A note from Leah & Naz…
This week we have a special guest post from our amazing friend and fellow game changer, Ben Fanning. And it’s a topic close to both of our hearts because there is a huge myth out there that you have to quit your current job in order to make a difference and be happy.
Before either of us took the plunge to start RYPL, we both were well into transitioning our existing ‘day job’ roles into work that we enjoyed:
- Naz went from walking the streets arresting people as Police Officer to delivering leadership training to the top echelon of the Force to boost employee engagement.
- Leah went from managing PR openings for new roads, bikeways & swimming pools to reaching out to senior management and being invited to present on how to create happier and more productive teams by improving communication.
It can be all too easy to blame your boss, or your co-workers for your misery, and become the victim, when in fact you do usually have some options and influence available to you if you are willing to step into your leadership NOW. Trust us, it will put you in good stead if/when you do finally take the plunge and quit.
Point is: there is an alternative to quitting – and Ben’s the expert in that field.
Over to you Ben!
Maybe you’ve fantasized about quitting, but you’re not ready to give up your steady paycheck, 401k, or insurance?
There is a quit alternative. Transform your current job into a job you love by engaging with it’s full potential, marshaling the resources around you, and seizing the opportunities that are there for the taking.
One of the best ways to transform your job is to create an office environment that provides an inspiring, supportive atmosphere, as I suggest in The Quit Alternative: The Blueprint for Creating the Job You Love…Without Quitting.
But when was the last time you felt an emotional connection at the office? One that led to working with a deeper sense of connection and purpose?
When you create an emotional connection at the office, you make it a more enjoyable place to work, boost morale, and even improve communication.
You can do this by learning to “put your mouth where your heart is,” which often triggers a ripple effect that goes beyond one conversation and may influence the entire organization.
Our Office Needed to Revitalize
Working in a “dead” office was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
I’d previously worked in a place where the office was like family. It was full of camaraderie, engagement, and even the occasional practical joke.
I’d invited the office to my wedding 4.5 hours away—and most of them came.
But the office I’d worked in the last several years had become like a morgue.
The silence was so deafening it was creepy. People frequently spoke in a whisper and usually kept their office doors shut.
Their faces were set in a look of discomfort and stress and some even resembled the “working dead,” physically showing up to work but checking their hearts and passions at the door. They seemed disconnected from their work and from one another. Many employees didn’t even know the person in the office next door, not to mention all those who worked in different buildings or remotely.
I started noticing a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach whenever I pulled into the parking lot.
It seemed like a problem too big to tackle.
I never expected that it would start with one personal interaction.
When the Corporate Mask Comes Off
“Ben, my son was just seriously wounded in Afghanistan. He might lose both legs.”
That was how the phone conversation started with Kevin, who’d been my coworker for years. I realized in that moment that we’d always kept it light, and this news hit me like a ton of bricks. I was tempted to offer my sympathy and then return our discussion to “the numbers,” but I couldn’t.
We sat in silence. Then I asked, “How are you doing?”
That’s when the corporate mask came off, and we had our first real conversation. I learned about his relationship with his son, and how his wife was coping with this new challenge. He shared his concerns about his son’s future, and even the disturbing dreams he was having. For some reason, I shared my fears about becoming the father I wanted to be.
That conversation only took 15 minutes, but it transformed our relationship from that day onwards.
The Ripple Effect – How One Conversation Ends a War at Work
Kevin and I worked in different offices, and we’d rarely seen each other in person. Yet, I was amazed by the ripple effect of that one phone conversation.
We suddenly had an emotional connection that influenced our subsequent interactions. I immediately noticed how it affected our daily work as we became much more intentional with our communication.
We stopped lobbing problems back-and-forth, and much of the combative behavior that had showed up as we defended our territories transformed into gentleness, helpfulness, and trust.
We began to check in periodically to keep informed on what was happening in our respective areas. The biggest surprise, though, was our new patience with each other.
Kevin has a technical background and would take the time to explain details to me, and I reciprocated by explaining the deals I was negotiating and how each might influence his area.
And that was only the first ripple.
The Second Ripple – The Taboo Staff Meeting Topic
The next ripple occurred in one of our larger staff meetings and permanently changed their tone.
Instead of opening the call with work frustrations, Kevin and I spontaneously struck up a conversation and shared a bit of our personal lives. Others listening began to yearn to be part of the deeper conversation and share something of themselves.
Recognize that we had never talked about our families before on these calls.
At first, this happened out of concern for Kevin’s son, but over time we held the space open for this interaction. Talking together this way connected everyone and resulted in a fully present and attentive group, improving our connection as a team, our work environment, and our results.
