By Rebecca Healy
Our lives are a series of habits. Our brain craves habits, because it wants to be more efficient. We each have good and bad habits, and each one consists of the same loop: a cue, routine and reward.
You might have a stressful day at work (cue), only to come home, turn on the TV and eat a bag of potato chips (routine). That eating becomes your therapy (reward). Or you might get a paper assignment at school (cue) and then research, outline, write and edit the paper (routine). Then you feel great when you get an "A – Nice work!" when it's returned (reward).
Our lives are comprised of hundreds of these habits a day: open the medicine cabinet (cue), brush your teeth (routine) and run your tongue along your pearly whites (reward). But while we often focus on habits to support personal development – like running, healthy eating and meditation habits – we stop short of using habits to support our professional development. But work habits do exist and are crucial to your success.
Here are three habits to cultivate at the office for increased respect, confidence and sanity:
1. The Accomplishment Habit. When someone asks what you do (cue), whether at a conference or on a job application, cover letter or résumé, it's natural to respond with a description of our job responsibilities (routine). While this is safe and within our comfort zone (reward), it's much more effective to use accomplishments rather than descriptions. Try describing the outcome or results of the project you worked on instead of simply listing your responsibilities. Below are examples of how someone in marketing could edit their resume:
Old: "Managed social media campaigns across various platforms, including Facebook."
New: "Managed social media campaign resulting in $120K gross online ticket sales."
Old: "Support client social media community management, including community moderation, engagement recommendations and strategy."
New: "Increased community engagement on social media platforms by 30 percent."
When you think in terms of outcomes and are results-driven, you sell yourself, your skills and your worth better. The Accomplishment Habit also encourages you to keep a big-picture view of your contributions and purpose when you're stuck in the weeds of day-to-day work.
2. The Negotiation Habit. We often sit on the sidelines when it's time for a negotiation. For example, we wait for an employer to initiate a raise conversation (cue) and hope for the best during the performance review with clammy hands (routine). Then we breathe a sigh of relief when it's over (reward). But habits don't have to rely on other people's cues to begin their loop. You can create the cue and routine and reap a deeper reward when you're proactive.
To start, try this script at the next meeting with your boss (cue): "I have one last item on the agenda. I've really enjoyed working here, and the XYZ project and ABC initiative have been particularly interesting and fun to contribute to and lead. I would love to meet in the next couple weeks to discuss my performance and a potential raise. After today's meeting, I'll send an email to schedule a time that works for both of us."
While many companies have specific mandates for performance reviews, you should also prepare your own document that shows your accomplishments, strengths, what you plan to work on, additional responsibilities you plan to take on and your proposed raise, along with any supporting research on salaries. This document makes it easier to get through a nerve-wracking and sweaty conversation (routine) and leads to confidence and a larger paycheck (reward). It doesn't hurt that it makes you look smart, thoughtful and prepared, too.
The Negotiation Habit can be used throughout your day, and it's not just useful for getting a raise. When you actively participate in a negotiation, whether it be to advocate for a new idea, lunch at your favorite spot for the third day in a row or close a sale, you take control of the direction of your career.
3. The Communication Habit. When interacting with someone (cue), many of us are focusing on the task at hand (routine), rather than taking a moment to step back and really understand that person's point of view. When you focus on the task and not the person, the project might get completed (reward), but you miss out on a large opportunity to build powerful relationships for your career.
The next time you start a team project (cue), try evaluating a colleague's work and communication style (routine). Take notes if you need to! Is this person ambitious, competitive and strong-willed (directing)? Or are they methodical, empathetic and dislike conflict (meditating)? How about animated, outgoing and laugh easily (presenting)? Or perhaps diplomatic, systematic, and perfectionistic (analyzing)?
While most people will overlap with one or more styles, you should be able to identify a person's dominant type with practice. CEOs tend to be the directing type, while a salesperson is presenting and a programmer leans more toward the analyzing type. Each style is necessary in an organization, and none is superior. Understanding another person's style can make a major difference in your approach to people and how you interact. You probably don't want to overload your CEO with details, for example, and instead stick to the high-level plan.
Good habits at work are just as important as good habits at home. When you can replace bad habits with those that are positive and proactive, you lay the foundation for a successful and rewarding career.
Rebecca Healy is the founder of Kontrary, a different take on money and happiness that helps you take control of your work and life. She lives in Washington, DC.
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