Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Does Your Work Meet Your Needs?

For those in the working world (whether self-employed or at an employer), work can be both a source of pride and accomplishment as well as deep dissatisfaction. Often the dissatisfaction comes from the stress of tight deadlines or difficult interactions with clients or colleagues. But it also comes from a more subtle place.


When work fails to fulfill our BSPACE needs (belonging, security, purpose, autonomy, connection, expression) we perceive the incongruence and subsequently experience some underlying stress. The stress could be low-level, barely registering but ever present, or it could clearly and distinctly announcing itself.

How well is your current work meeting your BSPACE needs?

It can be helpful to periodically reflect upon each of the following needs as they relate to your work (perhaps once a quarter).  

Belonging - our sense of acceptance and inclusion in a group or community.
Think of your workplace as a whole as the “community” in this context.  Overall, you may feel like you fit in with the broader culture where you work or you may not. Additionally, you are likely a part of formally defined groups (e.g., project team, business unit) and groups that are more informal in nature (e.g., peers who go to coffee together).  Each group has its own structure and dynamic and may or may not make you feel accepted and included.


Security - encompasses our ability to meet our basic physiological and psychological needs.
In the modern world, income from working is one of the fundamental ways we manifest security. It allows us to meet our needs for shelter, food, clothing, etc. It can also allow us to save for the future and to protect against the unforeseen (e.g., purchasing insurance). The income from your work may or may not be adequate to meet your basic needs. Further, it may or may not be adequate for your lifestyle choices or to service debt that the-you-of-the-past incurred.


Purpose - refers to our contribution in a specific setting (or our reason for being). 
Having your need for purpose met doesn’t mean you have to feel passionate about your work or even enjoy it (but yay if you do!). Purpose is about feeling that your efforts make a difference (big or small).  For example, if you write a report, does someone read it and do something with the information or does it just sit there unread? If you feel that your contributions are a part of accomplishing the work at hand, then you are on some level fulfilling your need for purpose. If, however, your contributions are ignored or overruled you may think “what’s the point” and feel a lack of purpose at work.


Autonomy - refers to our independence and ability to exert control over our life.
The amount of autonomy you have at work will vary with your abilities, experience level, the nature of the work, the manager you have, the workplace culture, and other factors. I think at one point or another, we’ve all had the experience of being micromanaged. The dissatisfaction you feel when someone is breathing down your neck on every little detail is from your need for autonomy. On the flip side, some people thrive when their work is entirely self-directed while others need more guidance.


Connection - is our relationships with others.
In some respects, connection is similar to belonging, but belonging has to do more with groups while connection has to do with individual relationships. It doesn’t have to be a deeply personal connection in which you share all the details of your life – rather that you feel comfortable or click with some individuals at work. Sometimes dissatisfaction arises when there is someone at work with whom you have trouble connecting.


Expression - refers to our need to share our thoughts, feelings, ideas, and sense of self.
There are many ways to express one’s self at work. It could be through the clothing you wear or how you decorate your space. It could be through speaking up at meetings or through casual conversations. For some people, a strict corporate dress code or rules on personal decorations can be excruciating while for others they are neutral. Everyone, however, wants to be able to express their thoughts and ideas and have them acknowledged and considered. 

Relative Importance of Each Need

Regardless of your current work situation, it can be helpful to rank the needs in order of importance to you as they relate to work in general. For me that looks like:  

1 Purpose & Autonomy (tie)

3 Security

4 Belonging

5 Expression

6 Connection 
Your ranking can help you when thinking about new opportunities and when evaluating them against your existing role.

Fulfillment Level

It can also be helpful to assign a value between 0% and 100% to indicate how well your current work fulfills each need. One of the jobs I’ve had I would have assigned the following:  Purpose (50%), Autonomy (90%), Security (60%), Belonging (50%), Expression (75%), and Connection (90%).

I ended up quitting that job in 2013. In retrospect, it’s not hard to see why - but the time I just knew that I wasn’t happy doing it.

If your current work is consistently meeting all five needs at a level that sustains you – congratulations! While you’ve still got stress in your work, it’s likely not from one of these underlying needs going unmet.  I once had a job that hit all the marks in terms of needs but I ended up leaving it because of its geographical location.

Should I Stay or Should I go?

There’s no magic formula for whether to continue your current work or look for something else. If your work doesn’t meet all of the underlying needs here are a couple of questions to ask yourself. 

  1. Is the work meeting your highest ranked needs? If your top two or three needs are being met at a high level, then perhaps you are willing to sacrifice the others.
  2. Are your needs being met outside of work? If your work hits the mark in at least one area, and your other needs are fulfilled through other avenues, then perhaps it’s not the time to make a change.

