Tag Archives: emotional control

How To Deal With Envy In The Workplace

Do you envy your colleagues’ success?

Back in my younger days I attended a private boarding school for two years while I did my ‘A’ Levels. For an averagely talented young guy from a comprehensive school in Dudley, it was something of a culture shock.

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In the good old comprehensive, I was top of the class in a number of subjects. Each high grade and complimentary comment from the relevant teacher boosted my self esteem – gave me a feeling of being “better” than the other students. I wasn’t a popular kid, in fact I was probably on par with impetigo for social acceptance, and was more often than not the target for bullies who seemed to have collectively confused my head with a football. So I wasn’t walking around with a swollen head from excessive self-esteem, let’s just say that. But nonetheless, my apparent academic success allowed me to feel superior in at least one area. In these limited sets of circumstances, I was “OK” where most of my contemporaries were apparently “not OK”. In short, I was the academic achiever.

So when I moved to the poshest private boarding school since St. Posh’s Posh Academy opened in the Borough of Posh, I thought everything would be fantastic. After all, I came top in a number of subjects such as English, Music and Business Studies at my previous school – I was bound to fit in, right?

Eh, no. What I discovered upon joining was that the academic bar was considerably higher at the private school than it was at the comprehensive. In fact, it was like comparing the height of the Empire State Building to a small 10 storey tower block in Slough. Rather more steps.

Where I had previously been a high achiever, I was now distinctly average against my new peers. On the plus side, I fitted in socially and rather than being used as an item of gym equipment by the bullies, I was now popular. But academically, I was mediocre at best. What’s more, I only had two years in which to advance my skills just to match the base standard of the school at the time I joined.

This was a task equivalent to making a comb-over fashionable. It couldn’t really be done.

The result of this new set of circumstances was that I no longer felt “OK” about my academic ability. Everyone else was “OK” but I was “not OK”. Because I now felt “not OK” about my academic ability, I became envious of my contemporaries who appeared to be blessed with an innate ability to deliver high performance with little effort in areas where I seemed to require enormous effort for little performance. Bastards.

The more envious I became the more I saw myself as a victim of bad circumstances.

Now, my experiences are by no means unique and I expect my story is bringing back your own memories of similar situations from your school days. Like many of us, you’ve probably experienced situations such as mine where you find yourself coming up short in comparison with others – where you feel you’re not as good as you thought you were.

Situations where you feel “not OK” about yourself.

But just pause for a moment. I want you to consider how these situations affect your working life. Because it turns out that these situations are not unique to our academic careers – they are equally prevalent in the workplace.

The Comparison Problem

As human beings, we have all become conditioned to compare ourselves to other human beings. Throughout the course of a typical day we are continuously making micro-comparisons, be they physical, intellectual or situational. “Am I fatter than them?”, “Do they drive a better car than me?”, “Does my boss prefer Dave to me?”, “Is my report as good as Sharon’s?”, “Was that joke I just cracked as funny as the one Will told this morning?” etc, etc.

These are the things we human beings spend a lot of time thinking about. We are collectively obsessed with how we stack up against our contemporaries.

It turns out that this is an automatic internal mechanism, built into our brains and reinforced by social conditioning and experience. And it’s incredibly self-centred. In fact, it’s all about good old self-esteem.

We spend inordinate amounts of time trying to prop up our self-esteem, trying to make ourselves feel good about ourselves. This is because our self-esteem is often built on very poor foundations. Imagine going to the English Channel, building a pier out of flimsy materials in the middle of a storm and then running around trying to make adjustments in the structure to stop it falling down. Not terribly productive and likely to end in a bloody great mess. This is what we are doing all the time.

How do you feel when one of your colleagues closes a big deal? Or when a fellow co-worker is selected to undertake a prestigious secondment? Or when all the managers one level above you are given the opportunity to attend a training programme but you’re not?

Or when Debbie walks into the kitchen with a humungous coffee cup that’s twice the size of yours?

We should be pleased for our colleagues, right? But I’m willing to bet that many of us would want to throw Debbie’s stupid oversized poser mug out the nearest window.

These are the kind of situations that cause many of us to believe we are “not OK”. And going back to the pier metaphor – believing we’re “not OK” means that every one of these situations is an assault to our rickety self esteem in the same way as each wave breaks off another piece of the British Leyland pier. It’s a constant fight to stay standing.

