WaLK series

The WHY of work


Often when I give informational interviews and I ask something like “what would you like to do?” it becomes very clear from their answer very quickly that the person is only thinking about problems and challenges the way that they had been framed in school.  “I like to critically deconstruct political speeches for what they reveal about insider/outsider identity.” An answer like this one is problematic not only because there are few job ads (at least that I have seen) seeing someone to be able to do this task, but more so because I don’t know from this answer what about this work speaks to you.  Is it the rhetorical genre of speechmaking, or is it about genres of persuasion or obfuscation? Do identities of belonging particularly speak to you, and if so – why?  Is there a particular context in which you see its application being particularly insidious/problematic/inspirational? If you tell me that you are interested in investigating discursive othering in political speeches given by the Canadian Prime Minister because you see something here that may be brought to how the issue of migration gets thought about and the solutions and policies that get proposed, then now we are getting somewhere!


So how do you answer the question “what would you like to do?” Can you break it down into its constituent pieces?  Is it about an issue? A context? A speech act? A goal?  Perhaps you are drawn to speech recognition technologies.  Interrogate that.  Why?  What do you want to have happen as the result of your work?  Or perhaps it is teaching.  Why?  What about it?  Do you see the need for different pedagogical approaches?  If so, why?  As you may be seeing, I am an inveterate “why”- asker!


Three ideas for activities to help you get at answers to these questions:


What is your dream job?

In nearly a decade of asking this questions, I never yet had someone tell me that they don’t know.  You know.  If you just let yourself answer the way that you would answer if there were no constraints imposed by time, training, geography, finances. There is something to be mined in the answer that you give that speaks to a problem you wish to solve in the world.

WHY is this your dream job?

What research projects do you choose?

Consider research projects that you chose over the course of your schooling.  I remember when I was trying to decide between two topics for my dissertation, and I met with one of my professors – Ron Scollon – for his advice.  He told me to choose the topic that spoke to me as the one most aligned with a sense of change that I wished to see in the world.  At the time I was considering studying either a peace vigil hosted by Quakers on the lawn of the capitol building or an improvisational theater troupe.

WHY did you choose this particular research project?

Which was the problem that I chose to devote several years’ worth of my intellectual energy exploring?  Improv.  Why?  Because the training that improvisers receive is in communication, listening, collaborative problem solving.  Improv teaches people how to say “yes” to things and at the same time, how to embrace failure and mistakes.  I see these as the skills most sorely in need of practicing in our culture today.  This was the project that I dedicated myself to studying because one of the problems that I most wish to solve in the world is how to cultivate a stance of curiosity.  An orientation of “what if?”  (you may have noticed that I bring that to career in this blog – “what if you wanted to pursue a career in X, then what would you do?”)  Improv also speaks to major values of mine about the importance of communication, collaboration, and perspective-taking.


Name three people you emulate

These can be linguists or non-linguists, but ideally they should be real people (although not necessarily people that you know).  Spend some time writing and reflecting on the problems that they have devoted their time and energy towards solving.  What real world challenges do they work to address?  Does this have anything to do with why you emulate them?

WHY do you emulate these people?

So these are three activities to start getting you to reflect on the problems out there in the world that you wish to devote yourself to solving.


Want more work interrogatives? Click link to navigate to HOW of work!!

You can also read the career path interview with folklorist and ethnographer Tom Carrol, written using the work interrogatives as a frame 🙂

WaLK series

for WHOM – continuing the work interrogatives

Last week, we explored the work interrogative “with WHOM” and as promised, this week are turning to the other half of the WHO of work by considering the “for WHOM” which can mean a few things – it can involve thinking about your supervisors and the managerial structure and management style that you prefer. It can also involve thinking about the kinds of clients that you like to work with and what it is that your efforts are going to be able to help them do better?  And how do you feel about this?  At some moment in working in my first job out of college, it occurred to me that my job was about making rich people richer. That was the beginning of the end of my time there and ever since, the for WHOM has been a very important consideration.

