No matter where you are in your career, I bet you want to make a difference at work.
If you are, I’m grateful. We need YOU in our world of work, now more than ever.
The desire to make a difference—however that looks to you—matters.
But the path to get there isn’t obvious.
Contrary to popular belief, making a difference isn’t about working harder, making more money, saving whales, endowing scholarships or in any way sacrificing your personal life for the sake of more hours connected to the office.
The way to make a difference at work—or to uncover opportunities to make a difference—is to find the pain.
Stay with me a minute, and let’s talk about that third-rail term: PAIN.
I don’t mean that one in your hip when you’ve plopped in front of your laptop too long (or is that just me?)
I mean the real pain and troubles of the humans you’re interacting with in this new world of work.
As much as we think we KNOW what the pain is, a lot of the real pain in our workplaces is quietly hidden.
After all, as grown-up professionals, most of us have been taught to avoid talking about pain at all costs, unless we’re headed to the ER or divorce court.
In fact, we’ve developed a whole other language to avoid talking about true pain in our workplaces:
- Instead of “I’m afraid we’ve hired the wrong person,” we say, “We’ve got some challenges . . .”
- Instead of “I’m worried that the client will be angry,” we say, “I guess it’s another opportunity to grow. . .”
- Instead of “I’m frustrated this isn’t going well,” we say,”Well, that’s why they call it WORK . . .”
I get it.
No one wants to dwell on pain.
We don’t want to appear weak, fearful, out of control.
But bringing the true pain to light does exactly the opposite.
When we find the pain, we connect more deeply, communicate better, and build more trust.
When we find the pain, we can offer fresh perspectives and bring our superpowers to work.
>> Special note to job seekers: this applies to you, too. Every open job is just a pain that needs to be solved. Every person at every company has some kind of pain they’d like to lose. Find the pain, and you’ll create conversations that help you find the opportunities where you can make a difference. More help here. < <
Let’s find the pain.
As we get started, let’s remember that pain is always experienced by people, not by companies.
When we say “Company X is in trouble,” we’re talking about the troubles of people (and typically, multiple trouble since each person experiences what’s happening in different ways.)
The distinction is important.
Our impact is measured by people, not by corporations.
Decisions are not made by companies. They’re made by people.
Jobs are not created by companies. They’re created by people.
You get the idea.
Too often, we think making a difference is out of reach because we can’t impact an entire company.
So start with a person.
Maybe that’s your boss, direct report or colleague. Or it could be the hiring manager, client, or potential customer.
Let’s find their pain.
First, ask deeper questions to get clear on what matters
We make assumptions about what others want.
It’s completely human—and a complete mistake.
None of us believe we’re assuming.
In fact, we often convince ourselves our assumptions are 100% true.
- “She’s really busy—she won’t have time to answer a lot of my questions.”
- “All he cares about is keeping the client happy, and the process doesn’t matter.”
- “That recruiter doesn’t care about me.”
Our assumptions are a type of confirmation bias; a tendency to base our opinions on information that confirms our preconceived notions.
Maybe there’s a grain of truth in them, but often, there’s a whole lot more going on underneath.
That means we need to do the hard work to find out what they really want . . . and what matters most.
The only way is to ask deeper questions—ones that bubble up more thought and emotion.
Asking deeper questions in a conversation, interview, or even presentation generate more revealing answers that you’ll never get otherwise.
Try questions like:
- If you had a magic wand, how would you change the current situation?
- What keeps you up at night about the current situation?
- What’s the biggest mistake you could make right now?
- If there were no consequences, what would you do to [create whatever the desired result is]?
- What’s getting in the way of the situation becoming better for you?
- If it was easy, what would you do right now?
- On a scale of 1-10, how big of a problem is this for you personally? (If it’s less than an 8, ask “What’s the bigger problem for you?”)
- What will be better for you when this situation is resolved (or this hire is made?)
Deeper, unexpected questions create a disruption in our brain, causing people to stop and think in ways they may not normally.
Those questions trigger emotion, revealing not just what someone thinks about the issue,but how they feel, and feelings ultimately drive decisions.
Next, acknowledge & appreciate the pain.
Think of the last time you struggled with an issue at work.
How’d you feel?
Alone, maybe. Frustrated, surely. Maybe even disappointed in yourself, or others.
And then you talked it out with a good friend, mentor, or coach.
They may not have had the answers, but didn’t it feel good to be heard?
(If you’ve never had that experience of non-judgmental safety, we should talk. You’re not alone.)
In many cases, you can increase trust and make a difference by simply acknowledging where it hurts:
- I can imagine it’s tough for you to make this decision.
- It must be stressful to lead through the current situation.
- From what you’ve shared, I see how it’s been difficult for you to watch your team struggle with the new technology.
- Good for you to begin to tackle what looks to be a sticky problem.
It’s part of the human condition to need a feeling of safety and security to be at our best. But situations at work often make us feel unsafe, whether or not we’re consciously aware of it. Criticism, pressure, fear of being wrong, fear of not being good enough–all of those natural workplace emotions add up.
I’ve witnessed a simple word of appreciation turn a foe into a friend in an instant. Sometimes, that’s enough to help you be seen as a person who makes a difference.
Now, when you can, offer a way out.
You’ve uncovered the pain, and acknowledged it.
To really cement your impact, get specific about how you can help.
We’re often too cautious to offer ourselves as a solution to someone else’s pain, whether that’s in a job interview or in a conversation with our boss about new opportunities.
But that person needs you.
Don’t let them struggle to connect the dots—do it for them.
Using the acknowledgment statements above, you can go on to offer a way out.
- I can imagine it’s tough for you to make this decision . . .in my experience, I’ve learned the action that helps the most is . . .
- It must be stressful to lead through the current situation . . . I’d like to give you more peace of mind by stepping up to a larger role . . .
- From what you’ve shared, I see how it’s been difficult for you to watch your team struggle with the new technology . . .since I’m already familiar with the technology, I’d like to take some of that pressure off you . . .
- Good for you to begin to tackle what looks to be a sticky problem . . . are you open to a few ideas about how I can help best?
Your goal is to help them to safety—where their pain gets closer to being resolved AND they aren’t shamed, embarrassed, or diminished by it.
When you achieve that state, you know you’ve made a difference.
Thank goodness, because we need you now, more than ever.
Hey—want more help?
No matter what’s happening in your life at work, a 30-minute chat with me can help you get unstuck and move forward, fast.
Just hit the button below, and pick a date and time that’s available. Answer a few short questions, and then I’ll call you at the time you picked. There’s nothing to prepare–just show up right where you are. If, after we talk, it sounds like one of my coaching programs or courses will help you going forward, I’ll share details after our call. There’s no pressure -my goal is to be helpful immediately.
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