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How to Inspire Success and Meaning at Work

Brandon Laws
Hands in a circle

As we begin the New Year, our team has been talking a lot about company goals. We’ve found value in taking pause to reassess not only our goals, tasks, and initiatives, but to closely examine the exact value that each one adds to the company. We have no more.

“The truth is that organizations are run by people, and people run on emotions. Our feelings supply the energy to fuel our pursuit of profit and purpose. They are formidable and universal. They can’t be ignored, yet, to our great detriment, we have long pretended that emotions have no place in the office.”

This quote inspires me to do and be better at work. It’s also what drove my conversation with Dr. Melanie Katzman, a business psychologist and consultant to some of the world’s leading public and private companies. She founded Katzman Consulting and co-founded the social enterprise Leaders’ Quest. She was also a senior fellow at the Wharton School’s Center for Leadership and Change Management, and she co-created and hosted the show Women@Work on SiriusXM Satellite Radio. She has been featured in publications like Financial Times, New York Times, and O Magazine.

As a clinical psychologist, Katzman brings something to the workplace that many consultants do not. She takes an inside-out approach, and she knows the biology of emotions. She reminds us that, “When you peel the skin back, underneath, we’re all wired the same way. We’re wired to connect. We’re wired to make a difference, to contribute, to feel proud, to feel like we belong.”

Needless to say, Dr. Katzman knows her stuff, and we can all learn a lot from her. I know I did when I met with her during my podcast to discuss her new book, Connect First: 52 Simple Ways to Ignite Success, Meaning and Joy at Work. Although we didn’t have time to discuss each strategy, we definitely covered the big ones.

Never Underestimate the Power of a Smile

Katzman hesitated to start her book with a chapter about smiling. She didn’t want to seem superficial or cliché. Her hesitation, however, exemplifies the problems her book addresses, and her decision to push through her insecurities exemplifies what she urges readers to do on the daily.

As a psychologist, Katzman knows that a smile is much more than a facial movement; it’s science. “The act of smiling, it’s biology at work for you,” she said during our podcast. “So, when you smile, you’re actually shifting your biological environment, and you are setting up a trigger of positive events with the people around you.”

We are wired to want to be happy, and smiling biologically increases our potential for happiness. It’s also contagious. It’s a rare person who won’t smile back at someone who smiles at them. Smiling isn’t about pretending to be happy; it’s about smiling to become happy. It’s not a creepy, exaggerated smile but something simple and real.

“We are wired to connect, and we are wired to release oxytocin, the bonding hormone,” said Katzman. “When that is released, we are calmer, ready to take risks, admit errors, and engage in the unknown. We want to, in whatever way possible, keep our biology in a flow state of positivity. And that starts with something as basic as a smile.”

Say Thank You

We often think that thanking or complimenting someone is inadvertently showing weakness or putting ourselves down. Or, we don’t think it’s necessary to thank someone for the work they are paid to do.

Thanking others makes them feel appreciated, which makes them feel like what they’re doing matters. From a verbal “thank you” to a sticky note to an email, showing somebody that you notice them and the work that they do will make them feel connected and will make them want to continue to do good work.

The best part is that thanking people also makes them want to be around you. Katzman describes expressing thanks as a way to make yourself a magnet at work: “You want to be the person who, when your name comes up on their phone or your email shows up in their computer, they want to respond to you. You want to be the person people are drawn to. And the way that happens is when you are able to share happiness for other people.”

Ask Questions; Never Assume

People make too many assumptions. We assume we know what others are thinking and feeling, and those assumptions are often driven by our own insecurities. “It’s shocking how often we forget that our colleagues are people just like us,” Katzman points out in her book. “We become so easily enraged by that other person whose motives are unclear and whose reactions make no sense. We often have blinders on when it comes to our own behavior and a magnifying glass when assessing offenses we have endured.”

Instead of making assumptions, Katzman suggests that we ask questions. We should ask ourselves how we’re feeling and why, and then we should ask our co-workers the same. Often, what we are feeling is exactly the same as everyone else.

Embrace Abundance

Whether it’s a word of encouragement or a back-up phone charger, we each have something to give. We also have things in our lives that are scarce. Unfortunately, humans often focus more on scarcity than abundance. It takes effort to maintain an abundance mindset, and when we do it, it’s worth it.

