While each person’s experience in 2020 has been unique, I bet many of you lived through some version of the following:
One day you were in an office, shaking hands, having in-person meetings, and serving a known set of customer needs. And the next day, your home was your office, Zoom was your conference room, handshakes were lethal, and customer needs were being completely reinvented.
Change has become our everything. Get ready to be stretched.
Prior to 2020, you could still get by as a great performer at work even if you were a little resistant to change. But now? Not so much. Change has become our everything. And if it’s not something you naturally lean into, then the time has come to fix it. Stat.
So if you’re someone whose default has been 'I don’t want to learn this new system, process, or way of engaging with customers…', then get ready to be stretched. If you want your career to continue to soar, you’re going to need to be able to roll with change.
Resisting change is natural
If you find it hard to get comfortable with change, you're not alone.
When my kids were babies, getting them to try new foods was an experience. After they spit spoon after spoon of strained peas or carrots back into my face, I talked to my pediatrician. I learned it would take seven to eight experiences with a new food before my baby would begin to like it, or at least stop spitting it at me.
In our work lives, we’re not always offered a grace period of seven to eight exposures to a new idea.
This is due to the mere-exposure effect. While we may like or appreciate some things out of the gate (hello, chocolate fudge sundaes), our natural inclination is often to resist anything that feels different. But more exposure equals more comfort. We're wired to prefer the familiar and comfortable.
But in our work lives, we’re not always offered a grace period of seven to eight exposures to a new idea before we have to adopt it.
So let’s talk about actions you can take to open your mind and expand your comfort zone with change.
1. Scope the change
Sometimes “a change is coming” can sound like “the sky is falling.” But usually, the blue abyss above stays put. So let’s start by putting change into perspective.
Before you panic, check the sky. Is it still there? Phew! You’re OK.
Your boss just told you that you’ll be reporting to a new team. Or you’re switching to a new people-management system, or you’ll be managing a new product or account. Before you panic, check the sky. Is it still there? Phew! You’re OK.
Start by asking yourself what's really changing and what’s staying the same. You may have a new boss or new relationships to manage, but your day-to-day responsibilities aren’t shifting.
You may have a new system to learn, but the data it’s tracking, the reporting it offers—how different will they really be? Your skills will carry over.
So start by putting some boundaries around the change. This should help you take a deep breath. Now, let’s charge ahead!
2. Find your bright spots
When my kids—the spitters of pureed peas and carrots—began remote schooling this year, the change was all kinds of unwelcome. They missed friends. Their new homeroom teacher (yours truly) was highly unqualified. Everything felt messed up.
But I asked them to spend a few minutes finding and focusing on the bright spots. Because every change has bits of sparkle.
Focusing on bright spots helps open your mind, readying it for the change ahead.
They came up with extra sleep (don’t we all need it?!), jammies all day, and breakfast and lunch in bed. (Yes, we've let go of the reins a bit here at my house.)
Maybe for you, it’s the opportunity to add fluency in a new system to your resume, or to build your reputation with a new leader, team, or customer base. What’s something you can get excited about?
Big or small, focusing on bright spots helps open your mind, readying it for the change ahead.
3. Acknowledge the pains and challenges of change
Do focus on the upside. But not at the expense of acknowledging and preparing for the challenges. Don’t put your head in the sand.
If this triggers mild concern or anxiety, don’t push that down. Give it space. Address it.
We resist change for a reason. There will be growing pains. Transitioning to a new system does provide you with new opportunities. But there will also be a learning curve. It will take time, focus, and effort. You’ll be pushed out of your comfort zone. If this triggers mild concern or anxiety, don’t push that down. Give it space. Address it.
Part of gaining comfort with change is giving yourself a chance to master it. The only way to master change is to resolve and repair pain points. We can’t resolve what we can’t see, so give yourself the space to list out every single thing, big or small, that scares or challenges you.
RELATED: Why Negative Emotions Aren't All Bad
What might live on your list?
- Finding time to learn a new system
- Having to build new relationships virtually
- Feeling like a novice after years of feeling like an expert
4. Identify actions within your locus of control
Part of what makes change feel scary is the sense of losing control.
According to the Harvard Business Review:
Many employees have had to abruptly accept fundamental changes to their work routines. And these changes have been stressful… because [they have] stripped people of their autonomy… [which] is detrimental for employee performance and well-being.
In other words, it’s normal to crave a sense of autonomy, of control. So here is where you focus on what you can control, and you make it happen.
Look at your sources of anxiety or discomfort. Identify tangible actions you can take to close the gap or minimize the pain of change.
When I left the world of full-time employment to start my own business, I was terrified of managing that change, even though I’d been the one to initiate it. But as a taker of my own medicine, I followed this very process. And when I arrived at this step, I identified a series of actions in my control.
