Business People vs. People People

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Are you a business person or a people person?

Are you a take-charge, no-nonsense employee or manager? Do you believe that you (or your employees) are there to work, and that down-time or non-work related activities should be consigned to fifteen minute breaks every two hours? Or altogether eliminated until the whistle blows at five? Are you a proponent of the gospel of work hard and play harder, but play only comes after doing a solid eight hours of hard work?

Or are you a social butterfly, making sure to check in with everyone on your journey from the front door to your office or cubicle? Have you ever encountered a personal conversation at work that you didn’t have an opinion about? Are you sure to greet everyone who passes by, whether they’re engaged in conversation with someone else or not? Do you consider sitting at your desk for more than twenty minutes without any human interaction to be cruel and unusual punishment?

Of course, these two synopses are caricatures of the traditional business person and people person. No one wholly embodies one extreme to the exclusion of the other. If they did, they wouldn’t have a job for very long. The caricatured business person would soon lose the buy-in and respect of his or her employees, and the people person illustrated above would soon meet the business end of a poor performance review.

On the other hand, everyone leans in one direction or the other, favors one behavior above the other. There are business-minded people who recognize that they must interact with their co-workers in order to function properly within the workspace, just as there are people-minded managers and employees that have to constantly remind themselves that they have a job to do.

The trick is finding the happy medium between the two, and that is almost always only gained through experience. No one is born knowing when to work and when to play – it’s a learned response that is slightly different in every environment. This is why it is important to give new employees that much-needed time to acclimate to their new work regimen. They need to observe their co-workers in action to get a feel for “how things are done” in their new surroundings.

Possessing an appropriately proportionate balance between being a business person and being a people person often means the difference between success and failure in the workplace. As a manager, it’s knowing when to be part of the gang, and when to draw the line and mete out the praise or constructive criticism. As an employee, the same holds true – knowing where the line is, being aware of its constantly shifting nature, and being prepared to adapt when necessary is one of the hallmarks of a great employee.

Make no mistake, though – both characteristics are vitally important for all members of every organization, big and small. It is imperative in order to keep the workplace humming like a well-oiled machine for each individual to understand and accept their roles within the group, and live up to the expectations of the organization.

Leaving Your Comfort Zone

As I begin the journey of transitioning to a new position within my company, there are two quotes that keep running through my mind that I’d like to share them with you.

Henry Ford, the innovative business magnate and inventor of the assembly line, is credited with saying, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” This speaks to me on a visceral level, as it exemplifies the belief that you are the captain of your own destiny, that only you can determine your own fate.

While this viewpoint is a bit simplistic – there are obviously outside forces at work all of the time that affect who you are and what you are trying to do – it is true in that it all starts with you. Your attitude, and the actions that attitude leads to, dictates a great deal of your success…and your failures.

To steal from Norman Vincent Peale, the power of positive thinking cannot be understated. So much of life depends upon how you react in a given situation, and by maintaining a positive outlook and acting in a manner that is consistent with your most deeply held values and beliefs, you will succeed in whatever you set out to do in the long run.

The second of the quotes is by Virgin founder Richard Branson: “If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you’re not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later.” This really goes against my nature, and human nature in general. As a civilized Society, we are hard-wired to find a situation in which we’re comfortable, and then do everything in our power to remain in that situation. Granted, there are those individuals who thrive on change and who live for the next challenge, but most of us just want to be content, to find what makes us happy and stay there.

I don’t remember much from the psychology class I took years ago, but Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has always stuck with me, in much the same way that “the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell” has, and which I tend to throw into conversations at inappropriate times to show I paid attention in biology class.

It is significant that the need for safety and security is near the bottom of the pyramid, second only to our need for physiological satisfaction – food and water, warmth and sleep. The need for comfort and security is intrinsically basic to our survival and sense of well being, so much so that it often becomes the goal rather than the means to the end of advancing up the pyramid.

To journey outside my comfort zone – to move away from the job I’ve had for the past seven years and try something new, something I’ve never done before – is, frankly, quite scary. Don’t get me wrong – I have all the confidence in the world that I’ll succeed, based on my past experience of jumping into new things and doing well. But I also know that there’s no guarantee that I’ll do well. I know everyone in my new department will do everything they can to assist me, but in the end I’ll be depending on my own skill and ability to learn new things and succeed.

In the end, I believe the payoff is worth the risk.

