Category Archives: The New Cheese

SERIES: EMAIL DISEASES: HOW THEY AFFECT YOUR LIFE AND HOW YOU CAN AVOID THEM (ISSUE 6: The Habitual Forwarder)

forward

It’s been a while since the last installment, but we really need to talk about another contagion in the world of email: The Habitual Forwarder.

This disease appears to be a strange mixture of compulsion and mechanics. These people cannot seem to resist the urge to hit that link to forward almost anything they receive. They are probably generous souls who truly believe in sharing information. They appreciate being remembered by the powers that be that send out the copious amounts of information via the electronic circuitry of the computer. They genuinely feel that everyone should experience that appreciation for themselves… or alternately, they share it because they feel that by forwarding indiscriminately all the emails they receive they have performed their due diligence in disseminating that information to their comrades. Nothing wrong with that, right?

Wrong. And here’s why…

First of all, not everyone needs the information at every level. Sure it is good to keep lines of communication open and make sure that everyone is on the same page, but there are levels and layers of information that are applicable to different roles and functions in any organization. When information is sent, for example, to senior leadership channels, it usually contains a high level overview with supporting details for all roles that fall within their purview. At this point, those senior leaders assimilate and synthesize the information before disseminating to their respective teams with focus on their specific and identified foci and roles… well, ideally, that is how it should work.

Second… ain’t nobody got time fo dat! Seriously. Most of us admittedly have some serious tunnel vision when it comes to work. In today’s workplace, the majority of our communication is sent and received by electronic means. We can get hundreds of emails every day. So, when you add to that the sheer number of forwarded emails and actual correspondences and requests for information, it becomes an overwhelming avalanche of incoming gibberish. Stuff falls through the cracks. The more we receive, the more likely we are going to miss something. Organization helps (I personally have a very intricate system of inbox rules to keep me from losing my mind entirely… obviously, the mind loss prevention thing has been hit or miss), but it won’t save the world from the overwhelming amounts of general chaos that is generated in an email server each day.

Most importantly, the loss of context when emails are indiscriminately forwarded without preamble or synthesis creates confusion and general misinformation for all recipients. The Habitual Forward disease has similarities to the Reply to All plague and even the Skimmer and Non-reader disorders. The person who forwards with little or no additional information or directives to the recipients are engaging in an almost automatic behavior that results in a cascade of meaningless communication flooding the inboxes of those on the receiving end. The worst form of this illness is characterized by the originating forwarder not even reading the original email thoroughly. If they had done so, chances are they would have possibly avoided the extraneous forward and either paraphrased and summarized the information to the recipients… or better yet, noticed that the people to whom they forwarded the email were actually on the original distribution list. (My favorite was when the person who forwarded the information to me failed to notice that I was the person who wrote the original email.) The upshot of this last one is that the recipients may end up with multiple copies of the original communication clogging their inbox and generally creating confusion while they search for any new or updated information that might have been the reason for the numerous copies. Sadly, it may also give more importance than is due to the original (Surely this must be divine edict to have received it this 4th time…).

To avoid contracting or carrying this disease, keep a few of these thoughts in mind when considering whether to forward or not to forward.

  1. Consider the target audience of the email. To whom was the person who originally sent it speaking? Look at the distribution list and see if by chance the people to whom you would forward have actually already received it.
  2. Consider the content. Is this information acceptable or appropriate to be shared?
  3. Consider the reason for forwarding. Do they really need this information? What do I want them to do with the information? Is there something actionable for us as a team?
  4. Consider writing your own @#$% email.

For items 1 and 2, this means that the person who is considering sharing the email needs to actually read the email. That is what I said. Read it. Don’t skim it. Don’t send it on expecting the people to whom you forward it to do your homework for you and let you know what it was about. For item 3, if the forward recipients were not on the original distribution list, why would they need the full email? Perhaps there is only a portion that actually applies to them. What is it that is needed from the recipients in relation to the forward? If merely to keep lines of communication and transparency in leadership, then preface the forward with something that says that. “Hey team, please read the following information that our CEO shared with senior leadership this week. It relates to…” explain in what context they should be reading the information. Better yet, as always, instead of forwarding, try writing your own email: Read, assimilate, synthesize, and disseminate. The best way to provide information is to make sure that you understand it (meaning you read it). Then, understand how it applies to your target audience. Summarize the information and identify the specific focus for the recipients. If it is important to retain the original wording and information of the source, by all means, forward it. However, always include your own preamble that highlights the specifics and allows the recipient to know that they can ask questions because you read the original email and provided proof of understanding.

