If I were to boil a lot of Men’s Issues down to a single principle it would be this:
We used to have a social contract that was very specific about things like the way Men were expected to behave, how others would treat them, and how they fit in to things. “Get a good education, work hard, marry, and have kids,” the contract tells us, “and we will give you respect, stability, a loving family, a house, a car, and a pension so that you can relax in your old age.”
This contract has disintegrated in the last forty years. Education is less valued, respect is not guaranteed, families are complicated and often not stable. We’ve changed the game of love so much that it feeds an industry of experts. Cars and houses are so expensive you have to wait a long time to afford them both, especially if you also have a family.
But we still teach Men to operate under the assumption that the contract is in place. They pursue the work, the education, and the family the way they might have done in 1975, and get very frustrated by the results. They definitely aren’t getting out what they expected for the efforts they put into society.
With regards to Work, the contract was very complex, but one part of the agreement we all reached was that each employee and employer needed to be invested in the success of the business. That meant that every person in company had to respect the contributions of the other, and treat them with dignity. This doesn’t mean that people in leadership positions didn’t test and put pressure on their employees.
A certain amount of hazing was an expected part of the program, because a good leader ensures that anyone who is a part of his or her team can handle high-stress moments without cracking and damaging the company’s wellbeing. A good leader also makes sure that those under him or her grow, which can’t be done if they are always kept in their comfort zone. Not that every company had good leadership, of course, but those that did always ensured that
The 1980s and 1990s saw some massive changes to the way corporate bodies (and the small businesses that emulated them) did business. Ultimately it came forward embodied on the idea of “Human Resources.” In theory, HR was sold as a way of having an organization within the company whose job was to ensure that its employees were relating well to the company, and could communicate with it in a structured fashion. The actual result of HR, however, was that corporations began looking at people as disposable things that could be made to fit their mould or eliminated from it, rather than people who could be helped to grow with the company. In the process respect for each employee as a human being became less and less common.
HR also gave rise to several styles of management, some officially recognized with titles like “bungee boss,” “corporate shark,” and “axe”, others not. In these management styles, the Boss had no direct- (and definitely no permanent-) relationship with his team. and thus little reason to respect them.
After three decades under the human resources model, corporations are starting to see its downsides. My generation (Generation X) has all but removed itself from the corporate game altogether. We tend to work for ourselves, in small businesses, or for non-profit or government agencies. People my younger brother’s age (Generation Y or “echo boomers”) are working for corporations, but they are not particularly loyal to them, and don’t take the company’s interests to heart. This leads to high turnover, rapid brain-drain to start-ups, and very unstable management.
Companies are starting to take an interest in building meaningful relationships with their Gen-Y employees through programs like “reverse-mentoring” and crowd-sourced management. The companies that are doing the best through the current economic storm are the ones who are willing to re-build those relationships, but the transition is slow. It will be decades before the “bungee-boss” and the “shark” vanish entirely.
In the meantime, feeling respected and appreciated in the workplace remains absolutely vital to a Man’s well-being: respect is one of the emotions Men are raised to value. Without the respect of those close to us, we feel unwanted, unloved, and unmotivated. We struggle to engage that masculine power that ensures our health and our success.
When we build a respectful rapport with our bosses we also help open the way for opportunities within a company. We gain a level of autonomy in our work that in turn lets us add creative flair and improve our work. We put ourselves in a position to take the lead with out fellow employees, as well, and can shape the environment we work in.
Of course, there are some pretty serious traps along the way to earning respect. Just like in relationships with women, the Nice Guy in particular has trouble earning the respect of his employers and managers. He offers too much of the wrong kind of relationship, and never asks for the return he respects.
Trying to build a personal relationship outside of work with your boss is a pitfall that a lot of people fall into, Nice Guys or not. It often comes across as toadying or “brown-nosing” and can cost you more respect than you can earn.
With that in mind here are a few ways you can earn your employers’ respect.
Learn to Articulate Yourself Well
Being well-spoken and knowing how to express yourself is incredibly important to gaining the respect of others in a professional environment. Whether you are networking, looking for a job, asking for a raise, or presenting at a meeting, learning to speak and write well can take you places.
I would recommend a public speaking class or a leadership course to help you hone your skills. For my money I would recommend Toastmasters, but The Christopher Leadership Course, a creative writing program, or a public speaking course at you local community college could also work wonders for your communication skills.
Make Sure that Your Achievements are Documented
Even when you workplace doesn’t require progress reports or clear records of your achievements it always pays to make sure your immediate manager or team leader knows what you have done. At the end of the week make sure to write up a short list or a synopsis of what you did, what problems you encountered, how you tackled them, and how you feel your part of the project is moving.
If you attended meetings, be sure to mention what you learned that was valuable to you and how you made use of it. If you attended training, discuss how you did or are going to make better use of it. If you had to research new information, note it down, and ask if it would be valuable to share what you learned with others.
If you foresee trouble down the line address it in your report, discuss what you think a solution might be, and ask for a meeting if you think it is appropriate.
