The is a lot of power in being positive at work.
Just think to yourself about what makes a good coworker?
Most jobs don’t come with an instruction manual. And there are certainly no hard fast rules on what it takes to be awesome at work. But I bet when you thought about your answer to the above question, someone came to mind. Most of us we have had the privilege to work with at least one amazing comrade in their career.
I am sure you know who I am talking about – the one person who you always felt like you could do to for help, and was always nice and friendly when you bumped into them in the kitchen or hallway. Now think of your favorite friends – the ones you love to spend time with — what are they like? Do they listen to you? Are they open to your ideas? How do they make you feel when you are together?
Early in my career I had this little problem we will call insecurity. I knew it was smart (in fact almost all of my positive feedback came from school assignments, and work projects) and it was the one thing I was proud about and felt like it added value. In fact, being smart and capable of completing work was how I defined my self-worth (and it still is at times).
However, this insecurity and desire to impress was good because it drove me to improve and be better (and work harder) — but it also crippled me in weird ways:
- I felt the need to feel important. I wanted credit, recognition and praise for my accomplishments.
- I didn’t trust other people. If I wasn’t included on an email, or wasn’t invited to a meeting, then I assumed the worst – that people didn’t like me (not that they may have just forgotten or not needed me).
- I didn’t like other people to touch my code. If someone changed or deleted something I wrote I felt insulted as if they didn’t value what I had done.
- I felt the need for approval and would ignore feedback and get defensive if someone brought up something critical.
And I am sure there were at least a dozen more awful things that I did to compensate for my own personal issues. While you may not have any of these problems, learning to feel good about yourself and confident in your skills will make you a better a teammate and leader.
Of course if you are at all like me, I should warn you that it is a long journey. Learning to love yourself is a tough thing – especially if you have been a misfit for so much of your life (for me the only thing worse than college was the many school years before college – being an outcast is no fun). However, building your self-confidence and learning to believe in yourself is the first step to true happiness – not just in work, but also in your personal relationships.
And if you don’t believe me, maybe the research will persuade you. In the article The Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect: Does Happiness Lead to Success?, S. Lyubomirsky et al. claim:The cross-sectional evidence reveals that happy workers enjoy multiple advantages over their less happy peers. Individuals high in subjective well-being are more likely to secure job interviews, be evaluated more positively by supervisors once they get a job, to show superior performance and productivity, and to handle managerial jobs better. They are also less likely to show counter-productive workplace behavior and job burnout.
And if it is going to take a long time to get to a solid sense of self-worth, it is possible that you are wondering what you can do now. To answer that question, I have included my favorite tips and tricks to help you take action now, and start on the path to make you a stronger teammate and leader.
Fake it until you make it.
There is research that supports the theory that if you walk with confidence and project power and authority, even if you don’t believe it deep down, that others will perceive it as such. Of course the goal is that eventually you will start to believe the image you are projecting. My theory is that acting happy, empowered, and confident will make you a better teammate and colleague and fit the mold of the type of person others wanted around.
Smile and make people feel special and important.
The simplest things can make such a big difference in people’s day. For many, it is incredibly meaningful to receive heartfelt compliments or praise from someone else. Even something as simple as a smile can improve your relationship and communication. The research by Guéguen, N. & De Gail, in the work The Effect of Smiling on Helping Behavior: Smiling and Good Samaritan Behavior says:Our results show that being smiled at by a stranger enhances subsequent helping behavior towards another person. These findings are congruent with [previous research] and confirm the influence of smiling on helping behavior in a new situation. Furthermore, these findings show that smiling enhances helping behavior toward a person who is not the smiler…
And why wouldn’t you want have a positive influence on someone else?
Be a good listener.
The first step to becoming a good communicator and working well with others is to make conversations collaborative. If you find yourself having problems being present (i.e. getting distracted by your phone, computer, or even the guy’s shirt across the room), or interrupting your conversation partner, then chances are you need to improve your listening skills. And listening skills aren’t just about being there and hearing the words, but also seeking to understand and really listen to the message.
If you need more ideas on how to improve your verbal communication, you should check out this post I wrote before on being a good listener.
Be open to ideas that are not your own.
Who doesn’t love being right? And for most of us we are very passionate about what we do. However, being a great teammate means that you are open to alternative viewpoints — even those that oppose your own. For most problems there is seldom only one solution — as they say there is more than one way to skin a cat. So even if you think something should be done one way, there is real possibility it could be done another way. Being able to have disagreements, listen to different viewpoints, and come to an acceptable resolution is a powerful skill to develop – and being good at doing this can make one indispensable on a team. But the first part of building consensus is openness and listening.
Make it real and be authentic.
Make sure you are walking your talk; people always believe action over words. There has been research that suggests someone who is authentic is more likely to be respected, supported and well liked by his or her colleagues. They will also experience positive outcomes associated with enjoying close relationships with others (Hodgins, Koestner, Duncan, 1996). Part of being authentic is that you are able to see yourself in a balanced way, acknowledging both strengths and weaknesses. Besides the positive reasons to embrace and be you, there is also a downside for not doing so: if your attitude and actions are inconsistent it can cause cognitive dissonance and may cause others to perceive you are insincere and untrustworthy. I could probably write a whole post on this topic since I spent years trying to project an image that wasn’t me; and only when I embraced my true self did I start seeing increased success and improved personal relationships.
Make it about them, not you.
This was one of the best lessons in Dale Carnegie’s class book How to Win Friends and Influence People (mind map of the book included left). In order to capture someone’s attention to get your message across you need to communicate in a way that leads with their cares, motives and concerns. Take the time to think through your audience and give them they information that they need and want, and put things into their terms. When you engage others don’t dominate the conversation (I am still so guilty of this myself since I tend to talk a lot when I am nervous – uncomfortable silence in social situations has never been easy for me), you can overcome this by paying more attention and asking questions to draw out your conversation partner’s thoughts and opinions. Be sure to look and sound engaged and self-assured, and others will respond more positively to you; otherwise you risk inducing negative responses.
Focus on the good things – optimism.
People will often give back the energy that you give to them. Positively energized people can create positivity in others and will boost your likeability. By framing your statements more positively you can make interactions with you more upbeat and positive. Sometimes technologists and introverts find this way of thinking difficult – we look for bottlenecks, or flaws, to think about what may go wrong. However, when people bring new ideas they aren’t looking for what is wrong, they want someone to focus on the merits of their idea and help them work collaboratively through the downsides (and trust me, if you care cynical and tell everyone what is wrong with something, they will just stop bringing their thoughts to you). By being positive, optimistic and helpful you can improve your likability – and this can frame all the information people gather about you and your ideas making future interactions better.
Don’t commiserate or fall into negative talk.
We were warned about engaging in office gossip, but there is actually something much worse – engaging in negative talk about your teammates (including your boss). Don’t get me wrong most of us don’t like authority, but by saying something bad about the leadership above you can erode people’s confidence in the organization – causing unnecessary worry and dissatisfaction (and this is especially true if you are manager or senior member of the team). Saying something negative about someone distances you from him or her, and in the event you then act differently towards that person, then it could also distance you from the person with whom you spoke – it is a no-win situation. Speaking negatively about someone, regardless of where they are in the organization, creates a culture of mistrust. Don’t you want to work on a team where it is okay to make mistakes? People don’t come to work to do a bad job, so if someone is, be the bigger person and talk to him or her directly.
As I said at the start of the article, building self-confidence and self-awareness takes time – and since it is a long journey, that is all the more reason to start now. If you have other tips, comments or references please leave them in the comments.
P.S. This article, How to Speak more Strategically, is also related and relevant. Definitely worth checking out!