What’s Your Intangible

How we perform at work, better or worse, is based on who we are around.   At home, at work and at play, there really is no escaping the positive or negative effect that others have on virtually every aspect of our lives.  This is called Spillover.  Spillover refers to the tendency of one person’s emotions to affect how other people around them feel.  Spillover is a reality and will shape the future of each and every person who works with and for others.  Spillover is such a big deal that proven research shows that the negative financial impact of a toxic co-worker far outweighs the financial boost that comes from being around a superstar.  Listening to my granddaughter talk about some of her classmates and their actions indicates that since kindergarten, who we choose to sit next to is a really big deal.  Michael Dickerson, a Mental Health and Wellbeing Consultant says, “a healthy work environment can profoundly contribute to an individual’s overall wellbeing.  People who are emotionally healthy perform better at work.  This leads to greater job satisfaction, which spills over and increases their life satisfaction, too.”

Every person is innately good.  We are good at something.  Finding that one or two good things in each person can move someone from exhibiting toxic behavior to, in time, even becoming inspiring in some way.  What do you have to offer that will inspire others?  What is your intangible?  Why would someone want to sit next to you?  Not all of us can be inspiring like Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Oprah Winfrey, Mother Theresa, or J.K. Rowling, but we can exhibit the best in who we are.  I believe that every person has at least one of the following six traits that are the intangibles that can move someone else to do better for themselves and for others.          


According to the well-known entrepreneur, Mark Cuban, the only thing that matters for him when looking to add to his team are those who have the trait of ‘effort.’  He says, “this quality is somewhat rare.”  He goes so far as to say that without effort, “don’t apply for a job with me.”  There are many kinds of effort, so you need to be good at selling the specific kind that you bring.  Do you make the effort to research something?  Or organize something?  Or try something? Or build something?  Effort is only in the eye of the beholder.  If your leader wants you to build something and you are spending time and ‘effort’ on researching how it would or should be built, then your effort will go unnoticed.  Effort can be strenuous, but it also can be studious.  The parents who want their child to get better grades are not affirming the two hours he/she spent chopping wood for the fireplace.  Though that is truly effort, it is not the effort that is desired or rewarded.  Effort is movement, but it also can be thought.  I have put many hours of thought into what I would like this article to accomplish.  That is effort too!  My definition of effort is:  purposeful thought, feelings or action focused on achieving a desired goal, requirement, assignment or demand.  Every effort does not need to be toil.  Though some efforts will be internalized as toil.  For me, spring cleaning is a chore.  I will put it off until next spring.  For my husband, Chris, bring that on.  It is not toil.  It is absolutely a delight that frees up space in the closet, in the garage and on storage shelves.

I see effort as the first intangible because without effort, no other trait matters.  Research shows that the human brain is designed to grow with effort.  Working at something–making an effort–can actually trigger changes in our brain that make us happier.  When we move, do creative tasks, and focus on goals, the circuits in our brain expand.  William James, seen as the father of American Psychology and one of the greatest American philosophers of the 19th Century, was the first to see that emotions arise out of the bodily actions we take in response to what is happening in our lives.  So, when you are feeling depressed, tired, or lost, the best response is actually a counter-intuitive one— move, make an effort.  Feelings do follow actions.  Face it, we all have things we put off, procrastinate, resist, and avoid doing.  Full confession:  spring cleaning.  What is unhealthy is to stress over and feel incompetent about what we postpone.  You will spend just as much time in the stressing as you actually would in accomplishing the project.  For many of us, there will be many required or demanded tasks that the best effort truly may be to outsource it.  Then feel good about writing the check.  That too is effort! 



Know-how is the practical knowledge to do something useful.  It is knowledge, yes, but a special kind of knowledge.  It can represent the body of knowledge that one person might have, or the body of knowledge that a group of people or an organization has built up.  There is know-how that is instinctive, and there is know-how that is learned and achieved through repetitive practice.  My brother has know-how.  He knows how to fix or build almost anything.  As a junior in high school without ever taking a “shop” class he led the effort to completely overhaul a 1957 Chevrolet.  Over the years he has built several homes.  A few years ago, my sister moved from Texas to North Carolina.  He had an immediate invitation for a week to help with the necessary technical and mechanical installations.  In addition, he did a complete overhaul of the most used living space to include built-in cabinets and an entertainment center.  Who wouldn’t want that person as a relative or friend and have them on speed dial? 

