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How to Thrive in the Virtual Work World and Why Grit is Not Enough




I had the good fortune to have Angela Duckworth teach several segments of the Positive Psychology certificate program I took a couple of years ago. She used the research that led to her book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, as examples throughout. So I continue to follow her work and three of her recent newsletter items inspired this post.

Because these lessons align so well with the new Laser Learning program I'm testing as I write, I'm going to introduce you to it briefly, after we dig into how her latest thoughts can help you thrive in the virtual spaces we find ourselves navigating for work, school, and even social life. 

The Antidote to "Zoom Fatigue"

There's a hilarious meme going around on social media comparing virtual meetings to modern seances, with lines like, "Elizabeth are you here?" and "Make a sound if you can hear us."

But aside from avoiding group Zoom calls the way we've always tried to find ways to excuse ourselves from endless conference room snooze fests, the subject line from Duckworth's newsletter this week, "Why I’m experiencing the opposite of Zoom fatigue," offered a different perspective.

The key to her solution emerges when you click through to the article on her Character Lab site and find an entirely different title: The Holy Trinity of Healthy Relationships: How to forge true connections.

On Zoom? Well, yes. She notes the limitations of her efforts to connect with her online classes:

"The most rewarding part of my time with students is not when I’m clicking through slides, doing my best to look directly at the webcam and speak with clarity into the microphone."

Although I took part in her classes as recorded segments on Coursera, I can vouch for her skill at bringing humor and humanity through my monitor. Yet we all know it's just not the same as being together with her live students and being able to interact with her in person.

So what works better when we can't meet in person? Here's her antidote:

"What I really look forward to each week are my office hours, which I intentionally designed to be one-on-one. During these brief conversations, my students share what’s on their mind, their questions, worries, and what-do-you-think-about-this ideas. I tell them what I’m thinking and feeling, too, and apart from taking place by video call, it’s as basic an interaction as you can imagine."

She describes the resulting understandings between them as "magical." But then, being a research scientist, she goes on to explain three elements of human needs that make these one-on-one interactions so much more meaningful – even though they're virtual. 

  1. Understanding – seeing who the other person is
  2. Validation – showing you value each other's perspective
  3. Caring – exhibiting genuine "affection, warmth, and concern" for each other

She sums up the value of one-on-one video interaction by reminding that it enables us to look each other in the eyes "and ask, sincerely, 'How are you feeling?'"

Don't leave those moments out.

Who [else] are You?

You might be getting impatient to get to the work part, but let's stick with the magical part for just a moment longer. In her newsletter last week, Watch Your Words: Why it’s important to say what you think, Duckworth opened with this observation about herself:

"Because I study effort and achievement, people often assume that all I care about is effort and achievement.

"That’s understandable – but incorrect."

As you'd expect, she provides well researched advice on why "thriving is multi-dimensional" and for overall satisfaction in our lives "achievement is less important than relationships."

But with the people in your life, family, friends, colleagues, and clients – especially in virtual settings – you only get to know each by what you share. And as her opening lines show, what you share forms the boundary of what each one thinks the other cares about. Or as she put the converse, "people assume that what you don’t talk about, you don’t think about."

Thus, in order to forge those authentic relationships, we have a responsibility to reveal our multi-dimensional selves. For herself, Duckworth noted she had to speak and write "about more than grit. I need to make clear what I think matters." (emphasis added)

To prompt that kind of sharing, she suggests an asking exercise, something like, what do you think I'd ask for if I were granted just one wish?

It's an easy question to turn around for both of you to talk about. And it's likely to elicit responses that go far beyond the work topics on the main work agenda.

Speaking of questions for the work agenda ...

Ask, Ask Again!

The third newsletter item was entitled, Work Smarter, Sooner: How to develop a strategic mindset. Now we're getting down to business, right? 

Well, yes, although Duckworth uses examples across her past educational experience, her husband's business, and her hopes for her teenage daughters. She notes research with students where the better performing test group had read an article 

"about how successful people adopt a strategic mindset, periodically taking a step back from what they’re doing to ask themselves questions like: How else can I do this? Are there things that I can do differently? Are there ways to do this even better?"

She urges us all to go beyond asking ourselves these kinds of questions and to model them for others, especially kids, when we find ourselves stuck on a problem. The idea is to help them develop that strategic, problem solving mindset sooner. My favorite is one she added to the list from the research: Whom can I ask for advice?

We'll come back to that word advice in a moment. But to drive home the importance of this strategy – once again, particularly for virtual work where we need to speak up when we need help and inquire whether others do – lets make her closing thought into our mantra:

"And when at first you don’t succeed, ask, ask again."

This is one of the pieces that fits so neatly into my Laser Learning model – "all-you-can-eat" access. More on this later.

What to ask for?

Back to that word, advice. Serendipity delivered again, when on the same morning as the Zoom fatigue newsletter arrived, I also got a Medium update linking to Patrick McFadden's article, Why Asking For Advice Must Come Before Asking For Help.

He makes a compelling argument from real-world experience that you should hire a strategist before hiring a solution specialist. Starting with solutions too often leaves strategy questions unasked. The result may disappoint, or be a complete waste of resources, requiring a throw away and start over sequence.

As McFadden notes, large organizations can afford to learn from "big mistakes." Solo-preneurs and micro-businesses, however, would be better served by investing in some strategic mindset work up front – like we talked about in the previous section.

What kind of adviser?

Serendipity, yet again, that same morning my TED Recommends newsletter arrived with a link to YeYoon Kim's talk, What kids can teach adults about asking for help

Spoiler alert: the main point for our purposes is the teary part. A child falls down, gets up and looks around, then gives her the priceless gift of locking eyes with hers . . . and crying.

For help. For her help.

That moment when she knew she had earned that child's trust and become the one he could turn to for help, understanding, comfort, and a return to his own self-control. She then shares a time when she was the one who'd "fallen down" and how her friend became that trusted person she could ask for help.

That led to her realizing the value of the gift she'd bestowed on her friend and asking, "Why wouldn't I want others to feel the happiness and joy that comes from helping?"

If you're like me, that pretty much encompasses the kind of relationship I've always looked for with the coaches and mentors I've hired over the years.

And of course, it's what I aspire to provide for my clients. 

Four Lessons Learned:

  1. For a powerful antidote to Zoom fatigue, build some one-on-one time into your virtual interactions
  2. Bring your whole, multi-dimensional self to the sessions and make the sharing two-way
  3. Adopt – and model – a strategic mindset, where you keep asking the how?, how else?, who knows? questions
  4. Find your trusted adviser who gets joy from helping and give the gift of asking

Further reading/viewing/learning:

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, by David Epstein (especially the chapter entitled, "The Trouble with Too Much Grit")

The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick), by Seth Godin

The power of vulnerability, TED Talk by Brene Brown

Why some of us don't have one true calling, TED Talk by Emilie Wapnick (you might be a multipotentialite!!)


Now for a brief commercial break:

Elephant-Sized-Problems-One-Bite-Sized-SolutionIf you're reading this soon after I posted it, you may still be able to join me in the beta launch of "All you can eat" Laser Learning at the special introductory price! Grab your seat now!

As I mentioned up front, the lessons in this post capture several aspects of how the Laser Learning model works:

You get to schedule a one-on-one Zoom call with me whenever you find yourself stuck or frustrated with work, tech issues, overall goals, business strategies, or life direction.

Purpose-Work-MeaningWe'll talk it through on a 15 minute call (30 minutes for our initial session), with a solution for you to implement.

As often as needed (with the understanding that you are getting the solution tasks done in between).

When appropriate, I'll provide solutions as tutorials for you, too.

Grab your seat now!