Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Working Life: New Year's Career Resolutions:
Setting Goals for your Career

The Radio Show Recap...

In today’s segment of “The Working Life,” Carol Blymire and I talked about the importance of making New Year’s resolutions for your career. The advent of each new year is a perfect time to pause and not only reflect upon the past year, but also look forward to the coming year. A recent survey reported that a surprising 85% of people that set New Year’s resolutions, don’t set goals for work or career above and beyond what their employer requires of them! So Carol and I discussed how to set reasonable goals for your worklife, whether you love what you do, or want to make changes.

Carol's Question: Everybody knows that we all make New Year’s resolutions, and most of us break them by January 2, if we were even ever serious about them at all. Why is it important to set these kinds of goals for your career?

My Thoughts: It is important to set goals because your career should be something created by you and not imposed upon you or done to you. This means you must take an active approach in creating the life and career-life you want. Setting goals is an important element in career creation. Goals provide milestones and markers for you your career. Creating goals or resolutions helps focus your attention and energy upon your career. By articulating your goals you are setting your intention towards making your desired future happen.

By the way, writing down your goals is extremely powerful. There is something about putting them in a concrete format that actually helps propel us towards them. I’m always shocked that the goals I’ve written down almost always come to fruition. Its kind of freaky, really.

Carol’s Question: Can you talk us through some steps that our listeners can use to think about their past and current work-life situations, evaluate what’s working and what’s not, and then set some goals for the coming year?

My Thoughts: Reflection and evaluation of the past and present is a key element. Just as you might take time to reflect on your personal life—take time to reflect upon your career-life. The simplest thing you can do is to create some modified plus/delta lists:
  • Write down everything you’ve loved about your current (and past) work lives
  • Write down everything you would like to do more of (for example—I love doing this show and would like to do more of it) or new things you might like to try
  • Write down talents, skills, activities that you would like to use in your career
  • Write down everything you would like to be different—or things you might like to change
Taking the time to reflect in this way provides you with real data and truthful insight into what you want to bring forward into the future. These insights, of course, will lay the groundwork for creating goals that are truly meaningful for you.

Carol’s Question: Can you talk about the broad scope of work-life New Year’s resolutions: job, education, family time, personal enrichment, etc.

My Thoughts: I always think it is better to create career goals in context with life goals. Most of us spend the majority of our waking hours at work. Therefore, I always try to incorporate personal and professional goals into one master goal setting exercise.

Try using the Wheel of Life to find areas where you may need to do some goal setting. Simply draw a circle (or several circles) and create “pie slices.” Then label each pie slice with a topic. Some ideas for slices: Career, Money, Health, Friends, Family, Significant Other, Personal Growth, Fun & Recreation, Social life, Spiritual life, Physical Environment, etc. Once you have the slices labeled, draw a line across the slice at how satisfied you are with that element of your life—think of the center as 0 and the outer rim as a 10. You’ll quickly see where in your life you might need to set some new goals.

Once you know which elements need attention—simply ask yourself:
  • What needs to happen in this area to make this a 10?
  • What would I like more of?
  • What would I like less of?
Once you do that—set your goals. Once you set your goals—make sure you create some action steps to achie your goals.

Carol’s Question: Is it important to set some goals that are attainable, some that are a reach, and others that are dreams?

My Thoughts: Absolutely. In coaching we call this setting the big “A” Agenda and the little “a” agenda. In fact, I advocate using 3 levels of goals: long term, mid range, and short term goals.
I believe this is important for several reasons. First of all, having long range—Big A—goals keep you thinking about your big picture—it helps move you towards your ultimate life goals. Having smaller goals helps guide you towards your destination: use them as a road map. Your final destination (Big A goal) is going to be marked by the little goals along the way. Think of it like taking a cross-country trip—while your ultimate goal may the other side of the country—your daily goals are going to be the cities, states, and towns you pass through to reach your destination. Short and mid term goals can serve as action plans for your Big A goals. And finally it is important to have smaller, more manageable goals for practical psychological reasons. Sometimes the Big Goal just seems too big. Breaking it up into smaller, bit sized goals makes the goal feel more doable. It removes a huge psychological obstacle that helps you to then see a practical path. Additionally, breaking the big goals up into smaller, bit sized goals enables you to experience real progress towards your big goals which in turns creates more positive energy, confidence and momentum.

Carol’s Question: How important is writing down your goals? What about sharing them with friends or close professional colleagues?

My Thoughts: I think writing down is key. There is something “official” about writing it down. Writing down creates some kind of inner/outer alignment. I’m always amazed that it works. I also think sharing with colleagues can really help. Trusted friends and colleagues can be a great resource for identifying and achieving goals. Anything that helps you take action on your goals is a good thing. Think about how this is done at organizations—creating and sharing goals is key for aligning resources and intentions towards accomplishment.

Carol’s Question: Is there value in pulling together a small group of friends to do this together? Brainstorm ideas, do monthly check-in lunches, hold one another accountable?

My Thoughts: Having a goal setting party or “club” is a fantastic idea. Not only can they help hold you accountable—but they can also help get you “unstuck.” Most of us lose motivation when we get stuck or we can’t see how to get to the end zone. Friends can help you strategize and move forward.

Friends can also be a wonderful “reality check.” They can remind you of your strengths, weaknesses, and underused talents. They can also keep you honest about what you say you want and what you really want. For example, if I told my friends that I wanted to fly around the country giving more keynote speeches—they would immediately roll their eyes and remind me that I hate to travel and that packing completely stresses me out (I never seem to have the right “travel” clothes…).

Carol’s Question: Should you set up a reward system for achieving some of these goals, or sticking to these new resolutions?

My Thoughts: This really depends on who you are. If you are a person who responds to self-rewards, celebrations, etc., then absolutely! But if you’re like me, and celebrating just feels like one more item on your to-do list—then don’t bother. Find what works for you and go for it. Just make sure that when you reach one goal—you have another goal ready and waiting in the wings!

Carol’s Question: Is it okay to change your mind about some of them, as you progress into the year, or is that akin to giving up?

My Thoughts: Absolutely! Your goals should be serving you and not the other way around. Changing, altering, or throwing out goals is perfectly fine. You don’t want to “stay the course” just because you set that goal—if it becomes clear that you really don’t want that goal in your life—then change it. Avoid changing your goals out of fear or insecurity—if that goal represents something very important to you—then dropping it because you are afraid may just set you up for regret and disappointment later on in life. It’s better to try to find a way to incorporate the important elements of that goal into other goals.

Closing Thoughts: Remember achieving your goals requires action. To ensure your career goals come to fruition you must take some action—any action—towards your goals every day. At the end of each day, ask yourself—did the actions I take today move me closer to my goals or further away? Commit yourself to the actions required to accomplish your goals.

To Listen to an archive of this show:

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Working Life: Office Etiquette:
Surviving the Holiday Season!

The Radio Show Recap...

