Gaining comfort talking about a topic is a process everyone should practice.

I’m a big supporter of the theory that everyone should be able to speak clearly and articulately about the work they do. They should have a 1-minute version, 5-minute, and 30-minute version ready to drop at any given moment. If you cannot articulate what you do, how can you communicate to your team what is happening?

A big part of this is in being able to judge how long you’ve been talking. If you are asked to give a brief introduction but go for 15 minutes, you’ve set a bad precedent. If you are asked to go for 15 minutes but only go for 2, you probably didn’t give the detail that people were looking for. Time management is a big aspect of presenting.

One of my favorite aspects of being face-to-face with people is putting together an agenda and action list. Face-to-face meetings offer so much value that it’s important to get the most out of them. Even if it’s just a 1-on-1 meeting, being able to clearly communicate is the top way to get what you want out of the session.

Practice, practice, practice. You won’t be able to nail down the various versions of what you do the first or even fifth time around. But by the tenth you should have a comfort level and by the twentieth you should be natural. If you aren’t getting to twenty, you are probably not communicating enough.

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Never forget about the human factor variable in your processes

The human factor is a variable that must be included as a variable in everything we do. If your process can be thwarted by someone having a bad day, you haven’t appropriately considered the human factor. If your process assumes always being run by someone perfect and rational, you haven’t appropriately considered the human factor.

We Humans are a fickle bunch. We are often stubborn, obstinate, and rebellious. When things are going fine, we think we can do better. When things aren’t working to our expectations, we think we can improve things on the fly.

People are a variable that is difficult to control but important to account for. Make sure you do.

Stress is one of those sneaky, silent problems.

Stress is a pain.

It causes real-life health issues. It decreases mental focus. It destroys productivity. It eliminates morale and engagement. It is often ignored.

I’ve personally taken a few rides on the stress carousel. While in the middle of the ride, it felt like all of the problems were my own and I was bringing it all on myself. Once I finally broke through, I could see how much of the stress was from misaligned expectations and lack of communication (quite a bit on my part).

For me, the mental anguish brought on by stress is the worst part. Stress makes you feel like the worst person in the world. You have all of these obligations you are trying to live up to but, because of the stress they are causing, you are unable to perform them. It’s the ultimate ironic Catch-22. You get the obligations because you’ve done good work but then you can’t do further good work because you don’t have the skills to handle this suddenly overwhelming workload.

Most people I know have simply tried to work through it. The logic is that eventually the workload will stabilize and the stress will go away. Stress doesn’t work like that, it’s not a logic-based condition.

What am I trying to say? Good question.

Self-reflection and honesty with others is the only sure-fire cure for stress that I’ve found. Everyone has gone through it, so sympathy is often plentiful.

Silence should never be taken as agreement.

Many meetings include a statement of “silence is agreement.” It’s a nice, clean statement that can grease the rails of that particular meeting to get to the end. However, saying it and having it be true are two very different realities.

There are many reasons that people would not speak up on a call. Assigning words and decisions to them without their explicit agreement can be a significant mistake. If you need their approval and buy-in, you should always get it directly. Give them an opportunity in a forum they are comfortable in to speak up and have a conversation around what you need from them.

Silence may be an agreement but assuming that it is could turn it to disagreement. The better interpretation should be “silence means we are ok to keep moving.” It is fair to expect people to at least mention the existence of a showstopper even if they aren’t going to express the details yet. Offline conversations are part of the process.

Traversing the levels of experience, knowledge, and understanding.

There are many ways to get experience but they all have one thing in common: time. You cannot gain experience without putting in the time. Some people may be able to get there faster, but it still takes time.

Some people choose to traverse through the levels by getting a Bachelor’s, Master’s, and then Ph.D. They spend their time exploring a specific topic with experts and spending their time trying to advance not just their own understanding, but that of others.

Others spend their time working and become practical experts. They spend time within their particular field learning the day-to-day nuances. Their knowledge will include less of the book-learned aspects but they will understand how to apply those aspects in the real world. Depending on the actual job, this process can be quick or take a long, long time.

Then there is the middle ground of people who get a good degree of education and balance it with the practical day-to-day. As with the practical experts, the majority of experience comes from quality experience in their practical side. Sometimes balance is good, sometimes not so much.

None of these three paths guarantee that you get the best experience. You can get the best education from MIT, Harvard, or Yale but without valuable practical experience your knowledge will struggle to translate outside of research. Even if they pursue consulting, practical experience is the only way to ensure their solutions are implementable.

All paths require time. You cannot get anywhere without it.

Stop using labels that are really just stereotypes.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I hate the term Millennial. I’m technically a Millennial by most measures so it cuts close to home when I see how most publications use the term. If you took a poll, I think you’d see the terms most closely tied to the word as:

  • Entitled
  • Lazy
  • Snowflake
  • Difficult
  • Selfish

For me, Millennial is the stereotype that hits closest to home. Others face many, many more stereotypes that they have to fight against. Stereotypes are cultural shorthand that many people use to make quicker decisions. Unfortunately, when those quick decisions involve people they can be unfair to many great candidates. The more stereotypes an individual faces, the tougher time they have in getting opportunities.

I’m not here to dispell stereotypes. I’m still absolutely certain that all IT experts are difficult, anti-social people (\sarcasm). What I do believe is that we should all make a conscious effort to not allow stereotypes to color our decisions. When you find yourself judging someone based on assumptions rather than actual history, take a step back. Keep in mind, we have stereotypes around every single person we meet or know in life.

What works for a population may not work for an individual, and vice versa. #WorkplaceWednesday

It seems obvious that the solutions we apply to populations are different than those we apply to individuals. There are plenty of individuals who can safely travel at greater than the posted speed limit but the population, generally, would be less safe if everyone could. Everyone believes themselves to be the individual who can safely be the exception, thereby making it impossible to have exceptions. Additionally, the interactions of different individuals can make a situation that is safe for either independently, unsafe for them together.

There is an article making the rounds (seemingly everywhere) about how a study has found that there is no safe amount of alcohol. Many of the articles I have read about this topic struggle to rationalize this outcome against the many, many studies that have found moderate amounts of alcohol can improve the health of individuals. Studies of populations are very different from studies of individuals to the point you cannot compare the results.

The same situation exists in workplace design. An office designed for how a particular person works best will likely not work well for the typical employee. The best designs seek to allow the most people possible to reach peak productivity. You can never make a space perfect for everyone.

You can draw high-level understandings of populations by measuring the behavior of individuals. But much like the behavior of a single driver is dramatically different than the behavior of a pack of cars on the interstate, individuals describing their workday are dramatically different than how groups are observed to work together in offices.