conflict
  10. Trust – that you support each other for the highest good
  11. Finally, something unsaid; a feeling; an untold emotion. Or to use a phrase, “Je ne sais quoi” – an indefinable, elusive quality,

I think the list is pretty comprehensive, but if you feel that there are other aspects that need to be added, please feel free to comment.

In addition, it would be interesting to see if there are differences across the generations. For instance, is there a stronger work commitment for those who are Generation  X (born between the 1960’s and the 1980’s)  than Generation Y (those born between the 1980’s to 2000)?  For those that are Generation Z (2000’s onwards) who are just starting to enter the work world, what is their perception?

I aim to follow up on the work relationship elements in subsequent posts, as well as the difference across the generations and would appreciate your insights and feedback.

Finally, I believe the general world of work is changing. And it’s changing fast. It’s rare that a week goes by without new evidence proving this. The World Economic Forum believes a ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ is imminent, and that the role of humans in the workplace will change in favour of smart machines and automation. Something, I’d like to follow up on as well.

In the meantime, I leave you with the following quote which really struck a chord with me.

“Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.” Thomas Merton

 

Work is a relationship

“Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.” Studs Terkel

Like it or not, but work does define your life. I know some people will argue it does not, but for many of us, it does, We spend more time working than ever before. We have moved way beyond the 9 to 5 Monday to Friday work life of our grand parents. According to one survey, we are working over 42 hours per week. Our culture has become an “always on” one. We are travelling further and working longer than ever before.

However, it is not just the amount of work that we are doing, it is how we are now engaged in the world of work that I think is important. What often gets ignored is that just like the personal relationships we develop, we also develop a working relationship. I don’t mean with the people at work, I mean with the work itself. For many of us, the type of work that we do, also impacts how we engage in a broader sphere.

For some people, putting on the uniform or suit in the morning is like putting on a suit of armour, ready to go to battle. For some, work is about being authentic and consistent. For others, the focus is trying to help and support others around them. I feel that work defines us in so many ways. Ways we sometimes forget.

I worked for a long time for a US technology company, called Hewlett Packard. When I applied to the company it felt as if I was joining a special group of people. The work was hard, the hours were long and the level of commitment expected was high. However, in those early days, I did not feel at all that I was just part of a work machine. Perhaps that is a rose-tinted view in hindsight, but I don’t think so. I felt that I could grow, develop and enjoy myself. I felt that I was recognised both as an individual, as well as for the contribution that I made.

Leap forward in time and I don’t think the world of work is the same. Many people I know that work in many different companies and work environments are mentioning to me a similar set of questions, along the lines of: “How am I recognised as an individual”; “Work does not hold the same meaning anymore”; “I feel I am not achieving what I set out to do”; “How can I help make a difference?”  “What does work mean to me now?”

Perhaps it is an age thing? I don’t think so. Perhaps it is a perception thing? I am not sure. What I do know is that for the vast majority of us, what work we do defines us and the relationship we have with work also impacts how we interact with the world.

I came across a really interesting infographic on the changing dynamics of work. You might want to check it out here.

https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/274388

I leave you with the following quote.

“People are more difficult to work with than machines. And when you break a person, he can’t be fixed.”  Rick Riordan, The Battle of the Labyrinth

Getting caught out not listening

 

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” ― Ernest Hemingway

Ok. I’ll admit it. It was me.   

What on earth are you talking about Summerhayes? Have you finally lost the plot? Gone off the rails? Decided to enter the loony bin? Nope. I am admitting something, I’ve always kept hidden.

For year and years.

I didn’t listen and focus on the conversation.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it. However, for years, I have had this habit of appearing to listen whilst doing something else. For example, I often, read something one e:mail as I speak to someone face-2-face. At work, I will sit in meetings and whilst someone is talking, I will be checking emails, responding to queries and the like.

Hang on though. Everyone does it, don’t they?

You see many people doing the same thing. They will be reading something on their laptops, whilst at the same time, appearing to be in a conversation.

It has become a habit to many people. A habit that is both unhelpful to me, but worse, impacts those around me.

So how do you try to fix it?

I am striving to change the way I listen and interact with people. I have come up with an eight-point an eight-point Check out my ideas below:

Point 1: Face the speaker and maintain eye contact.
From that moment on, I have locked my laptop; put my mobile phone down and faced the speaker. How on earth do you think they feel if you are looking at everything but them?

Point 2: Be attentive, but relaxed.
Be present with the person and give attention to what they are saying. After all, it is important to them. I am mentally screening out distractions, like background activity and noise. It helps in my case that I wear glasses. I have even taken them off, so that I can “see” the person, rather than all the other distractions in the room. Don’t be distracted by your own thoughts, feelings, or biases and pay attention to them.