In this segment of “The Working Life,” Carol Blymire and I discussed workplace etiquette during the holidays. Whether you’re dealing with religious issues, gift-giving, holiday party behavior, or sneaking out for some last-minute shopping, we’re going to talk about how to stay on top of your game during what can be a very busy time of the year, both personally and professionally. Oh, and we also talk about the dreaded office holiday party….

Carol's Question: Let’s start with maintaining professional decorum during the holidays. When is it appropriate, if ever, to decorate your cube or office, wear holiday-themed attire, or talk about how or what you celebrate?

My Thoughts: Discretion here is key. Before doing anything, you might want to check your office policy to see if there are any “official” guidelines. When decorating your office space—simplicity and professionalism are key elements. Unless you work for a specific religious group—its best not to overdue the religious part—so try your best to be tasteful, sensitive and inclusive in your decorating and in your conversations. Remember, this is an office—not your own private villa–so decorations need to be modest. It’s great to have holiday cheer but your cubicle is probably not the best place to install your life-sized Nativity scene.

Carol’s Question: Gift-giving. To whom should you give gifts? Do you always have to reciprocate if someone unexpectedly gives you a gift? Are there people to whom you should NOT give gifts?

My Thoughts: Okay, so lets take these questions one at a time…

Who gives and who gets: Generally speaking, gift giving follows down the chain of command—higher ups give to lower downs. While it is fine to give a gift to your boss—it is not required as a matter of professional etiquette. What is required is that you give gifts (or other holiday sentiments) to people who work directly for you. Other than that, use your discretion. It’s best to stick to what you know and whom you know. Some general guidelines:
  • Give to close associates or people whom have helped you considerably throughout the year.
  • Give to your friends (often useful to have a gift-giving conversation prior to the holidays)
  • Group gifts are great ideas—a box of candy for Accounting, a basket of cookies for Maintenance, anything that says thank you to a group of folks is always welcome (and classy).
  • If being selective with peers—be discreet. Try to exchange after hours or during a lunchtime outing.
What to give: When giving gifts to business associates and colleagues, remember that the gift is a reflection of you so be thoughtful about the message the gift sends and who the recipient is. Some general guidelines:
  • Modesty (not cheapness) is key—don’t flash your cash
  • Booze is not always best. Giving alcohol can be tricky—best to avoid it unless they are close associates whom you know appreciate a fine merlot (without breaking any religous tenets or rehab rules)
  • Keep it secular and non-personal—the basic rule is don’t give anything that touches the skin: i.e. perfume, jewelry, clothing, undergarments, etc.
Reciprocation: If someone gives you an unexpected gift—you are not technically required to gift back. A heartfelt thank you is enough. However, it is always a good idea to have a few extra gifts on hand for such occasions. I always keep a back up supply of small gifts for such gift emergencies. Please note—there is one exception to this rule—and that is if the gift came from your immediate assistant or the like. Then you better get your butt to the store and buy something great.

Who not to give to: It would be inappropriate to give to a gift to the CEO if you’ve never met him or her. At best you’ll get labeled as a brown-noser—or at worse a weirdo stalker.

Carol’s Question: Holiday parties. How should one behave? Is it okay to drink alcohol with other co-workers? What do you do if you do something embarrassing? How do you handle it the next day?

My thoughts: I love holiday parties–everyone complains incessantly about having to attend them yet if a company doesn’t have one—look out! You’ll hear a cry of indignation loud enough to wake the dead. So try to keep in mind when attending one that the company is doing this for you because you’d have a fit if they didn’t. Here are some guidelines for making sure you put your best foot forward:
  • Drinking. It’s okay to drink modestly—just remember it is not a keg party—so while it is okay to imbibe with a glass or two of cheer, it is not okay to get hammered
  • Gaffes. If (and for some of us, when) you do something embarrassing (like drink too much or call the boss’s wife by the wrong name), apologize immediately for the embarrassing behavior/social gaffe and then move on. Don’t keep bringing it up. (This also applies for the "day after" apology. Aplogize to the appropriate people and move on.)
  • Mingle. Do not hang out with the same people you see every day. This is an opportunity to do some social networking within your organization. Take advantage of it. Meet new people. Make new connections.
  • Spandex. Dress appropriately—it is a business party. While you can certainly be more “festive” in your attire—remember it should still be appropriate. Leave the micro mini spandex at home.
  • Be friendly and open—this is a time to show your soft side and meet new people. Try to have some non-business conversations. Movies? Current Events? Great new restaurants? All these are great topics for small talk.
  • The Better Halves. Be inclusive of other people’s spouses. Incorporate them into the conversation. Act as if you are genuinely pleased to meet them. Also, coach your own spouse on how to interact and mingle. People will judge you by your spouse’s behavior and by how you treat their spouse.
Carol’s Question: Time away from the office—we’ve all done it – extended lunch hours for shopping or long lunches with friends during the holidays. What’s the best way to handle this in the workplace? Should managers look the other way when their employees are gone for long periods of time during November and December?

My thoughts: Allowing a little slack during the holiday season is a nice thing if business is slow. However, employees should be careful not to overdo it and take too much advantage. Your employer doesn’t “owe” you time off to go shopping. Managers should set policy and guidelines early on…let your employees know about your holiday expectations. And, most importantly, managers need to practice what they preach! If you don’t want your employees taking 3 hour lunches at the local mall—then you shouldn’t either!

Carol’s Question: How can you communicate with your boss or manager that you might need some time off to get your holiday errands done? Is it okay to say you have a doctor’s appointment, or is it better to be honest, and promise your work will be done on time?

My thoughts: Well as I said before, Taking time off for your holiday errands is not something your employers “owe” you. So the best, and cleanest way to take time off is to use your official personal time, comp time, or vacation time. Your other alternative is to negotiate extra time directly with your boss. Be professional about your negotiation. Let the boss know what time you want and how you will make up the time or the work.

Carol’s Question: Handling childcare emergencies over the holidays. Is it ever okay to just bring in your kid or kids if the nanny calls in sick and they’re home from school on winter break?

My thoughts: Again, you’ll need to check your office policy on this matter. In our child-centric world, we often forget that offices are adult environments. People may be doing or saying things that you don’t want your child to hear/see. Please remember that not all workplaces are appropriate or safe for children.

And no workplace is ever appropriate for sick children. Never Ever. Sorry.

Carol’s Question: The holidays can be a very stressful time, especially if people are already under duress at work or at home. Any warning signs we should be aware of during this time of year that might indicate someone is having a rough time?

My thoughts: Yes. There are some signs. A dramatic mood shift at work—the inability to get work done or a dramatic change in quality or tone of work may be an indication that something is wrong. Things such as sudden forgetfulness, depression, social withdrawal, increased substance use or abuse, recklessness, jumpiness, hyper attentiveness, aggression, or getting easily upset or enraged are all signs that someone may be having a rough time.

