Most young professionals have been raised under the erroneous message that fear is the norm, yet it’s to be avoided at all costs. Throughout their lives, young professionals have seen fear repeatedly used as a catalyst for them to take action. Whether it’s been to get vaccinated, earn good grades, vote a particular way, accrue debt, or even pay off debt, the message has been “do this” and you’ll get over the fear.
Unfortunately, fear rarely abates. Nor should it be avoided. Fear is a normal physiological response our bodies produce. The reasons that fear arises and what that fear signals can change quite a bit, however. In your pursuit of developing a new generation of effective, pleasant, and resilient employees, please shift the conversation around fear as early as possible. You empower young professionals to feel good in their heads and in their bodies when they recognize that, while fear can signal impending danger, more often than not it’s signaling they’re on the cusp of something great—a novel idea or a big breakthrough in their performance. The key is learning how to demystify what the fear is about, make nice with it, and use it to move forward rather than to retreat.
Fear—like confidence, self-image, self-talk, happiness, and gratitude—is bandied around almost ad nauseam in the self-improvement world. These words need as much if not more face-time in the worlds of HR, management, and learning and development than the jargon we typically direct our attention to. Until professionals of any age learn how to foster healthy relationships with their own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs, good luck trying to engender sustainable peak performance from them.
Debbie Kent, the director of human resources and organizational development for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) agrees. “From an employee’s very first day, we try to create an attitude of gratitude. We talk about how to be of service to others and wake up in the morning hitting the ground with the right foot. We even remind employees that in times of conflict they should remember that each person they encounter has come into their life for a reason. We hire 50 percent on background and 50 percent on attitude, so once an employee gets in the door we do what we can not to let them hit the snooze button and coast through their work.”
In the following tactics, we will explore how to develop the success-inducing habits, mindset, and behavior that the LVCVA engenders in your own young professionals to start a chain reaction of positive and calming effects for everyone in your company.
Create employees with a possibility-centered mindset
The best time to begin engendering healthy habits in thinking is on a young professional’s first day, when she is often at her most nervous and self-critical. It’s important to help young professionals habitually see opportunities instead of obstacles. Like any habit, though, it takes daily, intentional practice to show up to each day of work and to start each conversation or decision seeing what can be rather than what cannot. In pursuit of conditioning young professionals to see themselves, their colleagues, and their work consistently from a possibility-centered mindset, first and foremost you need to model this in your own thinking and behavior for your employees. Hopefully this goes without saying. One has no right to ask a young professional, “Where’s the treasure within this trash?” while going off about how stressed out you are or how unreasonable another one of your colleagues is.
In addition to walking your talk and using the aforementioned question, you can use others such as “Where is the opportunity within this obstacle?” or “How can you receive this as a gift rather than as garbage?” to redirect a young professional from the negative to the positive. If you begin these practices day one with young professionals, you will notice that this way of thinking really becomes automatic by the end of the onboarding period, even if your young professional has had a history and habit of negative thinking.
Encourage people to feel what they’re feeling … for 90 seconds
One of the chief reasons why you want young professionals to exercise nutritious thinking is because thoughts fuel the way people feel. Feelings motivate the actions we take, so if you want young professionals to achieve results, they need to be feeling good to make the best choices in their behaviors that will—or will not—get them to where you both want them to go. There is only one way people can affect the way they feel. It’s by changing their thoughts—prior to allowing emotions to be engaged and immediately after.
There are a lot of conflicting views on how people, particularly young professionals and women, should express their feelings in the workplace. It’s not my place to tell you how to tell other people to process their emotions. And because I have yet to see anyone in the workplace be successful at controlling her own or another’s emotions by suppressing what is felt, what I’d rather focus on is what to do when the yucky feelings like sadness, frustration, anger, or fear emerge for your young professionals. (I suspect you and your young professional are just fine with the expression of the positive ones, so I’m going to leave those alone.)
According to Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroanatomist who recreated cellular life on the left side of her brain after surviving a stroke at 37, we can move through our emotions most quickly if we play by the 90-second rule. People take 90 seconds to feel fully the emotion spawned from a negative event. Whether that “event” is someone yelling at us, a job loss, or even the death of a loved one, when the emotion swells within us we finish responding to the stress of it in just 90 seconds. Then our hormones—which produced the emotional reaction—return to their typical set point. If you continue to focus your thoughts on the situation that triggered the response, your body will go through the physiological process it did during those last 90 seconds all over again. And again and again if you keep your thoughts fixated on it. Redirect your thinking to avoid a repeat of the emotional response.
Now here’s the rub with much of the workplace thinking that says not to express your emotions. The more you think about not releasing the feeling, the more you think about the situation, and therefore, the more your body will go through an endless succession of 90-second cycles. For young professionals who take pride as a generation in their transparency—which includes being honest with their emotions—the quickest and most efficient way to help them process professionally what comes up for them is to encourage them to indulge in their 90 seconds. Let them take 90 seconds, either privately or with you, to sit and experience whatever they are feeling. Then, have them exhibit the control to redirect their thoughts back to opportunities, gifts, treasures, or whatever you want to call it and move on.
