Aphorisms to Invoke at Work During Times of Stress
December 18, 2020 6:32 PM   Subscribe

Today was a very bad day at work. 30% of it was my fault and due to some toxic traits I need to curb. I would like to print out some "words of advice"/"things to remember" and put them on my wall to help me make progress in that area. Please share your favorites. I'll put my specific stuff below the fold.

Toxic trait #1: I enjoy being the center of attention and can suck all the air out of the room when I go overboard with my shenanigans.

Sample Reminder: This is not the Kitchen Witch Show.

Toxic trait #2: I want to be the hero whenever possible and fix things that come my way even though it is not my job.

Reminder: Not my circus, not my monkeys.

Toxic trait #3: I am sometimes glib and conspiratorial because I want to make people feel at ease around me.

Reminder: Talk less and keep your cards close to your chest.

Toxic Trait #4: I can be a know it all.

Reminder: You are never the smartest in the room.

Toxic Trait #5: I sometimes contribute my thoughts too frequently in large meetings.

Reminder: Not everything in your mind has to be said aloud.


These are the main ones I need to work on right now. Please share additional options and other things that are good to repeat to oneself to keep your work behavior professional and friendly.

yes, I recognize this ask is a form of self-flagellation. please take me at my word when I say I really, really need daily reminders to work on the traits holding me back from being who I really want to be at my job. Thank you.
posted by Kitchen Witch to Work & Money (29 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I think 1, 2, 4, and 5 sound kinda punitive towards yourself. Stop talking. Stop thinking you know it all. Stop drawing attention. Could you find the inverse? Help others find their voice. Learn something from an unexpected source. Put a spotlight on a colleague's achievements. I think if they are goals instead of constraints, it will be more fun (and just as humbling as you need it to be).
posted by cranberrymonger at 6:40 PM on December 18, 2020 [51 favorites]

posted by fullerine at 6:45 PM on December 18, 2020

When the best leader's work is done the people say, 'We did it ourselves.'

Lao Tzu
posted by Ausamor at 6:55 PM on December 18, 2020 [17 favorites]

I share the sentiment of the other comments. For myself, I mostly need to shut up/wait/shush. That is hard, but this acronym gives you a bit more.


S — Stop, or pause.
T — Take a breath.
O — Observe the body, thoughts, feelings, emotions, and physical sensations.
P — Proceed with more awareness.

Good luck! Recognizing patterns is a really big step!
posted by maya at 6:56 PM on December 18, 2020 [12 favorites]

Your emotions don’t have to dictate your actions.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:00 PM on December 18, 2020 [3 favorites]

Listen for meaning, not for when it’s “your turn” to speak.
posted by dbmcd at 7:44 PM on December 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

The more stars, the more beautiful the sky.
posted by DrGail at 7:48 PM on December 18, 2020 [4 favorites]

I also have trouble with talking too much. The mantra "listen-breathe-learn-breathe-repeat" has helped me.
posted by rpfields at 7:55 PM on December 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

Be interested, not interesting.
posted by Sublimity at 8:00 PM on December 18, 2020 [6 favorites]

Fitter, happier, more productive
Comfortable (not drinking too much)
Regular exercise at the gym (3 days a week)
Getting on better with your associate employee contemporaries
At ease
Eating well (no more microwave dinners and saturated fats)
A patient, better driver
posted by Huffy Puffy at 8:15 PM on December 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

This is more a reminder than an aphorism but I am always reminding myself to Count To 10 and it really helps in many of these situations.

[Also, some of these traits would be positives in a leadership role, maybe you’re a manager by nature and more suited to running meetings and teams?]
posted by kapers at 8:17 PM on December 18, 2020

(I have actually written “fitter happier more productive” on my white board at work before)

“What do we know, and what do we not know?”
“First do it right, then do it fast”
posted by Huffy Puffy at 8:17 PM on December 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

I like the word "fuss" for this.

