Conde Nast Digital StudioValerie Frankel, SELF magazine contributing blogger
For most of us, looking for more at work is a given. The trouble is, we assume more means a promotion and a bigger paycheck. But in today's job market it's not enough to focus on your net worth; you have to first maximize your self-worth by developing skills employers prize most. If you super-size your strengths, you'll not only gain confidence (the earned kind, not the delusional kind), you'll also become more valuable. Think of it as egonomics: the science of improving self-esteem for fun and profit.
"In the past decade, we've come to rely mostly on technology to get things done," says Ellen McGrath, Ph.D., founder of Bridge Coaching Institute in New York City. "To compensate, workplaces have had to hire people with good interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence," in other words, the same traits you'd want in a mate: flexibility, humor and empathy. The advice below is your crash course in egonomics. Ace it and your job satisfaction and your salary will soar!
Old think: Fit into your job
New think: Find the right job for you
There's a problem when what you value doesn't mesh with what your superiors value. "If you can't fully be yourself, you'll waste energy playing a role and you'll be less effective," says Brian A. Schwartz, Ph.D., founder of CareerDNA.net. Not sure of your talents? Try asking everyone, "What am I good at?" "If you pose the question sincerely, you'll get honest answers," assures Marshall Goldsmith, Ph.D., author of What Got You Here Won't Get You There (Hyperion). Or find your forte with assessments at CareerDNA.net and AuthenticHappiness.com. Then do work you love. Nurture your abilities, no matter how specialized, and you'll get noticed.
Old think: Point out every last pitfall
New think: Be Mr./Ms. Fix-It!
"Pessimists drain energy from everyone around them," says Nancy Friedberg, founder of Career Leverage, an executive coaching firm in New York City. Optimists are "energizing and inspiring." Of course, there's a difference between being optimistic and unrealistic. A good outlook entails being clear about challenges and confident about beating them. That makes others feel good, and when you do that, it's hard not to feel good about yourself. (Self-worth, remember?)
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If you're not a glass-half-full type, brighten your outlook by listing what you like about work, then tape it in a private space you'll see to remind yourself to stay positive. Next, consciously replace complaints with compliments. Swap "Coworker X is a brownnoser" with "Coworker X is savvy." Another mood booster: "When you catch yourself describing what's wrong, reverse your thinking," says Maynard Brusman, Ph.D., founder of WorkingResources.com, "then ask yourself, How can I make this better?"
Old think: Blind 'em with brilliance
New think: Big ears earn bigger bucks
There's a misconception that you need to talk a lot during interviews to impress potential employers or be a squeaky wheel to get noticed at work. "It's smart to do your homework for an interview, but you don't need to bend over backward to prove you're prepared," says Jane Wood, a headhunter in New York City. "It's better to listen and answer questions briefly and directly so you can educate yourself about the interviewer's agenda and respond."
The same goes for paying attention to your boss when she tells you what she wants. To brush up on your listening abilities, the next time your manager asks you for something, repeat the request to prove you understand what's required. (She says, "I need that in the morning." You respond, "You'll have it by nine.") Similarly, in an interview, write down key sentences and make a point of repeating them back to the person grilling you. If she says, "We want someone who can grow with the company," mention, "I want a job at a company where I can progress." Yes, be that obvious. "You need to be sincere," Wood says, but the recruiter is also looking for concrete proof you've been paying attention.
Just as introverts have to train themselves to speak up, extroverts must learn to button their lips. If you're typically chatty, challenge yourself to spend 10 minutes with friends without chiming in. When you feel the urge to interject, examine your motive: Is it to probe further or simply to share your opinion? (If it's the latter, keep mum.) Or try silence for 10-minute stretches in work meetings. "By listening in an active, supportive way, you'll draw out colleagues more effectively," says Jack J. Pelton, CEO of Cessna Aircraft Company in Wichita, Kansas. Who knows? Your workmates' notions might inspire even better ideas from you.
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Old think: It's all about you!
New think: Be humble and empathetic
People who are humble enough to accept failure as a part of life are better able to weather the lows and relish the highs. "You don't need all the answers; someone who knows everything doesn't have any growth potential," Friedberg says. That means demonstrating humility whenever you can. One good way: Practice giving credit where it's due. (If you're the leader of a project, for instance, detail in a memo who contributed what.) Be generous with praise and it will come right back to you.
It's tough to be humble, however, if you're not aware of what others are thinking and feeling. "The ability to read people is key when it comes to work success," says Daniel Goleman, Ph.D., author of Social Intelligence (Bantam). Gifted empaths can virtually see into a person's heart and mind; they are students of facial expression and body language. The good news is that the rest of us are capable of reading cues, too; people from all cultures recognize the universal signs of anger, sadness and joy. "Every time you interact with your boss, be sure to use your gut and common sense to gauge her reaction. If she smiles and makes eye contact, keep going. If she looks away and her lips tighten, make it quick. (If she never likes what she's hearing, find a job where your values are a better fit with the VIP's.) Once you zero in on people's quirks (she's a grouch in the A.M.; he's garrulous right after lunch), you'll be miles ahead of the unobservant masses.
Old think: Be ruthless
New think: Make nice
I still wince when I recall an ex-boss who'd invite a few underlings into her office, then b---- about whoever wasn't in the room. I'm not sure which was worse-being asked to trash others or being outside, knowing you were being trashed. When she was axed, we cheered; she hasn't had a job in the field since. Another woman with an open-door policy moved up to ever-greater heights, earning more fans (and money) along the way. "As companies get more complex, you have to navigate among various coworkers with various aims to succeed," says Rochelle Krombolz, a human resources executive in Philadelphia.
Unfortunately, this need for collaboration can put shy types at a disadvantage. If it's your habit to keep mum in a meeting (creating the impression you lack ideas), force yourself to contribute early on; the longer you wait, the harder it gets. And gather opinions from everyone on the totem pole; a bowl of candy on your desk is a lure. In time, you'll be thought of as both a dispenser of sweets and an indispensable resource.
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Old think: Follow the rules
New think: Learn to be flexible
Unlike our parents, who, for the most part, could expect to be on one work track until retirement, the average person can now expect to make at least several job or even career changes over the course of a lifetime, according to most experts. In other words, we live in a Gumby nation: You've got to bend to succeed. "If someone is uncomfortable with change, that's limiting. I want to hear people talk about times they've been forced to switch gears and have succeeded," Krombolz says.
I worked at the same magazine for 10 years, during which time I kept the same desk but had four different bosses, four different mandates and four completely different office cultures. I lasted because with each change, I wiped my own slate clean and acted as if it was my first day on a new job and I had everything to prove: I comforted myself with the thought that although each new boss didn't know about my past triumphs, they weren't familiar with any of my goofs, either. Then I listened hard to what I was asked to do and did my best to realize each vision with zeal. The benefit? I managed to hold on to my position through each successive era, plus I picked up a number of new, useful tricks and talents along the way.
To nurture your own flexibility, introduce some change into your life by breaking your routines often. If you gravitate toward comedy, see a drama. Brown-bag a sandwich every Wednesday? Go out for soup once in a while. If you're accustomed to doing your brainstorming in the afternoon in your office, try doing it during a morning stroll around the block; you might find you have fresher ideas. And be open to new thoughts, new leaders and new responsibilities. Each might lead you to discover hidden passions and talents. Not only will that bolster your ego; it's also bound to boost your bottom line.
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Conde Nast Digital StudioValerie Frankel, SELF magazine contributing blogger