7 reasons why it’s important to keep learning at work

Are you feeling like you’re going through the motions at work? Do you feel like you’ve mastered your role and there’s a lot more to learn? Are you being denied the opportunity to learn? And, worse of all, do you dread Monday mornings and live for the weekends?

learn-1

If you have any of these feelings, you’re not alone. Lack of training  and other opportunities to learn is a key reason why employees are unhappy with their job, and the reason why they eventually leave.

If you’re not growing or learning anything new, it might be time to leave, says an article from Forbes.com. “…when you’ve outgrown the position and there is no opportunity for advancement–or you seem to work the same job day in, day out without any opportunity for growth, even though you crave more–it’s time to get out.

Here are seven reasons why learning at work is essential to your happiness.

1. It’s important to stay current in your career to prevent stagnation. Stagnation has killed many a promising career. We are naturally inquisitive beings who require mental stimulation. People who allow stagnation to set in end up hating their job and perhaps making those around them miserable as well. We must avoid stagnation at all costs. here are six reasons why:

2. The landscape of the labor market is changing rapidly. Employers are paring back on apathetic employees and sticking with those who demonstrate an ability to grow with the company. In other words, they’re cutting out the dead wood. They want hungry, lean, ambitious workers. This is simply the trend of the present and future, and it makes complete sense.

3. You owe it to yourself to be the best you can be. Forget for a moment that you don’t make as much as you’d like, or that you find it a bit odd to read work-related literature before bedtime. (Guilty as charged.) Keep in mind that when you stop bettering yourself, you essentially stop reaching the goals you strive to obtain.

4. You’re a role model for your colleagues. The more effectively you work, the more effective your colleagues become; the better the company or organization for which you work becomes. You are concerned with the success of your company. You want your colleagues to feel the same. Success for your colleagues and ultimately the company won’t come unless you are proactive in your quest to become better.

5, You are judged by your expertise and performance. If not by your boss, you’re judged by the customers who depend on your service or products. When you can’t keep up with the demands of your customers, you have become stagnant. You shrink into the shell of self-defeat. Don’t give up on your goal to be the best in your area.

6. When people ask you what you do, you’ll want to tell them with enthusiasm; have a glint in your eye and excitement in your voice, when explaining the job that offers you stimulation and challenge. Some interviewers ask the question, “What did you like most about your last job?” When you can’t answer that question, you come across as someone who wasn’t challenged and motivated to perform. And that’s your fault.

7. The final, and one of the most important,  reasons to learn at work is preparing yourself for future employment. One thing employers are looking for is increased responsibility at your former job. Have you stayed idle, or have you shown the willingness to do more? Think about your future in this precarious economy.


Staying current in your job may not be a priority of your employer. It may require that you read literature on your own, or take a college class on your dime, or reach out to other experts in your field. It may seem implausible at the moment, but if you think about how damaging stagnation can be to your career, you’ll either make the effort…or find a new job.

Are you really listening? 3 ways to improve your listening skills

listening to tree

Do you ever get the sense that you’re talking with someone and that person isn’t really listening? You’re probably correct about that.

According to Daniel Pink, To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, most people aren’t really listening to you completely; they’re waiting for their turn to talk. He writes:

“Little wonder, then, that so few of us, in fact, do listen well. For many of us, the opposite of talking isn’t listening. It’s waiting. When others speak, we typically divide our attention between what they’re saying now and what we’re going to say next—and end up doing a mediocre job at both.”

Doesn’t that make you feel loved?

What Pink describes is your average listener. Even good listeners will momentarily lose their focus and have to regain it to follow the conversation.

This comes down, in part, to how interested and/or focused you are in what your fellow converser is saying.

You could be extremely interested, as when your boss is giving you a performance review; or slightly focused, as when someone is telling you how her toddler is assimilating to his daycare.

Regardless, everyone deserves to be listened to.

People who are poor listeners generally don’t care what people have to say, and this can have a negative effect on those who are talking.

These are people who are hopeless. We know people like this who’d rather hear themselves talk than perhaps learn something new from others.

