How To Thrive At Work – #311

How To Thrive At Work

How To Thrive At Work

I’m James Taylor and you’re listening to the SuperCreativity podcast a show dedicated to inspiring creative minds like yours. You probably don’t realise this but every working day you replay and reenact complex dynamics and relationships from your past. Whether it’s confusing an authority figure with a parent, avoiding conflict because of a past squabble with siblings, or suffering from imposter syndrome. Because of the way your family responded to success when it comes to working, we’re all trapped in our own upbringings and the patterns of behaviour we learned while growing up. In her debut book, The Man Who Mistook His Job For His Life, business psychotherapist Naomi Shragai will make you reevaluate how you think about yourself and your working life. Naomi has more than 30 years of experience as a psychotherapist and family therapist in private practice and now specializes in helping businesses and individuals resolve psychological obstacles that cause work-related problems. As a freelance journalist, she has also written for The Times, The Guardian, and since 2008, has been a regular contributor to The Financial Times where she writes predominantly about psychological aspects of working life. 

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Artificial Intelligence Generated Transcript

Below is a machine-generated transcript and therefore the transcript may contain errors.

Naomi Shragai  1:14  

Hello, hello. Very nice to be here.

James Taylor  1:17  

Fantastic to have you with us today as well. And something I noticed a word that kept cropping up in the book time and time again, was this word curiosity. So interesting. Why is being curious, why is that useful in your work as a psychotherapist? And how can also curiosity be a useful tool for your clients?

Curiosity Is The Beginning

Naomi Shragai  1:38  

Well, curiosity, of course, is what I do as a psychotherapist, I’m curious about my clients problems and the issues they bring. And so curiosity is the beginning. It is how we begin to understand to unravel, to unfold, to make sense of the issues people bring to our consulting rooms. So curiosity is the key. And curiosity is also something to I talk to my clients about quite a lot. Because curiosity keeps us thinking, it makes us ponder, it makes us wonder, without curiosity, we’re more likely than not to be driven by unconscious impulses. We’re driven by judgments, we’re much more likely to miss read situations to overreact to be driven by our feelings. So curiosity is actually fundamental in my work, encouraging and, and saying to clients to be curious, it means it can kind of create a sort of a distance, if you like, between people’s strong feelings. So they have a moment of rather than being overwhelmed by feelings, being curious, allows the person a moment to just pause and to reflect and to think, and that pause, allows people to bear their feelings in the workplace. So curiosity is so fundamental. So

James Taylor  3:00  

have you ever come up against all where the client has sat there in front of you on that on that sofa? Who, who isn’t interested in themselves? Who isn’t curious about their own inner workings of their life?

Naomi Shragai  3:12  

Well, it doesn’t happen to me, because when people come to me the point of psychotherapy, and work psychotherapy is to be curious about one’s inner life. So I think those people who aren’t interested in themselves and aren’t interested in examining themselves, they’re less likely, of course, to come to my consulting room. Now might be the place, it might be the case that people are ambivalent, in other words, very interested in examining themselves, but at the same time, they’re frightened, they’re ambivalent. They’re frightened about what might arise, what might unfold what it might, what they might have to face in themselves. So I’d say that it’s not that people have so much not interested in their internal lives, I’d say that oftentimes, they’re ambivalent about examining themselves in some depth.

James Taylor  3:56  

Now, as well as your incredible what you’ve done as a psychotherapist, you kind of had another little career, almost, I don’t know if it was before, at the same time as you’re doing your training. As a stand-up comedian, not the first job you think of as a psychotherapist. So I’m interesting. No, we have a lot of people working in the creative industries in the arts here as well. What did that teach you about a specific kind of dealing with rejection because probably for a lot of our audience, you have to do a lot of rejection their job they’re getting, they’re going forward for jobs, they’re maybe being put for up for a part or they’re trying to win a big contract? So I’m interested like, what did being a stand-up comedian teach you about rejection?

