Monthly Archives: February 2015

Your Weekly Noodle: February 25, 2015

TOw men helping one another,Noodle* on this…

Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.   ~ Desmond Tutu

No matter what job you hold in an organization, you can do little bits of good every day. Whether it is men in dress shirts and ties helping move boxes, a thank you or a kind word, everyone can do a little bit of good to build connection and improve the workplace.

Here are some questions to think about. Select a question that “resonates” or is especially meaningful for you. Answer that question and then think of a way to apply the answer to you daily work.  For example, when someone treats me with courtesy and respect, it makes me feel valued and included. How do I need to change my behavior toward Fenton, the office pest, so that he feels valued and included.

  • How do I feel when someone treats me with courtesy and respect?
  • When was the last time someone rally listened to what I had to say? How did it make me feel?
  • What one thing can I do to improve my listening?
  • Who did I ask for help today or this week?
  • Who asked me for help today or this week?
  • What does it feel like to be excluded from a group?
  • How does being excluded affect my self-esteem?

Read more about building connections and community at work.

* To noodle: A verb meaning to mull over, think about, contemplate, ponder, puzzle over or brainstorm. 

Image Courtesy of Paul Chinn, San Francisco Chronicle  (Paul Chinn is no relation to Your Humble Scribe – Diane Chinn)

Building Connections and Community at Work – Part 2

San man in empty office illustratiing the need for connection with coworkers for well-beingNote: This is the second article about developing connections at work using the concept of Ubantu. Click here to read more about it.

In the United States, where we prize individuality, living in accordance Ubuntu may seen like a form of co-dependence. Yet, in the workplace ubuntu is essential for both personal well-being and for getting the job done. Every person has unique personal and professional goals; and to reach our goals, we must work with our co-workers who have different, even competing goals. Even as a freelance writer working at home, I must have strong, respectful relationships with my clients, my editor, and computer support person.

John Donne summarized the Ubuntu concept in his famous poem No Man is an Island, the opening lines of which are

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.

Read the complete poem at the end of this post.

We work together; we must depend on one another to get the job done. Often, we succeed or fail together. Because of this interdependence, we must interact with one another in ways that are respectful, accepting, collaborative, and compassionate. However, this does not mean that we accept poor work or tolerate bad behavior. We accept our co-workers for who they are and when necessary, tactfully and discretely call them on their poor performance or bad behavior. You don’t have to be a manager to pursue ubuntu. It is a holistic, grassroots process.

Applying the Lessons of Ubuntu on the Job

Ubantu offers us many lessons that we can apply to build a strong, productive and supportive relationships with our co-workers, manager and clients. Some of these lessons include:

  • Focus on solving a problem, rather than assigning blame.
  • In stressful situations, keep your emotions under control.
  • Every person is important and valuable – treat them respectfully
  • Mutual support and concern supports each person in the group in doing their best work. When people care about us, we don’t want to disappoint them.
  • When the team succeeds, everyone on the team succeeds. Remember no man (or woman) is an island.Take a few moments and answer the following questions:

A Personal Ubuntu Exercise

  • How do I feel when someone treats me with courtesy and respect?
  • What does it look like when I behave with dignity?
  • When was the last time someone rally listened to what I had to say? How did it make me feel?
  • What does it take to really listen to my co-workers, manager or clients?
  • What one thing can I do to improve my listening?
  • Who did I ask for help today or this week?
  • Who asked me for help today or this week?
  • What does it feel like being excluded from a group?
  • How does being excluded affect my self-esteem?
  • What things unite me and my co-workers, no matter what our differences may be?

Using your answers to these questions, identify on thing you can do to build the spirit of ubuntu in your workplace and do it. Share your ideas with us in the Comments fields at the end of this blog.

No Man Is an Island– John Donne

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind, A
nd therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

References

  1. Bhengu, M.J., Ubuntu: The Essence of Democracy. Cape Town: Novalis Press, 1996
  2. Tutu, Desmond, No Future Without Forgivness, London: Image Publishing, 2000

 

Meet Michael D. Curtin: Photographer Extraordinaire

Mary, Michael, and Drew on the Mississippi River

I never personally met Michael Curtin, photographer extraordinaire. But I feel like I know him through our wonderful mutual friends Mary and Drew and through his amazing photography, which you can see at www.strikingimagery.com.

What I know about Michael is that he lived in Michigan, loved the Detroit Lions ; worked in information technology; and was interested in solar eclipses, which is how he met Mary and Drew. They met on a solar eclipse/sightseeing tour to Egypt. Mary shared some of Michael’s photos of Egypt with me. Over the years, Mary and Drew have kept me posted on their adventures with Michael. He loved to travel, even if there was no solar eclipse, and he took extraordinary photos.

