Check your attitude

positive attitudeKaren, Humanergy’s business manager was quoted recently, saying “I am so happy that I get to go to work.” Not “HAVE to go to work,” but “GET to!” That warms our hearts – and it is an attitude you can cultivate.

Everyone from Dr. Phil to bloggers at Harvard Business Review know that attitude matters. While some people feel like their negativity is due to external factors, attitude is largely a choice.

Your attitude is composed of thoughts and feelings – about work, other people, etc. There may be times during crisis when it is hard to get your emotional bearings. However, in the normal day-to-day grind, you can control your attitude even when your work is complex and people are difficult.

Geoffrey James at wrote about 8 ways to improve your attitude, including doing something that takes you out of your comfort zone and forgiving people’s limitations and weaknesses. (We’d advise not wasting energy on any of the things you can’t control, and other people’s attitudes are among them.)

James’ best tip in my mind is to hang out with positive people. Scientists have proven that we mirror the behavior of those around us – and aren’t positive people generally more fun to be around?

It’s easier to have a positive attitude when personal and company values align, when your co-workers are pleasant and when your job is fulfilling. And it’s also true that you can choose to approach even the most challenging situations with a positive mental outlook. Don’t be naive about reality, but do adopt a hopeful frame of mind. “Yep, things are tough, and it’s gonna get better!”

You are the master of your attitude – choose positivity!


Want your glass half full? Humanergy can help.

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Two ways to boost your employees’ performance

It makes intuitive sense that how people feel day to day impacts their contributions on the job. New research by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer “reveals the dramatic impact of employees’ inner work lives—their perceptions, emotions, and motivation levels—on several dimensions of performance.”

Your inner work life boils down to your emotions, level of motivation and perceptions throughout the day. What is the link between good or bad days and how people perform?

People perform better when their workday experiences include more positive emotions, stronger intrinsic motivation (passion for the work), and more favorable perceptions of their work, their team, their leaders, and their organization.

Not surprisingly how people are managed has a significant impact on the quality of their inner work lives. This study found two key differentiating factors when they examined managerial impact. The first was enabling employees to make progress – to achieve a goal, reach a milestone or solve a problem. This means not getting in the way and actively removing obstacles that derail progress.

The second way to positively impact performance is having managers treat employees decently. Interestingly, this dimension was strongly linked with the previous one around making progress. Praising people for work that did not make progress did not have a positive impact on performance, probably because such fail praise smacks of insincerity. Employees felt better about their work and contributed more if their managers expressed appreciation for valid results and achievements.

The bottom line is that if you want high performance, it isn’t enough to set the bar high. You need to attend to the inner work life of your people as well.


Need help boosting your people’s performance? Contact Humanergy.

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Does a game face work?

Everybody has a bad day once in a while, even the boss. Leaders sometimes feel that they cannot let their true feelings show, so they put on a “game face” to mask their true emotions.

Janine Popick posted How Your Energy Affects Your Team at She says that a leader’s energy affects the entire team, so sometimes it’s necessary to project a can-do attitude, even if you feel otherwise.

In my experience, few people can pull this off. Most people’s “boss radar” will pick up on a mismatch between the leader’s words and demeanor. Rather than faking your way through a bad day, consider telling people what’s going on. Keep it simple, like, “I’m in a bad mood today. Tomorrow will be better, but I just need a little space today to work it out.”

If you’re not up to facing the gang at work, consider telecommuting for the day. You’ll be more productive and may find it easier to find your groove at home, away from the concerned faces of your team.

Regardless of your strategy, give yourself permission to have a bad day once in a while. If you’re having lots of bad days, it’s time for a serious reconsideration of work, life and how you can better manage both.


Having too many bad days at work? Contact Humanergy.

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5 tips for thriving on the receiving end of change

Most advice about change is directed at leaders, often dealing with managing employees’ reactions to change. There are far fewer books and articles written from an employee-facing-change perspective.

To roll with change in your organization, start with these tips:

1. Recognize your starting point as it relates to change. In general, do you go with the flow and adapt quickly? If yes, hurray for you! However, if change or ambiguity throw you for a loop, you need to prepare for change more carefully by attending to the following tips.