Tolerate Rejection

Naomi Shragai  4:36  

Well, if you can’t tolerate rejection, well then you can’t do the job. Because absolutely guaranteed that you will be rejected as a comic. At some point in time, you will suffer a reduction, and if you can’t get over it and get back on the boards pretty quickly. It’s not likely you’re going to get very far. So it’s absolutely a prerequisite I think comedy but you In so many professions, but of course, in stand-up comedy, it’s much more obvious. And the other thing you learn quite quickly is that you can control everything you can be prepared, you can have great gigs, you can have a really brilliant set. And you could just do great night after night after night. And suddenly, you could even be in the same room in the same venue on a different night. And you could unexpectedly, you just die. That’s it. They just don’t like you and it’s inexplicable. So you have to be prepared for that, knowing that you can’t control everything, you can be prepared, you can do your best, but you can’t be certain. So it teaches you. And I think that also teaches you that after all, it’s just a feeling. I mean, you might feel awful, it might feel awful for days, for some people, they might feel awful for weeks, but it is just a feeling and people recover. So that’s what you have to learn to fall

James Taylor  5:55  

for that maybe if you work with a lot of executives. And something I hear sometimes from some executives is that there may be a new job coming up in a new position or in your organization or another organization. And they kind of pull back a little bit from putting themselves forward for that. And sometimes you’ve asked them, Why you because you’re obviously qualified and you have the experience. And they have nobody’s to them either kind of through a sense of rejection being rejected, if not getting that job, or the other one I sometimes hear is this imposter syndrome. The thing that Well, who am I to go for this job? So is that something when you work with I mean, it’s not only I would imagine that CEOs would have surely that’s not a trait of CEO, surely the CEOs out there, they’re all there, they’re all think of themselves wonderful, and they can’t possibly have imposter syndrome, there must be just for newer employees coming in organizations.

Imposter Syndrome

Naomi Shragai  6:57  

Well, it’s not the case. In fact, the higher one climbs up the hierarchy, actually, the more likely they are to suffer from these sorts of imposter feelings. And that’s what people are unprepared for. Some people imagine that if they had that promotion, that validation that they’re good at what they do, they’d overcome those insecure feelings. But in fact, with promotion comes added responsibility with added responsibility becomes more decisions to make. Essentially, what happens is one climbs higher is one is more exposed, so there’s more to be anxious about. The other reason I think so many people still struggle with imposter feelings at the top is that people move from their areas of expertise, and suddenly they’re on top, they’re having to deal more with interpersonal skills and move further away from their area of expertise. So they’re always in a new role, where they again, can just feel out of their depth, even at that level. And of course, at those higher levels, those imposter feelings, you know, can have not just an impact on the person, but on the business and the organization as well. Because what happens if somebody in that position leader has struggled with that kind of insecurities, basically, what he’s saying is he can’t trust himself, he doesn’t trust his gut instincts, he doesn’t think he’s good enough. So the difficulty is, if he doesn’t trust himself, it’s also very likely that he’s not going to trust people who work for him either. So over time, those sorts of feelings can really obstruct innovation and creativity in a business. So it’s quite fundamental to try to face those feelings and the situations and try to make sense of them. It only really looked, everyone has insecurities. We’re all human, nobody, every n these days, everyone’s been put new roles. And they’re always feeling inadequate out of their depth. And all of that’s perfectly normal. And in fact, it’s not really a problem. Sometimes it can even be helpful. So I’m not suggesting it’s a problem as such. But when it starts to affect people’s behavior or their decision-making, and they’re at the top of an organization, well, that can create a lot of problems. And that’s oftentimes when I step in,

James Taylor  9:22  

and one of those you talk about these different, obviously, characteristics, maybe not characteristic different things that present themselves as imposter syndrome. One of the other ones you talk about in the book, you can, again, have to go through these different ones. And some of them you have strategies for how to deal with them in yourself, you know, that’s a thing within yourself. And other times I noticed you, it wasn’t so much how to deal with them with your sales, but how to identify them of other people, maybe your boss in an organization as well. So you kind of as I was reading, I was thinking, that probably makes sense, because the kind of person that might have some of these traits are not going to be the person maybe it’s going to read this book. Anyway. So it’s going to be more For the person has to work with them. One of the things you mentioned in the book was this overachiever you know what were the last companies in the party sales, people work in the finance or tech industry, lots of overachievers. They’ve done amazing things educationally. And then they’re really kind of pushing the whole time. But you’ve talked about this thing of a neurotic overachiever, so at what point does achievement start to really kind of damage, happiness, or that kind of inner life that you’re speaking about?