Even before but certainly since then, I have done a great deal of teaching – and so for me, reflecting on the FOR WHOM inevitably turns to the different kinds of students with whom I work.  And I have worked with a range. From adults in their 80s to young children and everyone in between. Graduate students taking a three-student seminar to a room full of parents and kids learning how to play together as a family using improvisational theater techniques.  I have taught at many different kinds of universities and colleges, in many workplaces, one-on-one and in front of audiences of hundreds. In every case, the students shaped the experience greatly.  Currently, I work with scientists, social change advocates, and students learning to use framing to talk about social issues in a variety of configurations of learning engagements.

Teaching for me lately has increasingly involved thinking about how to utilize online formats – both synchronous and asynchronous.  And this involves MORE thinking about the for WHOM not less – more energy thinking about how to engage, how to be interactive whether a webinar or an online course over the course of a semester.

What I have learned over 20 years of professional experience is that I will always gravitate towards teaching and mentoring (coaching) in any role that I have, but also that my for WHOM changes and continues to evolves over time.  Teaching undergraduates is very different from teaching social change advocates and teaching online is different from face-to-face.  I work with both in my role at the FrameWorks Institute, and I think that part of what I most appreciate is the variety – the opportunity to work with so many different kinds of learners keeps me learning – about what they are passionate about, what makes them tick, what they need to learn, and also what new affordances I have at my disposal.

Tools for thinking about the for WHOM

When I taught ethnography, we did a visualization exercise when we thought about the groups that we would be doing participant observation with.  I asked students to think about the communities that they would choose to immerse themselves in, and this is of course informed by the kinds of challenges you feel motivated to solve.  But work consumes so much of our waking days as adults, it really bears thinking about who you will be doing it for (and with – as you start thinking about the one, you will likely find your way into the other)!  Set yourself the goal of writing for the length of a pomodoro reflecting on the for WHOM of the experiences you have had in the past.  For WHOM do you volunteer your time? Whose challenges and struggles do you seem to instinctively understand and feel eager and motivated to solve?

Want to read more? Click link to navigate to Part II: with whom, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY, and HOW of work!!

You can also read the career path interview with folklorist and ethnographer Tom Carrol, written using the work interrogatives as a frame 🙂

WaLK series

Work interrogatives: with WHOM

For WHOM and with WHOM are highly connected and depending on the structure of your work, one or the other component is more or less foregrounded in the day-to-day, but it is precisely for this reason that I wish to consider them separately here.  Your work will be much shaped by the people you come into contact with daily, and difference between working with them and working for them (as I will loosely define below) does shape the experiencing of the work as well.  Let’s begin by first considering the WITH.

Say for example that you are thinking about work in a university setting.  The “with” will be very different depending on your role and function within the institution.  As a tenure-line member of the faculty, your time will be largely spent with students (for WHOM), but also with colleagues in your own department, peers from other departments, and likely graduate students with whom you begin to take up mentoring relationships, also possibly – depending on the nature and structure of your workload and expectations – alone.  There are structures in place to support this, including regular faculty meetings, and assigned committee work, dissertation committees, and supported research leave.  This is likely to be quite different from the day-to-day of an adjunct who may or may not be invited to participate in faculty meetings, and probably does not have committee work, dissertations, or financing for research.  Consider again how this is different from the day-to-day of a departmental administrator who is likely to be interfacing much more regularly with peers in other departments (as is the typical structure of administrative meetings), much more frequently with faculty members (as there is a built-in many-to-one ratio of this network), and the nature of this interaction is a great deal closer to work FOR than work WITH. While considered at a higher level, it is of course the case that at a university all employees work for the students, accountability structures and expectations are designed such that departmental administrators are evaluated for different work than are faculty.  In some situations, administrators work with and for students more than and with and for the faculty, and in some jobs it is the opposite.  The nature of much administrative work is such that administrators tend to spend comparatively much less of the working day working alone, much less frequently from home, and even the timing of the work is different – administrators tend to work 12 month schedules, while many faculty are paid to work a 9 month schedule, etc.  And so you start to see that this question of with or for WHOM starts to pull up others of the signs: WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, which is exactly where we want to be in our thinking, so keep it up!!

Some tools for thinking about the with WHOM

There are great exercises for learning about the with WHOM in What Color is Your Parachute. Exercises that are designed to help you think about the kids of people that you naturally gravitate towards, the kind of people that you like to be around.  He has you imagining yourself at a cocktail party comprised of different personality types and imagining what group you would instinctually approach first.

