Exclusive Q&A Interview With Self-Help Coaches Petlo
We speak with Elaine Lo and Pet Sutton, AKA ‘Petlo’, who have just published 8 Recipes for Life, a self-help book that will help professionals at all levels become more effective in and outside of the workplace, and find greater life fulfilment. In this exclusive interview, they explain why coasting at work is never a good idea, how interaction is the key to breaking through the glass ceiling and what to do when colleagues repeatedly try to offload work on to you.
Q: A recent study by Oxford University found that a third of professionals admit to “coasting” at work. Why is staying in that comfort zone harmful?
Petlo (PL): It is harmful because a part of ourselves is dead when we are in that comfort zone. Coasting at work may seem comfortable but it is certainly not fulfilling.
We think that’s what we want but it is not. We want to feel good and fulfilled instead of comfortable. We spend one-third of our life working so why do we convince ourselves that it is okay to coast through the working day rather than actively seeking true satisfaction? Perhaps we would be more fulfilled running our own business or doing a job for less money but with greater job satisfaction. These options may have risks attached and require effort but when we get used to coasting at work, we may extend it to coasting at life. That is when we become living zombies.
Q: Stress is a major issue for professionals, leading to a lack of productivity, bad decisions and even illness. What would you suggest to help alleviate this feeling of constant pressure?
PL: Stress often happens when we are unable to accept the pressure we feel when external pressures bear down on us. A really important factor is when we feel we have no control over these pressures, whether they are an unreasonable client or an over-demanding boss.
Don’t expect to be perfect—we are not supposed to be perfect. We need to be vulnerable to accept ourselves and our imperfections. When things go wrong, learn from these events so we know how to do better the next time.
It is also important that we make sure other people at work understand we have boundaries and that we cannot be expected to ‘go the extra mile’ all the time! It should always be recognized that, although we are committed to our careers, there are limits to how much of our personal lives we will sacrifice.
Q: While some professionals fly through the ranks within a company, others of equal talent and ability seem to hit a glass ceiling. Why do you think this is, and how can they break through those barriers?
PL: The quick answer is to build better relationships with our managers and the decision makers. We may be very capable technically at our jobs but if we don’t have good relationships with the decision makers in the company, they probably won’t know our capabilities very well. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Carnegie Institute of Technology did some studies and concluded that even in technical occupations such an engineering, only 15% of a person’s financial success is due to technical knowledge. A whopping 85% is due to the ability to build good relationships; the personality; and the ability to lead people. Being adept at human interactions matters a great deal and we need to develop these skills.
Q: Not everyone is a ‘people’ person, but just as with decision makers, it is important to build strong working relationships with co-workers for the sake of the team. How can professionals do this without feeling exposed?
PL: Step outside of the comfort zone. When we do more of it, we get less scared of it, and we realise that we build it up to be much worse in our minds. Often the idea of something is much worse than the reality of it. If we are introverts then it is also important to schedule in enough me-time to recover from socializing and recharge our batteries.
Another tip that helps is to be fully present, where we just do something without thinking of how much we dislike it or how bad we are at it. So go out and mix with other people. Just do it and refrain from overthinking.
Q: All professionals, at one time or another, have accepted additional work from their manager or a colleague that they really shouldn’t have. Why are boundaries important, and how can you lay these down without causing offence?
PL: If we don’t say “no”, then our workload will keep increasing and we will spend our time doing several people’s work without the pay of several headcounts nor time for ourselves.
If we want to defend our boundaries gracefully, it is vital that we ditch the assumption that the other person will be offended. Believe they will take it well instead and plan our communication accordingly. We need to check our intentions as well. If we judge the other person for dumping work onto us, our communication will likely be offensive. They may be very bad by dumping extra work onto us but if we judge them, we can barely defend our boundaries gracefully, so don’t judge. Make sure that your intention is positive. We want to ensure a sustainable relationship with the other person and that is why we need to communicate with them. Basically, ditch the judgment; ditch the negative assumption.