Neurotic Overachiever

Naomi Shragai  10:31  

Well, overachieving, can not just damage the person, it can also damage the business and people close to them. So overachieving, if it’s not reined in, if it’s not checked, can cause an awful lot of damage. Of course, many overachievers Excel, and oftentimes, they’re brilliant. And they contribute so much to organizations. And there are many organizations that positively recruit overachievers, of course, they want people working 1214 16 hour days, you know, they’re looking for these individuals, and perhaps are quite short-sighted because they’re not recognizing the impact over years and over time, and when this might then come to damage the organization. But you asked another question, which is when do you know when does overachiever becomes a problem? Well, you know, for a lot of overachievers, what I’ve found is early on in life, they’ve discovered that winning or achieving has solved some psychological problems for them, it’s perhaps brought them close to their parents may be protected them from bullying, whatever it might have been, it seemed to have solved a psychological problem. So they carry on achieving winning. But the difficulty with neurotic overachievers is they can never hold on to their achievements. And that’s when it becomes neurotic. So they achieve they succeed in something. But rather than using that achievement, to help build their self worth, and build their competence, it’s gotten rid of immediately, it’s immediately it’s dismissed, it’s minimized, it’s gotten rid of so the person is left, where they were initially struggling with feelings of low self-worth and feelings of incompetence. And so what they’re having to do next is achieve even more, because that previous loss has now gone. They need another one to replace it. But the difficulty is they can’t hold on to their achievements. How To Thrive At Work I think that’s one of the biggest problems. So it’s never enough. And then, you know, they can start to feel guilty. If even if they just slow down a tiny bit, they could be working 200% And you say, Come on, come on, just back down, just cut it down, just like five 10%. And if they do, they feel guilty, they just feel bad. So there’s a lot of consequences to overachievement in terms of in the workplace, you know, these people, they can also ask the same of their staff. So there, you know, they could be people working for them, sometimes the demands they make on them is to work the same long hours, you know, with the same intensity. So that’s, that’s when they can start to perhaps cause damage in the organization. And you know, oftentimes these people don’t stop until they burn out, get depressed or become ill because the demands they put on their body are so unrealistic now talking about neurotic overachievers, way of describing the rainbow, so people on that extreme of the spectrum, they’re coming to you what happens is, in order to work with that intensity in order to work those long hours, they have to numb their bodies, they become disassociated, another once they become out of touch with the body’s cues for rest, for sleep, for help for food, you know, they can become completely out of touch until the body becomes ill until they collapse. So you know, some people after four or five, six years start to say to themselves, why am I putting myself through this? And they might start to slow down. And erotica overachievers count slow down, they go on and on and on.

James Taylor  14:21  

In the Book One thing is nice by the book, you share all these, you’ve probably changed names I would imagine of your, your patients or you’re, do you call them patients or clients. So that was one of the questions I had for you.

Naomi Shragai  14:32  

Now, I call them clients. These are people who don’t come to me for psychotherapy as such, what happens is people come to me because they have specific work-related issues that they want to solve. So it’s not psychoanalysis in the sense that they’re not coming to see me for analysis or examination say we’re here to solve a particular problem in the workplace. And we dig as deeply as we need to go in order to To solve that particular problem, so they are appliance,

James Taylor  15:04  

but it’s actually it’s a very giftable book because of that because as I’m reading it, I’m thinking, Oh, that gives me an idea, I should get this book to this person here. Because this sounds like this person’s, as I was reading, I was thinking, Oh, she would like this, or maybe I’m gonna give that book to him as well. But you do share a little bit about your own story. And not a lot. But you kind of your interview, your background, your upbringing. But one of the things I thought it was interesting, you shared that you have the desire to pursue a more kind of freelance self-employed career. And this was influenced by your childhood. Can you talk to us about that?

Naomi Shragai  15:38  

Well, I do talk. Yeah, you’re right. I do mention that in the book, not a lot. But my background in history is that both of my parents had survived Auschwitz, they were both concentration camp survivors and their families were also annihilated in the camps. So as a result, you can perhaps imagine my parents were both very damaged, especially my mother. So I think as a child, I had to be quite self-sufficient. But you know, when able to really rely on my parents, they were damaged differently. So I guess I was raised to be, well, I was, I guess, a self-sufficient child. And I guess from a young age, I learned not to depend on people. I mean, to collaborate, to be close to feel safe in the world is something I had to learn. Even as a child, knowing what happened to my family, also made me a bit fearful of life in the world, not knowing what can happen, knowing what I guess what human beings are capable of. So I was fearful. I perhaps was too fearful to rely on people or get close to them. So a freelance career seemed to suit me quite a lot in the early years. But now I want to say that with my own, I guess, growth and learning, of course, you know, now I’m collaborating. I’m not that fearful.