I'm a lot like you. When I'm getting riled up in meetings and feel like I want to act out a bit, I just say "fuss, fuss, fuss" to myself. I think of it like it's the more observant, adult, mature version of me telling the riled up version of me to just stop with the fussing already.
posted by kinsey at 10:08 PM on December 18, 2020 [3 favorites]

Toxic trait #2: I want to be the hero whenever possible and fix things that come my way even though it is not my job.

The client/customer retains the right to be stupid/wrong.
posted by carmicha at 10:11 PM on December 18, 2020

"What would Picard do?" (Probably only works if you like Star Trek.)
posted by CompanionCube at 10:58 PM on December 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

I also contribute too much and can be a know-it-all. I set rules for myself instead of using aphorisms. Like I might draw 2-5 little bubbles on some scratch paper and bubble one in for each time I contribute in a meeting. When the bubbles are done I have to be quiet. Other rules could be: Wait 45 seconds before answering a question posed to the group. Ask a colleague to contribute their expertise twice per time period. At least two other people have to contribute before I contribute again. Adjust for your work environment and meeting purpose, obviously.

I haven't quite stopped trying to info dump an entire problem solving standup routine but I have gotten better at realizing I'm doing it and then saying, "Jane, would that be your approach as well?"

Other phrases I try to use frequently: "I agree with Julia's take on that." "I would love to hear everyone else's thoughts on this, as well."
posted by Snarl Furillo at 11:35 PM on December 18, 2020 [14 favorites]

I could recognize a lot of myself in that question, and my got-to-reminder is "Lurk more". Basically, make sure you're sufficiently informed before you make your contribution. So in meetings I try to wait till everyone else has said their piece, and if my turn just happens to come early in the agenda, I make a conscious effort to keep it brief, which works well enough if it's a contribution I can prepare.

"Don't jump the gun" - I used to try to anticpate all potential concerns/objections and address them all in my initial statement already, and I've learned that this is mostly pointless - it has so far never stopped anyone from bringing up that concern/objection afterwards anyway. You have to give people a chance to say their piece. It's still good to have answers in petto, but there's no use frontloading the affair. The same goes for anticpating questions. It's often more efficient to wait with the answers for a question until it's actually been asked. So I really try to consider what's the minimum amount of information I need to provide for someone else to have a working hypothesis of what I'm on about, and furnish additional detail strictly as needed.

This usually works to keep me somewhat in the background for the better part of the meeting/seminar, but I often end up talking plenty anway - because I might feel an important aspect has been neglected so far, or I find no one else is willing to raise the concern that I feel should be raised, or because someone does raise a concern I anticipated and no one else wants to adress, etc. And often feel slightly bad about it afterwards, because I still often get carried away and say more than necessary/miss the point when the debate has become unproductive and it's time to drop it for the moment. But the more towards the end of the meeting that happesn, the better.

All of this is very much not about devaluing my own contributions in my own mind. Sure, I'm probably not the smartest person in the room, but whoever it is shouldn't necessarily get to talk over me either. ("Smart" - what does it mean anyway?). Anyone can have useful insights, and I tend to feel mine often are. But I can be somewhat too much in love with my own voice, and I think that can actually rob it of its power - so I try to pace myself to make my contributions more impactful.
posted by sohalt at 3:04 AM on December 19, 2020 [3 favorites]

We all have those days where other things going on mean we need help to feel good right now by our in-group.

I have a very high opinion of myself and offer things to the group that they haven't yet anticipated. Some days that also means I need to endorse the team's plan, saying "I like X about item Y, it gains us so much over option Z.", so that I've said something and not seemed checked-out. I used to think "keep your mouth shut and let the world think you're an idiot rather than open your mouth and prove them right."

Some days though, the compulsion to wrangle attention and garner positive feedback is overwhelming.