Closing thoughts on the season of "joy!": The Holiday Season can be stressful and difficult. Being organized and flexible are essential ingredients to surviving the season in style. Some tips to getting it all done without losing it:
  1. Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize! Make lists and schedule adequate time for your tasks. Get your most important stuff done first!
  2. Be realistic—don’t underestimate the time needed to complete projects or errands
  3. Get plenty of rest—it is important to give your mind and body time to rejuvenate itself
  4. Keep things in perspective! Do you really need to spend an hour finding the perfect gift for your second cousin twice removed—or would a gift card to Starbucks work just as well? Does that presentation have to be color-coded and cross-indexed?
  5. Try giving theme gifts—find one great thing and give it to lots of people
  6. Keep a sense of humor. If things get messed up this year—don’t worry, you’ll get another chance to get it right (or wrong) again next year!

Happy Holidays!

To Listen to an archive of this show:

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Working Life: A Guide to Better Meetings
The Radio Show Recap...

In this segment of The Working Life, Mary Abbajay speaks with Carol Blymire about running better meetings. Meetings are an important tool for organizational work--yet too often these meetings are unproductive and poorly run. The following article by Mary Abbajay summarizes the main principles of productive meetings.

A Guide to Better Meetings

When is the last time you said, "I wish I could attend more meetings!" or “That was a great meeting—when can we do it again?!”

Recent studies report that managers spend an average of 40%-50% of their working hours in business meetings. To make matters worse, it is reported that the majority of these professionals say that 50% of their meetings are unproductive—a waste of time–and that up to 25% of most meeting time is spent discussing irrelevant issues. It is no surprise to anyone working today that most people surveyed say that their meetings are too long, too unfocussed and too unproductive.

The Meeting Cost Calculator. Next time you think that bad unproductive meetings are just a way of organizational life—consider how much poor unproductive meetings cost your business in real dollars. Simply figure out how much your organization is paying for the time spent in unproductive ventures. For example: if 10 people who each make 100,000 each spend 10 hours a week in unproductive meetings—then that organization is throwing away $5,000 a week—or $260,000 a year in lost productivity. And that is only based on 10 employees! Can your organization really afford to throw away resources like this?

It doesn’t have to be this way. Meetings can and should be one of the most productive, effective and satisfying work tools available. Meetings can and should be the place where the organization gets important work done. It is where groups of people come together to brainstorm, hash out ideas, reach decisions, share information, coordinate projects and tasks, develop new directions and create shared visions. Meetings can and should be the place where people’s talents, skills, and experience are effectively mined, used, and appreciated.

Creating excellent meetings isn’t magic. Great meeting leaders respect the art of the meeting and value their attendees’ time and resources. They take the time to learn and utilize the essential principles and skills of leading great meetings.

9 Principles of Productive Meetings

1. Have clear outcomes.
Create a clear purpose or outcome for your meeting. It’s amazing how many people schedule meetings without clarifying the purpose or objective for the meeting. Typically meetings have several major functions or activities:
  • Information
  • Input
  • Brainstorming/Problem Solving
  • Decision Making
Think of the meeting purpose as a hanger from which everything else “hangs”. Ask yourself
  • What do I need this meeting to accomplish?
  • What will be different after this meeting?
  • What will the participants get out of this meeting?
Once you have determined your purpose, then ask yourself: “Is holding a meeting the best way to accomplish this goal?” You might be surprised at your own answer.

2. Invite the right people.
Base attendance on purpose. Determine who needs to attend to accomplish purpose and objectives of the meeting. Invite only those whose participation is needed and or required. Ensure everyone knows why they are invited and what you need from them. Over inviting is just as ineffective as under-inviting. Ask yourself:
  • Who needs to be involved in this meeting to accomplish the outcome?
  • What are the different elements of input do I need?
  • Whose support/input do I need to reach the meeting goal?
In addition to making sure you invite the right people--be sure you have the appropriate meeting "roles" filled and that participants understand their roles. Roles to consider:
  • Meeting leader
  • Scribe
  • Time Keeper
  • Expertise provider
3. Create an agenda.
An agenda does not have to be laborious or confining. The purpose of an agenda is to give the meeting shape and structure. It also helps participants keep track of where they are and where they are going. But most importantly, an agenda will keep your meeting from drifting into interesting—but unproductive territory. In addition to creating your agenda based on the meeting purpose--also consider the following:
  • What pre-work needs to be done?
  • How much time do we need to accomplish our meeting?
  • What do participants need to know before they come into the meeting?
  • Who is going to create and “hold” the agenda?
4. Design your meetings.
Design the meeting with desired outcomes in mind. Spend some time “designing” and outlining the conversations needed to accomplish your goal. Think of the meeting as a series of conversations. It is important to design and organize these conversations or topics into a series of conversations that will become a road map to reaching your meeting goal. Think through the needed conversations and the manner in which you will have them.
Determine an effective meeting process and design:
  • What is the best way to have these conversations?
  • What order should these conversations happen?
  • Use appropriate group conversation techniques to create the most effective conversations
5. Be explicit about decisions.
Talk about the decision-making process up front. Think through what decisions (if any) will be made as a result of this meeting and how those decisions will be made. Be as transparent as possible regarding the level of input the participants have in making decision. Make sure the meeting participants understand the decision making process. (They don’t have to agree—they just need to be clear). A good meeting leader should know and communicate:
  • What if any decisions need to be made as a result of this meeting?
  • Who is going to make them?
  • How will they be made?
  • When will they be made?
  • What is the role of the meeting participants in the decision making process?
  • Who needs to be informed of the decision?
  • How will they be informed?
6. Use the wisdom in the room.
Facilitate for balanced participation. The best way to make sure you tap into the intelligence and smarts of your attendees is to make sure you get all voices heard.
Make sure you properly use the expertise of the people in the room. You invited them for a reason—it is the meeting leader’s responsibility to get the best out of people.
  • Don’t let a small number of people dominate the conversation
  • Actively seek out the opinion of those who tend to under-talk
  • As leader, be aware of the impact of your opinion
  • Use ground rules to help keep dialogue open and effective
7. Be space savvy.
Use physical space and time to your advantage. Consider the physical environment an important factor in your meeting structure. Where and when meetings are held have an impact on how people engage with each other. Make the meeting space fit the meeting purpose. Basically the space and setup reflect the type of conversation that will ensue. Formal set ups beget formal conversations and vice versa. The physical environment does affect how people will converse with each other. Consider the following:
  • Small tight rooms create more focused conversations
  • Large rooms create conversations with more space/less intimacy
  • Standing meetings tend to be briefer and more action oriented
  • Large conference tables tend to create more formality
  • A “theater” type set up promotes a one-way conversation (speaker speaks, audience listens)
  • Sitting in circles or U-shapes creates more conversation among participants
  • Food creates more relaxed conversation
  • Be careful of time of day. Late afternoon meetings tend to have less energy and creativity. Meeting after lunch can often be deadly as energy tends to dwindle after lunch. On the flip side, early morning meetings may be tough for brainstorming sessions as people may not be completely “revved up” yet.
8. Close it up right!
Every meeting needs to have a proper closing. This means the end of each meeting should have a recap, next steps and an evaluation. The “Law of Primacy and Recency” says that people remember the first thing and the last thing that happens to them in a structured setting. Therefore make sure you end all meetings effectively and constructively. Include the following:
  • Recap the meetings accomplishments. Make sure everyone walks out of the meeting with the same sense of what happened. This is especially true for decisions that were made during the meeting.
  • Verbally review next steps. Make sure everyone in the meeting knows exactly who is going to do what by when.
  • Evaluate. Take a few minutes to evaluate your meeting. This may seem silly but those few minutes can help you create extraordinary results over the long haul. Simple ask your participants the following two questions: (i) What worked well in this meeting? and (ii) What could make our meetings even better?
9. Follow up for success.
The number 1 thing you can do to ensure your meetings are considered worthwhile is to follow up and follow through with the meeting outcomes and next steps. People need to see the fruits of their labor in order to feel that their time and talents are well used. If your meeting generates action items, then make sure those action items are followed through on and communicated back to the meeting participants. People want to feel as if their time and input was valuable. Show them that it was!

