As workers in the corporate world, we will inevitably have days when nothing seems to be going right. We sit at our computers wondering why on earth we come here every single day, we dream up different scenarios in which we walk into the office and triumphantly quit. Sometimes these bad days turn into weeks, maybe even into months. Lots of career websites out there offer advice on how to improve productivity or boost workplace morale, and many of your friends and family will offer you similarly hackneyed tips. But here I’ll propose a few intangibles that–no joke– revolutionized my relationship to my job, my co-workers, and my boss.
Empathy is a pretty simple emotion, and all of us have it built into our brains. It’s the ability to put ourselves in others shoes, and even though it’s an innate human capacity, it requires development. Any time you feel like you want to punch one of your co-workers or you are cringing at the thought of an upcoming meeting with people whom you despise, take a moment to see the world through their eyes. Consider that those with whom you work may have their own personal issues and challenges that they bring to the office. What’s more, developing empathy could, new research suggests, bring out the more creative you.
Many in the corporate world feel obliged to take up a can-do attitude that includes brown-nosing and posturing. But all this office fakery, over time, begins to feel forced, and there’s nothing like feigned feelings displayed forty hours a week to make you feel lousy about your job. That’s not to say that you should honestly express every thought that comes into your head, but you’d be surprised by how inspiring a dose of sincerity can be. Effective sincerity in the workplace means apologizing when you’ve made a mistake and you know it, complimenting a colleague when you really mean it, and being honest about your strengths and weaknesses. The Oswald Letter: Insights on Business and Leadership provides some some wonderful reflections on sincerity in the workplace and why it’s so important.
One of the biggest mistakes I made during my first corporate job was making promises I couldn’t keep. I thought by making my intentions to complete an extra project clear to my supervisor, I’d end up doing it. Then, when I failed to deliver on a goal I had set, even if I didn’t absolutely have to do it, I felt a terrible pang of guilt and worthlessness. Promising to take on all this extra work also negatively impacted the quality of my allotted tasks. Success in your job isn’t measured by goal-setting. It’s measured by delivery, by things you actually get done. If you aren’t going to get a task finished, don’t say you’re going to do it. Ambition has it’s time and place, but it’s what you deliver that makes you feel good about your job. In fact, in a recent TED talk, Derek Sivers presents research that demonstrates those who tell others about their goals are less likely to finish them. It proves management guru Tom Peters’ formula for success: “Under-promise and over-deliver.”
Let’s face it–the corporate world isn’t always going to be pleasant, but often it’s the attitude that we bring to the job that can make a hell of heaven and a heaven of hell. Make a concerted effort to incorporate these simple ideas into your work routine, and you’d be surprised by how much better the day-to-day grind will feel. It certainly worked for me.