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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