To Listen to an archive of this show:

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Working Life: Workplace Etiquette 101
The Radio Show Recap...
In this segment of “The Working Life,” Carol Blymire interviewed me about Workplace Etiquette. The general consensus from the media is that we have become a very rude and ill-mannered society—and the workplace appears to be no exception. Workplace etiquette can run the gamut from how to eat at your desk without offending others to wearing too much cologne or perfume, to waiting your turn to speak and not interrupting someone, to basic rules of respect. Carol and I discussed some basic rules and guidelines to ensuring proper office behavior.

Carol’s Question: How different are the etiquette rules in the home versus the office?

My Thoughts: While some rules vary—the philosophy and intent is the same. Etiquette and manners are about 3 things:
  1. Putting other people at ease by showing respect, courtesy & caring
  2. Being fully present to the other person
  3. Putting other people first!!!

Business etiquette is extra important because if you display good manners, then you are essentially creating an environment where the other person feels great about themselves—and that is the surest way to build better business relationships.

Carol’s Question: Let’s talk about some basics that affect three of our senses – sound, sight and smell – so that would mean noise levels, keeping a neat work area, and being aware of basic hygiene. Again, these sound like no-brainers, but are often common complaints in the workplace. Any thoughts?

Mary’s Answer: It is amazing how often "no-brainers" are ignored in the workplace. While there are many “etiquette rules” for us to follow, I’ve put together a basic list of essential workplace do’s and don’ts:

Cubicle Common Sense:
  • Do not enter unless invited: every cubicle has an imaginary door—learn to respect it.
  • Turn down the volume: do not speak or laugh loudly—this includes, music, speaker phones, idle chatter, personal phone calls, etc. Remember—you are sharing the space with others and the first rule of etiquette is to put other people first!
  • Do not use your cubicle as kitchen or bathroom—this space is unacceptable for generating odors, overdoing grooming, or hosting parties. Remember, the door is only imaginary!
  • Do not discuss confidential matters. Sounds and voices carry. It is bad form to discuss private/confidential matters in a public space.
  • Keep the cubicle neat and orderly—it is not your “home” away from home. Your workspace must always look professional and organized.

Email Etiquette
  • Send the email message only to those who absolutely need the information. This means take it easy on the “reply all” button.
  • Respond to email promptly. Even if you are not prepared to provide the requested information or action—let the sender at least know that you have received their communication.
  • Make the subject heading clear and succint. Don’t make the receiver guess as to the contents of the email. For example if you are sending information for an upcoming meeting—announce it in the title.
  • Include your telephone number or other signature on every email. Don’t assume that people have all of your information—especially since many people access their email remotely.
  • Business emails should always be about business. If you want to send personal emails do so from a personal account. By the way, this is not only proper etiquette—but it smart professional behavior. Your employer “owns” your email account and all the correspondence in it.
  • Always use a spell & grammar check! Always.
The Forgotten Art of Introductions
  • Firm handshakes please! Grip palm to palm. Hold briefly, make eye contact, and say something engaging like: “How do you do?” or “Good to see you again.” Most importantly—don’t forget to smile.
  • When introducing two people to each other always name the higher status person first. For example, if you are introducing your boss to your secretary, you will say, Bob Boss, I’d like you to meet Sally Secretary. If the status levels are equal or unknown either use the elder person’s name first or person whom you know the least first (they’ll be flattered).
  • Always offer your own business card first! And never ask for the card of a higher status person—wait for them to offer it to you. If they want you to have it—they’ll offer. And be sure to take a moment to admire the card.
  • Handle forgotten names with grace and if all else fails, honesty.
Tips for handling the name game:
  • Tip 1: Always re-introduce yourself to relatively new acquaintances. Something like: “Hi, my name is Jane Doe, we met last year at the XYZ conference.” Savvy people will respond in kind with their name.
  • Tip 2: When at a function that provides nametags—be sure to position the tag high on your left lapel. This prevents you from accidentally covering up your nametag as you reach out your right arm.
  • Tip 3: If you find yourself talking with someone who’s name you have forgotten, have a friend help you out. Simply say to the unknown person, “have you met my friend, Jane?” Hopefully, the person will give their name to Jane. If not, Jane must be prepared to say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.” It is a good idea to pretend to be sipping a drink or waving to someone else during this time so as to cover up the fact that you didn’t give a proper introduction.
Better Business Meals
  • Follow the guide of the host and the rest of the party when it comes to liquor, appetizers, desert etc. Do not drink liquor unless the host (the boss) does so--espcially at lunch. Do not prolong the group meal by being the only one who orders appetizers, deserts, etc.
  • Never talk business during the meal. Before or after. Sometimes between courses—but never during.
  • Learn the proper utensils and use them. (If unsure—follow the lead of others. If busted, laugh and admit your error.)
  • Avoid messy foods like spaghetti, ribs, chicken wings, etc. Eat food that is easily handled and that has a low risk of spillage!
  • Follow your diet quietly. If you have special restrictions—call the restaurant ahead of time to inquire about food preparation. Do not subject your companions to a lengthy discussion with the waiter about what you can and cannot eat. While it is okay to ask for your salad dressing on the side—it is not okay to grill the waiter on the preparation of every dish before ordering.
Carol's Question: What about someone who constantly interrupts in meetings? What do you do if it’s your boss doing it?

Mary’s Answer: If it is your boss doing it—then you really don’t have much wiggle room. You can’t really point out his rudeness (because that would be rude) and you can’t really request he wait until you are finished (because, well, he’s the boss). You'll just have to endure politely.

Otherwise you can gently redirect. Remember etiquette isn’t about controlling others-it is about controlling oneself. So the key to good etiquette is to make the other person comfortable—which means you cannot reprimand them!