In the fast pace of the workplace today, it is always tempting to just click a button and move on… but I encourage each of you to avoid the habitual forward illness and share information in a more meaningful and applicable way.

Forward to 10 friends.
Forward to 10 friends.

On that long and lonesome highway… Tales of the roadwarrior

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SONY DSC

I’m a traveler… well, I used to be. I loved to go places and do things. I liked to see different worlds and cultures. I liked to experience the new and different. As a good portion of my formative years were spent traveling not necessarily by my own choice, I suppose it was a fortuitous circumstance that my personality and temperament were entirely amicable to the idea of nomadic existence.

That all came to a rather screeching halt when, after entering adulthood, I started trying to make a career and do the responsible thing of paying bills and putting down roots. Little was I to know how the roots actually worked to prevent the traveling that had been so much a part of my life previously. To all things there is a season, I suppose, and in my case, all the adventure was spent by the age of 25. Honestly, I accepted the change in my life. I had “settled” down. Now, my traveling consisted primarily of trips to some ocean side locale within driving distance. Occasionally I would travel to other states for training or work, but for the most part, I was spending all my time traveling to and from work, gym, grocery store… you get the idea.

Something in me was jealous as I observed the travels of friends of my youth. They were still out there having adventures. Some of them were paid for that privilege. They would be jetting off to various locations every other day, it seemed. As they were regaling us of travels and airplane flights and the challenges of finding the necessities of living in remote locations, I was becoming more and more anchored to one place. I had even become a telecommuter. In other words, not only was I failing to travel to distant lands, I wasn’t traveling outside my house.

But… that all changed. Nothing so romantic and extraordinary as jet setting around the globe on international missions, but my work suddenly required me to travel… mostly driving… and filing expense reports… and… why oh why had I looked with envy upon my work-traveled friends?!?

So, as it happens, I am required every quarter to evaluate the performance of my staff… in person. Yep. That means that I have to go to where they are and ride around with them watching them interact with the people in our charge. I’m actually lucky enough to have a good group of people working for me… that are spread all over the state. This makes for some drive time on my part, not including the time riding along with them. It even requires overnight or week long stays away from home. Nothing terribly exotic, but it gets me away from the house, desk chair, and cabin fever.

And thus… I have developed some insights for life on the road, as it were. They are by no means earth-shattering, but they present a collection of advice born of personal observation and experience for traveling whether for business or pleasure.

Car Travel

Rest stops. My first and most vehement advice is from days of yore with ringing tones of adults before car trips in my childhood: “Go potty before we go.” Seriously, go before you go. You never know how convenient, or inconvenient, rest stops can be until you hit that stretch of Nomansland in the hinters that has nothing for miles. While it might be possible in emergencies to drop trow on the said of the road and let nature take its course, it is highly inadvisable to do so where there is little to no cover. Additionally, ladies, it is none to comfortable a situation to bare one’s backside on the highway (though with this in mind, consider having box of tissues or napkins in the vehicle for just such and occasion). There are devices and items created for just such emergent issues. Again, while our male companions may have no particular issue with using them, they may not be so pleasant for those of us with internal plumbing. So, with comfort and dignity in mind, take note of rest stops and other locations that provide the opportunity of biological relief. Also, when you see the signs that say “Rest Area exit 1 mile … Next in 97 miles” go now!

Join a roadside assistance program. Seriously. This can save time and money. If you have a current credit card that offers this as a perk, that works, too. These programs can be life-savers when you have anything from flat tire to “that sound that goes grrrr rrr ggg.”

Invest in a receipt or travel wallet. This is especially important for business travel when the accounts payable folk ask for the receipts on your expense report. You might even go ahead and install an expense report program (like Concur, the bane of my existence) on your phone. It can help you track as you go. I know a lot of people think, “I’ll just stick it in my pocket and deal with it later”, or “I’ll put it in the side pocket of my purse…” along with the receipts from grocery, last year’s vacation, and an old cough drop. Trust me. It’s worth the minimal expense. Get something just for keeping the travel related receipts and other documents. You will thank me later.