The Third Ripple and Beyond – Tackling a Crisis by Humanizing Your Coworkers
The next ripple occurred in the context of how each team member approached cross-functional projects. One area of the budget was out of control and bleeding money. We were all under immense pressure to find the root cause and resolve it as quickly as possible.
This purpose was complicated by the size and complexity of the team (employees from nine different divisions of the organization). Normally, we’d schedule a conference call, demand everyone to attend, and jump into the issue.
The problem was that we frequently didn’t know half the people in the meeting. We’d identify people by their category, like this: “Is anyone from Order Management on the call? Is anyone from Shipping on the call?”
Cold and impersonal.
We were so intent on getting the work done that we defaulted to treating people as interchangeable resources. The consequence was that it was easy to dehumanize our coworkers, assign blame, and avoid collaboration.
But we consciously decided to take a different approach.
The ripple from our previous conversations generated a new possibility. We opened our first call with the intention of recognizing everyone, and we clarified our expectations for the team. We explained that we wanted this project to work differently than it had before.
We asked everyone to identify themselves by name and the one achievement at the company of which they were most proud.
This rippled throughout the project. We’d show up intent on creating positive interactions, establishing better relationships across our organization, and successfully tackling one of the biggest cross-functional projects in which the team had ever been involved.
The project succeeded, and team members went on to drive other important projects. Many of these relationships are helpful to this day.
When I encounter these people in the halls, we still talk about the amazing work we did and how it changed our relationships with coworkers.
We ultimately established the foundation for success by starting with the human side of business.
The Wall That Stops You From a Bigger Impact at the Office
I’m convinced that when Kevin brought up his son’s injury and we talked, that conversation set off a powerful ripple.
Why isn’t everybody doing this?
The ripple never happened in the hundreds of previous conversations we’d had because we always had a wall between us.
This wall isn’t all bad. It can protect, but it also inhibits productive conversations. Kevin and I were investing a lot of energy maintaining this wall. I could hear his voice, but I couldn’t “see” him, and he couldn’t “see” me.
It felt risky to bring our personal and emotional identities to work, and we were cozy and content on our side of the wall.
Bringing the Part of You That’s Expert in Connecting
So what differentiates the daily interactions at work from interactions that have a ripple effect?
When you have a conversation that ripples, you have climbed over the wall to stand beside the other person.
When there’s no wall and no hiding, you’re vulnerable, and suddenly emotions and mood are front and center. When that happens, you’ve brought the side of yourself to the conversation that’s expert in connecting.
That’s what distinguishes conversations that ripple.
No Going Back
What is it about the moments that transform your relationship with someone and then ripple outward to others?
Your relationship has moved into a different space, and once you’re over the wall, there’s no going back.
There’s no work and life, but work-life. Daily meetings become a place of connection as well as work.
Every interaction becomes an opportunity for connection.
The labels disappear, and you’ll notice that you are working together more effectively.
The ripple not only affects you and your interactions, but also begins to send a ripple through the entire organization.
It can revitalize a dead office into an inspiring place to work.
3 Steps to Starting Your Own Ripple
To create your own ripple, climb over the wall between you and your coworkers.
Start with these 3 steps:
- Listen: When passing a coworker, listen to the voice in your head saying, “Something’s going on here.” Stop, instead of walking by. Ask the open-ended question, “What’s going on with you today?” Then give that person your full, undivided attention. Sometimes the other person isn’t ready to climb over the wall. If this is the case, just say, “I’m here if you’d like to talk.” In my story, this happened when I stopped talking.
- Allow: Climbing over the wall is often uncomfortable and downright awkward. And yes, there’s risk. Be brave enough to let the conversation happen. It requires bravery to start the conversation and to hold the space to allow it to happen. Instead of changing the topic to something lighter, I held the space for Kevin and encouraged him to talk to me. Then the conversation unfolded.
- Reciprocate: Reciprocate with your own vulnerability. Get down to the level where something’s really at stake. Tap into your fears and offer them in return. When Kevin shared his fears, I didn’t try to comfort him or solve his problem. I responded with my own.
You Can Make Your Office a More Inspiring Place to Work
You don’t have to wait to start a positive ripple at your office.
Notice how these three simple steps start a ripple effect from your conversations at work. Instead of putting your money where your mouth is, try putting your mouth where your heart is.
Get Your Copy of The Quit Alternative Plus 6 Helpful Bonus Resources!
This article is an excerpt adapted by Ben Fanning from his book, The Quit Alternative: The Blueprint for Creating the Job You Love….Without Quitting. Download his book on Kindle now and receive the six bonus resources to help you transform the job you have into one you love.