Bent by Michael D. Curtin (Egypt)

Bent by Michael D. Curtin (Egypt)

Last week, Michael passed away after a nearly 14-month battle with pancreatic cancer. From Mary and Drew, I know that he left this life on his own terms traveling to places like Australia and Ireland as well as deciding when to end his chemotherapy. He will be deeply missed by his family, friends and those of us who love his photography.

Please take a few moments to browse his website and take a look at his beautiful work.

February 19, 2015

Your Weekly Noodle: February 18, 2015

Hermit's house one side of a mountain illustrating the problem of isolation at work

Even the hermit monks on Mount Athos are connected. They live in an isolated community and sell their hand-woven baskets and rosaries in nearby Daphne.

Noodle* on this…

But I’ll tell you what hermits realize. If you go off into a far, far place and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you’re connected with everything. ~ Alan Watts

We are linked to our co-workers. We sometimes spend more time with them than we do our families or so it seems.  We cannot success or even survive by doing it on our own.

As a consultant and writer, I spend many hours working alone, but my success depends making and building connections with clients, prospective clients, other consultants, editors and people who cross my path in the course  of the day.

Think about the people you work with. What is the status of your connection with each person and what can you do to strengthen those connections?  Share your ideas with us in the Comments section below.

Read more about connections at work.

* To noodle: A verb meaning to mull over, think about, contemplate, ponder, puzzle over or brainstorm.

 Image courtesy of City Desert: The Hesychasterion of Karoulia on Mount Athos, Greece.

 

An Example of Clear and Concise Writing

Photo of AbrahamLinclon. His Gettysburg Address is an example of clear concise writing

No document is ever perfect.  Writer always wants to re-write their work and a burning urge to edit every other writer’s work. Realizing this is a fact of life, here is an almost perfect example of clear and concise writing.

The author was Abraham Lincoln and the occasion was the dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg, PA in 1863. The keynote speaker was Edward Everett, Secretary of State who spoke for two hours, delivering a speech containing 13,607 words. President Lincoln was invited to speak as an “afterthought” – similar to inviting a local celebrity to do a ribbon-cutting at a grand opening – and was given only 17 days notice while Mr. Everett was given more than 2 months notice. The President spoke for approximately 2 1/2 minutes, using only 271 words in 10 sentences. Which speech (Everett’s or Lincoln’s) is the most frequently quoted speech in American history?

The Gettysburg Address
Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

But ever President Lincoln was not a perfect writer – the last sentence of the speech contains 82 words, which is very long.

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
~ Leonardo da Vinci

Building Connections and Community at Work

Image of a tapestry being woven showing how we are all connected to one anothera at work

Connectedness @ Work
Work is like a tapestry. It involves many threads and all must come together to form a product. This is what connectedness is all about – coming together as a group to produce a result or an end product. Even someone working alone, in a stock room like my friend Joe is part of a larger tapestry. It was his job to make sure that the products were received from the vendor, had a price on them and were available in the store for the customer to see and buy.

Connections are what make the threads of the tapestry come together and stay together. We show our connectedness at work through the

  • Frequency of our contact with others
  • Nature of our personal relationships
  • Engagement in a group or team
  • How much we know one another
  • How much we self-disclose.(1)

We play multiple roles at work, both official and unofficial. As a technical writer, I was a co-worker, trainer of new writers, editor, writing coach, communications specialist, customer service guru, friend and sometime competitor for the best assignments. I was also the team clown, cynic, process improver and occasional grump. How we fulfill each of our roles at work and how we interact with one another determines the nature and strength of our connections.

Having a sense of belonging and connection supports well-being by reducing isolation, anxiety and depression, strengthening the immune system, increasing self-esteem and self-efficacy. Finally, if you are employed full-time you work a minimum of 2080 hours each year, while in reality you are working approximately 2,500 hours a year. So, you might as well spend that time in a situation where your feel connected to your co-workers and have a sense of belonging. So how do we build or strengthen connections with our co-workers?

Ubantu  – Building Connections
The African concept of ubuntu is the “art of being a human being” (Bhengu, 1996).(2) The concept exists in every African language. In Kenya, the Swahili word is utu. In Ghana, the Akan word is biakoye and in South Africa, the Afrikaans word is menslikgeit. It is an ancient world view that incorporates caring, sharing, respect, compassion and similar values, to promote the well-being of both the person and the group.

A person who strives to live in accordance with the concepts of Ubuntu is

described as kind, generous, friendly, modest, helpful, humble and happy. In ubuntu, people work together for a common goal, cooperating not competing, respecting not criticizing one another.

Consider this…
A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.” ~ Desmond Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness (2000)

Do one thing at work each day to build or strengthen you connections with others through cooperating, respecting, communicating, supporting or getting to know someone. Share your experience with us in the Comments section below.