Point 3: Listen to the words and try to picture what the speaker is saying.
Allow your mind to create a mental model of the information being communicated. Whether a literal picture, or an arrangement of abstract concepts, your brain will do the necessary work if you stay focused, with senses fully alert. When listening for long stretches, concentrate on, and remember, key words and phrases.

Point 4: Don’t interrupt and don’t impose your “solutions” on them.
I can not count the number of times, I have interrupted someone and made a suggestion to solve a problem. It has been one of my “traits” for years and I have grown to hate doing it. We all think and speak at different rates – the average person utters anywhere from 125 to 175 words per minute. However, we can read upwards of 500 to 700 words per minute. Hence, a really clear reason why we end up “zoning out”. If you are a quick thinker and an agile talker, the burden is on you to relax your pace for the slower, more thoughtful communicator—or for the person who has trouble expressing himself.

When listening to someone talk about a problem, refrain from suggesting solutions. Most of us don’t want your advice anyway. If they do, they would ask for it. Most people prefer to figure out our their solutions to their problems.

Point 5: Wait for the speaker to pause to ask any clarifying questions.
When you don’t understand something, of course you should ask the person to explain it to you. But rather than interrupt, wait until the person pauses. Then say something like, “Hang on a moment, I didn’t quite understand what you just said about…”

Point 6: Ask questions to ensure understanding.
Be careful of asking questions that take people down “rat holes”. Our questions can lead people in directions that have nothing to do with where they thought they were going. Sometimes we work our way back to the original topic, but very often we don’t.

When you notice that your question has led the speaker astray, take responsibility for getting the conversation back on track by rephrasing the last part of their conversation. In effect, getting them to reset where they are in their thought processes.

Point 7: Empathy. Try to feel what the speaker is feeling.
If you feel sad when the person with whom you are talking expresses sadness, joyful when they express joy, fearful when they describe their fears—and convey those feelings through your facial expressions and words—then your effectiveness as a listener is assured. Empathy is the heart and soul of good listening.

finally and the most difficult point is, Point 8: Keep an open mind.
Listen without judging the other person or mentally criticizing the things they tell you. If what they say worries you, go ahead and feel worried, but don’t say to yourself, “Well, that was a stupid move.” As soon as you indulge in judgmental thoughts, you’ve compromised your effectiveness as a listener.

Listen without jumping to conclusions. Remember that the speaker is using language to represent the thoughts and feelings inside their brain. You don’t know what those thoughts and feelings are and the only way you’ll find out is by listening.

I have found that I need to keep my “feedback” to myself. I have learnt to pause, before responding and sometimes replay back to the speaker a summary of what they have said, both to show that I have listened, as well as to cross check my understanding.

 

Agree? Disagree? Please feel free to comment and share.

I leave you with the following quote.

“It’s only after you’ve stepped outside your comfort zone that you begin to change, grow, and transform.” ― Roy T. Bennett

Perceptions and Reality

“No matter how people try to dispute it, perception is reality. It’s what you choose to believe that makes you the person you are.” ― Karen Marie Moning

We all live in our own worlds. Our own bubbles of reality as it were. Everything we see, hear, feel, touch or smell is our perception of a reality that others might not recognise. Often, I am amazed that what I might perceive, others do not. After all, we all live on the same planet, in relatively similar conditions, so why do we perceive things so differently?

Take something as simple as colours. I often go out for walks and admire the countryside as I walk through it. The grasses, the trees, the different plants and animals. Often, the clouds in the sky caught my eye. But wait a moment. Is the sky blue? And what hue of blue is it? If someone was with me, I could point at the sky and say it is blue, and you would concur. But are you really seeing that blue the way I am seeing it? Perhaps you have just learnt to call what you see “blue”, but in the actual experience, you are seeing nothing like the vivid, rich, blue I see.

So how do you see colour?

Our colour vision starts with the sensors in the back of the eye that turn light information into electrical signals in the brain – neuroscientists call them photoreceptors. We have a number of different kinds of these, and most people have three different photoreceptors for coloured light. These are sensitive to blues, greens and reds respectively, and the information is combined to allow us to perceive the full range of colours.

People experience colour in similar ways but not entirely the same. Some of that is culturally induced. A white wedding dress is the colour of innocence the West, but in China, wedding dresses are bright red. Some colour associations are biologically induced by the way the colour system is wired in the brain. Some of it is learned by the brain’s highly adaptive visual system according to the frequency of colour association with different types of objects and situations in the environment, for example seeing a red strawberry, though, for colorblind people, it might be blue!

Now move onto something more complex, like relationships.

