Whenever we add value to a situation, we become richer in what matters. And so do those around us. Adding value means adding little crystals of integrity, connectedness, productivity, vitality and sustainability.
Do the hard thing you’ve been avoiding. The tough conversation about why your project isn’t succeeding . . . responding to that troubling feedback . . . figuring out how much debt you have, and how you’re going to repay it. Here are tips for doing hard things.
Do hard tasks first thing in the day, before distractions can derail you. Many hard things get done in increments. So you add value in this moment by doing the first increment, i.e. setting up a meeting for that tough conversation, or setting up a spreadsheet in which to total up your debt-load. Tomorrow you add value by taking the next step. Best practice is to set aside a whole morning or afternoon to do the hard thing, if that’s what it will take. Generally the harder the thing, the more value we add by engaging with it.
Conserve valuable resources. If dollars are currently scarce in your workplace or household, add value by conserving dollars. If time is the scarcest commodity, add value by eliminating unnecessary steps or becoming more efficient.
Keep in mind that clean water, fossil fuels and protein foods, while abundant in most parts of the first world, are typically scarce, valuable resources in the developing world. Let’s each act like a citizen of the planet, beyond being an employee in a workplace. See the first two sections of this page for ways to conserve valuable resources.
Use wiser words, rather than more words. Last year I finally figured out how to get my husband to change. Hint: it wasn’t by voicing more of my opinions to him. But then, I am an extrovert who expresses herself easily. The mainstream communication style wasn’t designed for introverts, despite introverts being a significant portion of the population. Here is how to relate better to introverts. Communicating more skillfully adds value to any situation.
Pause before responding if there is tension in the air or a lot at stake. The pause adds the value. Knee-jerk reactions make troubled situations worse. Those too-fast blurts will bleach value out of situations like dribbled Clorox burning pale spots into your best black pants.
Sometimes the pause that adds value is the seven seconds in which you regain your temper. Or the pause could last seven weeks, during which you gain a lot more information, and you finally figure out whether yes or no is the right answer to that big question.
Find a technique to create the crucial pause. My husband and I ring The Bell whenever we start to get into an argument. Either one of us can ring it, and once it’s rung, we both stay quiet and take deep breaths for as long as the sound stays in the air. The anger, and the fight, generally dissolve as a result of the pause. Pausing before responding will add value in any tense situation.
Prepare for what you’d rather not think about, like natural disaster. Preparing for disaster and hardship arguably adds more value to a situation than anything else on this list. But it’s long-term value, not immediate value. That’s what makes it harder for most of us — we get hooked on the short term. Here are tips on preparing for a power outage, just for one example. Are your computer files being backed up every night?
Apologize. Saying we’re sorry or that we were wrong is like doing a chiropractic adjustment to a situation. Things click back into alignment. Trust and energy start flowing again. Work can move forward. Value has been added.
I apologized yesterday to my colleague Larissa, in front of Ivan, another colleague. “I’m sorry I was snarky to you in our meeting. I will do better in future!” I said. Larisa accepted my apology, and ended up apologizing for her own part of the problem. But even if she hadn’t, I added value by owning that I can and should behave better than I had. Apologizing in front of Ivan added more accountability. Holding ourselves accountable is another way to add value.
Ask: “What do you need from me that you’re not getting?” Then listen closely. Listen patiently, because people may need time to figure out what they need from you.
The person’s answer, if they are being honest, will tell us exactly how we can add value to the situation or relationship. They might need us to stop interrupting them so much. Maybe they need help with a project we’d imagined was easy. Prepare to be surprised by what people need from you. I suspect that most people who’ve been successful in their careers and in their marriages have been learning about and steadily addressing the needs of those around them.
This question is especially effective with bosses, customers/clients and those who report to us, and with our spouses or partners. But asking this question of an adolescent child might not work, since they hope to need nothing from their parents, especially not boundaries, when boundaries are exactly what they need.
So! How to set healthy boundaries is the first thing I’ll address in Part II next Sunday of Fourteen Ways To Add Value To Any Situation.
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