Use GPS. Unless you are going Jack Kerouac and you have time and money to spend on petrol, plan a route and use the tools available to follow it. GPS is generally available on most smart phones. Do yourself a favor and look into one of the navigation apps out there rather than the built in jobs in the phone. The built-ins aren’t horrible, but they sometimes get a bit eccentric in their mapping and directing. I personally like Waze. It has been very accurate and works even when the phone seems to have no signal. Additionally, it gives you updates on traffic patterns, road hazards, weather issues, and law enforcement on the road. It will give alternate directions to route around blocks and traffic jams, and above all… it is free! One of my favorite attributes of the application, next to currently having Morgan Freeman’s voice as the navigation prompter. However, you should go with what works for you. There are programs that also provide information like fuel stops, food options, and rest areas… always helpful. Many rental agencies actually include GPS either with the car or as an add on to your agreement. It can be worth the extra fee just to have the option of an external navigation leaving your phone free.

Charging cables. So, we’ve been talking about GPS and phone apps and all that happy jazz. You know what doesn’t work, dead phones or electronics. Having the app or electronic gadget isn’t so helpful if it drains the life from your battery or won’t turn on because you failed to bring an appropriate adapter or cord. Some travel centers actually have sections where you can purchase travel tools and technology. I once found the most amazing little phone charger that would act as a back up battery and charge my phone even without a cord. There are kits with multiple connectors and tools that can come in very handy if you need a little charge for your phone.

Beverages and snacks. While I’m not a huge fan of the whole road picnic, it is always good to carry some water, soda, or caffeinated beverage. Cheaper, too, if you can get them and pack them up rather than having to stop at fast food restaurants or convenience marts. Snacks of the protein and less messy variety are also a good idea. Nuts (for those not allergic), jerky, or protein bars are a good option. If you really want to have snacks or beverages that need to be kept at a cooler temperature, invest in a small cooler for the vehicle.

Safety kit. This is a big one for me. Even if you are in a rental, it is a good idea to have some basic maintenance and safety items. I’m not suggesting you go full on hazmat, but having a reflector triangle, jumper cables, first aid kit, and the like can really come in handy in unexpected circumstances. Also, keep a blanket in the car. No, this is not a suggestion that you save money by sleeping in the car. In colder weather, getting stuck until someone can get you can result in hypothermia if your car is unable to maintain power. So, a blanket is a great idea. Also, if the drive is long and the eyes are heavy, better to take that nap in the back seat than push on to the next watering hole to look for a hotel and end up running off the road.

Hands-free kit. Not only should you never text and drive, even talking on the phone or futzing with the GPS can be distracting and downright dangerous. I strongly suggest for those who do not have Bluetooth enabled vehicle that a hands-free kit and voice activation is a phenomenal idea. Otherwise, pull over before you try to do anything with your phone.

Hygiene. Seriously. Invest in nappy wipes or at least carry tissues, paper towels, something. There is no hazard so great as the coffee spilled in the lap or the soda all over the console. Additionally, for your own health and well-being, it’s a good idea to have some hand sanitizer somewhere in the vehicle. I’m not a huge fan of the stuff personally, but if you do not have the running water or soap to dissuade the flu season hijackers, a little hand sanitizer comes in handy.

Honestly, there are probably a plethora of other handy hints for road-tripping like a pro. If you know of any that I haven’t covered, by all means, comment. In the off chance that someone actually reads this thing, it might be helpful to them.

Air Travel

I’m not really going to spend a huge amount of time or characters on this section. There are a metric @#$%-ton of articles out there about the handy hints and tips for surviving your air travel. So, I will only touch on a few things that I have found handy.

Follow the TSA guidelines. Seriously. They print them. Read them. Follow them. Don’t be an ass or make inappropriate jokes about bombs. Your security check will just go much smoother.

Wear slip-on shoes. In other words, do not wear complicated footwear with laces up to your knees or a blue-billion buckles and clasps that look awesome at a rave but will officially piss off every other passenger waiting for you to come out of your shoes… or put them back on. On another point of order, wear socks… and odor eaters… just for the continued well-being and breathing of others around you.

Keep your paperwork in order. Have all travel documents together and ready. Nothing is worse than getting to customs, immigration, gate, etc. and a passenger digging through their bags saying, “I know I had it somewhere.” Seriously? Like you didn’t know you would need that stuff at this point. You knew it was coming. That is just silly.

Learn to travel light. These days, your wallet will thank you for not racking up large baggage fees. Gone are the days of multiple band boxes and steamer trunks of full wardrobe changes. Plan your itinerary and take only what you need. Not to brag too much, but I am the queen of minimalist packing. I actually flew to Dallas for a 4-day conference that required business attire and some more formal events. I managed to pack everything in one carry-on piece. Most places, even if you forget something, will have certain amenities. Invest in some of the roll bags for packing. It saves space and keeps your clothing from getting too wrinkled. Shoes, again, are the usual culprits for over-packing. They take up a lot of space and generally do not fold or crush. Do yourself a favor and plan your outfits so that you can have one or two pair of shoes at most.