I was thinking this the other day after a wonderful week turned into a complete disaster at the end. A disjointed conversation and a difference of perception were all it took. What followed was attempts to communicate that got progressively worse. I was too focused on the moment and not the situation. The situation spiralled out of control and terminated with an unanswered phone.

Over the following days, I took the time to reflect on what I had done and the approach I had taken. Just because we see something a particular way does not make it so. We can be so insistent sometimes that our way of seeing something is more right than someone else’s way. This clouds our judgements and can exacerbate the situation.

Keep an open mind at all times and remember that a point of view is always valuable to each individual. I always used to class myself as someone who was ‘realistic’ but after contemplating this further I realised that the term ‘realistic’ means something very different entirely.

There is no such thing as reality. There is only ‘your’ version of it which is essentially your perception. Remember that what you believe to be true is only as true as your worldly experience and it doesn’t go any further than that. No one else can see your reality. They can only see or hear what you perceive to share, and even that is open to interpretation.

Agree? Disagree? Please feel free to comment and share.

I leave you with the following quote.

“Reality is what we take to be true.

What we take to be true is what we believe.

What we believe is based upon our perceptions.

What we perceive depends upon what we look for.

What we look for depends upon what we think.

What we think depends upon what we perceive.

What we perceive determines what we believe.

What we believe determines what we take to be true.

What we take to be true is our reality.”

Gary Zukav, Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics

Fears, Worries and anxieties?

Above all, we don’t know the future. It’s the other side of our dependence on chance. Things can get slightly better for reasons it’s hard to foresee. Just as pleasures fade and can seem meaningless in retrospect, so pains (at least sometimes) can pass or soften. The School of Life, on Feeling Depressed

Stress is an unavoidable part of modern life.

There are two main kinds of stress — acute stress and chronic stress. Acute stress is the reaction to an immediate threat, commonly known as the “fight or flight” response.

Chronic stress — the kind most of us face day in, day out — is a killer.

However, what does not help is that we pile even more onto ourselves in terms of fears. worries and anxieties into the chronic stress mix.

I came across a really great phrase that seems to capture the idea of fears. worries and anxieties. The phrase came from Henry David Thoreau. He talked about “quiet desperation: a large, grey hinterland in which beneath an outward surface of endurance, we feel exhausted, close to tears, beyond the sympathetic understanding of others, easily irritated and daunted by the simplest task”. Perhaps we should call it “Thoreau stress”.

Many situations can trigger it. Work. Family. Friends. A social situation.

People try to hide their feelings. We can all put on a facade of fake happiness. I am sure we have all done it in the past. It is hard to maintain and since it is false, people quickly see through it. This makes it even harder as people around you know that there is something not right, but because you can not share, it places a double bind on the whole thing.

I have experienced it and I am sure those that are reading this have experienced it too. It is not something that comes upon you quickly and then fades as quickly. Rather it is something that builds over time. Normally based on a constant pressure that you are trying to cope with.

You might feel that it is all “your fault”. But it is not. I have come to realise that many times, it is self-talk and not stepping back from the situation that piles on the pressure. In addition, you can get caught up in your own emotions and feelings. As I call it “self-ruminating”, over the same situation or course of events.

Tasks and activities; even talking, can become hard. You might lose focus. You might feel that you can not move forward, sideways or even backwards. Stuck in a hinterland of fears, worries and anxiety.

For me, my continuing journey with Mindfulness helps. Is is the cure-all? No. Absolutely not.

I still get those feelings and can get caught up in those Thoreau moments. The first step on any journey is to recognise where you are and that is the case for me now. When those moments come, I know that they are happening. I can recognise the signs. With the mindfulness programmes I have done, I know I can do a breathing exercise; or a body scan; or even mindful walking. The last one is the one I find the best for me.

I have always loved getting out in the fresh air. Walking in the countryside. I combine this with a deliberate walking exercise. And it certainly helps. Does it fix everything? No. But as the quote at the start of the article says “Above all, we don’t know the future. It’s the other side of our dependence on chance. “ And that is what I believe in.

By the way. The photo I am using, was from a recent walk. Enjoy.

The article that inspired this blog can be found at:

http://www.thebookoflife.org/on-feeling-depressed/

I leave you with the following quote:

“If only we could see into the minds of strangers, friends and loved ones we would feel so much less alone and recognise we are all feeling similar things. Hopes. Dreams. Fears. Desires. Wanting to connect. “

 

 

Change, love it or hate it? It happens.

“We can’t be afraid of change. You may feel very secure in the pond that you are in, but if you never venture out of it, you will never know that there is such a thing as an ocean, a sea. Holding onto something that is good for you now, may be the very reason why you don’t have something better.” ― C. JoyBell C.

