August makes me think of lots of things: hot summer days, lemonade stands, and one of the most popular topics in the media this time of year, the summer slide. I’m not talking about the summer slide like the one you’d see at a swimming pool. I’m talking about the “slide” of students who fall behind in their reading and math skills during the summer months.
Working professionals have our own “summer slide.” Unfortunately, ours isn’t season-specific. We are pressured continuously to stay fresh in our fields, even to “reinvent” ourselves to stay relevant in today’s insanely-paced work environments.
I’m not really sure what it means to “reinvent” myself, and the people who write about it have been writers their entire professional careers, so I’m not sure they know what it means, either.
But I do appreciate the idea of staying fresh and current. It can be overwhelming to stay “fresh” when most days I just try to keep up. I did, however, come up with three tangible nuggets of things that I can do to grow professionally. These are things that I know I can improve upon and that I know will offer plenty of opportunity for practice.
1. Dedicate yourself to growing as a conflict manager
For many of us, the first task is to make peace with the idea of conflict. It wasn’t until I got past the idea of conflict as something to avoid that I was able to start thinking about how I can manage it instead of merely reacting to it. There are life-long, deeply entrenched responses to conflict and a commitment to growing in this area is no small undertaking. Take one small conflict at a time and practice letting go of any fear and face it head on. Start small and celebrate successes. There is always more to learn and practice. Commit to doing better in your professional life and the skills will benefit you personally, as well.
2. Dedicate yourself to becoming a more critical thinker
In the craze of our daily lives, we often develop shortcuts and habits that enable us to get through our days without questioning the accuracy, relevance, or logic of our thought. For example, we may respond with irritation to an email instead of critically responding on a more rational level because it is from so-and-so who always gets their facts wrong. Recognizing that frustration or anger is an emotional response to what we think about something requires critical thinking. Take time to understand what it means to think critically and dedicate yourself to becoming more conscious about what drives your feelings and actions. Thought is at the root of both. Becoming more intentional about how we think means we can minimize our frustration regarding how we feel and become more constructive in our actions.
3. Dedicate yourself to fairness
Anytime there is more than one person involved there is power at play. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but we do need to consider how it impacts our interactions. We tend to be more conscious of power differences when we perceive that we are the less powerful. “I’m frustrated because my manager is making me spend time on this project,” for example. But there are instances when we have a power advantage and without being aware of it may take advantage of others, or at least create some ill will. For example, a new manager may come to me with questions and, although they have political rank, I have power based on what I know. It is in my long-term interest to be sensitive to that and not take advantage of that power by making them feel put out by having to ask or making them feel like it was more work than it was. Understanding all of the powers at play, ours as well as others’, puts us in a better position to mitigate any negative impact it might have in order to be more fair.
These are a few areas that can provide professional growth and development opportunities. Where do you stand in these areas and what might it mean for you to dedicate time and intent to getting better at managing conflict, thinking critically, and ensuring fairness in your interactions?