Episode 16: Dr. Winny Shen – Building a Healthy Professional Mindset
Erin Davis: Welcome to REAL TIME, a podcast, the podcast for REALTORS®, and especially in this episode for everyone. Brought to you by the Canadian Real Estate Association. I’m your host, Erin Davis. Delighted to share the messages in today’s episode because they’re issues that affect us all from boundaries to burnout, but with a ton of positive messages and motivation, just what the doctor, this doctor, our guest, Dr. Winny Shen, has ordered to take us through the second half of 2021 and beyond.
While highly rewarding real estate is just one of the many industries that at times can also be highly competitive, fast-paced, and yes, that dreaded word — stressful. In this Episode 16 of REAL TIME, we’re lucky to be joined by Dr. Winny Shen, Associate Professor of Organization Studies at York University, as she shares the latest thinking in industrial and organizational technology techniques for REALTORS®, and all professionals to gain a mental edge by better managing work-life balance, career uncertainty, and interpersonal conflict.
Thank you so much for joining us here today and giving us a different perspective on where we are and where we’re going. Dr. Shen, may I call you, Winny?
Dr. Winny Shen: Yes.
Erin: Thank you. Can you start by defining your field of work and study? Industrial and organizational psychology.
Winny: Yes, of course, Erin. Industrial-organizational psychology or IO psychology, as we often call it, for short, is psychology theories and methods applied to understanding the workplace. A lot of times we think about it in terms of A, our field is interested in helping identify the best people for the job. A lot of times that is, how do we hire? How do we train people so that they can perform these jobs effectively? Also, the other piece is how do we create optimal workplace environments so that people are really motivated and can do well at their job? We’re interested in both that pre-hire piece but also in how can we continue to create a great workplace environment so that workers can really flourish.
Erin: How does this differ from other psychological disciplines, though?
Winny: I would say that IO psychology differs from other psychological disciplines in that it’s a scientist-practitioner model, in that we are trained to be scientists so that we understand data and use it to understand workplace phenomenon. Also, we are trained to be practitioners so that we can also help organizations to address these questions. That’s another one of the differences too, is that most IO psychologists tend to work with organizations or other organizations like trade unions, for example, rather than individuals, though, there are some IO psychologists who work as, let’s say, professional coaches and do work with individuals.
Erin: Putting this into the day to day, can most working professionals, Winny, benefit from a basic understanding of IO principles and how to go about applying them day to day?
Winny: I definitely think so. We spend so much time at work. It really makes a lot of sense to understand how to make the most of this experience. Additionally, our work lives really intersect and affect our other life domains, for example, how we interact with our family, our health, and well-being. It really should be carefully managed, so that we can really ensure that people can meet all of their life priorities. Work is just one major part of that for a lot of people.
Erin: In the past year or so, the lines have become so blurred. We’re going to talk about this as we continue on with REAL TIME. When we’re talking about REALTORS® here, most would characterize themselves as entrepreneurs in a competitive, constantly changing industry. Are there approaches or best practices to finding success, specifically in highly competitive fields, Winny?
Winny: Yes. I think when we look at what makes people successful in, let’s say, highly competitive fields like entrepreneurship, there are a couple of characteristics that really set people apart. First, it’s really important as an entrepreneur, for example, that you are self-driven because you are often running your own little shop in a lot of ways, that you have good stress tolerance in a changing environment. That’s really necessary. We also think it’s really important, or the data has shown that it’s really important to have a proactive personality. If you’re someone who can see the difference between the current status quo and how things you think should be, and really are motivated to close that gap, then you are probably someone who has a proactive personality.
I would also say, though, that there are some maybe pitfalls or things that we should be aware of, that might trip us up in more competitive fields. One of those things is that competition tends to be associated with some greater likelihood of unethical behaviors or misconduct. If we really think about our field as a very winner takes all kind of mentality, then we have a tendency where it’s very easy for us to say things like the ends justify the means, or we might be willing to cut some corners.
I think it’s really important that even though this environment might be competitive, that we need to make sure to think about the long-term consequences of our actions versus really focusing on short-term wins. Because, especially in a field like real estate, reputations are probably very difficult to build but are actually quite easily lost or tarnish. I think we need to be really careful to not think like, “I’ll cut a little bit of a corner here or there in order to make the sale or make something happen,” and lose sight of why we’re doing this job maybe in the first place.
Erin: Yes. That reputation, the integrity that you talk about that takes a lifetime to build up, it only takes now a flash because of social media. All it takes is a couple of posts, and they spread it and they spread it and they spread it. Suddenly, that cut corner turns into something that you really, really wish you hadn’t taken.
Erin: What do you think is the best or most productive way to manage high-stress work situations? I know that that is a big bite to try and digest here. You have looked at this, you’ve studied it. Help give us some ideas, some hacks, if you will, for the best ways to manage high-stress work.