An article that appeared on Business Insider, 3 Ways Being A Bad Listener Hurts Your Career, says that bad listening can be bad for business, giving three reasons:

  1. Bad listening is dismissive and ultimately disengaging
  2. Bad listening leads to inferior information and decisions
  3. Bad listening is a waste of time

I’ll be the first to admit that I zone out on occasion, and people in my family will attest to my inability to maintain 100% listening capability.

In fact, I am not the great listener people, with whom I interact, believe I am. At times, my listening span is about that of a fruit fly’s life expectancy.

Growing concerned about my inability to listen well prompted me to Google “Average Attention Span.”

I was relieved to read that, according to www.StatisticBrain.com, the average human attention span in 2013 is eight (8) seconds—four (4) seconds less than in 2000, and four (4) seconds less than that of a goldfish.

I think this duration is more like a burp that erupts from nowhere and then it’s back to normal.

A more accurate estimate of one’s ability to concentrate and maintain the proper duration of listening is enforced by the length of TED lectures which last no more than 18 minutes.

That’s because people’s sustained attention span is approximately that long. After that, heads begin to nod and bodies begin to shift; maybe they become claustrophobic.

Even when I listened to Susan Cain talk about her stay at summer camp, where she looked forward to reading books, I felt myself drifting from the computer screen to tidy up my desk. This was Susan Cain! my introverted hero. Even she couldn’t hold my attention for 100% of her seminar.

My workshops are scheduled to last two hours. So now I’m thinking if I can’t listen with total concentration, those poor people must be itching to leave the room.

I typically ask a lot of questions or suddenly raise my voice (shout) to keep their attention, which seems to do the trick. But now I’m thinking I need to ask even more questions and shout.

To become a better listener, I’ll now quote the methods suggested by the article and ways I’ll work on listening:

  1. Admit that you can be a better listener. I think I’ve fully admitted that, though I’m probably taking this listening thing too literally.
  2. Practice focusing on what others say. When colleagues come to my cubical I will now turn my chair and face them directly, rather than continue working on a project. I will even offer them a seat after I’ve cleared the paper from said chair.
  3. Acknowledge and respect what others have to say, rather than dismiss them with a short answer or a command. Yes, my daughter, I will listen attentively to your story about prom preparations.

When you come to terms about how poorly you’re listening to others, communication will be enriched.

Pink has a point there; often times we impede progress by not hearing what others say.

I want to be a better listener and give those their due respect, and I’d like others to hear what I have to say, as well.

Photo: Flickr, Jos van Wunnik

5 tips for promoting yourself in the job search

baseball

When I made our town’s Little League All-Star team, I ran to my neighbor’s house where my father was helping him fix a lawnmower. I burst into the garage and told my father with pride that I’d made the team. Instead of sharing my excitement, he told me not to brag and turned to finish working on our neighbor’s lawnmower.

I’ve thought for a long time that that day my father taught me an important lesson about humility. Now I’m not so sure it was such an important lesson. Some believe that our inability to promote ourselves is due to being told as children not to brag. To brag is inappropriate; to be humble is honorable.

This inability to self-promote often rears its ugly head in my workshops when my customers declare they cannot “brag.” I assume, like me, they were told not to brag as children.

I also understand that their confidence is shattered; and when you’ve been kicked in the gut, it’s hard to muster up the ability to talk about yourself in a positive, yet objective way—which is to say, not brag. Here are five tips on how to promote yourself during the job search.

