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Winning at Working -- It's Personal
by Nan Russell

Off to dinner the night before I was the keynote speaker at a regional conference, I wanted something good, but casual; calming but moderately swift. So, my husband and I selected an interesting looking place within walking distant of our hotel.

By every want I originally articulated, the restaurant exceeded expectations. Yet at the end of our meal, I was less vitalized than when I'd walked in, and our waiter was the reason. Don't get me wrong, he was a good waiter, from a service standpoint. But his self-focused lens tainted the encounter.

When we didn't order the white wine pairing he suggested, but a favorite red instead, he was visibly annoyed. When I passed on his favorite entree, he acted as if I offended him. And when my husband chose a dessert different from the one he recommended, his cold-shoulder rebuff was memorable.

Now, a few weeks later, I realize that waiter did what many of us do in our workplaces: he took his work personally, instead of making it personal. He viewed our choices that were away from his suggestions through an about-him perspective. He wasn't considering that while we found his suggestions interesting, they weren't what we wanted that night for dinner. And it was our dinner, after all.

He's not alone. Too many of us take work situations personally. We believe we aren't being heard when our boss doesn't implement our suggestions; we think our co-workers are ignoring us when they don't follow our recommended approaches; or we perceive our staff as stubborn when they want to do a project their way.

But people who are winning at working shift perspectives. They don't take it personally when you don't select their idea, use their computer short-cuts, or follow their approaches. They realize it's often simply personal and individual preferences. What works for you reflects your style, needs, wants, and desired results. Theirs does too.

Still, people who are winning at working know it's not enough to recognize that we have different likes and dislikes, make different choices, support different approaches, or decide different things. It's not enough to understand that it's all personal.

The bigger understanding needed in the workplace is this: it's not about you. If that waiter had perceived dinner as about us, the guest, he wouldn't have taken our choices personally. If his service had been personal (i.e. about us) our decisions would never have been taken personally (i.e. about him).

People who are winning at working orient toward others. They view their job as making your job easier, or being of service, or meeting your needs. So, if they're a job seeker, they'll make that interview about you: how they can help, support, or solve your problem. If they're a software engineer, they'll look for the best way to make it simpler for you, their user. And if they're a boss or coworker they'll help provide the support, recognition, and interesting work that you thrive on so you can do your best work.

You see, people who are winning at working realize work and workplaces have changed. Today it's all about the personal. This age of the individual is punctuated by custom t-shirts shipped in twenty-four hours, have-it-my-way phone apps, menu-driven computer software, my-music play lists, personal YouTube channels, work-from-anywhere telecommuters, and billions of comments from bloggers, tweeters, and 500 million Facebook users.

What that means is this: we will create the best results, products, solutions, and service when we take ourselves out of the equation and focus on others, as individuals, and what they want at any given time. Bottom line? If you want to be winning at working in this age of the individual remember this: when it's all personal, you definitely can't take it personally.

(c) 2010 Nan S. Russell. All rights reserved.

Nan Russell may be contacted at

Author of Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way (Capital Books; January 2008). Host of "Work Matters with Nan Russell" weekly on Nan Russell has spent over twenty years in management, most recently with QVC as a Vice President. Sign up to receive Nan's "Winning at Working" tips and insights at



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