Here’s a sampling of what I came up with
- Invite every small business owner I know to coffee and pick their brain
- Read one book per month on a relevant topic—consulting, marketing, pricing, etc.
- Hire a coach to help me learn to build
- Hire a lawyer to ensure I don’t step off a cliff
You get the idea. I was stepping into the unknown. But by identifying a series of actions designed to get me incrementally closer to known, I was re-establishing a sense of autonomy and control.
Maybe you have to learn a new system and you’re afraid it will be complicated. What steps can you take to close the gap? What can you control?
5. Commit positive change experiences to memory
I reflect on the days of smushed peas and carrots. Mostly, it was gross. But once in a blue moon, a baby would accidentally swallow a mouthful. And I was nothing but jazz hands.
Turns out, my jazz-hands-enthusiasm was accidental genius because now, baby associated mush with entertaining Mommy gymnastics. For her it became fun. And over time she downed more mush.
And really, that’s kind of your goal.
When you have your first positive experience with that new system, even if it was an accident, make a note of it. When your first client lights up at the description of that new product feature, capture that.
These winning moments add up over time. And suddenly one day you realize: Hey, these smashed peas and carrots are kinda delish! Who knew?
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The COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t a catalyst to shift businesses toward digital transformation, it merely sped up the process. Businesses needed to scramble to move much of their operations online so workers could efficiently collaborate with each other and maintain business continuity during a difficult time.
Fortunately, departments not traditionally associated with the digital universe, like Bookkeeping, had an easier time adapting thanks to online services like Bookstime.com, a provider of digital bookkeeping tools with unique experience in difficult areas like sales tax automation, health benefits administration, and more.
Advantages of digital bookkeeping
Keeping track of every business transaction is among the most important and perhaps underappreciated tasks. Failure to keep track of transactions in a professional manner can result in a business owner making wrong decisions because they have inaccurate information.
Even worse, they might think they end the year with a profit but in reality, a bunch of small bookkeeping mistakes over several months means the business owner really lost money.
A shift to a digital platform eliminates these concerns. Online digital platforms make use of the most up-to-date accounting automation software that erases nearly every careless mistake. This is especially useful for a business owner who does the tedious but necessary job of bookkeeping themselves to save money. The more time a business owner spends on ancillary tasks, the less time they have to generate revenue and keep clients happy.
Some of the other advantages associated with going online include:
- Eliminating clutter: keeping a clean home office is challenging enough but a digital platform means more space for higher priority files.
- Save time: A digital bookkeeping platform is always available online with a few short clicks of the mouse. It can be accessed as needed and when needed in a few short seconds.
- Environmental benefits: It isn’t unusual for a company to use at least 10,000 sheets of paper each year. Shifting resources online may seem like a small benefit but everyone has a responsibility to do a little bit more to protect our environment.
Case in point: Fill in a W-4
Every business owner is happy to hire new workers because it means they are expected to provide value to the company above and beyond their salary. But that doesn’t mean that the formal process is enjoyable.
One of the more undesirable parts of the hiring process is the pesky W-4 form that every employer has to ensure is properly filled in before a worker’s first day. Simply put, the W-4 form confirms how much income tax a worker wants to have withheld from their recurring paychecks. Under-withholding taxes means a worker will likely experience a shock come tax season as they owe money to the government. Over-withholding taxes means a worker is paying the government too much money and has to wait for a refund.
Digital bookkeeping can help simplify this process so you're less prone to errors. When other people’s finances are at stake, small careless mistakes could impact a worker’s desire to give the business owner 100% of their focus.
Businesses that shifted their bookkeeping process online to better navigate through the pandemic quickly realized this was a move that should have been done years ago. The advantages of having access to a clean and organized online tool far outweigh the costs.
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We continue to live in unprecedented times—there's no playbook. We’re living and working differently than ever before, and we’re breaking some eggs as we go.
Whether it’s making a Zoom faux pas, accidentally bringing a political view into the workplace, or missing a deadline because you were distracted by homeschooling your kids during your workday, there's a whole lot of “I’m sorry” happening around us.
But the thing about apologies is that if they’re not done right, they can backfire. An “I’m sorry” that feels disingenuous or patronizing may leave the other person feeling resentful, mistrustful, or uninterested in working with you again.
So next time the moment arises—because it will—how can you deliver an apology that feels genuine?
What are the five apology languages?
For their book, When Sorry Isn't Enough, Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas researched the many ways in which we apologize. They discovered the five apology languages that are effective when it's time to step up and own a mistake.
So let’s talk about each and how you can make them work for you.
Apology Language #1: Express regret
When you realize you’ve done a thing that you just feel bad about, and "I feel bad about this" is the gist of what you want to say, this is the apology language you need.
Something as simple as “I’m sorry X happened” can achieve your goal.