Electronics. Don’t be a jerk. You know the rules. If you are absolutely positively going to go into withdrawal without your tablet or whatever, use the airplane mode. That goes for electronic readers, too.

Stay hydrated. The air on planes is remarkably dry. Getting dehydrated can negatively impact you in many levels, including opening up your immune system to nasty bugs. Oh, and immune boosters? Take ’em. You’ll thank me later. If you absolutely, positively MUST travel when you are incubating a cold, do the rest of the world a favor and wear a mask. They can be purchased at most pharmacies.

Like I said, there are a bunch of articles out there that actually cover great tips for traveling, especially by air. So, for the rest of the clan of the road warrior, if you can think of any helpful tips that you’ve found that you have never seen advised out there, please share.

Happy and safe journeys folks!

The New Cheese: Sick at Work

 

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That’s right. I said sick at work, not sick of work. Believe me, if I was just talking about being overtired, burned out, and downright annoyed with the concept of putting in a 40 hour week for people who do not appreciate it… that would be a different post and probably a whole lot longer.

I have a pretty decent work ethic. Some of my friends think my work ethic borders on the obsessive and possibly masochistic, but I feel that it is my responsibility to stay out of bankruptcy court, pay my bills on time, and do the best job I can for the employers that provide me that opportunity whether they appreciate it or not.

What that boils down to is that I can be a bit of a workaholic. I can actually hear a few of you out there who know me screaming at the screen “A BIT?!?” Yes, a bit. I have actually seen and experienced worse. I’ve actually seen and been worse. However, Iknow that being the Type A individual that I am, I’m a happier person busy than indolent or bored.

I try to be more conscious of life and take it a little bit more easy. I recognize my own limitations and that I am not getting any younger. Yes, that was difficult to type. In other words, I’ve only got the one life, and there are… in fact… more things in this world than money, possessions, and job. That was almost painful. However, I recognize, too, that I am lucky enough to have family and a few friends that probably never appreciated playing second chair to the career virtuosity. They might even appreciate spending more time with me.

Strangely, that is not where I was going with this post, though. I only said all that to illustrate my own approach to work, and showing up for work, and not letting anything stand in the way of work… and you get the idea. I can literally count the number of times I have called into work on one hand and remove a few of those fingers while I am at it… in the whole of my life. I have worked through varying degrees of illness and infirmity… frequently when I should not have. Yes, that is what I said… SHOULD NOT HAVE.

The thing is, I appreciate a solid work ethic. I appreciate people that won’t be beaten. I appreciate people who don’t let a little cold or allergies keep them down. I tend to be a little concerned with the person who calls in too frequently or always has some ailment that prevents them from being reliable. I value being able to count on a person to show up when they are supposed to and do the job that they are supposed to do. That is pretty typical of most employers. In fact, there are not a lot of employers that are going to say “Now, you are just working yourself too hard, and you need to take better care. Take it easy and stop putting in all that extra time…” Yeah, never going to hear that in the corporate world. Some companies do try to be more understanding and try to make their organization a decent place to work where people want to be. They understand that content or happy employees are loyal and productive. However, most places (especially larger ones with less highly skilled or highly educated workforce) operate on the philosophy that if you use one up, you can get another for cheaper anyway.

Harsh, I know, but sadly true. Again, I’ve wondered from the point… but not really, because it is all a foundation for what I’m saying.

Because the modern employer and modern company generally do not acknowledge that humans become ill and perhaps shouldn’t be worked until they drop, many employees also choose to ignore the physical limitations of the human body. Also, a part of that modern system is that many places do not have separate sick time and vacation time. Most role it all into something called “Paid Time Off” or PTO. PTO can be planned or unplanned, and some companies have rules about how many “unplanned” absences you can have as well. The point is that people do not want to take off when they
are ill unless they really just cannot function. They would rather save that rather valuable commodity of PTO for things that are more enjoyable like a vacation or time off around the holidays.