We all have varying kinds of know-how or genius.  It could be called a “knack.”  Great radio announcers seem to have a knack for small talk.  Those with advertising know-how have a knack for catchy slogans; designers for how certain furniture and accessories go together and fit perfectly in a space.  After 33 years, people might say that I have the know-how to work with the Kolbe System™ and interpret personal Kolbe indexes,  predict and disarm potential working conflicts, and help improve the communication and  effectiveness with varying team compositions and working dynamics.  I would hope that what they say is true.  But then again, hope is not a strategy (which you’ll read about a little later in the article).  For me it has been all three—a good part instinctive, but there have been countless hours of learning and practice.  Over 10,000 hours would be a certainty.  I also like to think of it as the wizard behind the wand.  The wand is the tool, but it is the wizard that makes the tool come alive.  Find ways to get around people with a distinct know how that you would like to learn.  These are mentors.  You will experience firsthand how the wizard waves the wand.    


Not all effort and know-how are welcomed and rewarded.  That’s why appreciating others is harder than it sounds.  It’s easy to notice when someone has done something you value.  It’s harder to offer a word of thanks when the time spent doing a project seemed to take too long and is of low importance in your mind.  One of our clients indicated to me, “she just makes decisions and takes actions that are not hers alone to make.  It’s hard for me to appreciate that effort.”  When we see someone who offers words of appreciation beyond what they most value, this is someone we want to watch, observe, and learn from.  I believe this trait can develop over time but takes work and continual practice.  One of the main reasons people leave a job is for lack of appreciation for work well done.  There are more staggering statistics such as:  50% of employees say they never or rarely are appreciated; and 80% of employees believe that words of appreciation are rarely meant seriously.  These statistics show there are opportunities on both sides to get better at giving and also receiving words of appreciation from others.        

Appreciation is characterized by interest, attention, devotion, and friendliness.  It is the act of giving someone their proper value.  The best appreciation is immediate, brief, positive, and occasional.  Appreciating others continuously becomes less meaningful, and therefore is seen as trite.  When giving appreciation that others will value, think about what’s important to them.  Here are several phrases you might use today that can help you practice and strengthen your approach in appreciating others.

Thank you:

  • For being someone I can always rely on
  • For getting that job done just right
  • For getting things done
  • For setting a great example for others
  • For demonstrating real teamwork
  • For helping me and others
  • For showing that you truly love your job—I have seen how this spills over to others
  • For freely sharing your knowledge and expertise
  • For bringing a positive attitude to our assignments, even when the work is hard, and the morale is down
  • For consistently delivering on the goals you have set for yourself
  • For being someone I can count on to rally the troops and coordinate the efforts of our team
  • For walking down that unhealthy conflict and working to unify our team
  • For asking all your questions
  • For being more thorough in your approach than I originally thought we could be  
  • For continuing to bring great ideas even though we can’t incorporate all of them
  • For being a catalyst when that conversation started to lose momentum
  • For the amazing presentation you did
  • For all the preparation you did on that proposal
  • For creating the agenda for our meeting last week  
  • For demonstrating your work ethic every day  
  • For supporting me and backing me up  


Hope:   Hold on.  Pain ends.  There it is.  It doesn’t rain forever.  Bad things don’t last forever.  There is always hope.  Hope never stops.  Even Noah understood this.  I can’t even imagine what life inside that ark was like for 40 days and 40 nights.  Hope helps us find a level of peace, a feeling of contentment, a settled feeling when the present isn’t settled at all.  It quells disappointment.  It bridges our thoughts to the future and helps to question the uneasy feeling of disillusionment.  I wrote this quote for my husband during a particularly low time in his cancer recovery.  “Once you choose hope, then anything is possible.”  Christopher Reeves.  The key word here is choose.  To choose hope is to embrace uncertainty.  People with this intangible smile and are friendly, a lot.  They seem to always see the positive even in the most difficult situations.  They focus on others, and they take the time to connect and understand true feelings.  The literal meaning of encourage is to come along side of.  People with this trait present the truth so as to strengthen and comfort others.  They are positive, yes, but more importantly they challenge, comfort, and confront others to have confidence in their future and encourage them to do what’s necessary to grow into it.  I like to say they can “read the room.”  They get when it’s right to say, “you got this,” or “go for it.”  But they also know when it’s right to be silent and just affirm the feeling that you just aren’t right for the job you want so badly.  They are grounded in reality.  They understand that hope is not a strategy.  For instance, when you go to the pantry and see new crumbs from the cracker package and an actual hole in the cellophane, and then say, “I hope we don’t have a mouse somewhere!”  These are the times we look reality in the eye and deny it.  Though, a real encourager does not.  They realize something must be done.  You see them giving the light they have to come along side others to address and solve a problem.  If you don’t have this trait, then look around for others that do and sit next to them, feed off of their light.  True encouragement is a natural willingness to share what light you have with another.           


