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The Best Lesson from the Worst Job

The dynamic duo of “plus and delta”!

What’s the best thing you’ve taken from a job you hated? And not those pens you stole. Instead, something you learned there that’s been helpful in life.

Mine? Hands down, it’s the concept of + and Δ.

I remember sitting in a conference room after surviving a big biotech audit, and seeing on a poster two columns, one titled “+” and the other “Δ”.

Plus (+), as you’ve likely guessed, was home for everything that had gone well—team coordination, response time, logistics, etc.

Delta (Δ) took on the role it often does in math and science, denoting change. So anything people felt had room for improvement went here.

Notice anything missing?


So simple yet super powerful.

Here are three ways to apply this concept in our daily lives:

1)   Interpersonal Chats

Do you love being criticized? Me neither. Which is why + and Δ work beautifully. Let’s take a look…

Negative language: “You forgot to hang your backpack up again. You have to be more responsible!”

+/Δ approach: “I love that you’re so creative and can’t wait to head upstairs to sketch your ideas. But it’s your responsibility to hang your backpack when we get home.”

Both options convey the message, but the negative one feels more like the person has a deficiency, like they’re not good enough as they are. That they need to BE something else.

The second approach first notices the good in the person, then points to the ACTION that needs improvement.

2)   Intrapersonal Chats

Do you love listening to that self-created critical sound bite replaying in your head? Me neither. But I also love self-improvement. Using +/Δ allows us to lovingly nudge ourselves toward growth.

Example: “Angela, I love that you’re ambitious in our end-of-year projects! Maybe we should tackle one thing at a time, though, and not kill ourselves to make that magical-yet-meaningless December 31st deadline.”

(And if you’re stuck on how to compliment yourself, review Three Hidden Chances to Celebrate You.)

3)   Ideas for Change

What do I believe as a Certified Authentic Leadership Coach? That YOU are the best authentic leader of your life. Why? Because the answers for your life lie deep within you; it only takes space, faith, and sometimes a little support to surface them.

So when you’ve given the + and are heading to the Δ, ask the person (even if it’s yourself) for ideas on how to get the desired action. They’ll feel like a collaborator, not a direct report. Plus, they’re the expert.


o   “Would you rather clean the play room during the school week and get it over with OR save it until the weekend, when you have more time?”

o   “What’s one tool that helps you remember to do something? Could we use that tool in this situation, too?”

o   “What’s one time I successfully made a desired change? Can I structure this action similarly?”

o   “Do I need support in helping me stick to this plan?”

Really, the whole +/Δ thing boils down to kindness and the belief that we’re all doing the best we can, as Brené Brown proposes in Rising Strong. So let’s acknowledge the best in others and ourselves, and let that be the place from which we launch change.

What’s your favorite takeaway from a not-so-favorite job?

We’d love to read about it in the comments!



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