When you catch yourself acting in ways you think you'll later regret, "anger at injustice is my friend" or "I was mistreated and we will make this right, but later" or "no game doesn't know game" (they won't thank you for your heroic efforts) on the road to "practise love" (note the active verb) and "we're all in the gutter, some of us are staring at the stars."
posted by k3ninho at 3:29 AM on December 19, 2020

For #1 (and maybe others): Not my circus, I don't want to be a monkey.
posted by trig at 3:39 AM on December 19, 2020

Something like...

Observe the room without you in it.

I mean, we never get to see what people are like together when we’re not there, do we? Because as soon as we step in, we’re there. But, especially if you’re an attention hog, wouldn’t it be fascinating to see how these people really related to each other when they weren’t relegated to being your audience members? Well - hey! You have a chance to do this magical thing, just by shutting up and stepping back! How interesting! You’ll finally find out who that quiet guy in the corner is, and get to observe the two friends who bounce ideas off each other brilliantly, and all that. Paint it as a journey of discovery for yourself, something curious and interesting that you can unwrap just by standing back and shutting up.

Has to be sustained, though. I remember a dinner out with a friend like this, who is terrified of silence, and every time there was a moment of peace, I’d think “Oh, thank God,” start to gather my thoughts for a moment, turn to my neighbour, and before I’d uttered a word, the performer had started up again because her tolerance for silence was so acute it kicked in before I even had time to think.

If people are constantly braced for you to start up again, they’ll be tentative to blossom at first. You need to keep it up so that they learn to trust they’ll have space to occupy.
posted by penguin pie at 5:07 AM on December 19, 2020 [6 favorites]

You might find La Rochefoucauld’s Maxims helpful.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:18 AM on December 19, 2020

I like Anne Lamott's W.A.I.T., among other things because it's not super obvious to hang on a wall. But it stands for:

Why. Am. I. Talking.?

The WHY is the key part. Not "stop talking," but pause for a second and ask yourself what purpose your talking is serving. I found when using this that it was often FOR MYSELF and I appreciated the reminder to cut that out.
posted by nkknkk at 7:57 AM on December 19, 2020 [8 favorites]

My talking too much & know it all tendencies were curtailed by a constant replaying in my mind of "You're not paid to think." I was however a cog in a paperwork machine and seriously wasn't paid to think.
posted by wwax at 8:43 AM on December 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

Be the student, not the teacher.
posted by Goblin Barbarian at 9:46 AM on December 19, 2020

Yeah, you might want to reframe these in a more positive, less self-flagellating way. I think it'll stick better if you instead give yourself an active thing you can do instead of the habit you want to break. Something like, "I can help the group by making sure everyone gets a chance to contribute." Or, instead of telling yourself to stay in your lane, "I can practice giving other people trust and autonomy to do their own work." Or, instead of telling yourself not to be glib, "I can help people feel comfortable by listening and supporting them."
posted by en forme de poire at 10:06 AM on December 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

For you, the one that springs to mind is a tidbit my college teachers were fond of, in a different context:

“Don’t just do something, stand there.”

For me, the other week I had a song stuck in my head and randomly jotted down a paraphrase of a line from it on my calendar:

“Don’t make it harder than it needs to be.”

And shockingly it has actually helped me at work. I tend to do things in the most complete and thorough way I can, and then freak out because I have SO MUCH TO DO, and for some tasks that’s just counterproductive. Sometimes taking the easier way is not just better for my stress but even aligns closer to what the client wants.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 12:14 PM on December 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

"No one is indispensable, including me."

You might also think of different ways to make your contribution, emphasizing respect for the other person's ideas. For example, "Do we all agree on the priorities? Or "On what basis do we choose between idea A and idea B?"
posted by SemiSalt at 5:16 PM on December 19, 2020

Hello, me. "Restraint of pen and tongue."
posted by soakimbo at 11:16 PM on December 19, 2020

I also feel like I can be A Lot in meetings sometimes. I imagined a dial representing how much I'm being active or pulling focus in a meeting, and made a sticky that says "Turn it down to a 7".
posted by HtotheH at 11:41 AM on December 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

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