3 Ways to Give the Best of Yourself

3 Ways to Give the Best of Yourself

Mute.

I love that little button on my TV remote. I use it a lot. Commercial comes on?

Mute.

A program with talking heads yelling at each other?

Mute.

In today’s workplace, I think a lot of people long for a “mute” button. Unfortunately, not only do we not have the option of tuning everything out, but the increasing stress levels have made it just a bit too loud — in all kinds of ways.

Recently, I looked into the issue of incivility and stress in the workplace, and what we can do about it. Here’s the column I did for Gannett:

As you check your e-mail, return phone calls, gather materials for a meeting in five minutes and try to ignore the fact you haven’t had time to eat lunch, the last thing you may find time for in your busy work day is taking a breather.

Who has time to pause these days? To catch a deep breath when there are ringing phones and buzzing pagers and deadlines and endless workloads? If you pause, you think, all the balls you’re juggling might come crashing down around your head. If you take a take a break, you believe, you’ll only get further behind.

But Nance Guilmartin believes that’s exactly the type of thinking that has led to so much incivility in the workplace today. The inability to give ourselves a moment to gather our thoughts, she says, is what has led many people to make bad decisions, engage in fruitless arguments and ratchet up the stress.

“We’re stretched to the snapping point,” says Guilmartin, an executive coach. “What people need to understand is that even though they can’t change what’s happening, they can change how they handle it. They don’t have to be the victim of what they can’t control.”

Guilmartin says that workers need to learn to stop the habit of “knee-jerk reactions” to situations or people at work, and instead take a minute to consider what they’ve heard and ask questions to make sure they understand the situation before commenting. She says taking a pause allows us to “tap back into our long-lost common sense.”

In her book, “The Power of Pause: How to Be More Effective in a Demanding, 24/7 World, “(Jossey-Bass, $24.95), Guilmarten tells the story of a nurse who was advised to slow down, and reacted with disbelief. As a busy professional with multiple patients, limited resources and time and the unending stress of ill or dying patients, the nurse was incredulous that anyone would tell her to “take a moment to catch her own breath,” Guilmartin says.

Guilmartin says she shared with the nurse the story of a friend who had been in and out of hospitals for a couple of years, and said she felt like nothing more than a “procedure” every time a harried nurse entered her room.

The friend told Guilmartin she would instead appreciate being seen as a person first, and a patient second. Guilmartin said the message resonated with the nurse, who did indeed begin taking a breath before entering a patient’s room, understanding that the pause ensured that she gave the patient a better quality of care, and made her a better nurse.

“We have to learn to give the best of ourselves in the moment,” Guilmartin says. “And all it takes is the time to take one deep breath. Maybe you don’t have time to do more, but you can do more with the time you have.”

Guilmartin says there are a number of ways to be more successful and have more impact and satisfaction in our work, simply by changing a few bad habits that have cropped up in a non-stop, always-connected world.

Among them:
 Don’t react with angry words. Either verbally or written in an e-mail, “you give your power away when you get furious,” she says. “You may win the battle, but you lose the war.” Instead, when frustrated or angry, pause and then try and regain control of the situation by getting more information. It could be that you misunderstood, the person may have accidentally misspoken, or you don’t fully understand all the issues involved.
• Listen. The workplace today is focused on developing a collaborative atmosphere where ideas are shared to drive innovation. That can’t happen, she says, unless people take the time to simply show respect by listening to another person without jumping in with snap decisions or judgments so they can move onto the next item on a to-do list. “The greatest thing you can have someone say about you is: ‘Wow. She’s a great listener.
• Be honest. “If someone comes to you and you’re waiting on an important phone call, be honest with them and say that you can give them only 50 percent of your attention because you’re focused on the upcoming call. Tell them if that’s OK, you can give them what you can at the time. What this does is help the person come to trust you because you’re being honest.”

What are some ways you use to slow yourself down when things get crazy?

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