Recorded on September 10th, 2016
Right before this week started, I listened to an episode of Manager Tools called “Politics: Have Nothing Bad to Say”. The idea is that when you are asked to share some inside knowledge you have about a difficult situation in your team, a meeting that went south, a tense moment between co-workers, or just plain gossip, that you opt out. This is going to happen to you often, probably at least once a week. If you pass up the opportunity to spread negative news about others, you in effect improve the environment all around you.
It can be so tempting to dish about someone and point out failures. I’ve certainly done it many times. And sadly, exchanging those juicy nuggets can bring people closer together in a twisted way, but that’s not a strong foundation to build on. If you can manage to short-circuit that whole process, at least as far as your involvement goes, you elevate yourself one conversation at a time. All you have to say is, “Man, I’ve got nothing bad to say about her/him”. Mark and Mike give some other great examples of Jedi mind trick kinds of phrases you can use to shut down those queries. The more you do this, the more people will un-associate you with gossip, and the better your word will be. You won’t need to worry that something that you told someone “in confidence” will get spread around and morphed into something worse than what you actually said.
This week at work, I really, really tried to live this, and I think I succeeded. Not that I’m a pillar of morality, but I just chose not to add to the fray when things went in that direction. There will definitely be more chances to practice this in the future.
Recorded on August 8th, 2016
Every so often, I listen to Manager Tools, an excellent podcast about being a better manager. I’m not a manager of anyone, but I believe that we can all influence and lead each other, even if we don’t have direct reports. Their latest episode covers distractions in meetings and gives some blunt, hard-nosed advice, but it’s something more people need to hear.
They recommend having agreed-upon ground rules for all meetings, such as no laptops, no checking smartphones, no interruptions, and no sidebars (people talking with each other on the side). Then, once these rules are in place, if someone violates one of the rules, you call them out on it. Not in a rude way, and not in a way that derails the meeting and calls undue attention to the offender. You call them out swiftly and politely so the behavior can be corrected and the meeting can continue. And you do this because meetings are expensive and it’s a waste of everyone’s time to do anything but listen and participate.
All of this may sound old-fashioned and rigid, but my experience with the Manager Tools podcast is that what sometimes sounds like extreme advice usually ends up being a smart direction, and it only sounds extreme because our habits are so broken. I’ve been in work cultures where laptop use wasn’t just tolerated — it was expected. I’ve seen how smartphones can be a badge of busy-person honor. And everyone knows the dynamic where the person who interrupts the most is seen as tuned-in and ambitious. What if we turned that all around?
What if, instead of taking notes on the laptop, we took only a notebook and pen or pencil into the meeting, and listened more and wrote down only key ideas and actions? What if we quietly excused ourselves from the meeting if we had to check our phone badly enough that we couldn’t leave it in our pocket? (Don’t even get me started about cellphone holsters.) What if we actually let people finish what they’re saying instead of breathlessly rushing in with criticism or our latest brilliant idea? And what if we actually shut the hell up and gave 100% focus to the person who had the floor?
Your workplace may encourage any of the distracting behaviors mentioned earlier, and they may be so widespread that no-one is bothered by them. But I suspect that if you abandon your old ways, you’ll subtly differentiate yourself from your peers. You’ll look wiser, calmer, and more thoughtful when you do step in with your earth-shattering idea, and your meetings will be more productive and end faster.
Recorded on June 17th, 2016
I read Jessica Hische’s essay, The Dark Art of Pricing, about four years ago and it still sticks with me. I’m not even remotely a freelancer, but it’s so standout-helpful that it could make the wheels in a person’s head start turning. It is a gem, dense with practical advice about how to price your design work, especially when licensing and rights-management are part of the equation. If you make your living from selling your work to clients — or if you know someone who does — The Dark Art of Pricing is a must-read. I passed it on to an artist friend recently and they thanked me profusely.