If it is your meeting—then you have the right to set ground rules about interrupting. If it is your meeting you can also intercede on another’s behalf. Example: “Tom, if you could hold on one second, I want to make sure I understand Jane’s point before we move on. “ Intercede politely and respectfully.

Other Tips for curbing interruptions:
  • Gently hold up your hand and say with a smile: "Excuse me, Bob, if I could just finish my thought.,,
  • Use I language, not you language. Don't say: "You are interrupting me." Do say: "I appreciate your patience while I complete my thoughts."
  • Most importantly don’t interrupt others—and if you do, you better have a good reason, apologize profusely and be brief.
  • To ensure you are not interrupting, count to 2 before speaking.
Carol’s Question: A big no-no, even though we’ve all done it, is workplace gossip. What are your thoughts on this?

Mary’s Answer: This is really more of a business savvy question than an etiquette question. And I know you know that I am going to tell you NOT to gossip! While it is quite alluring, it really is never ever a good idea. However, when approached by a gossip—you certainly don’t want to insult the gossiper.

What you want to do is to gently redirect the conversation away from the gossip. You could try something like this:
  • “Yes, I did hear something about Jane’s meeting with Ted—dear me sounds like they have some work to do! Say, I need to ask you about the Pensky file…” OR
  • “Oh, yes, I did hear about Jane. Thanks for reminding me—I’ve been meaning to call and check up on her all day. Oh my, look at the time—gotta run!”

If possible don’t say something snotty like… "Yes I heard about Jane and I don’t think it is at all appropriate to discuss it. I’m not the kind to engage in petty gossip." This not only insults the gossiper, but makes them your enemy. (And someday you may need access to their grapevine.)

Carol’s Question: What about money discussions? Department budgets are fair game, I think, for discussion, but talk about individual salaries and bonuses can cause trouble. What are the rules for talking about money in the workplace?

Mary's Answer: The rules for talking about money are clear: If it involves personal exposure (for you or others) and makes the other person uncomfortable don’t do it. If it makes you uncomfortable and requires exposure, don’t do it. Use your common sense.

Carol’s Question: What do you do if you overhear someone being rude to a co-worker or client?

Mary’s Answer: Well, it really depends on the situation.

If you are “overhearing” it means you are eavesdropping and there isn’t much you can do except check-in with each party later. Your only other "polite" option here is to conveniently walk past the conversation, "notice" their difficulty and offer assistance.

If you are part of the conversation, then you can and should intervene gently and tactfully to remedy the situation. Diplomatically intercede to ensure that business is conducted with respect and courtesy. Sometimes things aren't so much a question of etiquette as they are a matter of tact and diplomacy.

Carol’s Question: If you’re a supervisor and you need to address some etiquette concerns among your team of with an individual employee, what’s the best way to do that?

Mary’s Answer: Gently, tactfully, and directly. Here are the guidelines:
  • Individual concerns require a private conversation.
  • A team concern deserves a team discussion.
  • Don’t turn an individual thing into a team thing.

Carol’s Question: What is the rule of etiquette when it comes to gift-giving in the office?

Mary's Answer: Bosses give. Employees receive. Thank you notes are always required. Other than that the same social rules apply. In other words, gifts are gifts and not some kind of quid pro quo.

Carol’s Question: Being in Washington, where politics is king, how do you handle yourself in the workplace when people are talking about elections, candidates, issues, or other topics related to politics?

Mary’s Answer: This is not so much etiquette as good common sense. Is this really an appropriate conversation in a business setting? Remember at work—you should be talking about work. You are not being paid to create political policy.

Carol’s Question: Do those same rules apply to talk about sex and religion?

Mary’s Answer: Yes.

Closing Thoughts: Remember, the goal of etiquette is to put other people at ease. To focus on making them comfortable and well cared for. When in doubt, always ask yourself whose needs you are meeting--theirs or yours?

To Listen to an archive of this show:

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Working Life: Office Q & A:
Listener Questions Part 2

The Radio Show Recap...

In this segment of The Working Life, Mary Abbajay answers listener's questions about their working life dilemmas. Ratty work clothes, annoyng HR policies, lazy college graduates, job ruts and more!

Listener Question: A girl who works for me on our sales team has a very ratty wardrobe. She is articulate and smart, but often has stains on her jackets or holes in her clothes and I know our potential clients see it and I think it has a negative impact on our sales rate. Can I say anything about it to our boss? Should I offer to take her shopping? We're friendly with one another, but we really don't hang out together outside of work, so it might be a weird offer.

Mary's Answer: Take her shopping? No. Rat her out to your boss? No. Take the time to mentor her? Yes.

Because more than a shopping trip or a demerit from the boss, this young woman needs a mentor or supervisor at work who clearly sees her potential and cares enough about her future to help her out here. Imagine what an enormous gift it would be to this girl if there were someone to pull her aside and say, “Katie, we need to talk about improving your professional image. While you are one of the most talented young team members we have here at XYZ, I’m afraid your clothes are not creating the professional image needed to be successful. I want to make sure your star continues to rise so lets talk about how you can align your professional image more appropriately to your position here.”

Know anyone who can do that?

Listener Question: I have someone working for me who I inherited from another team when we merged two groups. To put it nicely, she is incompetent. I know there was a case being built to fire her before she was assigned to me, but since I'm her new manager, we have to start from scratch. If I work in an "employed at-will" state, then why do I have to build a case? Why can't I just fire her? I feel like HR is making me do so much extra work that it's taking away from working with the employees on my team who are doing a good job.

Mary's Answer: Multiple choice answer, choose one:
  • When given lemons, make lemonade.
  • Every dark cloud has a silver lining.
  • When one door closes, another door opens.
  • One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
  • It is not the destination that matters, but the journey.

Sometimes we have to do things that we don’t like and that quite frankly don’t make much sense. But that doesn’t mean that these situations are completely without pay off. Consider the following benefits:
  • With a little coaching, maybe the person is salvageable. You could use this opportunity to hone your mentoring skills.
  • By treating this woman with respect and compassion, you can put a big chip in the karma favor bank.
  • HR may now owe you a favor. Make sure they know it.

I’m not a fan of the extended termination policy. And I am certainly not a fan of just passing poor performing employees around and around. I don’t think it really behooves anyone in the situation to drag it out. That being said, however, please remember that having an at-will employment policy doesn’t mean you get to trample people’s civil rights—so there may be reasons beyond the surface that is giving HR pause. So for some reason your HR department wants to take this slow. Discuss it openly with them. Tell them you need clarification on their strategy. Make sure they know this is not your preferred strategy—but that you’re happy to help them out and do it their way (or whatever language your organization uses to add chits to the favor bank).

A client of mine recently employed this strategy when she inherited a “lemon” from another department. HR repaid her teamwork by fast tracking some much needed paperwork for a newly created position. She drank her lemonade in a tall frosty glass with lots of ice.