The Ballad of Disgruntled Dan

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In the deep recesses of an uncaring, cruel city
Lives a man whom many call Disgruntled Dan
No one takes notice, none show the slightest pity
They avoid him like a plague (as much as they can)

Disgruntled Dan works the eight-to-five dayshift
If he’s avoiding his spouse he might pull overtime
And if he’s out sick, all consider it a gift
Sadly, he hasn’t missed one since 2009

He leaves the house early and his coffee he gets
With a scowl to the barista, never bothers with words
Then proceeds to the office, to pay off his debts
He works for the money, passion’s for the birds

He sits at his desk and logs onto the network
To see which emails he’ll ignore first today
He couldn’t care less if they all think he’s a jerk
They can mock all they want, as long as he’s paid

When lunchtime rolls ’round and the whole office clears out
To their favorite restaurants go the various cliques
Ol’ Dan grabs his brown paper sack, rigid and stout
Downs his egg salad sandwich while the office clock ticks

The afternoon meetings are challenging for Dan
He’d much rather be left to his own devices
He wishes they were over before they even began
He could care less about their inventory prices

He never contributes to the roundtable discussions
Content to doodle on his yellow legal pad
He’s blissfully unaware of any repercussions
Of the staff’s business plan, good or bad

The clock strikes five and ol’ Disgruntled Dan
Is out the door as if shot from a rifle
He honks at the traffic that he cannot stand
The annoyance he feels is no trifle

By the light of the TV, Dan and the missus
Eat yesterday’s leftovers, then doze in the den
And when they retire, there are no good-night kisses
Goes to sleep preparing to do it all over again

The morale to Disgruntled Dan’s tortured existence
Escapes him on a daily basis
The root of it all is his very insistence
In how he deals daily with the problems he faces

His passion was lost far too long ago to remember
If it ever existed in his heart at all
He counts the years, January to December
He feels the end coming but can’t seem to stall

So don’t be like our ol’ friend Disgruntled Dan
Be thankful and pleasant and giving and kind
Let a passionate life be your guide and do all you can
Be positive of heart, and of soul, and of mind

And you’ll find that your happiness and goodwill
Becomes success in the blink of an eye
For what does it profit a man to tilt at the windmill
Wake up! Don’t let your life pass you by

The First Step

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If there’s one thing I can take away from the last two years of my life, it’s this lesson, embodied by quote by the great French painter Henri Matisse:

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Two years ago, after spending the first fifty-plus years of my life playing guitar to myself in my bedroom, I decided to screw up my courage and play for people. I joined a band, which led to playing solo in public, which led to a handful of paid gigs and a couple of albums. In the span of two years, I went from playing alone for myself to being paid to play in front of (mostly) strangers.

Initially, I had no idea what I was doing. Once I got out there and started playing in public, I made friends with a number of musicians who were more than happy to give me tips and show me the ropes, but when I was starting out, I had to make it up as I went along.

The learning curve was steep, and I often felt frustrated and lost. There’s no handbook on what equipment you really need, how to get gigs, how to market yourself, how to make it known to the world at large that you want to play in front of people.

I made more than my fair share of mistakes along the way – too many to go into much detail about them here. And truthfully, too many of my mistakes were stupid and embarrassing, the sort of errors of judgement where you ask yourself after the fact, “What the heck were you thinking out there?” and chalk up to inexperience.

The lesson I took from all of these character-building moments is this: when it comes to trying new things, to doing something different, to putting yourself out there to experience new experiences, the best guide is to follow the words of the great poet and shoemaker Nike:

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Never played a guitar with a bunch of other guys? Just do it.

Never wrote a song before? Just do it.

Never sang and played in front of people? Just do it.

Never recorded an album of original songs before? Just do it.

Doing all of these things involved only two prerequisites on my part: the desire to do it, and the willingness to fail. And that is all that separates those who want to do something from those that do – the ability to stop worrying and start acting.

It’s pointless to sit around wishing that you could do something, idly daydreaming about it rather than actually making it happen. Regardless of what it is you wish to accomplish, the first step is to take that first step. The worse that could possibly happen is that you fail.

But failure is no reason to not try.

The fear of failure is a strong demotivater, and it takes courage to ignore that gut instinct of wanting to remain in the comfort zone we’ve created for ourselves and make a change. The easiest course of action is always to do nothing, to not affect the change in your life that will lead down new roads and open new opportunities to you. But the easiest course is rarely the best course. Comfort is the enemy of progress and change.

So, if you’ve ever wanted to do something creative – play an instrument, write a book, paint a picture, make a movie – but feel like you don’t know where to start, or how to start, or when to start, then stop over-thinking it.

Creativity takes courage. Just do it.