All of this will ensure that your boss has a clear idea of what you are contributing. You would be surprised how often even a micro-manager has no clear idea how the members of his team contribute. It also lets you gauge how well you are doing, too. If your report feels thin to you, now is the time to consider improving your time management skills or problem solving abilities so that they will start feeling richer.
Document Your Goals as Well as Your Performance
Progress reports are a fantastic way of showing your employers what you can do, but sharing your professional goals is a way of showing what you could do at the top of your game. When you have tasks or problems you want to tackle, skills you want to learn, or a process you want to refine, let your boss know. Tell them how you want to improve, and what you are going to be doing immediately to start the process. Explain how you think this goal will help the team.
Remember, it is in your Boss’ interest to see you succeed when you try and improve yourself. If possible, ask him or her to help you by holding you accountable for making progress toward your stated goal, even that is just asking you how it is coming at the end of the week. You can show your boss how you can grow, organize yourself, and improve.
Get Clear on Your Priorities
In general, 20% of the tasks what you do gets 80% of the results for the good of the company. The best thing you can possibly do to make sure your performance is outstanding is to figure out what that 20% is, and maximize your time doing it. Trimming back, refining, or delegating that other 80% will ensure you make the most of your time. Obviously much of the 80% of low-return tasks will still need to get done, but doing them in a timely, efficient manner will give you a lot more energy for the important tasks.
To figure out what that is, it helps to ask your Boss; his job, after all, is to understand the big picture for the company, and make sure it gets carried out. It might help to work with to-do lists for awhile: make note of which tasks seem really important to you, and which ones can safely be left undone, or done quickly, without affecting your performance.
Develop an Assertive Communication Style
Being assertive is one of the most powerful ways to win the respect of others. Assertiveness is a combination of various ways of communicating, carrying yourself, and setting your priorities that shows respect in equal measure for yourself and others. It inspires others to respect you in turn.
Obviously it would take a lot of space to teach you everything you would want to know about being assertive. Assertiveness Training is a very big part of what I do in my coaching programs, and often takes weeks of very focused work. Here are three basics for you, however:
- You have a right to set your priorities based on your goals and needs.
- Remember that you have the right to say “no” at any time.
- You are only ever responsible for your own actions.
- When discussing a problem, stick to the facts.
- When you need to talk about your experiences, feelings, or plans, start statements with “I”.
Here is a link that will lead you to some good resources on Assertiveness.
Show an Interest in Personal Development
Never stop learning and growing as an individual. When you show that you are interested in growing as a person and expanding your skills, you show the most valuable traits any company can ask for. If there is training relevant to your job, ask for an opportunity to take it. Offer to share what you have learned. Likewise, be sure to keep up with relevant information for your field. If you subscribe to blogs, social media, or print magazines related to your professional field share them.
Outside of the professional growth, showing you are well-rounded in other ways can be invaluable. Be sure to show pride in your membership in clubs, charities, and programs that you participate in that are focused on helping you grow as a person. Groups like The Rotary Club, the Lions Club, Scouts, Youth Clubs, Toastmasters, community theatre, or a church group, shows that you are focused on being the best sort of person you can be.
If you have completed relevant training, make sure the HR department of your company has it on file, as well. You never know when that information might help your professional advancement.
Cultivate Relationships with Other Co-Workers
Work and romance may not be a good idea, but developing a friendly, open rapport with your co-workers always is. Be sure you know the other people in your workplace and have a respectful line open to talk with them. When you take an interest in you co-workers and their lives you show that you are willing to invest personal energy into your team, rather than just treating it as a way to get money.
If possible offer to help new people in the office by mentoring them. Not only does this show a willingness to help others, it shows your willingness to go to bat for the whole company. It indicates that you are willing to step up to a leadership role.
Be Cautious of Office Politics
In almost every organization you are going to run across people who are interested in having power over others, or who want to be the centre of attention. The tools of power-grabbers in the workplace tend to be a blend of gossip, verbal bullying, rude (especially racist or sexist) jokes, and taking credit for the work of others. The best way to avoid being its target is to keep a polite distance from the person who uses them, and to assertively refuse to engage.
Being communicative with your boss and having good relationships with your co-workers are half the battle. Politely reminding people that you don’t like to listen to gossip about your co-workers, and don’t find certain kinds of humour appropriate for work are the rest of it.
Ask for What You Want
This is a part of being assertive. When opportunities for pay raises, promotions, or new projects comes along that you want, be quick in telling your boss that you want them in a direct way. When invited, be ready to clearly and assertively articulate why you think you have earned them. Thank them for listening to your request, and follow up after a few days. Even if you do not get the reward you asked for, you should follow up by asking for feedback, so that you know how to present a stronger case when the next opportunity comes along.
Keep a Positive Attitude
You don’t have to fake happiness, but bringing a consistently down, grouchy, or negative attitude to work is a good way to lose the respect and camaraderie of your peers. If you can find a reason to smile when you come into work every day, and remain open to the possibility that something good will come out of your day, it will go a long way to earning the respect of your co-workers. You will make the whole environment more pleasant and sociable, which makes working there a lot easier.