Change Anything QA

How to Advance Your Career in a Down Economy

Al Switzler

Al Switzler is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Change Anything, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.


Change Anything

Q  Dear Crucial Skills,

I’ve approached my superiors many times to let them know that I would like to be involved in other projects or roles at work, but I haven’t received any responding offers or opportunities.

What’s the best way to let management know that I’m interested in branching out?

Looking for More

A Dear Looking,

Whether at work, at home, or in the community, people often feel they are limited in their opportunities to do more, develop more, or take on more responsibility. They feel boxed-in by policy, provincial thinking, or limited resources. With the backdrop of a down economy and all the downsizing or rightsizing that has occurred, more and more people are feeling limited or boxed-in at work. Some have simply accepted the situation as the new normal and have been prompted, either by others or by themselves, to feel gratitude that they even have a job.

I admire you for refusing to accept the situation and for striving to grow professionally. I hope my advice will help you as you work to achieve your goal.

Avoid the harbor trap. The first bit of advice is a variation of a quotation attributed to a New England chamber of commerce and often used by John F. Kennedy: “A rising tide lifts all boats.” If that is true, the reverse is equally true. “A falling tide lowers all boats.”

This quotation also applies to corporate culture. Corporate culture can be defined as what people do habitually and voluntarily at work, particularly in the absence of supervision. When the tide is rising, the workforce is generally optimistic and opportunities abound. But when the tide falls, due to a pessimistic and cynical culture, many people are weighed down and become trapped in negative thinking. I congratulate you for maintaining your ambitions despite any cynicism around you. I encourage you to avoid listening to the messages about, “not rocking the boat,” or “keeping your head down and your nose clean,” or “just being grateful for what you have.” While these messages can be subtle or overt, they can also be persistent. Run from them, don’t listen to them, and don’t sink with the tide.

Manage your own vital behaviors. Now you may not work in a negative culture. Instead, your problem may be that your boss won’t or doesn’t want to listen to you, or doesn’t see your potential. In any case, my advice is the same. You need to be the captain of your own ship. You need to manage your own vital behaviors—the choices or actions that are most directly connected to the result you desire. In your case, your desire is more opportunities and responsibilities at work.

When we were writing Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success, we researched what it takes to manage your own career or get unstuck at work, and we found that there are three vital behaviors that can help you advance your career. These three vital behaviors will help you step up, branch out, and build a reputation that can increase your opportunities:

  • Know your stuff. The top performers we studied made regular efforts to ensure they excelled in the current technical aspects of their jobs. This means you should study, attend classes, and read the most current information about your field. You want people to know that you are in the top 10 percent of innovative leaders who can execute in your chosen field.
  • Focus on the right stuff. In addition to being known as competent, the top performers kept their finger on the pulse of the industry. They were knowledgeable and competent in areas that directly applied to their organization’s strategic imperatives. I’ve known individuals who, by asking the right questions, networking with the appropriate experts, and studying the latest literature, changed their reputation as a mediocre contributor to that of an influential leader in about three months time. You can do this, too.
  • Build a reputation for being helpful. There are many areas where you can be helpful without anyone’s approval. In order to improve your influence, start a Toastmaster class, find someone to mentor, volunteer for various committees, or become the source of clear information in your area of expertise. This list includes just a few suggestions for being helpful in ways that require little to no approval from your manager. When people are known for being problem solvers, rather than for who they know or for their charm, opportunities follow.

Be explicit in your requests. It seems like you have already asked your boss—maybe repeatedly—for new opportunities. Congratulations again for refusing to remain silent and sink with the tide. If you haven’t already done so, make sure your request is clear and vary the way you ask. Rather than asking for new opportunities and responsibilities generally, ask for the opportunity to serve on a specific team or committee and note the ways you think you could contribute. Or, ask what you would need to do or learn to be a candidate for the next opportunity or promotion and ask for your manager’s support in that development.

If you are clear enough, you will get an answer or you will continue to be stonewalled—which is also an answer. If you are stonewalled, I suggest you steer your own boat and ask for advice or mentoring from others in the organization. I’ve never seen an organization that didn’t have some individuals who had a personal goal to help others succeed.

I hope this advice will help you captain your own ship and manage your own career. If you follow this advice, I believe that although you may not achieve a specific position you are seeking, you will step up and branch out. I wish you well in your quest.



Crucial Applications: REACH 2012 BIG Idea Video—Ron McMillan Turns Really Bad Days Into Really Good Data

Do you ever get discouraged when, despite your best attempts to change, you fail to behave in ways that will help you accomplish your goals? Do you find yourself getting stuck in patterns of bad behavior—so much so that you’d rather just give up on change?

In his twenty-minute BIG Idea speech, Ron McMillan teaches an important principle for staying on course with your change goals rather than getting mired in discouragement. The principle: turn bad days into good data by becoming the scientist rather than the subject.

The successful changers Ron and his coauthors studied respond to a bad day with curiosity rather than condemnation. In order to do that, Ron says the first step is recognizing that whenever you experience discouragement, you are the subject. To become the scientist, you must step out of that discouragement and analyze your behavior.

So if you have a bad day, how can you, the scientist, use that bad day to help you, the subject, move forward?

Ron says when examining personal behavior you want to do two things:

  1. Identify Crucial Moments
  2. Create Vital Behaviors

Visit the VitalSmarts Video Channel and Select Ron’s Turn Really Bad Days Into Really Good Data BIG Idea speech to learn tactics for creating a plan to avoid repeating mistakes. The important takeaway is not to be perfect, but to be always progressing.


Thankful Thoughts from the VitalSmarts Authors: This Year, We're Thankful For . . .

Kerry Patterson

Kerry Patterson is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Change Anything, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.


Thankful Thoughts from Kerry Patterson

This year my thoughts and thanks turn to Mr. Howard, my junior high school principal who, one semester in the eighth grade, taught our English class (filled to the rafters with hooligans and juvenile delinquents) the ins and outs of Shakespeare. He so loved the topic and shared it with such extraordinary passion that I saw for the first time what it’s like when learning isn’t a means to an end, but a delightful journey. Mr. Howard would pause and reread an expression as if sampling again from a fine recipe—reveling in the twist of a phrase, marveling at the wonder behind an idea, and embracing the written word as if it were a long-lost friend.

The very next year Mr. Marcarian, our science teacher, encouraged us to work hard and fast in exploring science subjects so that we could end early and then be rewarded with the most magnificent of gifts. He would read aloud to us from Edgar Allan Poe where we discovered pits containing precarious pendulums, and floors hiding tattling hearts, but most of all we saw that learning itself was its own reward.

I thank all of those who entered my life at key times and through their example taught me that you never become truly learned, but if you’re lucky you acquire a passion for learning. And today, I thank my partners who continually inspire me with new thoughts, new readings, new studies, new hypotheses, and most of all, with the undying belief that the cure to all that ails us lies in the next idea.


Al Switzler

Al Switzler is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Change Anything, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.


Thankful Thoughts from Al Switzler

It’s a wonderful opportunity to be asked to consider what I’m thankful for. As I sit contemplating and typing, I look out the window at Mount Timpanogos (also called Timp) which overshadows our corporate headquarters. It is a spectacular mountain, with a peak that rises to 11,749 feet, more than 7,000 feet above the valley floor. I have viewed this mountain frequently, so much so that it caused me to wax semi-poetic some few years ago. In this poem is a theme of gratitude.

See This Mountain Rising
See this mountain rising
For eons it has risen
Once fish swam in its shallows
And crabs as bright as cinnamon
Clicked across its sands

See this mountain risen
Its summit still ascending
With mass and might, it’s looming
More present than the fullest moon
It too moves the tides

With its pushing and its pulling
The peaks control the seasons
Winter’s bone-white freezing
Spring’s new green and growing
Summer’s snowmelt seeping
Autumn’s gold and glowing
Spilling to the valley floor

And this mountain moves these tides
No more than it moves me
In the power of its presence
Like the highest hawk I soar
Circling and ascending
I see and see again
Then carefully unfolding, my heart opens
And I sing

In this ebbing and this flowing
In this soaring and ascending
I see creation’s making
I feel the maker’s markings
Cleansed by this mountain’s breathings
I shed my wounds and worries
And I am filled to overflowing with
Gratitude and awe

In that same spirit, I am so grateful to be engaged in a work that makes a positive difference in people’s lives. I’m thankful to be working with colleagues here and all over the world whom I love—colleagues who have hearts as big as Mt. Timp. I am full to overflowing for people who reach out to make the world a better and safer place.

And to my wife and family, who make my world a place of love and meaning. For all of these, much gratitude.


David Maxfield

David Maxfield is coauthor of two New York Times bestsellers, Change Anything and Influencer.


