Self-Management: More Joy at Work

This article is a reprint from an article published in 2016 in Empathische Zeit.

Most people I know set a fairly low bar in terms of their expectations for their work experience.

If you like your job, that’s considered to be “good.” Can you say that your work brings you joy… or empowerment, inspiration, creativity, and energy?

I believe that every workplace can have this kind of satisfaction and joy — the en-joyment of:

  • working with colleagues in a collaborative and respectful way
  • achieving results that are meaningful and connecting
  • maintaining a life-work balance

Photo by Canva Studio from Pexels

Since 2001, I’ve supported dozens of organizations ranging from small nonprofits and large NGOs to multi-national and Fortune 100 companies. While each has varied in what they deliver—from Montessori education, catering, pharmaceuticals, to film production and organic farming, the concerns are fairly consistent.

Be it a sole-proprietor or a CEO, managers ask me, “How do I manage more effectively?” No one has asked me about upping the joy. But don’t we all want to enjoy our lives, including our work lives, where we spend a considerable amount of time each week? In the end, I think managers are in effect asking me about joy since they ultimately want greater ease and harmony at work, for others and themselves.

In particular, managers ask me, “How do I get my staff to…

  • Understand their tasks, roles, and responsibilities?
  • Break down silos and communicate and collaborate better with other team members?
  • Increase responsiveness, accountability, and follow-through?
  • Work effectively and respectfully with colleagues and reports?
  • Get onto the same page about what matters?
  • Speak up candidly?
  • Resolve differences without escalating or giving up?

Intrinsic in these question is a belief that managers want — and should want — to change or impact the behavior of others, as in, “How can I get X person to do Y, with Z, or V more effectively?”

If people aren’t following instructions, completing tasks, or working with others in the way that I want, the question becomes, “How can I change that and get everyone to do what they’re supposed to be doing—on deadline–and budget?

Inherent in this belief system is that the issue or behavior to be changed lies with the other person, the report. While it can be a mild form of judgment, judgment is often lurking there, since the issue is about how others are acting or interacting. They’re not enjoying what others are doing (or not doing).

And here’s the rub: What I ask these managers consistently is, “Do you want to manage more effectively with more ease and joy and get your staff to make changes?”

If so, the first, crucial step is this: learn how to better manage yourself. (By the way, this is core to the practice of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), which is about ultimate responsibility. Response-ability about what we’re seeing or hearing, what our feeling/somatic response is, what matters to us on a core level—our needs—and what requests can we make to support connection, clarity, collaboration and movement? It’s all about our experience, and what changes we can make.)

Here are some of the questions I explore with managers:

  • When giving feedback, are you giving clear observations, free of evaluation? Are you focused on the behavior, rather than the person?
  • In seeking buy-in and engagement, are you sharing with others the needs it would meet for you, the company and the team, by their completing a task or contributing to it?
  • If there’s confusion or repetition, are you offering or requesting recaps about what’s been said, to get everyone on the same page?
  • When wanting greater responsibility, accountability and change, how are you asking questions to generate input, creativity and collaboration?
  • If a situation is escalating, how do you support the team in finding their own internal resources to resolve the issues and restore trust?
  • How are you developing leadership overall via empowering questions that you’re asking you team? (Questions that invite their involvement and resourcefulness)
  • Are you acting in ways—consistently—that meet your own needs for integrity?

Nonviolent Communication — or Collaborative Communication, as I call it in a business setting — offers numerous, game-changing solutions for managers and companies. All of these solutions, as seen in the sample questions above, can be learned and integrated in everyday interactions, such as:

  • recapping
  • making clear requests
  • giving concrete feedback

All of these skills and mindsets (the desire or intention to support using these skills) involve a certain kind of self-management, since the manager is taking the lead in changing his or her behavior to impact what’s happening.

Yet all this “self-management” is dependent on what I really mean by self-management:  self-empathy (or self-connection).  How connected and discerning are you in each moment, with yourself and others? How attuned are you to your own needs, and what will best serve staff, clients, the company, and the situation?  

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

This “meta” self-management is true self-management. All other NVC practices depend on it. You can know how to use “OFNR” (the four NVC steps of Observation, Feelings, Needs, Requests) but these powerful steps can be clumsy at best or disconnecting at worst if practiced without discernment, self-connection or presence.

That’s where self-empathy (also know as self-connection or self-management) comes in. How can you make clear requests if you’re not sure what you want yourself? How do you discern when more clarity might be needed, or shared reality, or pacing/space if you’re not noticing your own visceral response (using yourself like a tuning fork) and your needs?

Self-management is not just about applying different tools from your toolbox; it’s about noticing and asking yourself, “What’s happening in the present moment?”

What am I seeing and experiencing? How is this impacting me and others, and what will move things forward? All of this involves self-connection and discernment, which comes from self-empathy.

So when I coach executives, this is what we focus on. Once managers have mastered this “self-management,” all other “management” skills fall into place and can be practiced with more ease. And once there are new, empowering management skills, managers (and their companies) can generate the changes they’re wanting to see on their teams, and company-wide.

Over time, their reports and their teams start picking up self-management skills too — transforming how the organization communicates and achieves their goals. The end result is greater connection, openness, trust, collaboration and creativity… and more joy at work! Finally, while self-management is not the only game-changing practice that NVC brings to the workplace, it is the crucial building-block for all other changes.

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