Next: Learn more about connections and ubantu.

References

  1. Vancouver Foundation (2012), Connections and Engagement: A Survey of Metro Vancouver. (ancouver, British Columbia: Vancouver Foundation)
  2. Bhengu, M.J., Ubuntu: The Essence of Democracy. Cape Town: Novalis Press, 1996

Your Weekly Noodle: February 11, 2015

People in a caged truck surrounded by a pride of lions representing stress and working together
No matter how stressful our work may be, a sense of belonging through participation, kindness, listening and cooperation helps us not just survive but thrive.

 

Noodle* on this…

Do more than belong: participate.
Do more than care: help.
Do more than believe: practice.
Do more than be fair: be kind.
Do more than forgive: forget.
Do more than dream: work.”
          ~ William Arthur Ward

 

This is what belonging at work and well-being are all about, participating, helping, practicing what you preach, being fair and kind, and being tolerant by forgiving and forgetting. Over the next several weeks, I will be writing about these principles and how they affect our well-being at work. In the meantime…

Identify one thing you can do this week to improve your sense of belonging and community and share it with us in the Comments section below.

Read more about the need for belonging at work.

 * To noodle: A verb meaning to mull over, think about, contemplate, ponder, puzzle over or brainstorm.

Image Courtesy of the Fun Elf.

 

Effective Workplace Writing is…

Fancy ice cream desert illustrates how ornamentation can be a distraction from the ice creamComplete the following sentence:

Effective workplace writing is

  ____________________ and ____________________.

 If you answered clear and concise you are correct.  Give yourself an A.

 Effective workplace writing is clear

 The reader gets your message because it is easy to understand. Clarity is achieved through:

  • Word choice: Use language that is concise and appropriate to the audience. Do not use words that you do not normally use when speaking.
  • Sentence structure: Short sentences are easier to follow. You can simplify a long, complex sentence by breaking it in two.
  • Paragraph structure: A good paragraph makes a good composition. Try using the following 3-part structure:

1.  Topic sentence
2.  Development
3.  Resolution

You do not need to follow the 3-part rule for every paragraph; but, when you are having trouble writing, go back to the basics.

  • Overall organization: When you present information in logical order it is easier for the reader to understand. Make an outline of the topic sentences from your paragraphs to check your organization. If your document is well organized, these sentences should form a logical outline.

 Quick Tip Try the following the next time you write a document:

  • The purpose of the (memo, report, proposal, letter, etc.) is __________________
  • Organize your document using a 3-step approach:

1.  “I am writing because …”
2.  “The main points are…”
3.  “I propose that you…”

Effective workplace writing is concise

Concise writing:

  • Is not redundant;
  • Contains no unnecessary words; and,
  • Is not ambiguous.

Don’t Repeat Yourself

This is not The Department of Redundancy Department

After the Norman Conquest of Britain in 1066, disenfranchised Angle-Saxons got in the habit of borrowing words from the Norman language because the words sounded more educated than the familiar native words. So, early writers doubled up. Now, more than 900 years later, we are still doubling up.

A good writer avoids:

Redundant modifiers: the modifier implies the meaning of the word modified. Common examples include:

  • past memories
  • personal beliefs
  • important essentials
  • consensus of opinion

Redundant Categories: the category is implied by the word. For Example

  •  large in size
  • extreme in degree
  • honest in character

 Redundant Pairs: the second word repeats the meaning of the first.

  • first and foremost
  • hopes and wishes
  • full and complete
  • so on and so forth
  • each and every

Redundant writing slows both the writer and reader. When deciding which word to cut, choose the one that’s fancier or less precise. A good writer:

  • Organizes her/his thoughts to avoid repetition.
  • Does not pad her/his work with redundant words or phrases to make it.
  • Organizes her/his thoughts to avoid repetition.
  • Does not pad her/his work with redundant words or phrases to make it.

Readers appreciate writing that is brief and to the point.

We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions,
pompous frills and meaningless jargon.…
Strip every sentence to its leanest components.” 

~ William Zinsser, On Writing Well (2006)

Coming Soon

More on clear and concise writing:

  • The Epitome of Clear, Concise Writing  (February 10, 2015)
  • Keep it Simple (February 24, 2015)
  • Less is More (March 3, 2015)
  • Abstain from Peacock Terms and Weasel Words (March 10, 2015)

Why is a sense of belonging at work important?