When might you need this one? Imagine you’re hosting a Zoom call. One of your colleagues asks a question, and you dismiss it flippantly and move on.
Not unforgivable. But upon reflection, you feel bad that their question got passed over. Give them a call and put Language Number One to work. Offer a simple apology:
I realize you asked an important question during our call, and I’m sorry it didn’t receive the attention it deserved.
Be specific about what you’re sorry for, and then end your sentence. No "I'm sorry, but …". When you qualify your apology with a "but," you effectively cancel out the apology.
Apology Language #2: Accept responsibility
This second language may be seen as an extension of the first.
Let’s hang with the same situation. A Zoom meeting, a question posed, you moved on.
And now, upon further reflection, you realize that you not only regret what happened, but that you had a particular responsibility in it. You were running that meeting, and you had the power to pause and address your colleague’s question. You chose to plow ahead.
So, maybe take some responsibility. What might that one sound like?
I realize you asked an important question during our call, and it didn’t receive the attention it deserved. I should have paused the conversation to acknowledge your question. I'm sorry I didn't do that.
When the offense feels small—and that’s a subjective judgment—often, taking responsibility will be enough as long as that ownership is genuine.
Avoid shifting the weight of the offense back onto the other person by saying some version of, "I'm sorry you felt that way." That's deflection. And it's just not cool.
Apology Language #3: Make restitution
The third apology language is the one that pushes you from feeling regretful and responsible to knowing you need to make things right.
Let’s imagine a different scenario. A friend reaches out to let you know she’s applied for a job in your company. She has an interview scheduled and she’s asked if you’d be willing to put in a good word for her with the hiring leader. You know her work, and you say, “I’d be delighted to do that!”
She calls you again next week to say she’s just had her interview and it went … OK. When she asks if you managed to put in that good word, you realize you totally dropped the ball.
You know you owe her an apology. But that may not feel like enough. The stakes are high and you want to make things right.
This is your moment to show off your Apology Language #3 skills. You might say:
I am so sorry. I promised I would do that and I dropped the ball. I know how important this opportunity is for you. I’m going to speak to the hiring leader this afternoon—you have my word.
Putting in your recommendation for your friend after the interview has already happened may not be exactly the thing you promised. But if it leaves both you and your friend satisfied that all is right with the world, then you’ve made your apology work.
Apology Language #4: Genuine repentance
This brand of apology is about not only being sorry but taking accountability for preventing the same mistake from happening in the future. It’s about taking ownership and committing to behavior change.
In this case, let’s imagine you lead a customer service team for your company. A customer had a not-so-hot experience with one of your representatives and sent a complaint email to a customer service inbox. An inbox you’re supposed to check daily, but boy have you been busy!
A couple of days later, that same customer, having heard nothing from you, tweets something ugly about their experience with your company. And your boss is fuming.
You dropped the ball. You need to own it. But more importantly, you need to leave your boss feeling confident that this will never happen again.
Your apology might sound something like this.
I am so sorry this happened. I got overwhelmed and didn’t make time to check that inbox. But that’s no excuse—I could have asked for help. I take responsibility for this customer’s experience. And starting today I’ve put a twice-daily reminder on my calendar to check that inbox. And if I’m too busy to do it, I’ll ask someone on my team to check. This way, every customer concern or complaint will be seen in hours, not days.
I don’t know about you, but I’d feel pretty good hearing that apology. You’ve owned it and you’ve convinced me that you broke just one egg and it won’t become a dozen.
Apology Language #5: Request forgiveness
You’ve said what you came to say. The wounded party has given you the gift of their attention.
But now there’s something more you need from them—forgiveness. This part requires a level of vulnerability that can be hard to access because your request for forgiveness doesn’t require the other person's gift of it.
They may say no. They may need to think about it. They may say “We’ll see how things go over time.”
For some people, an apology won’t feel genuine until you’ve asked their forgiveness. So you may need to go out on a limb and ask, even knowing you may not receive it.
Don't apologize when there's nothing to apologize for
Before I close the conversation on the five apology languages, I’d like to add my own note of caution. Apologies are important when they’re warranted—when you’ve done something wrong or let someone down.
But for many people—and more commonly for women than men—apologizing is something we do too often in moments that don’t warrant an “I’m sorry.”
Here are a few examples:
- I'm sorry, but I have a question.
- I'm sorry; I have a full plate and I can't take on that extra project.
- I'm so sorry, but I have to pick up my kid so that 6 p.m. meeting is too late for me.
Please don't apologize for situations like these. Instead, say:
- I have a question.
- I have a full plate and can't take on that extra project.
- That 6 p.m. meeting is too late for me.
You have the right to ask questions and set boundaries. I will never stop reminding you of that. Sorry, not sorry.
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