2. Be honest about your concerns and feelings. Admit (at least to yourself) if the impending change creates anxiety, fear or even anger. The only way to move past these emotions is to acknowledge them first. Take some time to examine your reaction to the upcoming change. Seek the counsel of a trusted mentor to help you formulate a plan to manage your feelings while you make the necessary adjustments.

3. Learn about the context for change. Talk with your boss about why the change is important to the organization. If you get the business case for the change – and the negative impact of not changing – you’ll find it easier to buy in.

4. Ask lots of questions, but don’t expect all the answers right away. Your leaders don’t have a fool-proof crystal ball. There will be unanticipated events, modifications and impact. Some ambiguity is to be expected.

5. Choose your behavior. You could join the vocal opposition or an underground movement for the status quo. While that may delay the change, your reputation will be damaged. If you can’t be an early adopter, strive to be at least a neutral-to-positive force for change. Above all, don’t feed the gossip mill, and confront peers whose behavior is inappropriate.

Some changes may so profoundly affect the organization or your role that staying on the job is difficult, even impossible. As with any unknown, expect the best AND prepare for the worst. As Charles R. Swindoll said, “We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.”


Struggling with change? Contact Humanergy

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Empathy: Not just for the touchy-feely

I worked for a boss once who was profoundly uncomfortable with feelings. He was a likeable guy who preferred to keep his distance when things got personal or emotional. It wasn’t unusual for him to miss meetings where contentious issues were going to be discussed.

My boss’ lack of empathy allowed him to deal with the facts at hand, without the complication of wading into various perspectives or attitudes. What he lost, however, was the ability to maximize our emotional intelligence, an important factor in team success.

Empathy was defined by Daniel Goleman in the HBR article, What Makes a Leader, as “the ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people” and “skill in treating people according to their emotional reactions.”

If you’re thinking that empathy is an unnecessary distraction, consider its benefits to leaders:

Empathy gives you insight. You will gain a richer understanding of your organization’s people, competitors and customers – and therefore make better decisions.

Empathy enhances influence. You will not be able to sway your peers or boss without understanding their perspectives and attitudes. Your attempts at persuasion will fall on deaf ears if you do not connect with what is important to them.

Empathy helps you leverage diversity. Your team is composed of people with skills, experiences and cultural backgrounds that are different from yours. Asking genuine questions and not making assumptions will help you not only “get them” as people, it will also allow you to tap into their interests and utilize their unique abilities.

How to enhance empathy?

Start with humility. You haven’t got it all figured out. Recognize that you need all of your people’s capabilities – tangible and intangible – to succeed.

Be curious. Listen more and talk less. Ask questions about what people are thinking and feeling. Don’t assume you already know.

Ask for feedback and input, and really mean it. Use the ideas and innovations that your team shares. This will encourage people to share more over time.

Empathy isn’t a magic bullet, as noted by Steve Tobak in a recent post. It is an important tool for your leadership toolbox that should be regularly used.

“If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it” (Atticus Finch, a fictitious character in the book, To Kill a Mockingbird).


To find out more about how you can beef up your empathy, contact Humanergy.

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Curiosity: A leadership superpower

We are hard-wired to be critical of new ideas. Maybe it’s our Stone-Age brains in the forefront, avoiding risk in order to survive. Sometimes the urge to appear intelligent and decisive can result in too-swift judgment of something novel.

Art Markman’s blog on promoting a culture of smart thinking includes a tip on staying open to ideas. He recommends that you allow fresh information some “soak” time and try them out before you pass judgment.

Staying open to different viewpoints can only happen when we are willing to be wrong sometimes. We may also need to wrestle with some powerful emotions, such as anger or hurt. In these moments of vulnerability, curiosity is both difficult and much-needed.

If you’re like me, you may be programmed to quickly ask, “What’s her problem?” or “Is he nuts?”

To boost curiosity, try some new questions: “I wonder why he said that?” “What would that look like?” “How would that work?” “What do I like best about it?”

You may find that these questions will not only open your mind…it will unblock those of the people around you as well.

Need some help staying open-minded? Contact Humanergy.

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Darn it! Does swearing make you colorful or crude?