Winny: Yes. I think maybe the first thing to really think about is, not all stressors in our environment are created equal. I think step one is probably to think about, “What are the stressors I’m faced with?” We often make the distinction in the research literature between two kinds of stressors. One set we’ll call challenge stressors. They tend to be stressors that although cause us stress, also push us to grow and develop. A lot of times people would say things like having a little bit of a higher workload or having there to be some time pressure on the job as might be common in real estate or to have a greater responsibility on the job. These are all things that can be stressful, but also really help us to grow and develop and mature.
Now, we might contrast these stressors with what we call hindrance stressors. Now, these stressors are often more roadblocks. They don’t necessarily help us grow. They just prevent us from going where we want to go. Many people would say things like organizational politics, or red tape on the job, or job ambiguity, where you don’t really know what you’re supposed to be doing, those things are hindrance stressors.
I think if you are feeling really stressed, the first thing to do is to think about, “Am I being stressed because these are challenge stressors? I’m faced with a lot of stress, but I think I will come out of the other side of it stronger, have developed. Or am I really just being bogged down by these hindrance stressors? If so, how can I manage them better or how can I get rid of some of them? For example, if there’s a lot of red tape, can I make suggestions about streamlining some of these processes so that I’m not dealing with this much bureaucracy?” as an example.
Erin: Coming up, the power of detachment. This is great. We’re super excited to share that Canada’s number one real estate platform REALTOR.ca now has a new app. Rebuilt from the ground up and designed to reflect the needs of today’s homebuyers, the app helps REALTORS® get connected to more potential clients. Download it on the App Store or get it on Google Play.
Now back to Dr. Winny Shen, who not surprisingly, was named a rising star in 2016 by the Association for Psychological Science.
Part of your message that comes out of your research is one really important word and that is detach. Detach can mean so many different things. It can be detaching from negative social media. It can be detaching from news that is completely dominating your thought process. It can be detaching from those hindrances or challenges too. Tell us about the power of detachment, Dr. Shen.
Winny: I think the power of detachment is really important. What we know is that although, let’s say, challenge stressors often result in better stress in that it might really motivate us to work hard and do our jobs well. Even the benefits of good stress can wane over time if we don’t take time to detach from the workplace. What that really means is, oftentimes, we talk about it as psychological detachment. That you should stop thinking about your job sometimes. That really allows your body and your mind to reset and to step away from being in that stressed-out state all the time because our bodies are really not designed to be stressed all the time.
Even in a very challenging, rewarding jobs, it’s really important to take that step back and recover. That can be if you’re feeling a little bit tired, to taking a quick break. It might mean to detach from work and turn off your email at the end of a workday. It might mean to find time to take regular vacations so that you have a longer period of time away from your work. Probably something that we’re struggling with right now, but I think still important to keep in mind. I think those are some things that we should think about as we try to detach.
Erin: Writing down that time for you in ink instead of always making it something that– it reminds me of a sign that I saw at a gym that– of course, I was walking by at the time. That you always have the time for the things you put first. We all tend, especially when we’re busy and in a super competitive climate that we’re in right now in real estate, to put everything for ourselves to the back burner and then just leave it simmering until the pot is empty, don’t we?
Winny: Exactly. I think in addition to that, sometimes people will borrow against things that are really important to their health like sleep. They’ll be like, “I can just sleep a little bit less.” That can really add up over time in terms of starting each day more and more exhausted. I really agree with you, Erin, in that it’s really important to make these recovery breaks part of your schedule so that you can come back feeling refreshed and energized, as opposed to thinking that these are luxuries. Because I really think that these are actually necessities.
Erin: Yes, and I can hear people thinking, “Oh, yes. Easier said than done because I’ve got a house that’s going to have six offers on it. When am I supposed to take the time?” I guess, what do you do when you’re right now in such a high-pressure situation? Do you just look down the road and say, “It’s okay. I’m going to take a week off, or I’m going to delegate some of my work, but right now I’m going to power through this and that will be my reward.” How important is having that mental reward, that carrot or something to look forward to at the finish line?
Winny: I think it’s really wonderful to have something to look forward to. I think that’s great. The other thing you can try to do is if you do have something that’s really stressful is, I think we do have some power over how we frame the situation. Especially, if you’re feeling stressed because of some of those what we talked about earlier hindrance stressors, I think you could potentially try to reframe that as a challenge stressor. Look for a silver lining or something to think about, “Can I think about how this could make me grow, even if this is a difficult or maybe currently unpleasant situation?”
That might also be helpful in terms of helping you get over that short-term hurdle. I think that it’s really important to keep in mind that we often don’t. Two people can be faced with the same stressors, but have very different reactions to it. A lot of that is in our mindset. We do have a lot of power in terms of how we think about the situation that can really motivate us to power through them or get through them and then I think we should definitely reward ourselves and regularly plan for some recovery.
Erin: The Dalai Lama said, “If you lose, don’t lose the lesson.” We’re going to talk about that a little later in our conversation. This is me doing time management because we’re about to talk about good time management. Of course, in real estate, it’s crucial. Now, I have to ask you, Winny, is this a skill you just do or don’t have like a talent, or can it be learned and strengthened.