Also, there are answers in your Myer’s Briggs results.  Not just in the sections that tell you about what kind of work environment most supports your productivity, but in which work environments and factors contribute to burnout and overwhelm for you.  Which cause you to shut down?

Set yourself the task of writing for the length of a Pomodoro to reflect on these questions (whether you have the book and the test results or not).  What personality styles and work styles do you tend to naturally gravitate towards?  What has been the result in past experiences?  What was the impact on your work?  As experiences rise to the surface, make a note of them as something to consider as possible sources for pocket examples.  Chances are, some of them contain seeds of insight about the best and worst with WHOMs for your workstyle.

Another very important source of information about the with WHOM will be job interviews, and your challenge as job seeker is to become increasingly comfortable with this interaction so that you can stay as present as possible to everything that is happening around you in that moment. This is after all, a chance to spend time with the people with WHOM you will be working.  That is really what a job interview is for (on both sides of the table).  And this is especially true for interviews that happen over food.  Practice helps, including the practice of meditation.  Remind yourself that job interviews are as much about you learning whether you want this job as it is the other way around.

And let us know how it goes!!

Want to read more? Click link to navigate to WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY, and HOW of work!!

You can also read the career path interview with folklorist and ethnographer Tom Carrol, written using the work interrogatives as a frame 🙂

WaLK series

The WHO of work – for WHOM & with WHOM

The list of interrogatives (who, what, when, where, why, how) always begins with “who” and when it comes to thinking about work, this really works!!!  WHO is a great place to start because it gets right to the heart of the matter when it comes to work – WHO do you want to help do what? Thinking about the WHO helps you to start to meaningfully break down some of the key organizing factors in structuring work.  We can think about the WHO in terms of WORK FOR – your sector or your field, the organization that you work for, or the particular communities that you serve with your work, or you can think about WORK WITH – your division, your organizational team, your colleagues.

Because these two pieces bear further explanation, I am going to treat each (FOR WHOM, and WITH WHOM) in separate entries in this series.  And for now, I am going to take the WHO as an invitation to tackle one of my favorite challenges: describing work.

I have tackled this a couple ways here on Career Linguist, though BRIGHTEN, and through the Career Profiles, but the central challenge here is in thinking about work, does the industry, or sector matter more than the function and tasks that you perform?  The answer is of course that “it depends.” Part of this process is to learn about what motivates you more – what pulls you  – industry, sector, organization, department, team, role/function, tasks, colleagues or clients?

Some ways to start learning about the WHO:

Ask directly about things like workstyle preferences in informational interviews.  You may even wish to bring Karen Newhouse’s diagram or Richard Bolles’ petals (the diagrams that inspired this blog series).

Pay attention to how people introduce themselves and their work (and include yourself in these observations).  What do they mention first – industry, sector, organization, department, team, function, tasks, colleagues or clients?  Which of these do they exclude?  Do they describe past or future constituent pieces of these?  What do you make of the patterns that you observe?

Begin at the beginning – to learn as much as you can about all of these aspects of work, I know of no better place to start than LinkedIn.  Starting with their list of industries, which is the most comprehensive of any that I have seen.

As a thought exercise, compare aspects of your dream job against one another – so for example, if your dream job is to perform the duties of a project manager at a particular organization, in a particular sector, see whether you can identify different people who are project managers at different organizations and sectors, then people at this organization who have different roles (and maybe different sectors?), and then a focus on the sector – what are all of the different worlds of work comprised in their “for WHOM.”  Which pieces of work remain most interesting to you?

So, see you here next Tuesday with more of the WHO, and in the meantime, “here’s to what’s next!!”

Want to read more? Click link to navigate to the  Part I of WHO: for whom; or Part II: with whom, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY, and HOW of work!!

You can also read the career path interview with folklorist and ethnographer Tom Carrol, written using the work interrogatives as a frame 🙂

WaLK series

the HOW of work

I have approached the question of the HOW a couple different ways in discussions on this blog, so first let me say a bit more about what I mean by the HOW of work.  Here I am I referring to how you think and the way that you see the world and how this shapes the problems that you see and how you approach the solving of them.  In research, this is your analytical approach.  In your professional life, you may certainly bring something from your analytical approach (as it likely shapes how you see things, frame problems), but how you think is not going to be everything about how you work.  Although certainly, it does begin with what you see, work comprises myriad factors including the people with whom and for whom you work, the contexts in which you do it – and all of the other work interrogatives which come to flavor your HOW, but it does all begin with “what do you notice?”