“Life is a four-letter word.” (Lenny Bruce)

One of the most influential memories from childhood involves my brother getting his mouth washed out with soap for uttering a swear word. I can’t recall the specific word, but I do remember the gagging, amidst promises never to repeat the offense. I was certainly careful to keep my own language G-rated in front of my mom after that disturbing event!

Truth be told, my language of late could merit some soap; and, I’m not alone. It seems that society today accepts, or at least tolerates, a certain level of profanity. When it comes to our kids and cussing, we often adopt a “do as I say, not as I do” attitude.

Is swearing at work no big deal? Or, does it mark you as a person who is not in control? I like the Evil HR Lady’s take on four-letter words in the CBS blog post called Swearing at Work. She says:

“Someone will argue that using swear words just shows who they really are; and, if you tell them to stop it, you’re suppressing their personality and creativity. I say any 13 year old can say dirty words; and, if you want to demonstrate your individuality and creativity, try saying something different.”

So why do I occasionally slip and use bad language? Sometimes I think it makes me feel better. It’s mildly cathartic. I also think it’s my way of saying, “I am really, really upset; so, pay attention!”

I wonder if I also subconsciously think letting a few expletives fly makes me more colorful and interesting – sort of the “bad girl” persona that contrasts with my solidly boring, Midwestern self. (In my own defense, I should note that I really don’t use bad language in a hurtful way – at least I certainly hope I don’t!)

All excuses aside, swearing isn’t really attractive or necessary to explain the amplitude of my feelings. It’s a lazy way to blow off some steam or be expressive. When choosing my words going forward, I vow to choose carefully. I will remember the wise words of the Evil HR Lady who said, “I have never heard anyone say, ‘Gee, I just love Bill’s foul mouth.’”

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You need thick skin AND a big heart

I heard somewhere recently that leaders need both thick skin and a big heart. At face value, those two qualities might seem like an oxymoron. How can a tough, impervious person be vulnerable enough to let the softer side show? Christian D. Warren answers this question in his blog post called The Positive Aspects of Being Thick-Skinned. He says:

“What being thick-skinned really means is that a person can take more pressure, ridicule, and proverbial “hits” than the average Joe. Most of the time, a thick skin also serves to protect a big, soft heart. So being thick-skinned should make a person warm, positive, and very easy to approach, because of the higher understanding of challenges conquered.”

If you’re not naturally thick-skinned and tend to reel when faced with criticism or intense pressure, what can you do to beef up your virtual armor?

Practice new internal messages. We can be our own worst enemies. When we receive feedback or feel great stress, we often have an internal dialogue that perpetuates feelings of uncertainty. You can actively replace internal messages like, “I can’t do this” with new ones. When the pressure is on, think, “I’ve survived worse” or “focus on facts” or “what’s the one next thing I can do?” These calming internal messages put you in control and help you remain rational.

Prepare before intensity strikes. Have a game plan in place so that you are ready to respond well in heated situations. Practice in front of a mirror, so that your facial expressions match your words. One good preparation strategy is to have a statement ready that  allows you to respond appropriately right away and then deal with the issue later. “I really appreciate you sharing that with me. I want to take a little time to think about what you’ve said. Can we meet this afternoon?”

Assume it isn’t personal. In reality, most comments are not intended as personal digs. Even if there is an intent to personally attack you, reacting to it does you no favors. Too often people remember your response, not the “offending” comment. Internal messaging helps here, too. Think, “what can I learn from this?” and craft a strategy to respond, if appropriate. Otherwise, if the comments are merely a distraction, move on.

What if you need to be more tender-hearted?

Be tough about issues and tender with people. Tony Schwartz’s blog, The Only Thing that Really Matters, makes this point perfectly. Your people’s need to feel valued and appreciated is fundamental. No matter what the trigger event is or how irritated you may be, you choose your reaction. Breathe deeply and take a moment to gather your thoughts, so that you can respond in a way that is firm, clear and maintains the dignity of all involved.

Be cautious about appearing unemotional, especially if you’re a female leader. There is a sweet spot for how emotional you appear on the job. Gabriela Cora writes about the detrimental effects of being perceived as cold or unemotional in her post, Thick Skin Pays Off in Leadership. Women are expected to be more emotional and big-hearted, and therefore may be judged more harshly than men for seeming indifferent or aloof.