Winny: I think that’s a great question, Erin. There is definitely evidence that time management skills can be trained. I think that it’s helpful for us to think about first, what do we mean by time management? Actually, when we break it down, there’s a couple of things involved. First, there’s a self-awareness of one’s time use. Are you cognizant of how you’re spending your time? If you’re not sure, I would encourage you to maybe do an exercise like a time diary. Spend a couple of days just actually jotting down what you’re spending your time doing.
I think that perhaps you might be surprised. For example, I think, many of us might be surprised, perhaps even in my case horrified, at the amount of time that we’re spending on things like social media, or things that perhaps feel urgent, but actually aren’t very important. Like responding to emails as they come in. I think first is, we have to be able to be aware of our time usage.
Now, the second piece of that is good planning. Are you doing things like setting goals, planning your tasks, making to-do lists? Are you thinking about how you can group tasks together so that they can be accomplished more efficiently together? There are some tips that might be helpful here too in terms of perhaps taking some time at the beginning of each day to make a list. I often also take time at the beginning of my work week to make a list. Then I do build in some slack time for unexpected things that might happen.
Also, I think that that also pushes us to think about how to say no to things. That if our agenda is actually too full, that there’s actually not a very realistic way for us to get everything done, to think about what are things that we actually should work on getting off our plates. Because there’s often some tasks that we find later on that you wonder, “Why am I even doing some of these things?”
Then lastly, I would say that once you have and enact these plans, it’s really important to monitor these time management tasks. For example, are you allocating enough time for some of these activities? I think it’s also really important here, there’s some evidence that we should engage in some contingent planning. The best-laid plans often go awry and so I think we need to anticipate possible interruptions in our work and plan for them.
Especially in a setting like real estate where there might be a lot of things that happen unexpectedly. Your client unexpectedly decides to make an offer, or unexpectedly there’s a new house that comes on the market that they’d really like to see right away. I think it’s important to have an idea of, “Oh, what interruptions might come up this day, and how can I accommodate them?” so that you’re not surprised by them, or that you’re inflexible because you’ve already made a plan and you really like to stick to it for the day.
Erin: I can think of few professions where somebody is almost on-call virtually 24 hours a day. Of course, there’s doctors but if you call a doctor’s office at four o’clock and say, “I need to see you at five.” They’ll say, “Okay, you go here or talk to this doctor or whatever.” It seems like that those unplanned interruptions are almost a fact of life. They really are something that has to be budgeted into that time diary that you so wisely recommend, Winny. That’s a great point.
More great points when we return as Dr. Shen explores the importance of mentors. What to look for, and where to find one? REALTOR.ca Living Room is where you’ll find all things home. From market trends and home improvements to DIY hacks and design inspiration, you’ll find everything that you and your clients need in one place. Now, that’s organization. Something that our guest today, Dr. Winny Shen is an expert in, as Associate Professor of Organization Studies at York University.
Now, many REALTORS® are still new to the profession, having worked in the industry for fewer than five years. For professionals who are just starting their careers, let’s talk about mentors. How do you go about finding one first off?
Winny: Well, I would really recommend new professionals look for a mentor. There’s a lot of evidence that there can be a lot of career benefits of mentoring, both in terms of objective career success, so things like compensation and promotion, but also in terms of subjective factors. Things like career satisfaction and commitment or job satisfaction. People who are mentored typically have much better and more positive attitudes towards their jobs.
Now, I think as you go about looking for a mentor, it’s important to think about what a mentor is supposed to do. A mentor really is supposed to have three functions. First is probably what we think about a lot. A mentor is supposed to help you with career development. This might be someone who can sponsor you in the workplace. Someone whose opinion, other people really would listen to. They should maybe be someone who’s knowledgeable who can coach you in terms of your development.
Some people also say that a good mentor might also be able to protect you. Someone in the workplace who can maybe stew you away from problematic issues or difficult encounters, that might be another function a mentor can serve. Or someone who can help you gain challenging opportunities or increase your exposure or visibility. There are a lot of things I mentor can do to help us in terms of career development, but also for most people, we also want someone who’s there to support us more broadly.
A lot of people would say that in addition to maybe someone who’s helping you in your current job or in your current career, that really, you’re looking for someone who could help you grow as a person. A mentor might be someone who can be a good sounding board, provide you with counseling, someone who is a friend who’s gives you respect and support or someone who really is another source of acceptance and confirmation. I think it’s also important to think about not only when you’re looking for a mentor, someone who has a lot of expertise, but someone who can also give you that support that’s really important. A safe space for you to develop.
Then lastly, I would say a lot of people say that people who they seek out as mentors are there role models. Look around for someone whose maybe position or you would really like to have it in the next 5 to 10 years. Someone who you really admire. I think that when you keep these things in mind, sometimes you’ll be lucky and you’ll find one person who can fulfill all of these roles, but sometimes perhaps you might have to think about having a board of mentors instead, or multiple people who together can fulfill all of these functions that great mentors really do for us.