This way of seeing, or as Goodwin calls it, your Professional Vision, will have been shaped of course by things you have studied, experiences you have had, and it will also be shaped by you. To begin to suss this out, I use the idea of “show me your city block” when you walk down that metaphorical city block, what do you notice? and why?  What problems call your attention?  What means of addressing them suggest themselves to you?

One of the major challenges for those of you who are just beginning your professional lives, is that you might unconsciously still be viewing yourself in the world as (and consequently talking as though you still are) a student – this is why “shifting your deictic center” becomes so very important. Shifting your deictic center involves “perspective-taking,” taking a much more active problem solving stance, asking “what if?” and “if that then what?”  Something along the lines of:

 “what if this were my job?  What would I be looking for in terms of problems to solve?  How would I solve them?  If that, then what?”

To begin enacting this shift in perspective, begin to think and talk about school as a job (if you have not done so already). Take stock of your academic path and what you have learned about your HOW thus far.

And the job search process adds another layer of challenge by asking you to step outside yourself to describe yourself as others might see and experience you.  Storytelling is a helpful tool in “finding your lens” as I will now explore.

Activities for articulating the HOW

The best way that I know (and consequently the one that I talk about the most here at Career Linguist) involves putting together and telling “pocket examples” that show a little bit about how you work.  This gives your listener a sense for how you think, what it would be like to work with you, which is really giving them a chance to see a little bit of the HOW of your work. To get started, make a list and set a timer so that you can just focus on making the list for 10 minutes.  List every job you’ve ever had.  You can include research projects that you have done, volunteer work, just basically problems that you have devoted yourself to solving.  Once you have made your list, sit back and reflect.  To create pocket examples out of these, you will want to craft a story around how you identified the problem and how you solved it. Do you see patterns?   Once you have written any of these pocket examples, the key to honing the HOW will be to share them with other people and get feedback.

Another way (although this is not a Pomodoro-length task) is to read books like Stand Out which help you identify and articulate your “unique perspective.”

Also important is to learn about your workstyle preferences.  Any of the tests out there that help you take stock of these are valuable and time well-spent.  If you are currently a student, you might be able to get many of them for free.  Find out from your career center whether you have access to the Myer’s Briggs or the Strong Skills Inventory, and crucially whether you have access to a person who has been certified to facilitate the debrief with you. If not, not to worry, there are plenty available online – and you can always think about hiring a career coach.  I take stock of my workstyle preferences any chance I get because they often change, and it always behooves me to take stock: I always learn something new about how I work, and what contexts and factors don’t support my best work.  The more I know about the HOW of y work, the more I know what I can do to shape in including designing tasks, building the supports and environments, and finding the tasks and challenges that will best suit me.

Finally, now that you are thinking about it, keep a notebook handy to jot down fleeting observations about the HOW that might come up as you are reading a report or an article, or as you are speaking to someone about a challenge they solved, or when you are spending your hour (or more) a week on LinkedIn.  Pay particular attention to things that register as frustration (“I wouldn’t have done it that way!”) or as admiration (“I never even thought of applying that approach to this kind of a problem).  These flashes of insight speak to your  HOW.  They are telling you something about what makes your HOW unique. Capture them.  Bring these thoughts to networking events and informational interviews to ask your professional network to help you reflect on them.  What are their reactions/responses?  Where do they see opportunities for using this HOW to best solve the challenges that you want to solve?

And, as ever, keep us posted!  🙂

Check out the whole WaLK series: the WHO (and Part I: for whom; Part II: with whom), WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY, and HOW of work!!

You can also read the career path interview with folklorist and ethnographer Tom Carrol, written using the work interrogatives as a frame 🙂

WaLK series

WaLK series: the WHERE of work

Today we begin a 7 part blog series exploring the WHO (x2), WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY, and HOW of WORK.  These work interrogatives are a tool for thinking – and these weekly WaLK prompts are designed to get you thinking about one in depth by doing some quick, reflective writing for a Pomodoro – or put another way, as long as it might take you to drink a cup of coffee – as activities that generate momentum and good serendipity.