It also helps if we give them a step down the stage and let them save face. We can do this by stating how it would benefit them if they did the work themselves. For example, if it is writing a report, we can say we don’t know the details well enough to put them in the most flattering light. We can also help ourselves by having planned our schedule, then when our boss asks the impossible we can involve them in prioritising our tasks so that we are seen as professional.
An alternative/sneakier way is to do a job different from what the other person expects, thereby forcing them to redo the job themselves. In other words, make it difficult for them to dump work onto us. If they learn they cannot get away easily, they are likely going to stop this behaviour.
Q: You suggest in your new book, 8 Recipes for Life, that people can build a bridge between their head and heart to make better decisions. Can you explain this concept and how it would apply in the workplace?
PL: In head–heart dualism, we contain the problems in the head and keep the desired outcome in the heart. So when we plan for the next project at work, in our heart, we can think about what we want to achieve and believe that we will achieve it—thus using the Law of Attraction to our advantage. In our head we can think of possible challenges and the problems we may face, analyze them and plan our actions to prevent them from happening. When we contain problems in our heads and don’t let them get to our heart, we won’t let crippling fear arise—which would lead to the manifestation of bad things. But neither are we being overly optimistic by just keep thinking positive. We logically get prepared in our heads to foresee possible challenges so we can plan ahead and overcome them should they arise.
By using head–heart dualism, then, we reduce the number of crisis that happen at work.
Q: Mindfulness is all the rage with busy professionals but is it just another fad or does it have real benefits if practiced correctly?
PL: It has real benefits. Mindfulness is being fully present. Being fully present allows us to give our very best whatever our level of competence may be. Even if we are not yet very good at presentation, for example, we will at least be able to give our very best when we are mindful or fully present.
In being mindful we stop second-guessing ourselves. We simply become one with our tasks and get them done. If we dislike the task, we will also stop thinking about how much we dislike it and simply do it, thus channeling all our energy (none of which is negative) to the task.
It reduces stress too, because the cause of stress is usually either something from the past we regret or something from the future we anticipate. If we stay fully present, focusing solely on our tasks at hand, we won’t have any attention left for the possible causes of stress from the past or the future.
Q: Have you any simple advice to help professionals find that much sought-after work/life balance?
PL: Priortise. What is important? Is life beyond work important? If so, give it the importance it is worth. Are family, friends, me-time, and love important? If so, schedule time in for these people and activities.
Understand that there is just so much we could do. There are only 24 hours in a day and we can only give our best. Be fully present and do one thing at a time. Leave work to the workplace. At work, focus on work; at home, focus on home life; when socialising, focus on communicating with others.
It is also interesting to consider whether we really need or have to have a ‘work-life balance’ if we live a fulfilled life both at work and at home. The modern definition of work-life balance implies one area negatively impinges on another, but suppose both make us happy?
Q: What should someone do if they think they lack passion for their current role?
PL: We may stay with the situation very short term if we are leaning something valuable but which we don’t really enjoy. Longer term we must either develop passion or change the role. We can develop passion by being fully present. When we are fully present, things tend to grow on us.
Q: You recently wrote an in-depth article for Business Daily saying professionals should try to be more vulnerable at work if they want to succeed. While many would agree that the alpha culture is toxic, it is nevertheless deep-rooted. How, then, can you deal with those co-workers who refuse to deviate from their gung-ho mentality?
PL: We can use stimulus-response to train the behaviours we want to see in somebody. Don’t feed negative behaviours; reward good behaviours. We can subtly train the behaviours we want to see in other people. Consider a bully. They often don’t bully everyone; there are certain people inside their league they don’t target and it is those people who have trained the bully not to act that way with them.
So don’t feed their gung-ho mentality. When they communicate in a gung-ho manner, don’t respond enthusiastically; respond in a low-key way (or possibly even ignore if appropriate) to break their momentum. However, if they ever show vulnerability then recognise it in them. Thank them for opening up.
Petlo have just published 8 Recipes for Life, a new self-help guide packed with practical wisdom for greater professional and personal life fulfilment. It is available now on Amazon UK, priced £11.11. For more information visit www.petlo.co.uk.