I think you might sometimes need to be open and flexible and think about, “How can I get all of my mentoring needs met?” Sometimes that might be through multiple people, and sometimes through peers as well. We usually think about mentors as someone who’s more experienced, but I think we can also learn a lot from people who are going through the same things as us at the same career stage.
Erin: Well, then on the other side of this, there are definite benefits, I’m sure, to being a mentor, if you’re a seasoned professional, as of course, many REALTORS® are. What are some of the pluses of being a mentor yourself because of the three steps that you’ve mentioned, develop, support, role model, those things that a mentee is looking for. It sounds like a lot. Tell us, what’s in it for the mentor?
Winny: Yes, I think that’s a great point. Now the research evidence really suggests that mentors also benefit from this arrangement or relationship, and that giving others career advice can sometimes really help us with our own career success. Sometimes it’s a bit of a mirror in terms of, “Am I following my own advice? Am I spending my time in the right places?” Sometimes it helps us reflect.
Also, I think people often reaffirm the value of the work that they’re doing, as they go through this mentoring relationship. I think that as we move on in our career, a lot of people find it really important to give back. Mentoring is a really great way to do that, and there is also some evidence that mentors can also reap financial benefits, for example, salary, promotion rates from engaging in this too, because I think, it also speaks well to your expertise, but also perhaps your character, if people know that you are a sought-after mentor.
Erin: Say I’m new in the business and I’ve had this happen to me in my own career, in radio where people finally approached me and said, “Well, I didn’t want to talk to you because I figured you’re so busy and I see this and this and this, and I figured you’ll never have time for me,” when quite the opposite was true, because it’s exactly, as you’re saying, Winny, when you get a chance to look at what sparked you, what gives you joy in the job that you do, then it’s a gift to you to be able to go back and say, “Yes, this is why I love this. This is what you’re going to love too.” How do you go about approaching someone that you want to be your mentor? I can recognize how that would be intimidating for some people. Do you have any advice on that?
Winny: Yes. When we ask mentors, what are they really looking for in a protégé or a mentee, the number one thing most mentors say is that they’re looking for someone who’s willing to learn. I think that you really need to express your interests and your desire to grow and learn as you are approaching your potential mentor. I think that you will be surprised at how open and interested people are in being able to help you in your developmental journey. I’d really suggest that.
Now, I would say that if a mentor seems really much more interested in themselves than perhaps you, then perhaps they’re not a good mentor. I would also say that probably a mentor that’s accessible and available is also a really critical ingredient. That although someone who’s perhaps really well-regarded, but too busy to really have much time for you may or may not be a great mentor for you. I think it’s really someone who is going to be as invested in this relationship as you are.
Erin: We’ll be back with Dr. Winny Shen in a moment. Embracing the change. As you sip your latte or grab a traveler, remember, there really is a place where everybody knows your name or soon will. I don’t mean Cheers. CREA Café is a cozy place for REALTORS® to connect and stay up to date on the latest industry happening over a virtual cup of coffee or whatever you like. Pull up a stool and join the conversation at CREACafe.ca.
Now back to our conversation on REAL TIME with Dr. Winny Shen, Associate Professor of Organization Studies at the Schulich School of Business York University. Do you remember a book called, Who Moved my Cheese?
Erin: Yes. Well, perhaps you can sum it up better than I, but it’s just like, “Okay, that happened, now, how do I keep up or get ahead of that? How do I find my cheese again?” There’s a reason why this book resonated so clearly some 20 years ago. The benefits of working in a competitive industry like real estate can be great, but there can be a lot of cheese moving, a lot of uncertainty, shifting market forces, commissions-based earning, et cetera. How can professionals overcome uncertainty and embrace the change?
Winny: Uncertainty is something that’s very difficult, for most of us, but first I would say is to think about, the emotions you feel. I think probably when most of us are faced with uncertainty, the predominant emotion that most people feel is anxiety. Really nervous about what’s going to happen. I think there’s another opportunity or option here. Another emotion that’s associated with uncertainty is hope actually, because maybe we’re a little bit fearful at what will happen. We don’t know what will happen, but perhaps we are also hopeful that the ending will be positive.
I think that when we’re confronted with these negative feelings, I think sometimes maybe it’s useful to take a step back in terms of, “Okay, but could we see how this could turn out well perhaps?” That hope might also sustain us because often hope is what allows us to think about how we’re going to move forward. I would say that that would be one.
I think also is that in a competitive industry like real estate, I think you have to take some risks. That’s just part of the job. I think in order to take risks, though, we really need to look for an environment that provides us with psychological safety. How can you surround yourself with people, perhaps in your agency or otherwise, who really gives you this sense of psychological safety, who will still support you when the risks you take, perhaps don’t pay off, and that really gives you the courage to take these risks in uncertain environments?