Listener Question: I'm in a rut. I work in client services for an accounting firm and I like my company and the people I work with, but the work just isn't challenging anymore. There's nowhere for me to move within the company, but I'm not sure I want to leave. How do I know if this is a temporary rut, or if it's a bigger sign that I should be thinking about challenging myself instead?

Mary's Answer: Now that you are armed with a little more self-knowledge, here are some options for you:

  1. Since you like your company (which, by the way, is nothing to sneeze at in today’s world), the first thing you should do is talk with your boss. Tell him/her how much you love working there and that you’d love to learn some new skills/try some new projects/tackle some new challenges. You may be surprised by some of the opportunities one can get just by asking.
  2. Start exploring what kind of challenge/career you are looking for. There are many great books out there and exercises for you to do some self-exploration. See my earlier posting: Help I hate my Job for specific resources and exercises.
  3. Talk to people in fields/occupations/jobs that you find intriguing. Find out what those jobs are really like.
  4. Hire a career coach or counselor

Remember—don’t let that “temporary” rut turn into a permanent rut. I know it can be scary/annoying/time-consuming to change jobs/careers—but wouldn’t it be better to spend the bulk of your working life energized, engaged, and stimulated?

Good Luck!

Listener Question: I just graduated college and started my first job this year. I am having a hard time adjusting to working. I'm a night person, and find it difficult to think or get much of anything done before noon. I also think maybe work is not for me, right now, and that I should go to law school. Did you have a hard time adjusting to work after college, or is it just me?

Mary's Answer: Did I have a hard time adjusting to work? Uh, no. Personally, I love to work. Seriously. I was more excited about turning 16 because I could get a job than because I could get a drivers license. The thought of making my own money was thrilling. But that’s me.

Now lets talk about you. The adjustment from college to work can be very difficult for some people. Becoming a structured, responsible person with regular hours and commitments doesn’t come easy for everyone. So instead of smacking you upside the head—I’ll use my hand to express 5 points:
  1. Adjusting to a working life will be more difficult when the work doesn’t suit one. Do you like the work? Is it interesting to you? Maybe is not so much “working” as the particular work you are doing. Try to find something that interests you.
  2. If you’re not used to being a “day” person. Go to bed earlier. Get yourself on a regular schedule. It takes some discipline and time to readjust our body clocks.
  3. If you’re truly a night person—then get a night job. There are plenty of interesting (and respectable) night jobs.
  4. Try not express the following “I think maybe work is not for me, right now…” to anybody who:
    • is over 25
    • b. does not have a trust fund
    • c. has to support themselves or others,
    • d. might hire you someday
    • e. knows your parents
    • f. may be reading your grad school application
  5. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT go to law school just to avoid having to get up before noon. Go to law school because you want to be a lawyer—or at least because you have some interest or passion in the legal field. Besides, the fact that law school costs lots of money, successful lawyers tend to be total workaholics!

To Listen to an archive of this show:

The Working Life: Resistance To Change
The Radio Show Recap...
In this segment of “The Working Life,” Carol Blymire interviewed me about “resistance to change” in the workplace. We discussed how to best manage resistance to change and how to work with (or for) someone who is resistant to change. Change, even when good, strikes fear in the hearts of many because it means something different is going to happen. Being an effective change agent in the workplace requires the ability to understand and navigate resistance.

Carol’s Question: Let’s start with the most basic question – why are we so afraid of change?

My Thoughts: We fear change for many reasons. First of all, most of us are wired for homeostasis. We seek equilibrium and stability. Change disrupts that. Second of all, change is often an unknown—and most humans fear ambiguity—especially if we happen to like the way things are. Thirdly and probably most powerfully, change often gets interpreted as “loss.” It often means loss of a favored way of doing something, loss of control, status, pleasure, identity, etc. The paradox of creation is destruction—in order to create anything new something old must be destroyed. This is as true for a sculptor who must “destroy” that plain slab of marble in order to create a beautiful stature as it is for a manager who must destroy an old favored process in order to create a new more orderly process. So it is only natural that people become afraid—loss, destruction, ambiguity, and imbalance are difficult states—especially if change is being imposed upon you not by you.

Carol’s Question: Isn’t the fear of change usually about something other than the actual thing that is changing?

My Thoughts: Yes and no. And this is where change agents often get into trouble. In order to support effective change, leaders and managers have to be much more in tune with the underlying causes of the fear and resistance in each particular situation. Sometimes, it really is just about the change itself. For example lets imagine my boss wanted to move my office to another location. Now I might resist the change simply because I need the close proximity to the copy machine in order to be most efficient and effective in my job—therefore the change itself would be a problem for me. On the other hand I may resist the change due to a real or perceived sense of status that comes with the office move—meaning it is not the change itself I fear—but the social-psychological aftermath.

Remember, human beings are both complex and simple at the same time. We get into trouble when we place simple solutions on complex problems and complex solutions on simple problems. Always try to find the right solution for the problem at hand—before during and after the change.

Carol’s Question: Are there steps along the way that you can talk about – steps in the transition process around change in the workplace?

My Thoughts: Yes. Let me take a moment to differentiate between change, transition, and resistance.

Change is what is observably or concretely different from before—for example: moved to a new office, implemented a new software system, restructured the department, etc.

Transition is the psychological adjustment that occurs as individuals and groups adapt to the changes that have occurred or are occurring. The length, breadth and difficulty of the transition depend upon the significance and magnitude of the change.

Resistance is a force that slows or stops movement. It is a natural and expected part of change! Smart change agents know this and work with resistance instead of against it.

So in terms of transition–the psychological adjustment–here is a simple 3-phase model created by William Bridges.

Phase 1: Endings. In this phase people are forced to face the end of something and endings always involve a symbolic death. People in this phase often experience: disengagement, dis-identification, disenchantment and disorientation. People can be angry, hurt, defensive, suspicious, scared and resistant in this phase.

Phase 2: The Neutral Zone. In the neutral zone, people are beginning to let go and test new ideas. They are likely to be depressed, isolated, confused, tired, and empty. Imagine the transition process is a U shape—the neutral zone encompasses the low point. It is also, the point where new beginnings become possible. The neutral zone is where the resistance starts to ebb and people stop facing backward and begin to face forward. (The neutral zone can be a very short intellectual phase for some and a very long and painful emotional phase for others.)

Phase 3: New Beginnings. In this phase people start to launch anew. They begin testing or experimenting with the change. They start to feel more comfortable with change-especially if they experience small successes along the way. As they begin to find meaning in the change—their self worth and satisfaction increases. Eventually, they are able to fully integrate the change and completely let go of the old.
Clearly people need different things at different phases. A change agent who is in tune with the transition phases can offer more targeted support and solutions.

Carol’s Question: How can someone recognize his or her own resistance to change, and then try to redirect that resistance toward something more productive?

