Survivor Workplace

The average person experiences more stimulus, potential danger and conflict during their commute to work, than a farmer did, working his fields 100 years ago, over an entire month! Now that’s survivor instinct! These days the word “survivor” conjures up many images, from a bunch of people in “reality” TV shows, to cancer patients who live to tell the tale of their surgeries, radiation, chemotherapy and remissions.

I recently shared the platform with a speaker who entered the profession, after surviving cancer. His story was eloquently recounted, including his subsequent magnificent physical achievements claimed for all those who are fighting or who have survived this life threatening disease (much like our beloved Canadian hero, Terry Fox). It got me thinking about the phrase cancer survivor and how much our society reveres these people, particularly, as extra special heros, whose courage and chutzpah must obviously go well beyond all others. As a four year cancer “survivor”, myself (as first mentioned in the April edition of Working Wisdom), I’m suggesting that it’s not a matter of heroics but, rather, doing what you have to do, physically and mentally, to get better, and get on with it, as fast as you can.

Every living organism is wired with a basic instinct to survive, and, when push comes to shove, will usually fight the good survival fight as best they can. Many choose to label cancer survivors as heros for doing what comes naturally–sucking it up and fighting back. These titles are intended to demonstrate respect and honour for what the “victim” has endured?and that’s just fine. What I am suggesting, however, is this–you fight the dangers of traffic all the way to work and back, five times a week! Some people regularly battle hostile, six lane highway traffic twice daily, to complete on their professional commitments. Does anyone laud you as a “traffic survivor”? You emerge from your intense team meetings (that can often be “humdingers”!)–does anyone call you a “team meeting survivor“? You constantly listen and absorb colleagues’ gripes and handle more customer or client complaints than you care to count–does anyone call you a “workplace survivor”? I’m not intending to be flip about treating serious things, such as fighting and surviving cancer, with unbecoming lightness–I am intending to point out that if you have lived to tell the tale of another workday (if you are not in today’s obituaries) you, too, are a survivor! Everyday. Congratulate yourself! And, especially lately, this business of “surviving”, to be of use in the world another day, has become more challenging than ever!

To fortify your instinct for “survival”, it’s valuable to focus on skills which promote self?awareness, self-management, interpersonal communications and respect for self and others.

Here are 9 strategies to help you do more than just “survive” at work, and elsewhere; development and maintenance of these skills will help you “thrive”!

1. Embrace continuous improvement of your Inter-Personal Communication Skills,
ie. conflict resolution, assertive communications, empathic listening, diversity acceptance, etc.

Reading Assignment: Gender challenges in the workplace has been a “hot” topic for the past few years. Take a look at the book, Why men don’t listen and women can’t read maps, by Allan and Barbara Pease, for a good look and laugh at yourself and your opposite gendered colleagues at work (and in private life, too). This Broadway Books, New York, ISBN 0-7679-0763-9, will help you and your colleagues “survive” a bit better, day-in and day-out, by giving you a factual and humourous frame of reference for understanding each other?guaranteed!

2. Consciously keep an Open Mind.

Exercise: Think about a person at work who really bugs you–drives you crazy! That’s the person with whom to practice the strategy of open mind! You don’t have to work at having an open mind with those you like or who feel the same as you?you’re already in the same club; it’s the people with whom you are in disagreement, or rub you the wrong way, that you must fight to keep an open mind.

3. Know Your Physiological “Hot Buttons”. Have you ever been angry at work? Sure you have! The person who declares they have never been angry at work is the person who is probably the most angry of all (holding it all inside!).

Exercise: Notice your physiological “tells” when you get angry. What happens for you? Do you get flushed? Hear your heart thumping–get a stomach or headache–clench your teeth and jaw–surface thrombosed veins in your temples? Notice. Then watch your gut level emotional reactions, immediately following. Train yourself to “be there” in advance of acting out anger that you’d later regret. It’s all about having your brain three seconds ahead of your actions and mouth. It’s all about Emotional Intelligence. Read (or re-read) Daniel Goleman’s classic book “Emotional Intelligence”.

4. Dig for important information in new and unusual ways. Commit to purposefully reading outside your areas of interest or professional expertise.

Exercise: The next time you’re waiting anywhere where there is a collection of magazines or books to browse, choose one you’d normally never be caught got dead reading and read it–on purpose–the purpose of gathering a bit of new wisdom on a topic of which you confess knowing little. At the very least, this “foreign” read may make for some interesting dinnertime conversation; at the very most, it may give you a brilliant new idea for handling a challenging workplace problem!

5. Dedicate time to your Self-Management. Be aware of your physical and emotional balance. Read books, listen to tapes and CDs, and participate in workshops and professional conferences, wherever possible.

Exercise: Research an appropriate professional conference or workshop to attend to help sustain your workplace survival skills, or arrange for such an experience to be brought in-house.

6. Practice Stress Reduction Techniques. Everyone knows stress reduction techniques, but it’s not the knowing how that reduces stress–it’s the practicing! Many people say, “yeah, yeah, everyone knows this–I know it, I know it”, but, if you know it, and you don’t do it, you don’t know it, because–if you knew it, you’d do it!

Personal Exercise: Choose one stress reduction technique to which you know you can easily commit, daily. Practice this technique in the good days (even when you don’t feel stressed), so that your technique will be warmed up for your use when a few bad days hit.

7. See the Humour, or bright side, in any outrageous or dark situation. Know how to laugh off at least some of the drama you experience at work, and elsewhere. Even if it takes until day’s end, when you are lying in bed, replaying the images and sounds from the drama of your terrible day, find something amusing or humourous about the whole situation.

Exercise: Once in bed, declare “one funny thing that happened to day was…” If you honestly can’t think of one thing, turn on the TV and surf for a late night sitcom. Let a smile on your lips be the last facial expression you record to underscore another day of successful survival.

8. Be Horizon Focused. Identify what’s leaving and move away from it. See what’s coming and move towards it. This may be easier said than done, but you can expedite this attitude by elevating your awareness of it, in the first place. The biggest pain we feel at work (or elsewhere) often comes from denial of the truth of a situation. When we let go, or accept the circumstance or situation, the “pain” of it usually dissipates, allowing more focus on what to do next.

9. Nurture your business and personal Relationships at all times. This makes you available for others, when they’re in a slump or have a special need. It also helps ensure a network of colleagues, friends and acquaintances who care about you, when it’s your turn!

Exercise: It’s that time again–who is it that you’ve let “slip in a crack” or “been meaning to call”, but haven’t because you were just “so busy”? Identify just one of the people that falls into this category and scratch them off your “to do” list by connecting with just that one person–today. Now.

Take a careful look at this list of strategies. Who do you know who already embraces and demonstrates all of these strategies? Which ones do you find yourself saying, “I do that already”. Which ones do you instinctively know, “There’s room for improvement for me with this one”.

You’re probably already a good walking, talking example of some of these skills, and it’s your competency with these, that’s helped you “survive” so far. How much better can you get at these strategies? How much better do you think you’ll need to get?to survive? to thrive?

You can never get too good at the skills which are essential for surviving and thriving at work in the months and years ahead, and each of us has more workplace capability, competency and heroics, within, than we are probably aware–just like those cancer survivors.

“Life is like a 10-speed bike. We all have gears we never use.”
Charles Shultz

“We all live in suspense from day-to-day, from hour to hour;
in other words, we are the hero of our own story.”
Mary McCarthy

Go ahead–make your (work)day–and survive, today–so that you can live to tell the tale, share your professional wisdom and make yet another worthy workplace contribution, tomorrow!

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