  • Understand your audience. Know what interests potential networkers and employers. If you have the “stage,” this makes self-promotion all that much easier. This gives you free reign to highlight your accomplishments and related experience, as long as they apply to the job search and eventually the position for which you’re applying. If, however, you’re in the company of people who have no interest in what you’ve achieved, save touting your accomplishments for the proper audience.
  • Back up your accomplishments. As a jobseeker, your accomplishments will seem more authentic if you have evidence to back them up, perhaps in the form of recommendations, awards, or outstanding references. As well, if you can quantify your accomplishments with percentages and dollars, they will carry more weight. What others say about you, I tell my customers, carries more weight then what you say about yourself. And always be truthful; never lie about your achievements. Lies will come back to bite you in the ass.
  • Be relevant. Any self-promotion has to have relevance. If the employer is looking for someone who has demonstrated superb written communications, you should not talk about the numerous presentations you gave before packed houses; you will come across as a round peg for the employer’s square whole. Think back to the times when you wrote the company newsletter and got published in trade magazines.
  • Don’t overdo it. Avoid using words like “great,” “outstanding,” “the best,” etc. It is far better to provide facts than conjecture. For example, “I was the best counselor on the staff“comes across as bragging without any substance. Better put would be, “Among my colleagues, I was given the highest-level customers on a regular basis. I was trusted by management to give them the service they needed.” Yes, you were the best.
  • Give credit where credit is due. I often tell my customers that they should talk about their accomplishments, because that’s what employers want to know; what they’ve accomplished. But when they’ve worked with a team that achieved a common goal, this needs to be expressed. No one likes a smoking gun who takes all the credit.

The simple fact is that you as a jobseeker must promote yourself, because you can’t rely on others to be there by your side in your job search. We’ve been taught not to brag, like the time I rushed to my father proud of making the town’s Little League All-Star team, but we have to realize that promoting ourselves at the right moment isn’t bragging.

Photo, Flickr, Roiz, Roiz, Play Baseball

5 strengths of the older worker

The intern

As seen through the eyes of The Intern.

I’ve always been a big fan of Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro, so when I was searching for a movie to watch on TV, I settled on “The Intern.” Admittedly I thought this might be lame movie.

I mean I hadn’t heard anything about the movie, not even from my daughter who sees every movie released in theaters. So I thought, what the hell. It’s worth a try.

But I was pleasantly surprised. The premise of the movie is that a very successful clothing Internet business launches an intern program for older workers. De Niro applies, wins the internship, and is assigned to Hathaway, the founder of the company.

At first, it’s not a good match, as Hathaway clearly demonstrates her biases against older workers. And honestly, I’m not sure De Niro is going to work out. I mean the guy confirms every older-worker stereotype.

But there’s so much to learn from De Niro’s character. So much that Hathaway learns from this older intern. So much for us to learn about the value of the older worker.

1. Older Workers Know Etiquette

De Niro overdoes it by going to work at a technology company dressed in a suit and tie. He’s clearly out of place at first, then the employees and audience see the charm in the way he dresses. He adds class to the organization.

Similarly my customers, most of whom are older workers show up for my workshops dressed for the job search. They dress prepared to run into their next employer, whereas their younger counterparts don more comfortable Tee shirts and jeans, unaware they’re always on stage.

2. Older Workers Have Been There, Done That

While it’s unfortunate that De Niro has lost his soul partner, he arrives at the company with valuable life experience that lends well to his wise decisions. He is Hathaway’s support system. In her words, “My best friend.”

I see the same life experiences in my customers; people who have suffered loss or have experienced trauma in their own lives. They’ve learned from this and developed a calmer attitude. Small issues don’t affect them like the issues might have in their younger days.

It goes without saying that older workers also possess more job experience than younger workers. He comes to Hathaway’s company a former VP of sales, which intimidates her. Unfortunately many younger managers feel intimidated and think older workers want their jobs. This not true.

3. Older Workers Communicate Better

Well maybe differently than younger workers.In the movie the majority of  employees we see are Millennials, making me feel quite old. Technology like Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook are thrown around as if they’re a natural part of life. It is their way to communicate.

To emphasize a Millennial character’s reliance on technology, De Niro has to teach him that it is NOT acceptable to make up with a woman via texting. It finally dons on the younger worker that he has to “talk” to the woman.

Verbal communication skills are the strength of mature workers, not because they reject texting, email, and social media. Because we understand the value of the human voice and body language, how they are more direct and personal. Business still conducted with face-to-face interaction.

4. Older Workers are Great Mentors

Hathaway’s character is an entrepreneur, independent, and decisive. She has a great sense of how to run her business and is very successful. But when the chips are down and Hathaway needs moral support, De Niro is there to mentor her in a way that only an older, wiser person could.