Breaking The Cycle Of Envy

This cycle of self-esteem maintenance, which encourages comparison and then results in envy where the comparison is not favourable, makes working life far more difficult that it should be. This nonsense is simmering away under the surface in your office and your performance and quality of life is being affected by it. Do you want this to continue?

I suspect not. I mean, telling your manager that your poor performance in a task was the result of a drop in self-esteem caused by Debbie’s Bentley of coffee cups showing up in the kitchen is not going to cut it.

You can’t necessarily change this in others. But you can do something about it yourself. You can change the way you think.

Here’s how.

1. Look into others

We tend to look up to those we perceive as being more successful or more “OK” than ourselves. This is an inherently inferior position – similar to a child’s view of a parent. “I’m not OK, because he’s OK”.

Instead of seeing others as superior, luckier or more “OK” than you, think logically about what it is about them that you value. Ask questions such as:

  • What is it that I admire about them?
  • What have they done that I haven’t? How might I do that?
  • What are their strengths and weaknesses?
  • What barriers might they have in their work life?

When we use our mind in this way we turn off our emotional mode and engage our thinking mode. Rather than seeing someone as more successful than ourselves and reacting emotionally to that (i.e. I’m “not OK”), we begin to logically assess what lessons can be learned and how we might apply it to our own situations. We see into other people.

This brings me neatly on to the next tip.

2. Celebrate their success

We often see other people’s success as a kind of barrier to our own achievements, as though their being successful has closed off the route to our own success. This is particularly true in workplace environments.

However, you have a choice here. The reality is that other people’s success is a signpost demonstrating what is possible. Someone doing well within the workplace is immensely positive for you, because it shows what you might be able to achieve yourself.

Celebrate the success of others. After all, like you, they were probably “not OK” with themselves before they were successful. They’re just human beings, the same as you. So be pleased that they’re doing well and use that fact as motivation for your own success.

Which leads us to:

3. Give yourself a break

Like I said, we’re all human beings. Everyone has the same basic struggles as you. Just because someone else seems to be doing better, don’t assume that they didn’t have to overcome similar barriers to those you face. Don’t assume that because someone else looks “OK” that they don’t feel “not OK” in certain aspects of their lives.

It’s perfectly normal to be “not OK” about yourself. Which means that in actual fact, you are “OK”.

So give yourself a break.

4. Build your self-esteem on solid foundations

Remind yourself of your achievements, your good qualities, your skills. Take pride in who you are and what you already bring to the table, remembering that you can add to all of these things with hard work and endeavour.

There are things you can do which your colleagues cannot. There are things you have that they don’t. All too often, we forget our positives and focus on our deficiencies when comparing ourselves to others.

Build your self-esteem on what you have already accomplished and what you can already do and your metaphorical pier will stand up in any weather.

If only I had known this when I was at school. I would have realised that despite being academically behind my new colleagues at the oh-so-posh private school, I actually had talents in some areas that they didn’t. If I had looked into my fellow pupils and sought to understand how they had become so academically gifted, I would have had a strong chance of drastically improving my own academic skills.

Certainly would have been more productive than burning the school down. (Just kidding!)

I want to leave you with a great quote which sadly, I am unable to attribute as I can’t recall where I found it. If anyone does know who originated this, please let me know and I will add the appropriate credit.

Anyway, this is a quote that you should always remember:

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Worth remembering, I think.

So next time Debbie uses the entire contents of the kettle to fill her cavernous caffeine container, give her a break, huh?

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John Hackett

Managing Director, Franklin-Hackett Ltd.

If you’re interested in training that will help you to manage your self-esteem and get more from others, why not drop me a line at info@franklin-hackett.co.uk

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4 Lessons From Captain Spock That We Can Apply To Our Working Lives

Like many people, especially fellow Star Trek fans, I was very sad to hear of the death of Leonard 00441047Nimoy last week. A talented
actor, director and writer, Nimoy will forever be remembered for his portrayal of Captain Spock in the classic sci-fi TV and film series, Star Trek. For many of us, he was an inspirational figure.

I came across this Twitter quote from the sci-fi author John Scalzi which says it all:

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However, while Nimoy has sadly boldly gone where many have gone before, the character he brought to life remains immortal. A towering figure in pop culture, Captain Spock epitomised the struggle between human emotion and the power of logical reasoning – something we can all relate to on a daily basis.