In days of old, character was actually the stamp or marking impressed into wax for a signature or monogram.  It was the distinctive mark of an individual such as a potter, painter, or sculptor.  Today, the term character refers to your moral self—something you build through virtuous behavior.  It is not surprising at all that in the 21st century the ideal of character is not as sought after as is the ideal of personality—how you get people to like you and get others to perceive you well.  But it’s character, what you see when no one is watching, that is really tied to the health of a society as a whole.  Character grows through demonstrated actions.  We know character when we see it practiced.  I watch a lot of golf.  Character, good or bad, can be seen fully on display on the golf course.  Hideki Matsuyama’s caddie bowing on the 18th hole at the Masters.  Payne Stewart taking Phil Michelson’s face into his hands and saying, “now go be a father.”  Or Rickie Fowler just a few weeks ago, after a painful loss in the US Open offering a thought few would think to say to the one who defeated him, “your mother was watching.  She would be very proud of you.”  Those we choose to be around can indeed mold our character.  Grandparents come to mind.  Teaching character is not letting grandchildren do as they please but teaching them what they ought.  Since I had no grandparents close by, mine became my next-door neighbor, Evelyn Kettle.  She taught us with loving discipline.  We learned to get along, respect other’s property and take responsibility for our growth and development.  She loved others so deeply and demonstrated that love outwardly.  First we’d get a huge, head smashed in kiss on the cheek, then we’d get words of wisdom for how we should behave.  She challenged, admonished, and empowered.  She taught me many of the life principles I hold dear today:  teach, love, pray.

Being people of character happens through spillover—values and behavior passed on through generations by those around you.  In a recent elite race, a Kenyan runner became confused near the finish line.  Thinking he had won, he stopped running.  But a Spanish runner behind him realized what was going on and pushed his competitor to victory.  After the race an interviewer asked the Spaniard why, “but you could have won!”  Without a hitch Ivan Fernandez said, “But what would be the merit of my victory?  What would be the honor in this medal?  What would my mother think of it?”  Personality is what we see, but character is what we observe.  Ralph Waldo Emerson says, “men of character are the conscience of the society to which they belong.”  Men and women of character keep doing your part to infuse vitality into our culture.


Today we are told to load the dishwasher, whatever number of dishes you have, toss in the Cascade pod, and turn it on.  Whether it is ¼ full, ½ full or completely full, wash those dishes in the dishwasher instead of washing by hand and using water.  The influence here is not really about the water, though essentially it is, it is really about influencing you to use more Cascade pods through the heart-tug of “you’ll be saving the planet.”  All around us each and every day we are being influenced through subtle and not-so-subtle messaging.

Influencing is about behaving in ways that invite others to change their thoughts, attitude, and behavior.  It is the capacity to have an effect on the character, development or behavior of someone or something.  I see influencing on a continuum of unhealthy to healthy. It is having control or domination.  Or it is being a force, leaving a mark, providing impact and being a guide.  Unhealthy is being a bully.  Do what I want, or I’ll punch your lights out.  Goading and nagging come next in the unhealthy range.  Full on influencing is at the healthy end of the continuum.  Bully—Goad—Nag—Remind—Suggest—Convince—Invite—Influence.  Real influence is quiet.  I want to be around you.  I want to be in a meeting with you.  I want to hear what you have to say.

Whether Chris knows it or not, he has tremendous influence over my actions.  I know Chris appreciates a neat, clean, and tidy home.  His influence here spills over to me trying to put things back where they belong even though my inclination is to ‘casually set.’  Years ago, he took on more unhealthy manners of influence, but today it is quiet.  Through his influence, Chris has invited me to change my behavior.       

What is it about you that impacts others?  People with real influence have an effect on others.  Is your influence positive or negative?  To influence others requires a broad spectrum of abilities, and it starts with you.  So many of us want more influence.  One of the best places to start is to be an active listener.

Watch a runner and you can get ignited to take up the sport.  Go to the gym at 5 a.m. and be infused with the energy of those around you.  Reflect on the person who put his arm around the weak widow who just experienced a tragic loss of life.  Recognize that any of your actions or gestures just might be the spark that activates another.  Each of us has some light we can give to others.   There is true power in who you sit next to, who you watch and observe, and who you choose to have around you.  Choose well.  There are people who will reduce and reject you.  Steer clear of them.  There are people who will reflect you.  They mirror who you are and affirm you.  There are those who will refresh you and ultimately refine you.  When you purposefully choose to surround yourself with them, their intangible can now become yours. 

Mari D. Martin is the founding principal of Performance Strategies Group (PSG), a communications consulting firm focused on helping you master the art of working together.  She is a Kolbe Certified™ Consultant of 33 years and author of Come Home Alive–Knowing How to Work Together to Make it Through the Crisis of Cancer.