James Taylor  17:11  

You’ve worked through that as well. I’ve worked through that,

Naomi Shragai  17:13  

of course, but if that’s what got me on the track of being a freelance.

James Taylor  17:20  

Got it. And oh, one other thing I was reading through the books, and I was thinking as it relates to work around creativity, you, there was a point where you’re talking about how some of your background in family therapy has had an impact on your work you do with working relationships, and I was thinking about this the other day, I was doing an event and one of the other speakers was Steve Wozniak, the Apple co-founder. And they just kind of got it got me thinking about this idea of creative peers. And often in business, we have these two co-founders, very different personalities, often different skill sets. So I’m wondering, you mentioned a few times in the people you’ve worked with, which is maybe co-founders of startups, co-founders of companies, or me that chairman, CEO, Chairperson, CEO relationship. Is there anything that have you been able to take across from your work and family therapy? It’s been quite useful for working with those people when they have to negotiate how they work with a collaborator.

Naomi Shragai  18:20  

Yeah, well, it’s so much of it’s helpful, I bring so much of my family therapy skills, of course, with me when I come into organizations and try to help them make sense of some of the conflicts and unresolved tensions that they find themselves in. And maybe I can speak of something, you know, quite typical that I see in partnerships. It’s quite interesting. I think that unconsciously, you know, differences attract one another. So oftentimes, what I see in partnerships is a collaboration where one partner perhaps is more the outward face of the business. That could be that’s oftentimes the more creative partner and the other, of course, is more interested in operational aspects of the business. So that person perhaps is more focused on details and operations. So there’s a kind of a difference where if there can be a kind of mutual respect, of course, for the differences and one can appreciate that the other has trades one lakhs, then that can be a very successful combination, of course. But oftentimes, what happens and this is where I guess my family therapy comes into it is that you know, people fail to recognize how they contribute to the tensions in a partnership. So one of the things I take from family therapy is to try to understand tensions and conflicts in a circular dynamic, where each individual is contributing to the dynamic People often come along, and they’re very interested in finding what the fault is or who’s at fault and oftentimes It’s the other person, of course. So my focus is to try to help them see that, knowingly or not unconsciously or not, they both contribute to this dynamic, they both contribute to the conflict. Now, what is what becomes very interesting is that people don’t recognize is that oftentimes they’ll engage when in the sort of behavior to kind of provoke the unwanted behavior in the other. They don’t realize how they do that. So for example, if there is one partner who’s very obsessed with timekeeping and deadlines, perhaps the creative person who’s less interested in that might be haphazard in his timekeeping, making that person, his partner more anxious. So that’s just an example of how can people can unknowingly provoke the kinds of behavior in the other, that the unwanted behaviors and the other, so it’s really a matter of pointing that out to everybody. And once they can see that everyone is contributing to this dynamic, there’s less of a tendency to kind of blame and pass judgment, and more of a recognition that everybody’s involved in this together,


James Taylor  21:17  

kind of CO creating that chaos. If there’s chaos, for example, co-creating that relationship. Something you don’t really can’t go into, particularly, really deeply in the book, because I guess maybe, could be a future book, who knows. But you talk in the back this, these languages, like safe spaces, no-platforming, Kancil culture, which have moved from the academic spaces and universities, colleges, now into the business spaces. And a number that the business CEOs, me I have conversations with, they say they’re trying to figure out this stuff, they’re trying to figure out how, how do you create a sense of being willing to challenge other people’s maybe business idea or that that new initiative, that thinking that you campaign, while at the same time, creating a sense of psychological safety, so people feel that they can act to the contrary, now, I’m here in Scotland, and we probably don’t have the best history for creating safe spaces for dialogue, if there’s a word here that’s called flighting in Edinburgh originally, which is the the ritual abuse, ritual abuse of your opponent by means of verbal violence, basically, it means so it’s the the Malcolm Tucker character in, you know, that that political drama, but it’s, it’s having that sense, though, that in your team, there’s enough trust, and you respect each other enough that you’re willing to say, what you mean, what you know what you mean, and kind of get to get to the point. And I’m wondering, you’re as a therapist, you’re having to kind of navigate me with some of your clients who maybe come from even maybe a previous generation and having to kind of deal with it. So are you giving any advice on how to deal with this, the kind of newer culture that’s coming into the workplace now?