There are many fascinating elements to Spock’s character but I wanted to share with you four things that he demonstrated which I think are relevant to all of our working lives. Four things you should consider that will help you to establish yourself as a top performer within your organisation.

1. CONSIDER THE WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF YOUR ACTIONS

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So often, our main focus at work is on our immediate concerns or needs. It is very easy to think only of what affects or benefits ourselves. However, we are part of a wider system – a cog in a machine, if you like. Our actions on a daily basis affect our colleagues and most importantly, our customers. How often do you consider the implications of your actions on a wider level? Do you assess how your contribution is benefitting your organisation?

What Spock demonstrated was the importance of considering the wider implications of one’s actions, ahead of personal impulses. His willingness to do what was necessary for the benefit of the many won him respect and admiration from his colleagues, making him an authority figure within the Enterprise crew. Follow his example and you will quickly establish yourself as a respected and admired colleague within your organisation.

2. SEPARATE EMOTIONS FROM WORK

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Do you have a colleague who reacts dramatically to every little development in the office? If so, you have probably seen how destructive these emotional outbursts are to the rest of the team.

We all fall into the trap of allowing our emotions to get in the way of work. Certain things happen that irritate or worry us and we vent that through small emotional explosions. The problem with this is that our thinking capacity is dramatically reduced as our brain is overloaded with emotion. In this state we produce lower quality work and damage our own emotional health, as well as that of others.

What Spock demonstrated was the benefit of keeping one’s emotions in check in order to be able to make clear, logical decisions about the job at hand. You can accomplish this too by becoming aware of your emotional triggers and managing your response to them. Don’t let your emotions about your work impair the quality of your work. Follow his example and you will establish yourself as a natural leader – the one person who can remain in control while others fall apart.

3. ALWAYS CONSIDER ALL OF THE RELEVANT FACTS

FACTS

Have you ever noticed that many decisions at work are made on the basis of very few facts? Often, decisions are based on the impulses or desires of the people involved, not the objective facts of the situation. The result of this is arbitrary decisions that don’t hold up under scrutiny.

This is a trap we all fall into from time to time and it seriously harms our performance at work.

What Spock demonstrated was the benefit of performing a thorough analysis of ALL the relevant facts before making a decision. The solid logical arguments we admire in Spock can be replicated by any of us so long as we ensure we thoroughly understand the relevant facts before making a decision. Follow his example and you will be able to construct and articulate robust business cases that will establish you as one of the most influential players within your organisation.

4. USE COMPUTERS TO SERVE YOUR PURPOSE, NOT DEFINE IT

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Computers now dominate the workplace. Most of us are used to wrestling with various software packages (including the dreaded Microsoft Windows) on a daily basis in order to accomplish our tasks. The problem is that many people rely on computers to get the job done, in some cases to the point that they cannot function without them. Also, organisations are designing processes that cannot operate at all without technology.

What Spock illustrated was the danger of allowing computers to define one’s purpose, rather than serve it. We have become too reliant on IT within our workplaces. Think about your working day and consider how much you are relying on your computer for tasks such as communication. Ask yourself if software is telling you what to do in your job. Follow his example – challenge the stranglehold of computers and take back control of your job.

And finally, I leave you with Leonard Nimoy’s last tweet:

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Rest in peace, Leonard. I have been, and always shall be, your fan.

How to Stop Yodelling in Meetings – Managing Your Personal Stress Levels

I’m not one of those people who vocalises my anxiety, more a “grit your teeth and get on with it” kind of chap. But whenever I feel nervous or anxious, I have a feeling which I often describe as an “internal yodelling”. It’s a kind of “ohmygodherewegobloodyhellgetmeoutofhere” internal dialogue. And it’s really rather unhelpful.Stressful_Meeting

Recently, on-going health problems led to me having an ultrasound scan of my abdomen. And it was a bizarre procedure. I was led into an ominously darkened room with a stern but polite nurse and a rather funky but esoteric doctor who appeared to be a little bit too proud of his byzantine and slightly terrifying medical equipment. I half expected Pink Floyd’s “The Great Gig in the Sky” to be permanently playing on a loop, but fortunately there was only the rhythmic beeping of the doctor’s toys.

After the inevitable brief conversation about why I was there, I was asked to remove my shirt and lie on top of a piece of apparatus they referred to as a bed but which looked more like a workbench. When the doctor began to lube up my belly, the inevitable internal yodelling started. I was so nervous about the potential outcome of this slightly undignified procedure that I even forgot to deploy my preplanned quip, “is it a boy or a girl?”.