Do you love or hate change?

I don’t mean the word, I mean the fact that change happens. I think we are all pretty similar in that we are pretty adaptable to change so long as it occurs in increments and in a timescale that we feel comfortable with.

As opposed to those major gut-wrenching changes that sometimes happen, like separation, a change of career or perhaps death. I have yet to come across someone who is so opposed to change and wants everything to be exactly the same every day. Have you?

I think we adapt quite well to changes. I was reflecting back today.

I remember vividly the girls starting primary school. That first day, of getting up early, getting ready and being excited to go to “big school” at the age of 5. Six years follow. A routine is developed. Friendships created by them and by us as adults. Then suddenly that day arrives when they have to leave primary school and go to senior school. Tears and moments of joy. A summer holiday and then the journey starts again at senior school. Another six years of developing new friendships. Growing into young adults. Suddenly, the final year is upon us and a prom and exams are the focus on their minds. Another change and they start the sixth form.

In that same time period as parents, we have gone through changes as well.

We extended one house twice, with all the building works going on around us. We then moved house, – don’t ask why! Bought and sold four horses. Yes, four. I find it amazing I ever agreed to one, let alone four. I have changed jobs a number of times and started to define a new career path for myself along the way. I even had a midlife crisis and owned a boat and frightened myself witless learning how to captain it on one of the most challenging tidal rivers in the UK.   

When was the last time you took some time out to reflect on the changes that have gone on in your life? We live our lives going through huge amounts of change, often without even realising it.

As we experience a change in the moment that the change happens, we might feel fraught. Perhaps frightened. We might not want the change to happen. We might be angry that the change is happening. I learnt a trick a few years ago that has really helped me.

HELPFUL TIP: When you are going through a change period, take a few minutes to write down how you are feeling. The thoughts and worries that you might have. How you think others are reacting around you. I call this a Memory Note.

Then put the note you have written away. Somewhere safe, out of sight. Why?

Because you are not going to look at the note until the change is over. Sometimes when I have done this, I have even forgotten I wrote stuff down. Six months or more may pass and all of a sudden I’ll remember I wrote something. More recently, I have taken to put a reminder into my diary months ahead to remind me that I wrote something down and also where I hid it.

When the reminder comes up, I grab the notes and sit and read them. I then reflect on the feelings I have now as opposed to those that I might have written at the time. It certainly helps me to understand what I was feeling at the time and how I coped with the change. It also helps me understand and learn from the change. Maybe, next time there is a change going to happen in your life, you will give a Memory Note a try.

I leave you with the following quote:

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style”  ― Maya Angelou

My reflections on the attitudes of Mindfulness

“The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and human responsibility.” ― Václav Havel

This is the last of the series on the seven attitudes that Jon-Kabat-Zinn developed and has stipulated are the basis for Mindfulness.

The practice of mindfulness is like cultivating a garden.

A garden flourishes when certain conditions are present. The right amount of light; water; ground conditions, but most important of all, how you, as the gardener, tends to the garden.

I have had many a perfect day in the garden, the kind of day that I hoped would never end. A day when the borders are bright with colour, and the perfect lawn grass and shrubs stand green against the blue sky. A day when there is a warm sweetness in the air while you prune and weed and plant out seedlings. It’s a kind of day that leaves you feeling calm, collected, and aware.

If you’ve ever had a day like this, there is a good chance you’ve achieved, at least for a few moments, the mental state known as mindfulness.

As I have gone through the seven attitudinal qualities, I have been trying to reflect my own practices, challenges and learnings. You might like to go back over the articles to review and reflect.

Keeping these attitudes in mind is part of the mindfulness training that you can go through either in a group eight week programme or even individually – as I did – or online. Keeping these attitudes in mind is a way of channelling our energies in the process of healing and growth. Remember too that they are interdependent. Each influences the other and working on one enhances them all.

One last thought, though. Jon, mentions two other attitudes that he has thought should be added to the previous seven. They are Gratitude and Generosity.

The video where Jon describes the Gratitude and Generosity attitudes can be viewed here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6M-ZJLmP4b4&list=PLkgahhWgJW97ADlyc2BYMwOD8wZjcBZ8D&index=8

 

I came across a wonderful article from Tiny Buddha on “Tending to Your Garden of Thoughts and Keeping Your Mind Weed-Free” which made me think further about the garden analogy.

http://tinybuddha.com/blog/tending-garden-thoughts-keeping-mind-weed-free/

I leave you with the following quote.

“We all make mistakes, have struggles, and even regret things in our past. But you are not your mistakes, you are not your struggles, and you are here NOW with the power to shape your day and your future.” ― Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience