Tag Archives: Work

Change Anything QA

Deliberate Practice Makes Perfect

Dear Crucial Skills,

I need to improve my writing skills, but I’m too busy writing to take the time. My job is in marketing and I write position papers, sales materials, and product descriptions. My long-term goal is to write a nonfiction book, but I don’t have time to take a writing class. Being a better writer will launch my career and get me closer to achieving my dream. Help!

Writer’s Block

Dear Writer’s Block,

Fortunately, there is a lot you can do to improve your writing skills without enrolling in a regular class. The time it takes to become a better writer is not driven by the number of hours spent in a classroom, but by the number of hours spent in deliberate practice. Mounds of recent research shows the predictor of mastery of almost any skill you can imagine—surgery, writing, mountain unicycling, chess, public speaking—is not some genetic endowment but rather the number of hours you spend in a very specific kind of practice.

A classroom can be a useful place to get deliberate practice, but unfortunately, many teachers get in the way of this process as much as they enable it. So don’t despair that you can’t take the time to head to night class right now. You can still get started. Here’s what you have to do to use deliberate practice to accelerate your progress toward your dream.

1. Break the skill into small parts. In other words, don’t practice “writing,” practice a specific aspect of writing that you think is important to your advancement. For example, you may decide that your use of language is too dull and you want to spice it up. The subset of “writing” you want to work on is using more vivid language, metaphors, or engaging prose. Later, you could pick another sub-skill of writing, but find one place to begin.

2. Practice in short, intensive intervals. The great thing about deliberate practice is that it doesn’t take long periods of time. In fact, if you’re doing it right, you can’t really practice for more than an hour or so at a time. I once watched world-class dancers from the Royal Ballet in London working on some of the discrete parts of a particular dance. Rather than practice the entire performance, they worked on one 30-second segment that was giving them challenges over and over again. They also forced themselves to quit and take a break after about 20 minutes of very intense practice.

You should do the same by creating a small, structured practice opportunity. For example, decide that each day, you will write a one-page essay on something that happened at work. You’ll take some anecdote from your day and bring it to life such as: “Strategies I used to keep alert during a two-hour project review.”

3. Get feedback against a clear standard. In order to turn practice into deliberate practice, you need clear and immediate feedback. The Royal Ballet dancers didn’t simply go through their routines again and again, they had a coach—a master dancer—who literally stopped them after a single jump and gave immediate feedback about the angle of their head or the bending of a wrist. They immediately did the jump again and you could see instant progress. Far from being disruptive, this kind of real-time feedback allowed them to analyze and adjust their performance far more rapidly, resulting in substantial improvement.

You can do the same with your practice. I encourage you to get a coach—a trusted friend who is also a good judge of writing—who will read your one-page paper and be mercilessly honest with you about verbiage that is trite, clumsy, or uninteresting, and tell you when you have nailed it. After you receive feedback, rewrite that single page—focusing on one specific aspect of your writing—and watch how quickly your skills improve. I had just this kind of coach early in my writing career. His name is Kerry Patterson, my long-time friend and coauthor. Go find your Kerry!

Many people want to be writers. The difference between those who become good writers and those who don’t is summed up by a sign a colleague kept in his office—Writers write.

Don’t wait for a sabbatical, a class, or until some other grand moment arrives. Just start deliberately practicing. Today!

Best wishes,
Joseph

Other

Crucial Applications: How to Overcome a Career-Limiting Habit

We recently completed a study which reveals the top five Career-Limiting Habits (CLHs) that cause employees to miss out on raises and promotions. According to the study, 97 percent of employees report they have some habit that keeps them from achieving their potential at work.

 

The Top 5 Career-Limiting Habits:

1. Unreliability
2. “It’s not my job”
3. Procrastination
4. Resistance to change
5. Negative attitude

Other CLHs that limit employees’ progression include: disrespect, short-term focus, selfishness, passive aggressiveness, and risk aversion.

The research found that these habits are the main obstacle to career advancement. Nearly half of bosses report that addressing employees’ glaring bad habit is three times more important than increasing their technical skills. Unfortunately, bosses also report that only 10 to 20 percent of their employees actually make profound and lasting changes to their CLH.

Despite this, the study found there are predictable paths to success for employees who want to reverse their CLH. Here are some tips for shaping better habits for career success:

  1. Create a Personal Motivation Statement. When you hit a motivational wall while changing your work habits, motivate yourself by visiting your “default future”—the career you’ll have if you are repeatedly passed up for promotion.
  2. Invest in professional development. New habits always require new skills. Top performers hone their craft. Actively develop the skills you need to be viewed as a top performer through training, workshops, or books—but make sure this is only one part of a bigger change strategy.
  3. Hang with the hard workers. The Career-Limiting Habits that keep you back are likely enabled, tolerated, or encouraged by others. Use positive peer pressure by surrounding yourself with hard-working friends who share your career goals. Distance yourself from the office slackers.
  4. Find a mentor. Changing habits requires help. Find a trusted mentor to encourage your progression and help you navigate the career development opportunities that exist within the organization.
  5. Put skin in the game. Reward yourself for reaching short-term goals by placing money at risk. For example, if you reach your goal in your next performance review you can purchase a reward with the money you set aside. However, if you fall short, the money goes to support the political party you oppose.
  6. Control your workspace. Make your new habits easier by enlisting the power of your surroundings. If you’d benefit from close association with another team, ask to move offices. When possible, turn off electronic interruptions that keep you from being as productive as you need to be to move ahead.
Crucial Conversations QA

Showing Respect for Your Colleagues

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Maxfield is coauthor of the New York Times bestseller, Influencer.

David Maxfield is coauthor of the New York Times bestseller, Influencer.

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Crucial Conversations

Q Dear Crucial Skills,

I am a physician and I have to admit that, although I am respectful toward my patients, I have great difficulty when I am dealing with fellow physicians and nurses who, in my opinion, don’t seem to know basic skills to care for our patients.

My frustration with their ignorance often manifests itself not necessarily in the words I choose, but more in the way I voice my opinions and in the tone of my voice. I am dealing with people’s lives and am frequently pushed to go too fast. Often I am sleep deprived or emotionally exhausted. These things make it even harder to be as respectful as I would like to be with colleagues.

I totally understand that my lack of respect just makes the situation worse, but I don’t know how to deal with ignorance in people who I think should know better and who often have egos that prevent them from listening very well. Please help.

Dr. M

A Dear Dr. M,

Thank you for writing such an open and revealing letter. It’s clear you’ve thought deeply about this concern, and your good intentions shine through. I see three elements to your situation:

1. Crucial Moments: In key situations, you are both emotionally exhausted as well as in the middle of a high-stakes medical issue.
2. Primed Stories:
You’ve become especially sensitive to certain problems: caregivers who “should know better” or “have egos that prevent them from listening.”
3. Visible Actions:
You show your frustration—not in your word choice, but in the way you voice your opinions and the tone of your voice.

I can imagine I might do the same. And yet, as you note, these lapses just make the situation worse.

You’re already motivated to maintain a respectful relationship and you already control your choice of words. However, you realize your frustrations are seeping through anyway and damaging relationships. What more can you do? Here are four tips you might try.

1. Identify the crucial moments. The more you can do to recognize when you’re in these moments, the more prepared you will be. Take a pen and paper and map out when, where, and with whom you are most likely to experience these crucial moments. Focus on the moments where you are most at risk of being disrespectful to others.

2. Apply the skill “master my stories.” It sounds as if, when you are emotionally exhausted, you are especially apt to use “villain stories“—to interpret others’ actions in a negative way. And when you judge others, the verdict shows on your face.

James Gross, the head of Stanford’s psychophysiology lab, is the leading researcher in a field called “emotional control.” According to Gross, we control our emotions in two very different ways. One way is to suppress them—we rage inside, but keep our faces calm. Gross explains that this approach results in immediate cardiovascular costs as well as a variety of long-term negative impacts. Living your life behind a mask is not good for you. In Crucial Conversations, we call this “going to silence.”

The second way we control our emotions is through reappraising the events that have made us angry and re-evaluating the situation. This second strategy is the “master my stories” approach we teach in Crucial Conversations. Gross says people who use this approach are more successful in controlling their emotions, as well as happier and healthier over the long term.

So, what do you do? Right now, while you’re calm and relaxed, ask yourself the following questions: “Do I really believe the people I get frustrated with ‘should know better’ and ‘have egos that prevent them from listening’? Or are my stories symptoms of the pressure-filled moments and emotional exhaustion?”

If the problems are real, address them using your crucial conversations skills. But don’t wait until the crucial moment, when you are exhausted. Instead, select a time when you can have high-quality dialogue.

If you decide your stories have more to do with the pressure of the situation and your exhaustion, ask yourself how you would like to handle these frustrating moments. Assume the caregivers around you are reasonable, rational, and decent and that they are trying to do the right thing. Then ask yourself, “What can I do to help them help my patient?”

3. Prepare before the situation. It’s always harder to use these skills in the heat of the moment. So establish a rule for yourself and decide now what you will do and say when you find yourself in that situation. For example, if I’m in one of my crucial moments and feel intensely frustrated, I will say, “I know we both want what’s best for the patient. Let’s each share our perspective.” Create a rule, pick the words that will work for you, and write them down.

Establishing these if/then rules in advance is very powerful, especially when the moments you need them involve a lot of stress and competing demands. They work in two ways. First, they highlight the crucial moments, making it more likely you’ll recognize these moments when you’re in them. Second, they help you move from “consciously competent” to “unconsciously competent.” Instead of having to think about and make decisions in the moment, you act on the decisions you’ve made in advance. (Peter Gollwitzer at NYU has published several interesting studies showing how these rules work).

4. Enlist support. Ask your colleagues to help you recognize when you’re starting to go over the edge. An anesthesiologist I respect told his team, “In general, please call me by my first name, Jim. But if you think I’m becoming intimidating or not listening, then call me Dr. Smith. That will be our signal.” I like this cue because it’s subtle and respectful. Making this request is also a powerful way of convincing people that you really want to do what’s right.

I hope these ideas help. Let me know how it goes.

David