Erin: Then that way what’s perceived or what you may perceive as a failure, doesn’t hit as hard. Going back to the Dalai Lama saying, “If you lose, don’t lose the lesson.” There are many perceived failures in competitive places like real estate. Lost or fewer clients, rejected offers, lower than expected sold prices. Are there ways to rebound from “failure” to move ahead and to take that hope or experience and move on with that? Tell us what the research says. Will you please?
Winny: Yes, of course. One interesting thing is that in the face of difficulties or failures, we often feel negative emotions, but what seems to separate people who bounce back more quickly from the people who have more difficulty bouncing back or are less resilient, is that the people who are more resilient also experienced positive emotions in addition to those negative emotions. That suggests to me that, A, it’s really important for us to try to look for that silver lining. “Is there something that could be learned? I’m not happy perhaps that this didn’t go well, but maybe it was better that it happened now rather than later, and that there are some lessons I can take from this.”
I would also say that it’s important in the aftermath of perceived failures or events that don’t grow well, to engage in maybe a debrief. I think it’s important even in the face of failure to acknowledge perhaps what did go well. Some things didn’t go well, but perhaps you did do some things right and that you should carry those things forward. To think about what did you learn from this? Perhaps create a plan in terms of what you want to try next time if faced with the same circumstances.
I think once you’ve engaged in that cognitive reflection process, it’s important to not ruminate about it. You’ve thought about it, you’ve tried to gain the lesson from it, but then sometimes we can’t let it go. We rehash it and we relive it. I think that that rumination can be really problematic. I think we also need to move on from those failures when we can and part of doing that also, I might suggest, is that we should try to be self-compassionate.
I think that sometimes a lot of times I would argue we can be our own worst critic. What self-compassion really refers to is not that you’re letting yourself get away with it, but more that you’re not kicking yourself while you’re already down so that you’re as kind to yourself as you might be to someone else who’s going through a difficult time, that you experience a sense of common humanity. Failure is part of being human and recognizing that that is a very human experience. Also, to acknowledge but maybe not judge your negative emotions and that together that allows us to get through difficult times a bit more quickly or easily.
A technique I often use myself is to think about what I would say if my best friend told me about this failure. I think a lot of times when we take that other perspective, we’re actually very supportive. We understand that this failure while difficult maybe not completely under their control or maybe not as bad as we’ve made it out to be. When we put ourselves in that situation, sometimes we’re really harsh. I think if you would be kind to your best friend, then I think that you should extend that same kindness to yourself. Someone who you should love just as much as your best friend.
Erin: To me, the piece of advice that sticks most often is that from doctor, speaker, author, Bernie Brown who says if you were driving along in a car and the person in the passenger seat was saying to you what you say to yourself, you would pull off and say, “Okay, the ride ends here. Get out.” Maybe that’s what we have to think of. That best friend that you’re talking about, Winny, as well. Don’t let her talk to you like that. Just pull over and let them out and drive. Just go. Right?
Erin: We’ll return with Dr. Shen in just a moment. One of my favourite sayings is you always have time for the things you put first. Putting others before ourselves is what REALTORS Care® is all about — a national guiding principle celebrating the great charitable work done by the Canadian Realtor Community. Help raise awareness for the charities and causes closest to your heart by sharing your story using #realtorscare on your favourite social media platforms.
Dr. Winny Shen is our special guest for this Episode 16 of REAL TIME. We’re talking now about a sign of these times. — how to watch for it, and how to take care of it in yourself.
COVID 19 of course we’ve heard the word burnout a lot. That’s not a new word to us. The New York Times did a piece a few weeks ago where they called what we’re going through languishing, but of course, with REALTORS®, they’ve reported feeling burnt out before the pandemic. What is this languishing, this burnout? How can it affect us professionally and personally, Winny?
Winny: When we’re talking about burnout, what we’re referring to is usually the state of exhaustion. That exhaustion is mental, physical, emotional, and it’s typically caused by excessive and prolonged stress.
There’s three symptoms that tend to go together to create this burnout experience. First is emotional exhaustion. You’re just completely tired, fatigued, you’re wiped out.
The next is the sense of depersonalization or cynicism where you’re really starting to feel detached from your job and the people in it. You feel the sense of rejection and alienation, and perhaps this is your way of disentangling or distancing yourself from a very stressful job.
Then, this third piece is a reduced sense of personal accomplishment or just the sense of ineffectiveness. “I’m just no good at this.”
I think when we think about burnout or languishing, it really refers to the fact that our tank is on empty. We’re running on empty. It really can affect us both professionally, it makes it difficult for us to do our jobs, to enjoy doing our jobs. It also really affects us personally particularly in terms of our health and well-being. This prolonged sense of being on empty is really associated with some negative health outcomes.
Erin: Are there some techniques to help mitigate or avoid workplace burnout either for yourself personally or among your employees and co-workers? If you can see it happening what are the steps that you take?
Winny: I would say that the best probably tip is prevention. Preventing this from happening altogether. If we think about burnout as being on empty, then we have to think about the importance of refilling our tank periodically so it doesn’t get to that point. We’ve already talked about earlier the importance of recovery but this is an important piece of that too. Taking breaks, taking time off of work, taking vacations. Those are all potentially activities that can help refill your tank.