Older workers are often managers or colleagues who effectively mentor younger employees. They’ve gained years of experience achieving success, as well as making mistakes. Note: one of my customers recently land a job as a Technology Mentor at a large medical corporation.

5. Older Workers are Vibrant in Their Own Way

At the beginning of the movie and at the end, De Niro is seen performing yoga in a park. It is his way of being vibrant as a 70 year-old man. The way he carries himself throughout the movie shows a determined vibrancy.

I told my workshop attendees that it’s generally unrealistic to believe that a 50 year-old employee could keep up with someone 20 years younger. However, older workers can pace themselves. They may not work as fast as younger workers, but they tend to work smarter and make less mistakes. I’m thinking of the tale of the tortoise and hare.

See the Movie

I question whether the intent of the movie was to demonstrate the value of the older worker, or if it simply made a good story line. As I tend to do in my daily life, I see most things as work related. Nonetheless, this is a movie that has a great message; when the chips are down, the older worker will come through.

Now read a related post, Younger interviewers, 9 reasons why you should not discriminate against older workers.

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Photo: Flickr, Warner Bros. Entertainment

6 reasons why introverts prefer to write

 

Hands on KeyboardLately I’ve been receiving voice-mails from one of my customers asking me to call him back to answer his questions. Not to ignore him, I have primarily responded to his calls with e-mails. This is preferable to getting caught in lengthy phone conversations during a busy time of the day.

Trying to make the best use of my time at work makes me think of six reasons why introverts–I’m included among them, in case you’re wondering–sometimes prefer to write rather than converse over the phone or in person.

  1. Conversations can have no limit. Have you been involved in one-sided conversations, where you’re the one doing most of the listening? Although introverts are said to be good listeners, being treated as a sounding board is not their idea of fun. When communication is conducted with the buffer of e-mail, it is two-way and the introvert feels engaged in the conversation.
  2. Self-promotion is easier in writing. Some people call self-promotion bragging because it means speaking highly of themselves, but I tell them it’s not bragging if 1) it’s true and 2) you’re asked about your accomplishments. Nonetheless, self-promotion can be uncomfortable for introverts, particularly if they have to deliver it verbally. When I want to make my manager aware of an accomplishment, I shoot her an e-mail.
  3. Writing is less exhausting. An introvert feels like he’s on stage when he has to talk at extended lengths of time. An extravert doesn’t want to leave the stage. The act of speaking is not problematic for the introvert, it’s sustaining the conversations over a long period of time that drains their batteries. Writing gives introverts a welcome break from hours of speaking.
  4. Writing gives introverts time to think. Introverts prefer to think before speaking, while extraverts sometimes speak before thinking. We don’t blame the chatty extraverts–it’s their nature. But an introvert doesn’t want to be misunderstood and writing prevents this. One strength I admire about the extravert is her propensity for small talk, because I struggle with it. But when it comes to writing, I can write my thoughts in my own sweet time.
  5. Writing is required to conduct a successful job search and succeed in business. That’s only part of it, though. Great verbal communication skills are necessary in networking, telephone communications, and of course the interview. But when it comes to writing a résumé , cover letter, LinkedIn profile, and other correspondences, an introvert is at his best. At work the introvert feels most creative when he writes. He’d rather have time to reflect; leave the brainstorming to the extravert.
  6. Writing is fun. I know I don’t speak for all introverts, but some consider writing as a release of creativity and a way to express their thoughts to a larger audience. Because you blog, write novels or poems, or simply keep a diary; does that mean you’re an introvert? Of course not. There are plenty of extraverts who love to write. I just happen to be one who enjoys writing every day. Call me nuts.

I remember a time in college when a schoolmate asked me what I thought was more important, verbal or written communications. I immediately said “written communications,” and he argued for verbal communications. His argument was sound and he spoke compassionately about being able to address audiences real-time. As I was leaving the room, he seemed to be talking unaware of my absence.

