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Three Keys to Embrace Discomfort in the Lab

Here are three tips that will help your staff embrace the discomfort that will lead to growth and development

Scott D. Hanton, PhD

Scott Hanton is the editorial director of Lab Manager. He spent 30 years as a research chemist, lab manager, and business leader at Air Products and Intertek. He earned...

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Developing lab staff is an important role for all lab managers. Their development provides the foundation for the growth and improvement of the lab, and investing in staff makes them feel more valued, which improves engagement and retention. Growth and development usually bring a little discomfort, as new skills are built and new experiences stretch the individuals. At a Center for Creative Leadership program, I learned the phrase, “There is no growth in the comfort zone, and no comfort in the growth zone.” This is a clear reminder of the importance of embracing the discomfort that inevitably comes with growth. Here are three tips that will help your staff embrace the discomfort that will lead to growth and development.

#1 – What’s in it for me?

Be clear about the benefits and opportunities that can come with growth and development. Develop clear and concise answers to the “what’s in it for me” (WIIFM) questions. Help staff see why it is in their best interest to exert the energy and to experience the episodes of discomfort along the way. Staff are much more likely to complete development activities if they clearly understand why they are doing it, both for the lab and for themselves.

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#2 – Be supportive

Growing and developing take time, energy, and effort. Lab managers can enable the growth process by being supportive and showing understanding. It is important to help the individual carve out the time and space to complete the development project. Learning something new requires more time, practice, and an acceptance that the work won’t be done perfectly the first time. Support can be as simple as a quick acknowledgement of the effort during a walk through the lab, or as complex as a complete rework of a person’s role and responsibilities to generate the time to focus on the new learning. A little empathy also goes a long way. Most lab managers have been through growth and development activities and know just how frustrating that discomfort can be. Share your feelings from your growth experiences.

#3 – Demonstrate gratitude

It’s amazing how powerful two little words can be. Use “thank you” often and liberally. The lab manager noticing the effort and demonstrating some appreciation for it can be the difference between someone persevering through the discomfort, and someone deciding they prefer the comfort of their previous role and giving up on the development activity.

Thanks for reading. I hope you can use this information. I am very interested in hearing from you. If you have feedback or comments on this set of tips, or suggestions for future Manager Minutes, I’d love to hear from you. Please reach out to me at I’m looking forward to our conversations. Thanks.