Now, let’s say that you, unfortunately, have reached a state of burnout, there are some things that seem to help. In terms of yourself, as we referred to earlier, this is another time where being self-compassionate seems to really help, and in particular, it helps with exhaustion. Giving yourself that grace, that kindness, when you’re exhausted to say like, “Yes, you are at this low point,” and not to beat yourself up or perhaps push yourself when you have nothing left to give is an important pause that might allow you to reset.
Not only the self-compassion help though but actually there is some evidence that giving compassion to other helps. As we talked about earlier, part of this experience of burnout is this feeling of alienation or separation from the people who are doing this job with you. You can think about it when someone offers you compassion or empathy about what you’re going through, that really helps to reform that social connection to the people on the job and helps you feel like you belong there again.
I think if you see people in your work environment who are very burned out, I would suggest that you offer them compassion. That empathy can really help them gain that important resource in terms of feeling like they belong, which is actually a very fundamental human need. We all need to feel like we belong.
Erin: Sometimes I find that it takes us out of ourselves, out of our grief of what the past year should have been or whatever it is that we are going through to turn our attention to others. You’re talking about others in the office but it reminds me too of all the good charitable work that REALTORS® do across the country which is highlighted by REALTORS Care® through CREA. Just helping the community and doing what you can to help others because somebody’s always got it worse than you. That’s a perspective too that can open your eyes to just shift that feeling that you might have. It also speaks to the cynicism or the detachment like, “Ugh, what’s it all for?” You remember, you’re reminded what’s it all for through things like REALTORS Care®.
Winny: Exactly. I think it’s part of rebuilding that connection and that meeting to stop that process where I think part of that is you’re trying to protect yourself by detaching from this very stressful workplace or work experience, but I think when we’re reminded about the other people who are in it with us or the other people that benefit from what we do that can give us a renewed sense of energy that can help us overcome the sense of burnout.
Erin: Next up, has work-life balance become more of a reality for you, or the rainbow unicorn we’re all just dreaming of? Dr. Shen answers that in a moment.
The keyword of 2021 so far, haven’t you found, has been connection? Your opportunity to do that, connect with potential homebuyers and sellers plus a chance to take advantage of a deep chest of tools and resources, is as close as your keyboard at REALTOR.ca, Canada’s trusted real estate resource. We’re glad you’re here today as we continue our conversation with Dr. Winny Shen on REAL TIME.
Dr. Shen, Winny, you and I are both talking to each other from our homes today, and many of the people who are listening to us, thank you so much for listening to REAL TIME, are also listening and working from home. Really, is work-life balance achievable? Is this a thing or have the past 14-15 months, whatever it’s been now, have they blurred the lines so completely that it’ll never be seen again, and maybe that’s not a bad thing? What do you say about work-life balance?
Winny: Yes, work-life balance is I think this very interesting idea or concept. I think one thing that’s really important to keep in mind when it comes to talking about work-life balance, is that this is really a subjective judgment. It’s whether or not you think that you’ve achieved this. When we ask people about what they think about when it comes to work-life balance, they’re often talking about three things.
First is are they happy and satisfied in these multiple aspects of their lives like work-family, for example, but maybe other domains that are important to them as well? Do they feel like they are giving enough attention to all of these life priorities? I think that’s really important. It’s not equal attention. I think that that’s probably not always possible, but enough. I’m not neglecting anything that’s really important to me. Also, am I performing well, handling the responsibilities of these different important life domains adequately?
I think that if you feel like, “Yes, I’m keeping all these balls up in the air well enough,” then I actually think that you have a work-life balance. I think that what’s difficult is that sometimes we have these ideas or externally imposed standards about what work-life balance looks like. I actually think that it looks different for every person because what’s important to every person is different. If you are living your life in accordance with your priorities, such that you’re giving time, and you feel like you’re doing fairly well, in all the areas of life that’s important to you, then actually, I think that you are very lucky and you have actually achieved work-life balance.
Erin: You break us into groups. There’s the segmenters and the integrators. One example of this that I think can illustrated very clearly is, “Okay, who is sending and taking emails at 9:00 PM when they should be watching Dateline?” Tell me how the two different groups function and is there an either side that has a more competitive edge or is more mentally stable or balanced in their job or does it not really matter? It’s one size doesn’t fit all and whatever fits you.
Winny: Yes, I think that’s a great question, Erin. I would say that an integrator is someone who likes to combine multiple aspects of their lives, for example. It’s someone who maybe wouldn’t mind writing an email as they’re watching Dateline at night. They don’t find that to be intrusive at all. Whereas someone who’s a segmenter definitely prefers that there be strong boundaries around the different aspects of their life. They might like to really only do work during certain hours, and only to be purely, let’s say, with their family during certain hours.
