Three habits that zap your productivity at work

It’s costing you (and your organization) more than you think.

A big shock to people when we first meet is when they learn that I research drama in the workplace. I am a drama researcher. I’ve actually been able to quantify how much time each person in the workplace spends in drama. And it’s two hours and 26 minutes a day.

Now, let’s do some quick math. Take your team headcount, multiply by two and a half hours a day. The result is the amount of time and energy spent in unproductive thinking, dealing with tattling, resisting change, lack of buy in, lack of engagement. Just imagine, when you think about people in human resources and leadership really wanting to make an impact on the bottom line, really wanting to fully utilize existing resources, if we could conserve two and a half hours per day per headcount, and put it back into the workplace, via focused energy or productivity or results, it would absolutely transform our workplaces in a positive way.

Yet the thing is, we’ve come to accept drama as a cost of doing business. We’ve simply accepted the conventional wisdom that if you have people, you will deal with some drama and there’s nothing we can do about it.

But as a former therapist, I know that there are ways of thinking that produce better results. How do we get rid of waste in the workplace? Through better processes. So, if drama is emotional waste, how do you get rid of emotional waste in the workplace? You use better mental processes.

Here’s a new line of thinking that is counterintuitive to conventional leadership wisdom, and one that we’ve experienced with our clients to generate better results. Leaders’ jobs aren’t to motivate and inspire and engage their employees, leaders’ jobs are to teach people better mental processes by which they can eliminate drama (emotional waste), upcycle that energy and that time, and help others step into the power they already have to create a better workplace.

The first thing to be aware of as you work to generate better mental processes, is that you’ll bump up against the ego. I’m not talking about the healthy, self-confidence ego, but the ego that narrates our own world, our filter through which we see our circumstances.

Our ego is a horrible source of information. It corrupts all data that comes in. And the way it primarily corrupts data or our view of our circumstances is to paint you as a victim. This filter is what generates the drama and emotional exhaustion we experience in the workplace.

Here are three common ways that ego generates tremendous waste, energy vampires if you will, in the workplace.

1.Wishing. “If only my boss, coworker, team, et. al were different.” Wishing my current realities were different leads me to believe that the reason I can’t succeed or be happy is my circumstances. And our circumstances aren’t the reasons we can’t be happy or successful, our circumstances are the reality in which we must be happy and successful. Accepting this makes happiness and success far more of a choice and less dependent on our circumstances. But the ego often keeps us wishing for a different hand to be dealt and distorts the basis of all of this.

2. Scorekeeping. This is all about keeping track of who gets what, why they seem to get it, and why I am not living in the perfect circumstances that my ego says I should. The ego loves to see itself in life as one up or one down, and scorekeeping is a common reason why we head into the HR office to vent or hold mental energies that prevent us from taking the best and most helpful action.

3.Storytelling. So much of what we are worried about isn’t even true. When our circumstances get tough, and we take a step down instead of stepping up, our ego loves to jump in to our defense. In the absence of facts or information, it loves to connect the dots and create its own story, full of drama, of why we are helpless in our current reality and what has to change for us to give the gift of our presence, productivity or work. I can interrupt my thinking, and edit my story by asking: “What do I know for sure?” “What could I do next that would add value?” “How can I increase our understanding and have more dialogue about the current reality?” Work and relationships become this beautiful, peaceful place, when I go beyond ego. It’s that place in your brain that’s all about innovation, collaboration and recognition.

What you might be realizing is self-awareness has a big role to play here. “I’m doing this to myself? Wow, I didn’t even realize that.”

So when people ask me for my best advice, I tell them, “Stop believing everything you think. Question most of what you think.” This new awareness is groundbreaking in and of itself.

Let’s take this one step further to the workplace: What role does leadership play to help reduce all of this drama? Unfortunately, many things we teach leaders today actually engage the ego, rather than diffuse the drama. For instance, many of us are taught as leaders, everyone needs a chance to vent to comfort the upset employee and problem solve together. But venting is the ego’s way of avoiding self-reflection.

You see, a person can’t be in ego and self-reflect at the same time. In fact, when you study two-year-olds, and the ego is like a two-year old, they can’t really hold two things in their minds at once. For example, if they have a spoon and you want to get the spoon from them, the worst thing you do is just grab it. What you do is trade it. You distract them, “Do you want some Cheerios?” And they drop the spoon to pick up the Cheerios. Likewise, your ego can’t hang on to the spoon and Cheerio at the same time; can’t vent and self-reflect at the same time. Conventional wisdom teaches leaders to grab the spoon, muscle through some feedback, tell them what they need to do, or even worse, enable their behavior through taking over with my own heroics and then blame you for being so entitled, right?

What I do is teach leaders a better way: to bypass the ego. If you’re venting, I need to get you self-reflecting. Venting leads to more venting. It feels good by feeding our pleasure centers in the brain, but so does crack cocaine, and that’s not really a lifestyle, right? Yes, we let in the venting because we believe people just “need to get it off their chest” but then that leads to the wasted productivity and emotional waste of gossip, to more ego and pride-tattling.

A tool that leaders can immediately use when people come to vent is to quickly ask them a question that gets them into self-reflection. This question is as simple as, “Take a breath, your brain needs oxygen. Now, what would great look like? If you were great right now, if you were the most incredible employee, happiest, highest impact employee ever, what would you be doing?”

You see, everyone knows what great looks like, because “great” is the basis for which we judge other people on. And so the question, “What would great look like?” causes venting to stop, and switches back to the better part of your brain. Then all those things we teach people, like innovation, collaboration, creativity, team work; those come naturally, because those behaviors are our natural state once the drama is gone.

Cy Wakeman is a dynamic international keynote speaker, leadership expert and New York Times bestselling author who has spent over 20 years cultivating a revolutionary approach to leadership and work. To find more successful case studies that teach leaders a modern leadership philosophy and illustrates how accountability, not engagement, drives results, pre-order her new book, No Ego: How Leaders Can Cut the Cost of Workplace Drama, End Entitlement, and Drive Big Results. Contact her at info@cywakeman.com.

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