Everyday Moments of Mattering
First published on Medium on 8 August 2021.
Tell me about a moment in your life or your work when you believed that you mattered. Who was around? What was said? What did it feel like? Now, what about a time when you didn’t feel like you mattered? Who or what caused that? And how did that feel?
‘Mattering’ is the experience of feeling significant to those around us. It is not only feeling valued by others, but also feeling that we can contribute value. The bottom line is this: we all have an innate human need to feel like we matter and it is other people who make us feel needed. We each know from our personal experiences how this feels and the impact it has on our own happiness and engagement, yet we are rarely intentional about creating moments for others where they feel like they matter. We need to make this a deliberate leadership practice.
A while ago, I attended a course with Zach Mercurio, the author of The Invisible Leader, on the subject of creating a culture where everyone matters. I learned that repeated ‘moments of mattering’ result in: an increased sense of self-worth and motivation; an increase in the ‘happy’ chemicals serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine; and lower levels of depression, anxiety and stress. So, how do we go about creating these moments of mattering?
Creating Repeatable Moments of Mattering
According to Mercurio, there are three components that can create repeatable moments of mattering.
This is about seeing people and paying attention. Making eye contact is hugely important and every time you fail to do so creates a mini moment of ‘anti-mattering’. Who do you engage with but don’t take the time or effort to make even brief eye contact with? For me, it’s the Amazon delivery guy who’s dropping something or other at my house practically every day. And the security guards outside my office who for some reason I say good morning to, but don’t actually look at. In addition to eye contact, it’s about taking an interest: remembering personal details, asking for others’ opinion, noticing others’ moods and inquiring genuinely about how they are. And appreciate the small, everyday acts.
If you’re not used to doing this, it will feel uncomfortable and maybe even fake. But like any new behaviour, it needs practice before it will feel second nature. That Amazon delivery guy got a megawatt smile and an uncomfortable level of eye contact the next time he called: practice, fail, repeat.
Point out people’s unique gifts and be explicit about the difference they personally make. Purposeful and real affirmation is not just saying “good job”; it’s showing someone HOW what they did or said made a difference. Using storytelling to explain how their work matters and the impact it’s had is incredibly impactful. To be able to do this, it’s essential we design jobs for meaningfulness and mattering.
There are three essential aspects to job design:
1) Significance: I know how this job benefits others;
2) Identify: I know exactly what it is that I make possible;
3) Strengths: I can use my strengths to do it.
This is showing people how they are relied upon and what for. Give people real responsibility, ask others for help and show them what they’ve made possible. Equally, if not more important, is noticing when they’re not there, and telling them that you noticed and felt their absence. There is no quicker way to make someone feel like they don’t matter when you hadn’t even noticed they weren’t there.
The Meaning Deficit
Over the last 18 months, we have seen something Mercurio refers to as ‘the Mattering Imperative’. Covid and lockdown have created perfect conditions for self-reflection: people wondering why they do what they do, what they want to do and what their sense of purpose is. For those who haven’t been able to contribute in the same way as they would have done normally, or contribute at all (perhaps because their place of work has been closed, they have been furloughed or made redundant), it’s easy to suffer a ‘meaning deficit’: feelings of uselessness, worthlessness and insignificance. Losing that sense of self-worth and no longer feeling useful or that you have something to contribute are key indicators of mental distress.
Many staff surveys ask questions around levels of engagement, motivation and job satisfaction. But these are actually lagging indicators. For people to score highly on these, they have to first feel that they have a sense of purpose and that they are worth engaging. And that belief is cultivated through repeated moments of mattering.
We know other people make us feel needed and we know we can make others feel needed too. Let’s take that and turn it into deliberate leadership practice.