Thankful Thoughts from David Maxfield

I have so much to be thankful for, much of it very personal: my wife, Kathy, my mom, my sisters and brother, and my wonderful in-laws—especially my mother-in-law, Maureen. But this note should relate to our purpose here—working with individuals and organizations to create change for good. So, I’ll focus on three groups I’d like to thank.

First, thanks to all of you who speak up when you see problems, instead of saying “It’s not my job,” or “What can I do?” Thanks for speaking up frankly and honestly and with respect when others are sitting on their hands or holding their breath. When you speak up, you make it safe for others to speak up as well.

Second, thanks to those of you who use our skills—Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, Influencer, or Change Anything—to create change for good. We are just a small company in the intermountain west, but thanks to you, we feel we are making a difference across the world. We witness you saving lives by improving workplace safety and patient safety; changing lives through effective teaching, case management, and healthcare; and improving lives by making your organizations more effective and humane. Thanks!

Finally, I want to thank all of you who help me stay on track. Your candid feedback, accountability discussions, and crucial conversations are often inconvenient, distracting, and a pain in the neck—but they are also absolutely essential. I appreciate them all—sooner or later.

Thanks y’all!


Joseph Grenny

Joseph Grenny is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Change Anything, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.


Thankful Thoughts from Joseph Grenny

My heart is very full as I look back on 2012. I’m overwhelmingly grateful for intimacy, inspiration, meaning, and community.

I’m grateful for the profound intimacy we share at VitalSmarts. I experienced it this year as we rallied around a young colleague who was struck with a chronic disease. His willingness to include us in his experience has deepened our relationships with each other. I experienced it when another colleague who struggled with infertility for many years finally gave birth in a miraculous way that drew us all together. I have felt waves of joy so many times as I think about the shared journey many of us have had with her.

I’m thankful for the inspiration that comes when we dedicate ourselves to worthy purposes and embrace important human problems. This past year, my colleagues and I have worked on an experiment in applying Change Anything and Influencer principles to help some in desperate poverty profoundly change their economic prospects. I sat in the shell of a building with Raul who was destitute and surviving by selling cast-off items in Oaxaca, Mexico. Last week, I wept when I learned he has purchased an oven and begun a bakery business as a result of the work we are doing. As we’ve put our minds to this important effort, we’ve felt inspired with ideas beyond our abilities. I humbly acknowledge the Source of that inspiration.

I’m grateful for meaningful work. As I write this, I’m in the U.K. where I heard a half dozen talented leaders describe how they’re using Influencer to improve their workplaces, save lives, be better stewards with tax dollars, and much more. Being a part of a work that literally touches every part of the globe fills me with a sense of purpose that makes me feel overwhelmingly blessed.

And finally, I’m grateful for each of you reading this. You are part of the community that I cherish. I feel so uplifted when I meet so many of you in my travels around the world. Please know that the brevity of our occasional contact is accompanied by an enduring sense of love and appreciation for you and the good you do in the world.


Ron McMillan

Ron McMillan is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Change Anything, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.


Thankful Thoughts from Ron McMillan

At this season of giving thanks, I am indeed frustrated by our newsletter editors limiting me to three hundred words. Three hundred words! I need at least three hundred pages to fully express my thanks. But they’re the bosses, so whadaya gointado?

I’m thankful for life and the marvelous experience of loving and learning and feeling sad and glad. I’m thankful for my family: my wife’s unconditional love, my children’s magically unique lives and contributions, my grandchildren’s wet kisses and simple needs. I’m thankful that I live in this country where we’re free to become who we choose and vote to choose our leaders, free to argue, disagree, share, learn together, listen, not listen, create, dance, sing, make mistakes, forgive, and be forgiven. I’m thankful for the love of God.

I’m thankful that I can make a living by loving and giving to others: I get to study and write, and teach and watch, and listen and learn, and travel and serve, and edify and be edified. And oh the amazing people I’ve met!

I’m thankful for our readers and clients and their eagerness to improve and make things better. I’m thankful for the VitalSmarts community who studies the sciences of human behavior and joins with us to train others and in doing so blesses so many lives.

I’m thankful for our partners around the world who have translated our work into their languages and cultures and taught thousands upon thousands, making the world smaller and better.

I’m forever thankful for the VitalSmarts Team. They are a unique collection of genius and talent, and love and commitment, and humor and integrity. I’m inspired by their excellent work and humbled by their goodness.

I’m thankful, so very thankful.

Post a comment below to share with us what you’re thankful for this holiday season.