My Thoughts: Great question! If you sense you are being left behind or feel like you are tilting at windmills—then you are probably resisting. And lets be honest—most of us can tell when we are resisting—it takes a lot of energy to resist. The first thing to do is to admit you are resisting. (Isn’t that always the first step to any problem?) Then do some honest self-exploration to uncover your resistance. What is it that you are afraid of? What do you think is “wrong” about the change? What are you worried about? Facing (or at least acknowledging) your fears, doubts and insecurities is the first most powerful thing you can do. Once you’ve done that—trust me, you’ll know what to do next.

Carol's Question: There is a theory that says there are three levels of resistance. What are they, and how do you work to overcome them?

My Thoughts: Yes, Rick Mauer has developed an effective framework for navigating resistance. I love sharing this model with my clients and students because you can just see the light bulbs going off.

Rick Mauer outlines the 3 levels of resistance in organizational life:

Level 1: The Idea Itself. This is based on information: facts, figures, and ideas. It is the world of rational action and logical thinking. Level 1 resistance is about:
  • Information (lack of)
  • Disagreement with the idea itself
  • Confusion
  • Don’t like it
  • Don’t understand it / Don’t know why it’s important to you
  • Believe in the status quo
  • Don’t know the impact the change will have on them
  • Don’t think you realize what cost will be in money or time
  • Have own ideas about where change should go
  • Like idea but think timing is wrong
Strategies for Level 1: Clear communication about the change—the idea—itself. Change agents need to effectively and clearly communicate: the why, what, how, and who of the change. Facts, goals, research, strategies, game plans, and implications are what people need to hear on this level. Remember—sometimes the resistance is simply that people don’t agree with your idea and need to be convinced through rational argument.

Level 2: Deeper Issues. This is where we have to deal with the physiological & emotional reaction to this change (And this is where things get interesting.) This is a physiological reaction to change. Based primarily on fear/anxiety/concern for the unknown–totally natural. This level of resistance is caused by:
  • Distrust of you or your operation
  • Bureaucratic culture
  • Punishment & rewards
  • Loss of respect and face caused by change
  • Fear of being marginalized or isolated
  • External events
  • Resilience — too much change, people are tired
Strategies for Level 2: Here it is important to create dialogue with your people. Get people actively involved in planning and testing the change initiative. Help them articulate concerns—be open hearted—act so people feel truly heard and valued. Overcoming level 2 resistance requires authentic dialogue and involvement because you are dealing with the psychological and emotional—it is not an intellectual endeavor.

Level 3: Deeply Embedded Resistance. This is bigger than the current change itself. This is deeply entrenched stuff, bigger than the ideas at hand. People are not resisting the idea (in fact they may even like the idea)—they are resisting you (the person proposing change), your department or your organization. This may be due to:
  • Historic animosity: bureaucratic and personal
  • Poor relationships
  • Conflicting values & visions
  • Usually involves more than one Level II factors
Strategies for Level 3: This is similar to level two, but requires much deeper determination, persistence, and time. Overcoming this level of resistance requires intensive rebuilding of trust and relationships. It requires dedication and commitment to exploring long held beliefs, assumptions and animosities. Mostly, it requires a choice—is it worth it? Can I do this?

The most important thing is to be sure to match the right strategy with the right resistance. Repeatedly extolling the “rational” virtues of the change to folks who are scared to death of losing their jobs (or who hate you!) is never ever going to help reduce the resistance.

Carol’s Question: Let’s say you’re in a management position, or a position in your organization in charge of implementing something new. How do you work with employees who may be resistant to change? I would imagine you have to work with different groups or individuals in different ways.

My Thoughts: Yes, while resistance is natural and expected—the time of transition and depth of resistance is a huge variable. To make matters even more difficult, different people can and will respond dramatically differently to the same change. While I encourage change agents to be respectful and considerate of all people and groups during the change process—one has to be realistic and strategic about where to put one’s resources.

Generally speaking people fall into one of several categories:

Innovators (top 3%)

Those people seek opportunities & new creative ways of doing things
Strategy: Brainstorm with them to generate creative, new solutions.

Early Adopter (next 13% )
Those who are open to new creative new ways, but don’t necessarily cook up the initial idea (they're the first ones who buy any new technology.)
Strategy: Get them involved as early as possible. Involve them in doing pilot projects or phase one implementation.

Early Majority (next 34%)

Those who will change once they see concretely what the change might look like or accomplish.
Strategy: Show them success from phase one or pilot activities and help them see how those successes can apply to their area.

Late Majority (next 34%)
Those who will get on board when they see it’s real and they don’t have much choice.
Strategy: Stay in touch with them and meet their needs without spending too much energy. Do not let them distract your progress.

Remainder (last 16%)
Those who wait to get on the last train leaving the station (or who miss it).
Strategy: Keep the doors open AND the train moving. But DO NOT hold the train.

Make sure you work with closely with the Innovators, Early Adopters and Early Majority to build momentum and commitment for the change.

Carol’s Question: Can you share any communications tools or strategies to better work with employees, or employers, who might be resistant to change?

My Thoughts: Of course people have written whole books on this subject—so let me give it to you in a nutshell: Communicate, communicate, and communicate. Communication is, of course, your most powerful tool.
  • Be open and honest about the change
  • Clearly articulate the goals and processes of the change
  • Respect those who resist: listen for the issues people are really concerned about and talk about them—doesn’t mean you need to “cave.”
  • Relax and maintain clear focus—remember resistance is a natural useful force
  • Join the resistance! In other words, stop resisting the resistance—you might just learn something!
Carol’s Question: Are there any tools or books that might help shed a little more light on this topic for employers and employees?

My recommendations for further reading:
  • Rick Mauer, Beyond the wall of resistance
  • William Bridges, Transitions
  • John Kotter, The Heart of Change
  • And of course—Who Moved My Cheese
To Listen to an archive of this show:
The Working Life: Office Q & A:
Listener Questions Part 1

The Radio Show Recap...

In this segment of The Working Life, Mary Abbajay answers listener's questions about their working life dilemmas. Pregnancy, Managing Up, Body Odor, Ghetto Talk and more!

Listener Question: I'm in the process of interviewing for a new job and I just found out I'm pregnant. Do I have to disclose this in an interview or when I get a job offer?

Mary’s Answer: Do you mean do you have to disclose this personal information in the legal sense? Ethical sense? Or Strategic sense?
o Legally: No.
o Strategically: Depends.
o Ethically: Maybe.

Generally (and strategically) speaking, I would say the appropriate place to discuss your pregnancy is during the job offer. At that point, the organization has much more information (and investment) in you. So if you want to increase your strategic chances of getting the job—wait until it is time to talk turkey.

That being said, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the slightly murky area one enters when one withholds important information. I know, I know, it is very un-feminist of me to say this—but I think you should at least consider the employer’s point of view here. If you know that your pregnancy would require serious disruption of your employment contract—then maybe you should speak out sooner or better yet seek a job that is a better fit for you.

Which brings us back to what is really important here—and that is finding the best overall employment opportunity for you and your newly expanding family. Be strategic about your changing life. You need to look for more than just a job. Ask yourself what kind of job, organization, lifestyle, do I want to pursue? What kind of employer is best for me? Where job will be the best fit for me and for my family?