I think that it’s really interesting, because, for example, integrators seem to be bothered less by things like really late emails, or pressure to respond quickly. Whereas people who are segmenters are a little bit more sensitive to that. I would say that if you are a segmenter, you could think about setting some boundaries, and we can talk about boundaries in terms of time. You could have certain off-hours. I know for realtors, that’s difficult.
I think you can think about, “Okay, well, I’m just not going to check email every five minutes, even if I’m just going to check email every hour,” that’s still a boundary. I think that there’s that. There’s also some evidence, just that not being present can be not a great thing, right? That our phones can maybe take us away from what’s happening around us. Even if you’re someone who’s very comfortable, you’re an integrator, you’re comfortable hopping back and forth, there might be some times where the people around you really appreciate your undivided attention.
It’s really interesting. There’s actually some research that shows that, let’s say we’re having a conversation, just having the phone on the table, even if I don’t look at it makes that conversation less enjoyable. I think that even if you’re a busy realtor, it might make sense for you to say, “Okay, I’m just going to give you my undivided attention, I’m going to put the phone away in another room,” even if it’s just for 15-20 minutes, undivided attention, that really makes the most of your time with the people you’re with. I think it doesn’t have to be a lot of time, if that’s not your preference, but I do think some time where you’re completely off of work is probably appreciated by the people around you.
Erin: I know that our time with you is most definitely appreciated and we have a few more things that we’d like to cover with you, Winny. This is so enlightening, encouraging, it’s just everything today. Thank you so much for taking time to talk with us. Many realtors work within a team, right from the jump. How would you characterize a healthy working relationship?
Winny: I would say a healthy working relationship is one that’s based on trust and commitment. That one, that’s really where people are not doing things in a very tit for tat way. Like, “I’m only doing this with an expectation of something in return.” I think that we have to have these healthy work relationships where you know that other people are committed to being in this relationship, building this relationship with you and that you can be vulnerable with knowing that they won’t take advantage of you. I think that’s really at the heart of a healthier working relationship.
Erin: Or marriage for that matter.
Erin: Yes, the give and the take. It’s going to ebb and flow, and some days it’ll be different. What are the benefits of proactively and continuously fostering strong professional relationships with your colleagues?
Winny: I think there’s a lot of evidence, actually, that the people we surround ourselves with, or our networks, including at work, are really important for our professional development, our professional careers, not surprisingly, people with a lot of connections often are in a good way when it comes to the workplace, especially in a very interpersonal job like real estate. Also, we can think about how people who can connect different people, I think, are actually really valuable connectors in relationships. I think it’s really important to think about the people we surround ourselves with.
Also, there’s a lot of evidence that what often makes workplaces go around and work, is people’s willingness to go above and beyond what’s exactly in their job description. How we’ve all benefited from someone who was willing to teach them something, even if that wasn’t part of their job description, or someone who was willing to stay late to help us do something, or someone who was just willing to help. A lot of that, our work lives are just made better by having these people we can count on to go above and beyond for us, but also for our organization. I think those are all great reasons to ensure that we try to build strong relationships with others.
Erin: What about the mindset of self-reliance? In self-driven professions like real estate, success is often linked to how hard and how often you work, how visible you are, you’re out there all the time, but this mindset of self-reliance can make accepting help difficult, or even perceived by some as a weakness. What are the drawbacks of this line of thinking, Winny?
Winny: I think that it’s a little bit of a trap to think that way. First, I think that it’s probably to some extent, not entirely true. It also makes it very difficult for you to delegate work, everything stays on your own plate. That really contributes to, I would say, a pretty problematic long work hours culture where we valorize working a lot or being busy. Sometimes even when we take a step back, we realize that that’s misaligned with our life priorities or goals.
My friends and I sometimes talk about this funny phrase when we feel like someone is working too hard or has this, “I got to do it all” mentality. We’ll tell each other, “Your job doesn’t love you back.” I think that’s sometimes important to keep in mind that– especially also given that we know that one of the things that make human life so fulfilling is these connections. That going it off alone you might be curtailing some of those opportunities for you to build those relationships that a lot of people actually find to be the most meaningful part of their work.
Erin: One of the ways I think that you’ve suggested is to turn it around and think about how you felt when people asked you for help. For those who are giving, it often feels really good fulfilling and just adds to the joy of the job.
Winny: Oh definitely. I think that oftentimes when we’re asking, we’re often afraid that maybe we’ll be a burden. I think when we take that mindset, when we think about all the times when people have asked us and all the times where it wasn’t a big deal or we were very happy to help, I think maybe we’re overestimating sometimes that people would be unhappy to help when I think the fact is that most people are actually very happy to help.
Erin: As are we here on REAL TIME, which is why when you go to crea.ca/podcast, you’ll have at your fingertips a wealth of wit and wisdom like we’re hearing today from designers to panels to marketing wizards, tech, and tips for great reviews. It’s all right here. Just subscribe on Spotify, Apple, and Stitcher, and don’t miss an episode of REAL TIME.