Do you play well with others? 5 approaches to take

sandbox

You may remember your impressionable years when you played in a sandbox in the park with other children. Think about whether you joined the other kids who were playing together, or if you sat alone with your new, shiny shovel and bucket. If it was the latter, your parents probably worried if you would be aloof and have a hard time making friends.

How about at work? Do you join your colleagues or stay to yourself? While staying to yourself and burying your head in the work that needs to be done may seem like the correct way to work, you may be labeled by your coworkers as a loner, antisocial, or even a snob. This is not how you want to be seen.

Be social, join your colleagues for lunch

Where I work we have a staff room where most of the employees gather to eat together. There we talk about current events. Anything from sports; local or worldwide news; family; and, yes, politics. We touch base. Laugh. We try not to talk about work, but that is sometimes unavoidable.

Sometimes I would prefer to eat lunch at my desk, rather than trudge to the staff room, but I know it’s important to interact with my colleagues. I don’t need to stay the whole hour we’re allotted for lunch, so I may eat and leave in half an hour. In this way, I get in a few laughs and engage in enough banter to remind my colleagues that I’m part of the team.

Be willing to help others

You’re buried with an assignment or two. You’d like to close your office door, if you have one, or retreat to another part of the building. How am I going to get all this work done, you wonder? One of your colleagues needs you to help her with a customer. You, after all, are the only expert in this area.

You have the option to tell your colleague that “there’s no way I can help you. I’ve got my own work to do.” But here’s the thing: when you’re working as a team, you don’t only have your own work. You are contributing to the overall goal of the company, and your work is merely a piece.

Am I suggesting you drop what you’re doing immediately all the time? No. There will be times when helping others can wait an hour, day, or even a week. This is when your ability to prioritize is important. One of my colleagues asked me if I could help his customer with a résumé. I told him I could in a few days. He and his customer were very grateful.

Deal effectively with conflict

For some reason a colleague has it in for you. You’re not sure why, but it’s obvious that there’s a conflict. You can ignore your colleague, react with anger, or take the high road and make an attempt to resolve it.

I recall a time when I didn’t make an effort to resolve a conflict between a colleague and myself. At first I was angry and willing to ignore her. Then I had a sense of uneasiness. Finally I was resigned to not speak with her at all. This went on for close to six months. To say I didn’t handle this well is untrue.

Another time I had a dispute with a colleague, but instead of letting it fester, I addressed it that day. “We should talk,” I told him. “I’d like that,” he said. I told him why I reacted with anger for what he had done. He explained how he misunderstood a procedure set in place. Wanting to be the bigger person, I apologized for my actions. Was I right or wrong? It didn’t matter. The very next day we were talking as if the incident never occurred.

I call one of my colleagues the peacekeeper, because when I tell him I’m disappointed with the behavior of another colleague, he’ll remind me that I need to let some things go. And  he’s right; there are some issues that aren’t worth addressing. Some battles not worth fighting.

Accept others’ failures

Are you always right? Do you perform your duties without failure? Are you perfect? The answer to these questions is probably, “NO.” And if this is true, you’re not alone; no one is flawless. So why should you expect those you work with to be without flaws?

You will come across a boss who expects you to hand in perfect work. He may demand that you take on more work than humanly possible. In other words, he may be unrealistic in his expectations. Good bosses understand that their charges will commit errors, and occasionally will let them pass.

Don’t be too proud

There’s a reason why Pride is considered one of the most severe of the seven deadly sins. Of course a little pride is important, but when you feel you own every project or assignment and won’t let others contribute, you jeopardize the success of the team.

Have you ever felt that you were the only person who should be the leader of a project? I know the feeling. There was a project that I fought my boss to control to no avail. I realized I had to give up the project and let others contribute. I was proud and wanted the project for myself. I was that kid in the sandbox who wouldn’t share my shinny bucket and shovel.

Letting go of your pride may be difficult at first, but when you understand how important it is to let others contribute, so they can gain experience; you’ll see the bigger picture. This truly shows emotional intelligence (EQ). In addition, ask yourself if what you’re doing is necessarily right or the only way to do it.