Of course sometimes, even when best intentions meet a healthy dose of foresight, conflict happens. They have typically had one of two firsthand encounters of it. If they grew up privileged, they had a lot of parental intervention so they never developed the skills to resolve conflict themselves. Or, if they were bullied in school or lived in a community where violence was a way of life, they probably have a warped reality of how conflict can be efficiently and effectively resolved. And if they have turned on the TV at all over the last few years, they’ve probably seen a whole lot of mismanagement of conflict from the people they should be looking to for examples. Whether it’s from celebrities duking it out on their reality TV shows or Congress playing partisan politics, young professionals now need a healthy model of what effective conflict resolution looks like.
Let your young professionals know first and foremost that conflict is normal and that when it emerges, it’s important to nip in the bud quickly before it erupts. Teach them that oftentimes conflict foments the more engaged people are with their work. When we feel passionately about something, we have the desire to fight for our beliefs. Encourage young professionals to keep disagreements about ideas rather than people. Encourage them to ask questions rather than make assumptions. Oftentimes the darkest and dirtiest conflicts come from what is not asked rather than from what is.
When young professionals sense that something is a foul, they will instinctually revert back to their early encounters with conflict by running to someone else to handle it or by pouncing on the other person. Curb whichever conflict mismanagement strategy is their go-to one quickly. Develop their ability to go from the symptom to the source and most importantly, to focus on a mutually beneficial solution. As in a negotiation, it’s important to know what each person needs to feel good about the outcome. Once this has been established, then young professionals can facilitate the resolution so that all implicated parties get their required takeaways.
When seeking to quell conflict, teach young professionals to give everyone time to cool off. Then, have them set a specific day, time, and place for the people in conflict to speak. Have them begin by giving everyone space to describe briefly how they feel. Then, before anyone gets caught up in her story, teach young professionals to move the conversation forward with questions such as “Where do we go from here? What’s the outcome you’re looking for?”
Unlike a negotiation where a young professional can gain leverage from not showing all of her cards, in conflict the sooner they get to drafting a solution, the better. To go there, all parties need to know what others are hoping will happen next. Finally, have young professionals move the conversation from brainstorming to resolution by recapping the overlaps in solutions that have been proposed. Give everybody in the conversation an opportunity to articulate her role in implementing the outcome. And if you want your young professionals to be true class acts, drive home the importance of showing gratitude to the people who came to the table to devise a solution. Doing so helps repair potentially fractured relationships by restoring respect and helps everyone walk away more at peace.
Bring in some old-fashioned forgiveness
The most effective way to make conflict an aberration rather than a recurring theme for your young professionals is to get them moving forward once a solution has been reached. If young professionals can redirect their attention away from a negative emotional trigger after 90 seconds, it will end. But what happens when a young person is so attached to the story of how someone wronged her that she simply can’t stop thinking about what that other person did? Or even worse, what if she—like many young professionals—has such high expectations for herself that she can’t let get of the story of how she screwed up? For many young professionals, the biggest source of lingering conflict is their own self-narrative. Whether it’s shifting how they have archived some negative feedback or were overlooked for an opportunity they felt they would be perfect for, a surefire way to get them from feeling crappy to feeling calm and recommitted to their work is for them to give everyone involved in a conflict a nice helping of forgiveness.
According to the Mayo Clinic, forgiveness is not just for the playground or for the faithful. It’s as vital for sustainable physical health as it is for emotional and spiritual well-being. When you model and engender a culture of forgiveness, you are not playing Pollyanna or forgetting what has transpired. Rather, you are acknowledging each person’s role, including your own, and then releasing everyone from the old problem. By doing so you redirect focus toward what is working—so that is what you actualize moving forward. You increase your empathy—which is a key facet of emotional intelligence and will prevent the development of future conflict. And perhaps most importantly, your individual act helps reduce the collective feeling of stress and tension throughout the workplace. It lowers your individual blood pressure and decreases your chances of depression, addiction, and chronic pain. And for young professionals who often create a narrative of conflict when they feel powerless, by making the choice to forgive they take back control over a situation. They move out of victimhood. They move into ethical leadership and see themselves the way they most want to be seen—as values-driven and virtuous.
Note: This article is excerpted from 90 Days 90 Ways: Onboarding Young Professionals to Peak Performance by Alexia Vernon.
Since winning the Miss Junior America competition as a college freshman, Alexia Vernon has been engaged in developing next generation talent. A speaker, International Coach Federation-certified coach, trainer, and media personality, Vernon specializes in helping organizations recruit, retain, educate, and grow their young professional workforce. She is the author of Awaken Your CAREERpreneur: A Holistic Road Map to Climb from Your Calling to Your Career. ; AlexiaVernon.com; Twitter: @AlexiaVernon.
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