We’ll start today with the WHERE and continue through the rest of the questions as the coming weeks unfold.

I have already engaged some thinking about WHERE as a valuable tool here at Career Linguist in my post “the geography of networking” in which I treated the zipcode aspect of the WHERE, but in interrogating work, we really can and should be thinking much more broadly and creatively to include questions like – do you prefer to work from home or in an office?  If in an office, what kind of an office – an open space, shared office, or private?  If you have a private office, do you work with the door open or closed?  Do you find that you tend to move your work into a shared space like a conference room, a lobby, a lounge, or a library?  If you don’t have an office, where do you tend to set up your workstation?  In the kitchen?  At a library or coffeeshop?  Each of these factors are significant in that they can shape the contours and rhythyms of your work, and so to the extent that you can know as much as you can about your preferences to control or select for these and negotiate for the environments that best support your productivity, the better!

The WHERE can also involve how much travel you want to do as part of your job and whether you will be moving into other people’s spaces to do the work more frequently than you will invite them into yours.  As a trainer, for example, I am in a different space (office, conference center, hotel) weekly.  I thrill to this aspect of my job – it energizes me to be able to explore and discover little nooks and crannies, some of them even in my own city.

Some ways to learn about your WHERE:

  • Get some models When you do informational interviews, ask to meet in the office of the person with whom you will be speaking.  Not everyone is able to host outside visitors at their office, but you can ask. Or you might just suggest to meet at a coffeeshop, restaurant, or park nearby.  This is good informational interviewing etiquette, as it displays attentiveness to your interviewee’s needs, but it also makes the topic of environments available as a topic of conversation and affords you the opportunity to observe things like how are people dressed, etc. Being in someone else’s workspace you can learn a great deal about the culture of an organization.
  • Reflect on your workspaces: past present and future
    • Notice the details of your current workspace – how do they support your productivity? what is ideal about it, what would you change if you could?  This should include details like furniture, light, noise, temperature, access to food, bathroom, etc.  Think associatively – for example, do you wear headphones while you work?  If so, why?  Is it because you like to have music to help you concentrate or is it to block out noise / to signal to others not to disturb you?
    • Reflect on the workspaces you have created in the past – for example when you were in school and you may have had to create spaces where you could concentrate for long periods of time. What did those look like?
    • Visualize your ideal workspace – soup to nuts. Where in the world would it be?  City or country?  Big organization or small?  What would your office look like?  Where would you have lunch?

Visualization is a helpful tool in that in frees up other ways of thinking and decision-making.  For example, think about the pictures at your workspace – what information do these carry about the kinds of places that you like to be in, activities that you enjoy being engaged in?  Are you getting enough of these? Work won’t meet all of these needs, but to the extent that you can design the work that you want, design it in ways that speak to those (a view from your window, opportunities to telework and spend time with your family, maybe a work environment that supports the causes that speak to you, gives you paid time to volunteer in your community)As a thought exercise for any of the above (past, present, future), perhaps you will wish to make use of the SPEAKING grid tool.

  • Returning to the zipcode Take stock of a place.  People move a great deal these days, and one of the best things about LinkedIn is that is works for you in keeping track of who is where.  I call it a self-updating rolodex.  Take stock of a place by popping in the zipcode of your dream location to see who among your connections may have moved there since you last investigated.  Has anyone moved away?  Use the WHERE as an excuse to reach out – “I noticed that you just moved to X, would love to hear more about what you are up to these days”.  If they are now far away, maybe you will want to propose a skype / google hangout happy hour or coffee chat.    

Ultimately, these work interrogatives will help you evaluate opportunities, or even to identify them.  They can be used to deconstruct a job ad, or at your performance review: when you are given an opportunity to discuss with your manager the WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY and HOW of your work, you can better take the initiative, something along the lines of: “reflecting on the WHERE of my work, I have identified some new opportunities for me to help me grow and to help the WHY and HOW of the organization”


Want to read more? Click link to navigate to the WHY, and HOW of work!!

You can also read the career path interview with folklorist and ethnographer Tom Carrol, written using the work interrogatives as a frame 🙂