It dawned on me recently that I’ve never provided my treasured readers with a concise dose of workplace advice that can be clipped out, laminated and hung on a cubicle wall.
For a workplace advice columnist (America’s most beloved), this is a gross oversight. So I set out to correct that.
Though a pithy cubicle sign may seem trite, it does reflect a belief I hold dear. Our workplaces can be wildly complex, but the fundamental dynamics behind a happy, well-run organization are simple. It’s reasonable that they should fit on a small piece of paper and be seen regularly with the hope they’ll be effected.
Here, then, is my offering, which I hope will soon hang on cubicle walls and break room refrigerators everywhere:
That’s, right. F.E.A.R.
It stands for Figure, Examine, Alter and Remember. And let me guarantee upfront that if every worker in America can learn to live in F.E.A.R., we’ll all be better off.
Here’s how the acronym breaks down:
FIGURE: Before engaging in any kind of workplace interaction - sending an email, calling a meeting, asking a question - anything! - Figure out whether what you’re about to do is necessary.
A large part of what workers do is waste time on things that don’t need to be done. Consider how many pointless meetings you’ve attended. Or how many times you’ve asked someone a question only to hear the answer and say, “Oh, shoot, I knew that!“ (Congratulations, you just wasted your time and the other person’s.)
Before engaging in any action at work, take a few seconds to be certain it’s necessary. Time will be saved. People will be happier.
EXAMINE: Another huge frustration at work is people talking - or emailing or instant-messaging - before they think. Even the most well-intentioned questions or comments can come out crass if they’re blurted out.
Offhand comments that come out wrong put people on the defensive, hurt feelings and generally bring productivity to a screeching halt. It takes only a sliver of your time to Examine an email before you send it or to mentally Examine the words you’re about to speak. Perhaps what you’re about to communicate is better left unsaid or you can at least tweak a thought so it sounds less accusatory.
The seconds it takes to Examine what’s about to come from your mouth or onto a co-worker’s screen is time well spent.
ALTER: It is OK to change your thinking. Many workplaces foster a perceived need to be strong-willed and bullheaded, to communicate in a “shoot from the hip“ fashion.
That’s counterproductive. If you’ve Figured out that what you’re saying or doing is necessary and you’ve Examined how you’re about to say it, the next step is to change course if necessary.
We’ve all thought about saying something in a meeting, wondered briefly whether it might not be a good idea and said it anyway. That rarely works out well.
The ability to halt a potentially bad comment or delete a sentence that could be misconstrued is like a muscle that needs to be exercised. You have to work on it until it’s a strong and automatic response.
Altering a bad idea might transform it into a good idea.
REMEMBER: This is where I encourage you to Remember my mantra, which is wonderfully simple yet somehow overlooked: Be a decent human being.
(Technically the last letter of the acronym should have been a “B“ for “Be,“ I suppose, but then it would’ve read: F.E.A.B. And that’s a lot less memorable than F.E.A.R., so I stand by my acronymization.)
Almost every workplace problem I’ve come across has its roots in one person being unthoughtful or unkind. But for that one action, the problem would not exist.
The “R“ is the glue that holds F.E.A.R. together. Cooperation, respect and smooth interactions are the goal, and if Figuring, Examining and Altering don’t get you there, Remembering the mantra will.
I joke around a fair amount, but don’t doubt my sincere belief in F.E.A.R., an intentionally silly acronym that I hope makes a point. It’s a simple concept, but it has the power to make a huge difference in our work lives. (It’s kind of like the Yoda of slogans.)
So here’s the part you can clip out and laminate, or just hang, or have professionally framed or whatever:
Figure. Examine. Alter. Remember.
(to be a decent human being!)
If you’re reading this online, remove the portion of your screen it’s on with some form of glass cutter. I’m pretty sure that will work.
On second thought, you might want to apply the steps of F.E.A.R. to that idea. Your IT department will likely thank you.
Rex Huppke writes for the Chicago Tribune. Send him questions by email at rhuppketribune.com or on Twitter RexWorksHere.