Positive Success

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I’ve never been a proponent of “fake it ’til you make it,” but there is definitely something to be said for choosing to take a positive outlook on life.

There is a school of thought that would have you force yourself to be unflinchingly positive in the face of even the most dire of consequences. I’m sure we’ve all known people like this – the fake smile, the tireless (and tiring) upbeat behavior, the always-on friendliness. The problem with this sort of behavior is that it is completely and totally fake, inauthentic to the extreme.

Authenticity is a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot, but there really is much to be said in favor of the sort of grounded honesty that comes with addressing every situation with the gravitas that it requires. There is nothing wrong with admitting you’re “not feeling it” or that you’re not sure about a certain situation – it’s only human nature to be wary around new and different situations.

To barrel headlong into every situation with rose-colored glasses, vowing to only see the sunny side of everything, may make you feel temporarily better, but will do nothing to relieve long-term conflict and stress. In fact, that attitude will always work against you, leaving you feeling worse off than when you started, when you finally get to the breaking point of not being able to take it anymore.

However, there is a vast difference between this perpetual fake happiness and making the conscious choice to view everything through a positive filter. Where the former behavior will almost always lead you to missing certain salient points about a given situation because you’re operating with blinders on, the latter behavior allows you to implement the necessary framework to turn some of those negatives into positives.

Case-in-point: Losing a job will cause someone with “perpetual happiness disease” to enter into a state of denial about their situation, refusing to believe that there was anything amiss with their performance in the first place. If they’re just patient, something better is sure to come along. They wait and wait, to no avail. They often end up crashing, unable to maintain the forced high of always being “on.” They end up worse off than when they were before.

Take the person who is able to take the authentic-yet-positive perspective to heart and put them in the same position, however, and you’ll have a person who quickly realizes the severity of their situation and takes positive steps to mitigate the circumstances and resolve the situation as quickly and efficiently as possible.

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Positive thinking is so much different than trying to always see “the sunny side of life.” Abraham Lincoln said, “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Positive thinking, then, is a state of mind, the mental decision to see the good and favorable in everything, in every situation. It is the authentic assessment of what is going on paired with the determination to make the best choice for all involved.

My challenge to you is this: Spend one hour a day taking a positive outlook on every situation and person you encounter. Not the happy-go-lucky, take-what-comes-and-be-happy-with-it attitude that so many self-help gurus would have you adopt, but rather the genuine belief that there is a positive side to whatever situation you’re in, as long as you’re patient and focused enough to realize it.

I’d wager that you’ll soon find yourself expanding this practice to much longer sessions than that initial hour – you’ll find it to be such a useful tool that you won’t be able to help yourself, it will become second nature in very short order. I’m sure that, if given the chance, you’ll find your outlook on life to begin to mirror that confident outlook, and your relationship with everyone at work and home will improve and be the better for it.

In fact, I’m positive of it.

The Secret of Getting Ahead

Tomorrow is an odd concept, if you think about it.

On the one hand, it makes total sense that we’d have to have some way to communicate the idea that there is some unknown quantity that has yet to occur, some future time and place that we’ll soon be interacting with. We as humans are planners by nature, and we like to know what the future holds so that we can make those plans accordingly.

But tomorrow is an illusion, make no mistake about it. We’ll never arrive there, because it doesn’t exist outside of being an abstract concept, a way to put off until tomorrow what we don’t want to do today.

If you want to get something done, the best way to start – the only way to start, in fact – is to just do it.

We all fall victim to the paralysis of analysis. I’m as guilty of it as you are. How many times have you said to yourself late in the day, “It’s too late to start this now – I’ll do it tomorrow”? Or when organizing the coming day first thing in the morning, you find yourself rationalizing yourself out of starting that tough project because you know you won’t be able to finish it in a day?

We waste so much time and energy talking ourselves out of doing what needs to be done – time and energy, ironically, that would be better served in rolling up our sleeves and getting to work. I fall into the same trap myself – I spend so much time convincing myself that I shouldn’t start some task that I literally could have finished the task in the time it takes me to decide to put it off until tomorrow.

The answer is a simple one – just do it. The secret to getting ahead is getting started.

Instead of over-analyzing, over-thinking, over-rationalizing a decision, I challenge you the next time you are faced with such a decision to set aside your indecision and just do it.

You may surprise yourself.

And if you do this again, and again, and yet again – don’t think, just do – you’ll soon find that you have adopted a habit of taking action. Your days of inaction and inactivity will be behind you, and you’ll feel like a whole new person, one who gets things done.

And those are the best kind of people.