Learn How To Tolerate Feeling Uncomfortable

Naomi Shragai  23:01  

Well, I have to say that I’m much more in favor of encouraging people to learn how to tolerate feeling uncomfortable. So you know, my take is quite different. Actually, you know, there’s an expectation somehow that people shouldn’t feel bad in the workplace that they shouldn’t be upset, but they shouldn’t be disappointed. But of course, work does provoke those feelings. So I think we’re not being realistic when we think when we suggest that we can create a safe space for people as such that they never feel bad because work will inevitably make us feel bad. Now, there are a lot of organizations that can do to help people feel safe. And I think there’s a lot of people that talk about it, perhaps I don’t need to repeat it. But you know, of course, allowing people to fail to make mistakes, transparency, all these things that are talked about in organizations are really helpful. But the other thing you have to take into account is that everybody’s coming into work with their inner worlds as well. So they’re also bringing into their work, you know, well of unresolved conflicts and tensions and repressed feelings that just make up their inner life, who they are. Now, individuals are also equally responsible for making sense of and managing their internal life too. So employees and organizations are in there, they have some responsibility, but so to the individuals in them. So I would what I’d like to see is something else, I’d like to see a recognition that, you know, bad feelings do come up in the workplace, because if we pretend that they don’t exist, then they just get hidden underground, and they erupt in places that are much more problematic and much more destructive to a company. So I’d like to see a recognition that people do bring bad feelings that they exist in the organization, someplace to have some acknowledgment of that. I mean, work isn’t about processing feelings, but nonetheless, we can’t ignore that they exist and people bring and feelings into the workplace. So I guess my take would be much more much different. Rather than avoiding or not making sure that nobody feels bad. I would, I would suggest an acknowledgment that bad feelings exist in the workplace, they get provoked in the workplace, and people bring their feelings into the workplace and allow some tolerance for them, you know, work always they want good feelings because we talk particularly a lot about creativity because that’s what this podcast is about. So you’ll understand this, when I say that, you know, in order to be creative, people have to be in touch with their feelings, you know, to be innovative, to try new things out, to be passionate, enthusiastic, to be collaborative, to be empathetic, you know, all these things we want from people in the workplace depends on people being in touch with their feelings. So it’s as if we’re saying to people, we want your good feelings, but we don’t want your bad feelings. Well, that’s not possible. If you want people alive, present in tune in touch, creative, innovative, enthusiastic, well, they’ll have feelings, and organizations will have to deal with it.

The Man Who Mistook His job for his life

James Taylor  26:07  

This way, we had Professor Marcus du Sautoy, a couple of weeks ago, talking from Oxford University talking about artificial intelligence. And you know, this what they call in the past and the Lovelace test, after Ada Lovelace will it will a machine not just pass a human, but can it create better than a human. And we were having this discussion was saying, well, in order for it, to do that, it’s got to fear it, it’s got to, to write a play, like Macbeth or Hamlet, it’s got to feel those feelings of jealousy, you know, raw emotion, to write that Beethoven there’s got to felt. So it’s very difficult to create in that way without having feelings, sensing these emotions, and building these emotions into what you do as well. So maybe there’s still a job for as at the end of all of this as well. It’s a fantastic book, The Man Who Mistook His job for his life, highly recommended for people to go and get. There are also some really lovely stats, which I didn’t know about when I saw which I think, from Professor Patrick Wright, who said that CEOs are actually 12 times more likely to be humble, the narcissistic. So that gives me a lot of hope, as well. I thought there was a there was a lovely stir, and Naomi, where is the best place people to go to get a copy of the book bought or to learn about you and your work, and maybe they have an organization, and they either themselves or one of the senior executives that may be wanting them to get in touch with you?

Naomi Shragai 27:31  

Well, if they want to get in touch with me, of course, they can be in touch with me through my website, and what they’ll find they’ll find my media events, current articles, of course, I’m still writing for The Financial Times as well. So my articles are all on my website, events, and the books available on Amazon and local booksellers.

James Taylor  27:51  

Now, Naomi, thank you so much for coming on. You certainly got me to reflect over the course of reading this book, as well. So a wonderful book, go and check it out now.

Naomi Shragai 28:01  

Okay, thank you. Thanks very much for having me.

James Taylor  28:04  

You can subscribe to the super creativity podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts while you’re there. Please leave us a review. I would really, really appreciate it. I’m James Taylor, and you’ve been listening to the super creativity podcast.

How To Thrive At Work



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