Never mind, they’ve probably heard guys knock out that cracker plenty of times before.

Naturally, the source of my anxiety was both the potential outcome of the scan and the environment in which the process was taking place. I could not necessarily prevent my anxiety but what I did was use a technique I always use in situations like this.

I switched my mind from emotional mode into thinking mode.

Getting Control Of Your Emotions

Now, you may have been in many situations at work where you have felt similar emotions to those I felt on the day of my scan. You’ve probably experienced this most often in meetings. After all, meetings are one of the most intimidating and anxiety-inducing pieces of theatre we perform in organisations. Think about it, you are on show. Everybody is giving a performance. There are expectations, requirements, emotional investments. Everybody is fully loaded with all of these things.

When you walk into a meeting room there is an atmosphere. Hell, some meetings are not dissimilar to my aforementioned hospital room. Beeping equipment, stern but friendly people, an enormous flat surface in the middle of the room and sometimes even, an absence of light. Okay, nobody is being asked to remove their shirt – well, not in any organisation I’ve worked with… but you get the idea. They can be genuinely intimidating.

The thing is, like me and my ultrasound scan, you can’t necessarily avoid this atmosphere or prevent your anxiety from surfacing in the first place. What you can do, is shut off your anxiety so you can think.

Business Requires Thought, Not Feelings

Performing business requires our thinking minds more than it requires our emotional side. After all, the rules of the world and reality are not based around arbitrary emotions. They are based around facts.

And yet, so much of what goes on in organisations today is based on people’s feelings. Meetings are a virtual circus of individual’s emotions but their purpose is to collate collective thoughts in order to make progress on various issues. Ironically, feelings prevent this purpose from being achieved.

So if you can shut off your anxiety and allow yourself to think, you will be able to make a far greater impact on the progress of your organisation and have a much better and more rewarding experience while you’re at it.

Brain Capacity For Thought And Feeling

The problem you have is one we all share. The human brain has a very limited capacity to simultaneously process rational thoughts and emotions. It works like this-when you’re feeling emotional your capacity for rational thought reduces.

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Similarly when you’re engaged in rational thought, your capacity to feel emotions also reduces.

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If you are generally ruled by your feelings, this process works against you. However, if you are able to turn the tables and knock your mind into thinking mode then you can make this work very much in your favour.

When you are in a stressful situation such as a meeting, the environmental conditions are usually what puts your mind into feeling mode and prevents you from getting into thinking mode. You might remember my internal dialogue from earlier -“ohmygodherewegobloodyhellgetmeoutofhere”. Try saying this to yourself over and over again in a frenzied manner and see how rational and stable you feel at the end of it. In my case, my yodelling is default internal dialogue that helps to reinforce the messages that are being sent to me by the stressful environment I’m in. It’s likely that you will have a similar internal dialogue that surfaces whenever you feel anxious.

Now it turns out that you can switch your mind into thinking mode by changing your internal dialogue to a logical and thought based phrase. My yodelling example is clearly an emotional phrase, so my technique for changing modes to thinking is to use the phrase “hmm… this is interesting”.

Try saying this to yourself. You’ll notice that this phrase immediately makes your mind curious to gain further understanding of the situation you’re in. It is not connected to any emotion, it is a logical phrase.

When I was in the hospital, lying on the work bench, lubed up with what appeared to be a storm trooper’s head being scraped across my gut, I said this phrase to myself – “hmm… this is interesting”. The anxiety lifted, I began to see the humour in the situation and I became interested in understanding more about how the procedure worked and what all the equipment did.

This could work for you in meetings and other stressful situations.

What’s your logical phrase going to be? Pick something that works for you and next time you’re sitting in a meeting and internally yodelling from all the drama and theatre, use your logical phrase. Switch your mind into thinking mode and become interested in solving the problem or situation and watch how effective you become. Imagine how effective you will be and how much influence you will be able to assert if you are able to think where everyone else is yodelling.

And finally, in case you’re wondering, all was well with the scan but take my word for it, if the Doctor asks you if you’d like to see the images, just say no.

“ohmygodherewegobloodyhellgetmeoutofhere!!”

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John Hackett

Managing Director – Franklin-Hackett Ltd.