Image of lion bear and tiger getting along illustration no matter how different people are they can still work togetherThe average workplace is often a struggle. Work moves at the speed of technology, priorities change constantly and we must “do more with less.” In addition, every person is unique, has different skills, temperament, knowledge, skills and abilities. But, no matter how different we are, we can find common ground, develop a sense of belonging and  work successfully together just as Baloo the bear, Leo the lion, and Shere Khan the tiger did. Jointly called BLT, the wild animals formed an unbreakable bond through years of captivity and neglect. Twelve years after they were rescued, they live together peacefully, spending their days “playing, cuddling and eating.”

Humans are social animals. We are hard-wired with a need for belonging and connection. Most of what we do and our need to belong drives our behavior. To a certain extent, we define ourselves and measure our self-worth through our connections to others. We need positive consistent and stable personal relationships. We need to care about others and know that they care about us. In fact, our strongest emotions are tied to our sense of attachment and belonging – love and hate. Belonging is defined as a feeling of choosing, wanting, and feeling permission to be part of a community or group, such as a work team, department company, volunteer organization, church, sports team, etc. A sense of belonging gives us a feeling of being valued and respected. (1)

Need for Belonging
Research conducted by psychologists Geoff MacDonald at the University of Toronto and Mark R. Leary at Duke University found that when we have a sense of belonging, when we feel accepted, welcomed and included, we are more likely to experience positive emotions such as happiness, calm and satisfaction. (2) And, as workers. we are likely to:

  • Be more productive.
  • Be more helpful to our co-workers without the need for personal gain.
  • Encourage and support one another.
  • Work more cooperatively with other teams.
  • Take fewer sick days or be late to work.

According to Greg Stewart, Professor of Management and Organizations at the University of Iowa, A sense of belonging and attachment to a group of co-workers is a better motivator for some employees than money. (3)

Joe’s Story
My friend Joe gave me permission to tell his story. Like millions of others, he lost his management job in the Great Recession of 2008. However, Joe was fortunate that a friend offered him a part-time job as a merchandize clerk in a retail business while he looked for a full-time management job. The part-time job helped Joe and his family stay afloat financially; but it also posed a challenge for him.

Joe is excellent at building relationships, helping employees develop their skills and serving customers. However in the stock clerk job, he had no one to manage or develop but himself; there were no customers and no co-workers for form a team. He worked alone in the early morning hours before the business opened. Even when the store opened, he worked in the stockroom, isolated from other employees and customers. He was a team of one.

He felt isolated and adrift; but Joe, a smart and resourceful person, worked to end his isolation. He talked to everyone who crossed his path – delivery drivers, vendors, custodians, and sales clerks who came into the stockroom.  He developed positive relationships with those who crossed his path, so he felt he was part of the store team, even though he worked alone. That sense of belonging helped him enjoy his work and feel useful and productive at a very stressful time in his life. And yes, he found a full-time management job at which he excels and it is a pleasure doing business with him.

Consider this…
Our desire to belong is universal, but expresses itself in different ways. ~ S. E. Hinton

How does your desire to belong express itself in the workplace? Share an example with us in the Comments section below.

References
1. Cobigo, V., Stuart, H., and Mahar, A. Conceptualizing Belonging.(Disability and Rehabilitation. Vol 35 (12). June 2013. P.1026-1038) http://informahealthcare.com/toc/dre/35/12

2. MacDonald, G., & Leary, M. R. (2005). Why does social exclusion hurt? The relationship between social and physical pain. Psychological Bulletin, 131, 202-223.

3. Snee, Tom, “Friends at Work,” Iowa Now,” March 8, 2012, http://now.uiowa.edu/2012/07/friends-workplaces

Your Weekly Noodle: March 4, 2015

Noodle* on this…
Image Courtesy of Lucky Bogey

Humans are social animals. We all want to feel that we belong.

We are driven by five genetic needs: survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun. ~ William Glasser

No matter who we are or what our situation is, we all want to feel that we belong, that we are connected to those around us.  Even when we want to stand out, be a star performer or a subject matter expert, we need to feel connected, that we are part of something bigger – that we make a difference. To a certain degree, we define ourselves by the groups to which we belong.

For example, being a freelance writer and coach, I have no immediate co-workers and one of the things I miss is that sense of belonging. So I build relationships with other writers, training and development people and others. When I “get stuck” in my writing, I reach out to other writers like my friend Siobhan Wilcox or members of my  writer’s group at San Diego Writer’s Ink.**

Through belonging, we learn about ourselves, those we work with and the world around us. What have you leaned in belonging to your work team? Share your learning with us in the Comments section below.

Read more about belonging and connectedness at work.

 * To noodle: A verb meaning to mull over, think about, contemplate, ponder, puzzle over or brainstorm.

** Yes, this is shameless promotion of Siobhan Wilcox and Sand Diego Writers Inc. and that is what one does when one feels connected to people or organizations.

 Image courtesy of Lucky Bogey

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