The first step is recognizing the abundances that we have. We often take our strengths for granted and don’t pause to notice that something that seems basic to us may not be basic to others. Embrace and give the things that come easily to you, and encourage others to do the same by showing appreciation.

“I really encourage people to think about sharing information, sharing praise, sharing invitation, sharing resources. Anything that you can do to help somebody else have an easier time at work will come back to benefit you so many times over,” said Katzman. “This isn’t about a transaction; it’s about a mindset, coming in with I want to help, not I want to hold on to everything for myself.”

Respect Your Elders and Respect Your Elder Self

Katzman struck a chord when she said, “Rather than pretend you’re Peter Pan, recognize that growing older isn’t an assault on reason. It’s a ripening of wisdom.” There is a common fear of aging out of a position or being replaced by someone younger at work.

As a result, younger employees often feel like older employees are holding them back, so they don’t take advantage of what they can learn from those with more experience. Rather than promoting advancement and acknowledging good work, older and younger employees put each other down. They put fear over their desire to promote good work and collaboration.

To Katzman, “If you can take a look at the energy and the technological savvy and the inquisitiveness of your younger members of the team and match that with the gravitas and experience of the older members of your team, then you can actually get these two ends of the spectrum together and really change the world.”

Make the First Move

Just as we all share the desire to connect, we are also afraid to make it happen. We’re afraid we won’t get a “hi” or smile back, we won’t get someone’s name right, or we will become the subject of ridicule or office gossip. Katzman reminds us that we are all human and want the same thing. We want to feel valued and connected.

The next time you’re on the elevator or in the breakroom, make an effort to connect with a colleague. Put down the phone, take out the AirPods, and stop pretending to watch the news. Make eye contact. Start a conversation. Make a real connection. From a smile to a hello to asking a simple question, push insecurities aside and make the first move.

Slow Down

“We’re always so focused on action and getting things done. And we live in a speed culture in which everybody has time poverty,” said Katzman during our podcast. “We’re always driving to the finish line. And as a result, what suffers are the relationships that can be enhanced by just that pause.”

Making connections at work takes time and intention. Start the day with one of Katzman’s strategies in mind and be intentional about making it happen. Pause, be present, and make connections that inspire success.

Know Your Audience

With any strategy involving humans, it’s important to know your audience. Pay attention to what sparks positive connections and what may make someone feel uncomfortable. For example, a chapter of Katzman’s book covers physical touch.

Appropriate, non-sexual touch like a quick tap on the shoulder, a fist bump, or a handshake can promote engagement at work. Research shows that appropriate touch promotes connection and compliance in the workplace. It can also make some people feel uncomfortable and disconnected. It’s all about knowing your audience to know what is appropriate and when.

Dream Big

It sounds simple because it is, and it’s something that makes Katzman and her book so necessary. “I started the book with a smile, and I end with a dream,” she said. “I believe that people can change and make a difference and they can be successful and joyful at work. And that’s why I wrote the book.”

Bothered by, “books with bold letters and red spines that are written for Titans of the industry by Titans of the industry,” Katzman wrote Connect First: 52 Simple Ways to Ignite Success, Meaning and Joy at Work for everybody. “I wanted to give everybody, no matter where they are on their career trajectory, the tools to be able to find meaning and success at work.”

Katzman’s book is practical and actionable. You can skip around, or you can challenge yourself to focus on something new each week. You can purchase her book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound. You can also connect with Dr. Katzman on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

I really hope you enjoyed this post, and I would love your feedback. Please leave a comment or reach out on LinkedIn or Instagram. You can also listen to my conversation with Dr. Katzman on my podcast.

Listen to the full episode here:
Brandon Laws Brandon Laws is the Senior Director of Marketing and Product at Xenium HR. He is the host of Transform Your Workplace, a podcast he started in 2012 which has grown to over 400 episodes and 950,000 downloads. Ranked the number one HR podcast, with a five-star rating on Apple Podcasts, it provides inspiration and practical tools for HR professionals and people leaders. Brandon continues to drive the conversation forward through webinars, speaking appearances, and social media. He lives Oregon, with his wife, Angela, their children Parker and Paisley, two cats, and a dog.