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How to Make Yourself Indispensable

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How to Make Yourself Indispensable

Make Yourself Indispensable

    Let me ask you a question: could you disappear? If you didn’t show up at work tomorrow, if you weren’t home at 6:00 for dinner, if nobody ever heard from or saw you again, would it matter?

    OK, these are depressing things to think about, but that’s exactly  how many people feel, day in and day out, in their jobs and even at home. They feel unappreciated, unchallenged, ineffective, and in the end, completely irrelevant.

    In some cases, it’s the situation itself, and if the paragraphs above describe you, you really need to be thinking about how you can change or get out of your situation. Maybe you work for jerks, maybe your job simply has nothing to offer society, maybe your marriage long since stopped working, maybe you’ve fallen in with a group of friends who ultimately aren’t very good friends.

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    But in most cases, it is what we bring to our jobs, our home lives, our social lives – or, more to the point, what we don’t bring – that leaves us feeling, well… disposable. And if you’re going to turn that around, you’re going to have to start by making some real changes in your life and in yourself.

    None of the ideas below are easy – but none are impossible, either. All they require is that you make a conscious choice to make yourself indispensable, make a plan, and put that plan into action. You might be surprised at how much your life can change – and often, how quickly!

    1. Network

    One reason people can feel like they don’t matter is because they’re “out of the loop”, cut off from where things happen. In today’s world, this is practically inexcusable. The Internet as a whole is little more than a giant social networking tool, and tools explicitly for bringing people together – LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, Skype, and on and on – abound.

    Join and use one or two choice social networking tools. Off-line, select 10 or 20 people who are prominent in your field and introduce yourself to them. Write them letters or email, give them a call, leave comments on their blogs, whatever it takes to make yourself known and to show what you’re capable of. Don’t fawn; approach them as equals or, at least, as potential mentors.

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    Finally, join and become active in professional or recreational organizations – especially groups that are local to where you live and work. Use MeetUp to find local meetings of people who share your profession, interests, or hobbies.

    2. Love

    Both the easiest and hardest thing we humans do is love. It’s easy because we’re made for it, wired up in all sorts of ways to respond to and offer affection, social unity, and physical presence; it’s hard because to truly love means to make ourselves incredibly vulnerable and, in our society, it’s very hard to find it in ourselves to trust that deeply.

    But try it. And not just with your partner, your kids, your parents and siblings – try to be a loving, caring person in all your relationships. I’m not suggesting you break any laws or anything, only that you approach every person you interact with as a person with their own needs, desires, and motivations and see how you can help them satisfy them. Look out for the people around you, be there when they need someone to lean on, and be open with them about your own life.

    3. Excel

    No, not the spreadsheet. Be excellent at something. Figure out the thing that is most satisfying to you and learn how to do it better than anyone else. That might mean a trip to the library, a couple of night classes, or a full graduate education. But whatever it means, do it – there are few specialities in this world so esoteric that there isn’t a powerful demand for people who do it incredibly well.

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    4. Create something

    Your world changes when you create something and put it out into the world for everyone to benefit from, whether it’s a book, a blog, a painting, an invention, a magazine article, a weekly newsletter, a company, a piece of furniture, or a recipe. Partially it’s because suddenly you’re useful to someone, no matter how few, but mostly it’s because the things we create contain a little part of us, a spark of who we are – a spark that much of our society conspires to smother and hide away.

    5. Innovate

    Although innovation is a creative exercise, I’ve chosen to treat it as something different from creating something because innovation, to me, is about solving problems rather than personal expression. Yes, that’s an artificial distinction. Bear with me, please.

    It would be an understatement to say that the world, and the people in it, have more problems than we know how to deal with. Some are extreme – hunger, pollution, illness. Some are less so – boredom, ennui, dissatisfaction. Figure out how to solve any of those problems, and you will be anything but disposable!

    6. Make people feel good

    Around here, we talk a lot about being productive, about avoiding distractions and keeping focused on your goals and overcoming procrastination. But as humans, it its crucially important that, at times, we be entertained. And it’s just as important, from time to time, that we be reassured. A joke, a compliment, an engaging discussion about the latest film or book – these things add a little light to the lives of those around you. Being the guy or gal people can trust to brighten up their day will always attract attention.

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    7. Share or teach what you know

    As a teacher, I know first-hand the feeling of helping people to learn, of sharing a new way of looking at their world and giving them tools to make their own way in it. No matter what your areas of expertise are, there are people out there who want – no, need – to know it so they can have more power over their own destinies. It’s not all that hard to put together a class, seminar, or workshop on just about any topic – check with your local community college or university extension program for starters – but not all teaching needs to be formal instruction, either. Seek out opportunities to share what you know informally throughout the day.

    8. Be eccentric

    Eccentricity is valuable not just because it can be quite entertaining, but because it represents a significant difference in the way you view the world. While this can be alienating to some people – usually people who are already alienated by the rest of their lives – others will seek out and reward you handsomely for your insights.

    How do you become eccentric? Short of taking lots of LSD, which I don’t advice, I’m really not sure. I include there because it’s one way to make yourself indispensable, not because it’s easy to do! But if you can’t just flip a switch and become eccentric, maybe you can learn the lesson eccentrics teach – to seek out the different. Closely examine your own life for the parts you’ve let be suppressed – or suppressed yourself – and bring them out into the light of day. Embrace the things you’ve worked so hard to hide.

    That’s a start, anyway.

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    9. Make a difference

    What matters in all these points is that you make a difference in people’s lives. Do that, and the world – or at least some of the world – will hang on your every action. As you go though your daily life, keep an eye out for the ways in which you can make a difference, however great or small. What little tweaks might make someone’s life or job a little bit easier? What systems or processes are just fundamentally wrong, and how would you fix them?

    Adopt a difference-oriented mindset. Overthrow your commitment to the status quo, because the road to the status quo is littered with the husks of disposable people. Do that, and the rest will follow, and you will have become indispensable.

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    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

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    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

    How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

    Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

    When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

    Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

    What Makes People Poor Listeners?

    Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

    1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

    Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

    Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

    It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

    2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

    This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

    Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

    3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

    It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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    I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

    If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

    4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

    While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

    To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

    My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

    Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

    Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

    How To Be a Better Listener

    For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

    1. Pay Attention

    A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

    According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

    As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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    I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

    2. Use Positive Body Language

    You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

    A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

    People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

    But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

    According to Alan Gurney,[2]

    “An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

    Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

    3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

    I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

    Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

    Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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    Be polite and wait your turn!

    4. Ask Questions

    Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

    5. Just Listen

    This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

    I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

    I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

    6. Remember and Follow Up

    Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

    For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

    According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

    It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

    7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

    If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

    Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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    Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

    Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

    NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

    1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
    2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

    8. Maintain Eye Contact

    When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

    Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

    By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

    Final Thoughts

    Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

    You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

    And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

    More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
    [2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
    [3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
    [4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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