Earn respect through compassion. There is an old school of thought that can be summarized as follows: To get people’s respect, you must be tough, imposing and “never let them see you sweat.” The more informed school recognizes that respect is earned through qualities such as integrity, kindness and transparency. Contrary to the old thinking, there is no honor in being labeled distant or unapproachable.

Spend time with people one-on-one. While you don’t need to ooze love and compassion, simply take time to sit down with your people for regular conversation. Find out how things are going and how you might help them succeed. Truly listen and then follow up on what you commit to do. Soon you’ll be known as one of the most caring leaders around.

Thick skin can help you thrive in a world where unkind words and adversity can’t be avoided. A big heart allows you to be yourself, help others and contribute to the greater good. Keep a healthy level of both qualities in order to avoid being overly-sensitive or emotionally distant. Otherwise, as the cartoon character Pogo quipped, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Want more info about this or another topic? Contact Humanergy.

Photo by Benjamin Earwicker, who has a collection at stock.xchng, our favorite photo site. Check out his website.

Decisions: Are they really logical?

decisionThe global economic crisis was created, at least in part, by a tremendous number of bad decisions. Most of these fateful judgments were made by smart, professional people. A few were the result of incredible greed and short-term thinking. But for the most part, the folks making these terrible decisions were intelligent and well-intentioned.

How did this happen, and what can you do to make better decisions?

Know the data and what it really means. If you’re basing your decision on facts, make sure you understand them, and that you also know the limitations of the data. If you’re leaning toward one option, seek out metrics that would contraindicate that path. Beware of glossing over facts and figures in order to justify your decision.

Don’t blindly trust the expert. A recent article summarized research on what happens when we receive expert financial advice. Brain scans showed that when the subjects heard that the person was an “expert,” brain activity in the decision-making areas of the brain virtually turned off.  Instead of thinking for themselves, test subjects made bad decisions based on bad advice.

Recognize the role of emotions. A different study shows that emotions do play a role in decision-making, even when we think we’re making rational decisions. Emotion centers in the brain are stimulated when you make decisions. What you think of as gut instinct or intuition may actually be your emotional bias, so thoroughly examine the feelings that may be a factor.

Consider all perspectives. Look at competitors, dissatisfied customers and other points of view that may dramatically differ from your own. This may reveal flaws in your arguments or assumptions.

Making decisions is a complex process, one that is not fully understood. What is clear is that we cannot apply  100% Spock-like logic to decision-making, even if that is what we intend. Examine diverse metrics, differing views and your emotions. Then follow through based on your best, most complete judgment.

Have a question or want some input from Humanergy about this topic? Contact us and we’ll get right back to you!

How to disagree well

Thumbs Down - With clipping PathIn theory, healthy disagreement at work seems like a good idea. We want a variety of opinions and perspectives. So why is it that disagreement so often results in hurt feelings, frustration and inefficiency? We don’t disagree well.

As tempting as it is to “fix” how others disagree, a good leader focuses first on how she can change her own behavior. Here’s how to air your differing views productively:

Disagree courageously and honestly. Saying nothing will be interpreted as agreement. If it’s important, don’t retreat or stay quiet.

Don’t assume you know the other perspective; ask powerful questions. “What is really important to you about this situation? What does a ‘win’ look like for you?”

Sometimes you need to disagree in private and support in public. There are times when you need to state your dissenting views in private and 100% commit to supporting the decision. For example, “I know you are inclined to close the ABC plant, and I’ll support it if that is the organization’s decision. Here ‘s how ABC can be profitable within 6 months.”

Deal with your emotions. When you think of the situation at hand, define your emotional state. What about this situation gets you emotionally charged? Recognize that you have feelings about the issue, understand why and plan for how to manage them.

Involve a third party. Bring in an objective person – someone that both parties trust – to help you communicate more effectively and come to a solution.

If you aren’t experiencing disagreement in your workplace, you should be nervous. Whether it’s group think, lack of creativity or fear that is keeping people quiet, you can be pretty sure differing opinions are out there. Mahatma Gandhi said, “honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.” Humanergy says that no disagreement is often a good sign of trouble.

Have a question or want some input from Humanergy about this topic? Contact us and we’ll get right back to you!