Listener Question: My boss is so disorganized. He forgets that he assigns tasks to someone, and then asks someone else on the team to do the same thing. It's really not productive, and because I'm one of the managers in the group, I often end up having to fix his mistakes. How can I bring this up with him, without sounding critical or that he is forgetful or disorganized?

Mary’s Answer: Let me see if I have this correct. You want to be able to criticize someone’s shortcomings without him realizing that a) you are criticizing him and/or b) that he even has shortcomings AND at the same time find a resolution that addresses those aforementioned shortcomings. The way to do that is called “managing up!”

Assuming that your boss is not psycho (see psycho boss question in part 3 of this series) and that this really is a problem that needs to be addressed…you need to gather your facts. Think through potential solutions. Prepare your opening statement. And then walk into his office and discuss this situation like the most skilled, tactful manager you can be! Your opening statement must:
  • Name the issue (succinctly and without judgment, aspersions or blame)
  • Describe the impact (why this issue is important)
  • Give a brief example that illustrates the situation (be succinct)
  • Offer to help resolve (either offer solutions or assistance)
  • Ask his for opinion/perspective (seek to create a collaborative conversation)

So your opening statement might go something like this:
“Bob, I need to talk to you about some problems with our department’s task assignment process. The team is experiencing overlap and confusion causing duplication of effort, wasted resources, frustration and conflict. This has happened on several important projects this month including the Pinsky and Festivus projects. I have some ideas on how we can improve this situation. We could incorporate a master project board that would help us clarify our roles. what do you think?”

Please note—while you addressed the issue head-on, you didn’t actually call him disorganized or forgetful. You didn’t blame him directly. This is what we call managing up—being direct without committing career suicide. Always remember, the key to being tactful with someone who is your “superior” is to allow him to save face and retain his elevated status. (Conversely, if he was your subordinate, I would recommend being more direct—“I’m here to talk about your disorganization and forgetfulness...”)

The truth is, most disorganized & forgetful people know they are disorganized and forgetful. So, this probably won’t be the first time he’s been approached on this issue—in fact his wife is probably endlessly harping on this issue, which makes being tactful and solution oriented even more important.

Listener Question: I'm planning to relocate to another city in 6 months after I get married. I'm already working 60 hours a week, planning a wedding, and managing everything else in my life. I don't have a lot of time to figure out how to find a job in another city at the same time. Are there any resources other than job web sites that I can tap into to get the ball rolling? How do I find out what headhunters are good, or what employers I might want to consider?

Mary’s Answer: Yikes! I’m stressed after just reading your question. So that I don’t risk making your head spin off with a long answer—here is the short scoop.
  • Temp Agencies. They are not your mother’s typing pool anymore. You’d be surprised at how many skilled/professional jobs are “temped” out now due to corporate downsizing and outsourcing. It is an excellent way to get to know a job market and meet potential employers.
  • On-line local publications in your new city. Every major newspaper has an online version of the paper—complete with want ads. Do a quick scan to see what the market looks like.
  • Chamber of Commerce web sites. You can learn who are the power employers in no time.

As for Headhunters—they are probably not the best strategy for people merely looking for “jobs”. Headhunters are hired by companies or by accomplished executives—i.e. we’re talking the six figure salary people here. They get paid with a percentage of those aforementioned big executive salaries. So unless you’re swimming in a big salary pond, you’re probably not worth the effort of most headhunters. It’s just a marketplace reality—you’re simply not a big enough pay day for them.

Try the temp thing. It sounds like a perfect solution to ease a stressful transition. Good luck!

Listener Question: A man in my office has a serious B.O. problem. Because we work in an open plan situation, even though he is about 6 desks away from me, the smell is so overwhelming that my clothing ends up smelling like his armpits. What can I do? Our team leader refuses to address it. Can HR do anything?

Mary’s Answer: First of all, I am sorry that your team leader is a total weenie. He/she should be addressing this issue—either directly with B.O. man or indirectly with HR. But since weenie-face is too chicken, that leaves it up to you (and your colleagues) to manage. This is one of those times, where I actually recommend letting someone else do the dirty work. Go to HR and ask them to step in. Also, if this is really as dramatic as you make it out to be, then I would ask other colleagues to join you in your HR request. Once HR knows that this is a serious office-wide problem—and not just one overly sensitive nostril complaining—they will be more compelled to take some action. Your HR people should be trained in exactly this kind of delicate and uncomfortable situation. And on the plus side, you’ve just given HR folks great cocktail party fodder for months…

Listener Question: I am an African-American woman and there are some white people I work with that don't necessarily tell racist jokes, but they do speak in ghetto-talk when they're joking around. I know people do it on TV and in the movies all the time, but at work, it makes me uncomfortable. How can I bring it up without it escalating into a big issue? I really like these people and enjoy working with them, and I don't want anyone to get in trouble, but I also don't want this kind of talk to continue. What can I do?

Mary’s Answer: Wow. I have to say. This is really an interesting dilemma. One the one hand—it is a “where do my rights start and your rights end” kind of workplace quagmire. But on the other hand, it is a huge socio-cultural, socio-economic, and socio-lingual situation that bears some public discourse and conscientious. I mean who owns language? At what point does the social zeitgeist of expressions become independent of the originating group? In other words, at what point does “whaasss up” become less a symbol of a particular group’s dialect and more of a shared cultural phenomenon?

Language is a powerful thing and we often forget that. I know I am guilty of letting loose with an occasional “no, you didn’t.” I’m also guilty of using the pretentious “dahling, so good to see you” (complete with air kiss) as well as the lamentable cockney inspired “not bloody likely.” And unfortunately for my companions—I’m not good at any of them. In a media drenched society it is only natural that we are going to pick up and use language patterns of other social groups. We tend to pick up things that we are attracted to for reasons of usefulness, richness or humor. It is not so much the reality of the expression as much as the media projection of that expression which draws us. In today’s fast paced 24/7 media world, language patterns and expressions can quickly become part of our social fabric before anyone stops to think whether they should be. In other words, is it okay for one group to co-opt the language of another group? In what situations? Under what circumstances?

But what makes your situation particularly dicey is that it touches upon race and socio-economic status. And, in America, those are very difficult and sensitive topics to sort through. But sort through them we must. If you are sure it isn’t intentional racism, why don’t you try to sort through this issue with your co-workers directly? It is highly likely that they have no idea that ghetto talk makes you uncomfortable. So tell them. Be sincere but non-judgmental. Tell them how much you like working with them and how hard this is for you to bring up. Tell them how much you appreciate their openness to talk about this issue. Go from there and see what happens.

While you may or may not be able to resolve this situation satisfactorily for both groups—at least you have begun a much needed dialogue. You’ve also shed some light on my own thoughtless behavior—and for that I thank you. Hopefully, so will your colleagues.

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