Back to our conversation with Dr. Winny Shen as we continue with our in-depth and the illuminating look at how in high-pressure careers, we can get in the right headspace to overcome challenges and thrive as professionals and peers.
I have to have a difficult conversation with you right now, Winny. It’s about difficult conversations. How do you go about having those, even if you get along great with your colleagues? How do you do that, and anticipate a positive outcome?
Winny: I think it’s really important to have open lines of communication. I think that sometimes we have a little bit of an ostrich mentality. When something doesn’t go right, we’re like, “Maybe it won’t happen again. We can just let it go and we won’t have to have this difficult conversation.” I think the data suggests that what will happen often instead is that we end up having to have that conversation later on when things are actually more serious.
If you put yourself in the other person’s shoes, it probably is much more difficult not to be defensive when someone confronts you with what feels like a long laundry list of transgressions. Like, “Here’s all the evidence of all the things that you’ve done wrong or I’ve disliked.” Whereas I think if you were just approaching someone with one small thing, they wouldn’t necessarily feel that way.
I think another important element and this is more general psychology, perhaps a clinical psychologist would say something like this, is I would be really careful about the language you use when you’re having these difficult conversations with people. I think it feels very different for a receiver to hear something like you were being inconsiderate versus, I felt hurt when you said X. How you say it I think really can affect how other people react to it.
I would spend some time thinking about what is it that you actually want to convey. You could also even think about, if you’re less comfortable, maybe writing a letter to someone, where you can feel like you have the time and the space to really put things down in a way that really accurately reflects how you feel. That might be a strategy too if you’re a little bit afraid of saying the wrong thing in the heat of the moment.
Erin: Yes, and you can edit it endlessly so that it ebbs and flows, and accentuates the positive and all of that. Those are some wonderful tips. Now, I’m going to ask you for a resource. Your favourite website or book or a place that people can go to really explore some of the things that we’ve talked about today. The entrepreneurship, the teamwork, and leadership. The turning things around and seeing hope where there was burnout or languishing or however you want to call it. What are some of your go-to sites? If you weren’t already an expert in it, Dr. Shen?
Winny: I would say that I have a couple of recommendations. Dr. Kristin Neff who’s done a lot, an expert in self-compassion, does a lot of great work. Her website, which is selfcompassion.org, has a lot of great resources. Some exercises you can walk yourself through, actually evidence-based, in terms of how you can improve your self-compassion. If you’re looking for maybe some tidbits in terms of evidence-based things to think about as you’re approaching your work, For the Love of Work is a wonderful podcast hosted by Dr. Sonia Kang.
If you’re looking for even smaller tidbit, my personal friends, Keaton Fletcher and Maryana Arvan also host a podcast called Healthy Work where they summarize very briefly some new emerging research that people are learning about work, a lot of it also focused on stress. You can hear a little bit about what experts are learning and finding about how to manage work stress. Those are some of my own personal go-tos.
In terms of perhaps thinking about relationships, Adam Grant has a really great book on just Give and Take. Those are some things that I think would be good food for thought as you move forward.
Erin: All right, selfcompassion.org for a website, podcasts For the Love of Work and Healthy Work, two separate podcasts, and Adam Grant’s book. What did you say it’s called again, please?
Winny: Give and Take.
Erin: Give and Take. Wonderful. Before we give our thanks and take our leave, let me ask you if you don’t mind, how are you hoping to describe 2021 when all is said and done?
Winny: Well, given how the pandemic has really upended work, I really hope that we all take the time to reimagine what the future could be. I’m a big believer that work can be a big plus in people’s lives. That it can give us a lot of meaning. It can give us financial security. I also think that how work is now is perhaps not how work is optimally. I think the pandemic has really forced us all to re-examine our life priorities and I really hope that we can imagine work in a way that ironically perhaps works for more people and really allows people to live more their values. Also, that we can build the workplace back in ways that are more equitable.
I’m personally thinking very much about some of the research about how the pandemic has really eroded some of the progress we’ve made in terms of women’s workforce participation. I really hope that at the end of 2021, we can say, “This was a very difficult year, but it’s actually caused us all to grow and be more resilient, and actually face work with a more positive mindset.” It can be a positive stressor as opposed to I think a hindrance stressor for a lot of people using the language earlier on.
Erin: Thank you so much for ending on such a positive note. We so appreciate your time and your wisdom today.
Winny: Thank you so much for having me, Erin.
Erin: What a great talk, and we’re so grateful to Dr. Shen for being here with us. We invite you to join us next time for Episode 17 of REAL TIME. We’re going to have a fascinating panel discussion on the generational influence on Canadian real estate as one generation moves into retirement, the one coming up, takes its place as primary market contributor. How Realtors and homebuyers are navigating this landscape. Don’t miss it. For more, visit crea.ca.
REAL TIME podcast is a presentation of CREA, the Canadian Real Estate Association, produced by Rob Whitehead for Real Family Productions and by Alphabet Creative. I’m Erin Davis, and we’ll talk to you here next time.