When I became a new dad several years ago, one of my favorite and most unexpected parts was seeing how children bring out the best in people. Strangers smiled at us walking by, went out of their way to open doors, gave up seats on a train, or randomly engaged in friendly conversation. There is something about a child that evokes the best people have to offer others – kindness, friendliness, care, and generosity.
In contrast, I find that driving (especially in the city of Boston) evokes the worst in people. Honking horns, tailgating, running lights, failing to signal or allow someone to turn, and obscene gestures are all actions that arise from the worst parts of ourselves – the parts that are impatient, rude, self-centered, rushed, and inconsiderate. And while some are better at managing these parts, we all have them.
If you are able to withhold judgment, it becomes easier to simply acknowledge that as human beings we all have these contrasting parts of ourselves that show up in our cars, in our homes, and at our workplace. In my own experience and through coaching hundreds of working professionals, the worst parts of ourselves most often take over under times of stress (e.g. driving in traffic or when facing an important deadline). Given the increasing pressure and demands our modern day work roles carry, there are more opportunities than ever for the worst parts of ourselves to show up on the job.
As you think about the activities you are currently engaged with at work, where is the best in you showing up? The worst? Where is more of your best self needed to have the impact you want? Here are a few tips and questions that will help you to cultivate your best:
1. Get to know the best and worst in you by completing the following sentences:
When I am at my best at work, I am ____________ (e.g. focused, forgiving, kind).
When I am at my worst at work, I am ___________ (e.g. distracted, judgmental, irritable).
2. Write down the best parts of yourself you would like to tap into more often at work. Also add the parts you would like to see less of.
3. Find a physical object (photo, quote, or figure) that represents the best/worst parts that you want to express more/less often – keep it someplace you will see it (desk, screen saver, desk drawer, car, pocket) as a reminder.
4. Acknowledge (rather than ignore) the worst in you and understand that this is only a part of who you are and not only who you are.
5. Ask: “How does this part serve me?” Example: If you are abrupt with someone in a meeting, what was the goal of that part? Perhaps it values efficiency and wants to get directly to the point. Next time keep the goal, but try a different approach.
6. Set an intention to be your best before a meeting or a conversation with a colleague, especially if it could be contentious.
7. When the worst in you has taken over and created a mess (it happens) follow up with the best in you. This could mean apologizing, listening more carefully, or changing a course of action.
8. Look for the best in others and support them to be their best. Try to remember that like you, they also have best/worst sides.
9. Identify the conditions that bring out the best in you and create them more often. Example: if a walk outdoors helps to keep you calm and focused, take a short walk before an important call or meeting.
I challenge you to be your best self for the next 24 hours. What would your workplace be like if everyone around you did this too?