June 24, 2012
This month marks the one-year anniversary of this column, and it is with great humility that I take credit for single-handedly transforming American workplaces into centers of happiness and bliss with my intelligent advice and charming prose and handsomeness.
They say helping people is its own reward, but that's preposterous, so let's do a quick tally of the honors I've received since the column launched:
Honorary degrees: Zero.
Book deals: Zero.
Praise from my mom: Zero.
Readers telling me I'm not funny: Let's conservatively call it a baker's dozen.
But more important than the vast amount of praise that has not been heaped upon me is all I've learned from a year of covering the maddening and ever-changing world of work.
From questions of etiquette to job-search tips to advice on running meetings, enough subjects have been covered to identify some themes. Chief among them is this: being a decent human being is wildly advantageous in the working world.
Consider these disparate issues I've written about: co-workers who complain all the time and bosses who don't provide face-to-face feedback.
In each, you have a person behaving in a way that runs counter to our better nature.
People who gripe non-stop aren't thinking how their bellyaching might be bringing others down. Bosses who don't give workers an occasional pat on the back or a compliment are thinking like bosses — not human beings.
In interview after interview with career specialists and executive coaches and CEOs and academics, I've learned that the remedy for these issues and a startling array of others is for workers and bosses to take a moment to THINK before speaking: How is this going to sound? What's the right thing to do here? How would I want someone to treat me if the tables were turned?
Peggy Klaus, an executive coach, has a tremendously smart section in her book — "The Hard Truth About Soft Skills" — where she explains how important it is to listen to others in the workplace. She describes listening as "part art, part science and all important."
"Much of business happens during various kinds of social interaction," Klaus writes. "And to be successful, these interactions not only depend on listening to the message, but equally on creating a shared meaning with the other person."
So Klaus offers these very concrete suggestions on what to do when listening to a colleague:
•Keep an open mind.
•Tune into the feelings of the speaker along with the facts.
•Watch for non-verbal cues.
•Know what your hot-buttons are and don't let them rule your behavior.
•Listen with your heart as well as your head.
It sounds simple, I know, but minor tweaks to the way we interact with others in the workplace can have far-reaching effects.
If you can't morally get on board with this concept, consider the fact that it makes good business sense.
Late last year when I interviewed Mark Murphy, CEO of the management consulting firm Leadership IQ, he said companies that have the most engaged employees are ones where bosses listen to workers, where there's a sense of trust, where creativity and intelligence are valued.
Of the hundreds of emails and comments I've gotten from frustrated and confused workers over the past year, only a handful have mentioned money. Contrary to popular belief, that's not what drives people.
The longing out there is to have a job that provides a sense of fulfillment in an atmosphere that is as supportive and convivial as possible.
But enough about you — let's get back to me for a moment.
The past year has undoubtedly been a wonderful experience for all of you. I've enjoyed it as well.
In terms of the column's impact on the American workscape, I think Maegan Zarley, director of wardrobe at a Chicago-based company called The Image Studios, said it best: " 'I Just Work Here' has enlightened America's workplace with ingenious rules and style guidelines to get even the novice corporate climber to the top."
Also unexpectedly, Oregon-based career development expert Dorothy Tannahill Moran offered this: "Rex had the good sense and taste to ask me for this anniversary comment. That means you can really trust his judgment rather than simply trading on his good looks."
Wow. I'm truly flattered by these kind words, which I most certainly did not solicit intentionally and with explicit directions.
Which leaves me with one last piece of advice before we embark on Year 2 of "I Just Work Here":
If you want something in this working world of ours, you've got to ask for it.
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