What I’ve talked about in this post is the ability to get along with your colleagues and boss. Over and over I’ve spoken with job seekers who have lost their job due to personal conflict with the people with whom they work. Employers value more than ever the “soft” skill referred to interpersonal. Your ability to interact with your colleagues will take you places. Unable to work with others may lead you to talking with me…and I don’t want that.

Photo: Flickr, Maggie

3 areas of your career when effective communications is essential

communicationOne story I tell in my workshops is about how a former customer of mine improved communications between two warring departments. He told me that these groups were literally at war with each other and just couldn’t play well together.

He further explained that he would call members of the groups together and make them “talk” to each other. “I also made note of their body language and facial expressions. If I noticed hostility, I’d mention it and tell them I could see their hostility. Did I make them kiss and make up? No. But it almost got to that point.

If you haven’t given thought to your communications, you should. You should think about how it affects the aspects of your education, job search, and job. You should also think about the ways you communicate.

In College

Networking2College is the beginning of the rest of your life, as the cliché goes. Therefore, it’s important that you strengthen your verbal and written communication skills. And you don’t have to major in Communications in order to strengthen your communications skills.

Your verbal communications. Take advantage of any opportunities you have to present in front of a group. As scary as it may seem, you will be better prepared for the workforce. Try to ignore your fear and think that this is part of your education.

You’re not only communicating with your mouth; you’re also communicating with your body language, facial expressions, and voice intonation. The more animated you are (within reason) the better your message will come across. Some believe that effective verbal communications is 80% presentation.

Your written communications. When you write expository papers for your classes, put your best effort forth. Be concise, yet informative. The working world prefers ideas presented in writing that are as short as possible.

This includes emails, proposals, marketing literature, whitepapers, etc. I remember a marketing manager saying to me, “Brevity is the key to success.” She was right.

You’ll learn that when you leave college and enter your job search that your success will depend on your marketing campaign. This will include your written and verbal communications. Don’t focus on only one form of communications, though.

In your job search

Commission having a Job interview.Networking will be a valuable activity in your job search and require excellent communication skills. It’s by networking that you will penetrate the Hidden Job Market, which is a topic in itself. Your goal is to be known by people who matter.

Important forms of communications include your ability to articulate your talents and goals. It’s also important to listen to the people with whom you’re networking. Listening is a key component of communications. I’ve been to networking events where I felt like a sounding board. Don’t do that to others.

Once your networking has led you to the decision makers of organizations, it’s time to put your written communication skills to use. Write resumes (plural) that speak to the needs of employers. Create a strong online presence with your LinkedIn profile.

The interview will arrive after you’ve put your efforts into networking and writing strong marketing documents. It’s at the interview that you’ll have to shine with answers to the tough questions. Where you’ll have to come across as confident and affable. Where ultimately you’ll have to demonstrate your communication skills.

At work

BrainstormingFortuneLiveMediaCongratulations, you landed a job. Now is the time when your communication skills will help you in performing well and progress among the ranks. Your colleagues and supervisors will expect you to be articulate and clear when presenting ideas.

Company meetings are a great example of how important it is to present clear ideas. Let’s say you have to report on the social marketing campaign you’re working on. The group of twenty people, including the director of the organization, want to know the specifics of the project.

To your credit you’ve come prepared. You walk to the center of the room (don’t sit) to deliver your PowerPoint presentation. You flick through each slide, talking about how you’ll employ Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to promote the organization.

Your body language demonstrates confidence, the tone of your voice is upbeat, you smile and communicate effectively with your hands. You notice that the director is smiling and nodding while you’re talking.

Bringing it together

Communications constantly ranks high on employers’ lists of essential skills. There’s no secret why. How you’re graded in school relies on how well you present your projects, how well you write your papers.

How you’re perceived during your job search has a great deal to do with your ability to express your value. And don’t forget the importance of listening. You must employ written communication skills to land the interview. And finally, it will be your ability to verbalize your value to employers that will land the job.

But it doesn’t end at the interview. You will demonstrate your communication skills at work in a variety of ways. Throughout your professional life communication skills will play a role in your success.