For Those Wanting a More Structured Assessment

Some of you will no doubt want to take a more rigorous approach to your reflection. Here’s a worksheet to guide you through a more detailed assessment.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

An Introvert's Trick for Making Small Talk

A simple technique for practicing self-disclosure at work

 As an introvert, I'm not predisposed to making small talk. There are a finite number of words to express or interactions to have in a given day before I need recovery time. Perhaps that's why for so many years I'd answer "How are you?" with "busy." It doesn't exactly invite follow up discussion and I don't have to share anything about myself. 

But (appropriate) self-disclosure is a key professional competency for everyone to develop, especially those in leadership. There are numerous articles about its importance in the workplace; it's an integral part of interpersonal communication and helps to build trust. 

I decided I would casually wade into the self-disclosure waters within a ubiquitous exchange that I hated having. For me, worse than having to engage in small talk is having to engage in meaningless small talk. This kind:
Hi. How are you?
Fine. How are you?
Things are okay. Have a good day.
You, too.
Ugh. What a waste of time and words. But what a perfect opportunity to self-disclose in a way that wasn't too scary. 

Here's what I do - offer one tidbit of personal/professional information when responding to the "how are you" question. Like this:
  • Good - my commute was 15 minutes faster today so I've been given the gift of time.
  • A little tired - I stayed up past my bedtime binge watching [show] on Netflix.
  • Can't complain - yesterday I had a chance to re-pot some houseplants, which has been on my to do list for longer than I'd care to admit.
  • Fine - I'm trying out a new email productivity system and don't quite have the hang of it yet.
After giving my response I'd of course reciprocate with "and how are you?".  At that point the person might choose to continue the conversation and add a comment related to what I shared or they may simply respond to the question and go on with their day. More often than not though, people pick up the conversation ball. 

Innately, we wish to relate to others and by sharing an authentic tidbit about our lives we make it easier for the other person to know how to relate to us.

You don't need to be overly personal in what you share. In each of the examples above, I'm revealing a benign but true piece of information about myself and providing an easy doorway for the other person to walk through into a conversation.
  • Information shared: I commute, today it was faster. The other person could ask from where and talk about their commute. They could comment on the "gift of time". 
  • Information shared: I have Netflix, I like [show]. The other person could share whether or not they have Netflix, what their TV watching medium is (e.g., we have Amazon Prime Video, or we don't watch TV), or comment on whether or not they've seen the show I mentioned.
  • Information Shared: I have plants, I sometimes let household to dos linger on my list too long. The other person may comment about their own plants or lack of a green thumb. They may comment on their own unfinished home to do list or a project they recently completed.
  • Information Shared: I'm interested in personal productivity but I'm not perfect at it. The other person could share something they are trying or that they too wish they had a better system for managing email.
When I started implementing this technique, I noticed several things:
  1. Since the conversation was intentional from my perspective, I felt more in control and proactive as opposed to annoyed. 
  2. It made other instances of small talk easier for me. 
  3. It can be used as an informal search mechanism to find colleagues who had similar interests, whether personal or professional. 
  4. It can be used to subtly but strategically position oneself as the go-to person to talk about [topic X]. 
  5. It seemed to make it easier for junior staff to approach me. They could start a conversation using any of the information I'd previously revealed ("Hi, Katie - how are your plants doing these days?") and then segue into the work matter they wanted to talk about "I'd like to ask you some questions about project X". 
  6. I noticed just how many people were on autopilot having the same meaningless conversation each day.   
There's of course lots more that goes into skilled self-disclosure but you'll be surprised at how much you can get out of starting with this simple technique. YMMV.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Practice Relaxing

Several years ago I was having a conversation with my massage therapist about how it can be difficult to relax. She was of the opinion that relaxing is a skill that can be learned. She said that people need to "practice relaxing".

That phrasing has always stuck with me.

We like to think that relaxing comes naturally - that it is simply the opposite of work and other obligations. But I know far too many people who readily admit what a hard time they have unwinding. 

Perhaps it is because we resist the notion that something that is supposed to be, well, relaxing, can actually take some planning and practice.

The good news is it can be practiced in small doses. One way is through guided relaxation.

I'm a biiiiiig fan of guided relaxation. All I have to do is press play, close my eyes, and follow along in my head.

Here's one that only takes three minutes. You can try it anywhere - at your desk or seated on a park bench. Just pop on some headphones and play the file. 


I challenge you to listen to the recording every day for a week. You might like to try it:
  • before a stressful meeting or interaction,
  • after a stressful meeting or interaction,
  • as soon as you arrive at work,
  • at the end of the work day before you leave for home,
  • over your lunch hour or a break,
  • first thing when you wake up,
  • or last thing before bed.
Want more? Good news it's coming.