The result? People come to work in all manner of conditions. I’ve been guilty of this myself. People suffering from colds, mild flu, varying degrees of contagion… they all push themselves to show up for work because they do not want to miss work for something as simple as a stuffy nose or coughing fit. They don’t want to use the PTO, or they may not have the PTO to use if they have used it all for more enjoyable reasons. This is the problem with not having designated sick time. People come to work when they are sick.

oprah

Sounds very self-sacrificing and diligent, doesn’t it. Sometimes people legitimately will say that they have too many projects, deadlines, etc. that cannot afford a delay of them staying home. That is all well and good… so, maybe not so well, and perhaps not so good. People who come to work with their illness and germs share that with their workspace… and colleagues… and that is how entire office buildings end up sick. What people do not think about when they come to work with their head cold or slight flu is that everyone with whom they come in contact is at risk to catch their illness… and take it home with them. It’s a fine line, and I know it. What constitutes a legitimate threat of contagion to the point that you should ditch work for the public health? Some companies will actually send announcements out during particularly virulent outbreaks. Some organizations sponsor flu and pneumonia vaccines for all their staff. Still, there is usually a few times per year that some disease gets passed around an office.

Telecommuting has provided an opportunity for some employees to stay away from the office petri dish but still work their ducky little hearts out from home. Sadly, this doesn’t necessarily improve productivity. What I’m saying here is not new. There are several articles in the past few years cautioning people about going to work sick and the actual costs to the business that range in the 9-figure range (Bratskeir, 2015; Rasmussen, 2013)… that’s right over a hundred billion dollars lost due to people being so diligent that they come into work when they are not well. It is called presenteeism. Yeah, I didn’t realize there was a name for it either until I started thinking about this post.

Technology has made it possible for us to work straight through almost every situation including hospitalization. That doesn’t make it wise or the best choice. Just because one can work while convalescing does not mean one should work while convalescing. The whole point to being off while you are ill is to get better. Most prescriptions for your average cold or flu involve rest and fluids. The body heals best when resting. So, working while one is ill can actually prolong the suffering and sometimes the contagious period.

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I know… I really do. Taking time to get well puts you behind or leaves someone in a jam or any number of other reasons not to stay in bed and drink fluids from a bendy straw (Gaskell, 2015). I am one of the absolute worst and will probably work until lunch on the day of my funeral. However, I do try to avoid spreading my plagues, and if you aren’t going to stay in bed and take care of yourself when you are sick, at least try to stay away from the rest of us. Thanks.

Bratskeir, K. (2015). Global study shows why sick people go to work – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/why-employees-go-to-work-sick_us_5640dab9e4b0307f2cae408c

Gaskell, A. (2015). Why coming into work sick makes you a villain not a hero – http://www.careeraddict.com/why-coming-into-work-when-sick-makes-you-a-villain-not-a-hero

Rasmussen, D. (2013). The real cost of going to work sick – http://www.careerealism.com/real-costs-work-sick/

The New Cheese: We’re All Unique… Just like everyone else

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One of the most difficult aspects of being a manager, or worse, a middle manager, is that you are caught somewhere between company policy and individuals who are people, actual human beings who face life and have a wide variety of life experiences. Sometimes the life experiences hit them actually while they are working, and that always makes for interesting conundrums in the ever litigious world of corporate America.

Honestly, it isn’t really so much that people are a bunch of sue-happy, ambulance chasing, leeches trying to put one over… ok, maybe there are enough of those out there to make people nervous and cautious, but the sad fact of the matter is that all it takes is one. Have you ever read warning labels? I mean really read them? They are ridiculous, and if anyone out there used half the brain cells that they were granted upon development of their being, they would not need to be told that an electric hair drier shouldn’t be used in the shower or that the plastic bag is not a toy or not to eat the silica packets in your leather jacket pocket. Oh, and if you thought that those warnings were intended for children who may not know any better and would be tempted to stick things in their mouths to experience the world like tiny little sharks… think again. How many toddlers do you know who read on a 6th grade level (there probably are a couple out there, but chances are, not many and surely those gifted little geniuses would be less likely to actually participate in the asinine activities described by the warning label).

Warning labels, written standard operating procedure, and documented policy are not there for people with common sense. They are not there for your average every day individual who might just blunder into a situation with ignorance and good intent. They are there for the perpetually inept or the trolls that exist in the world that want to push that envelope, ignore common decency, or use their access privilege to circumvent the normal drudgery of the day to day and win the litigious lottery via a personal injury lawyer. I’m generalizing. Of course, I am. I’m painting the absolute worst case and dirtiest scenario possible. Why? Because that is what the legal and ethical departments of corporate entities have to do. Just think for a moment of what life must be like for the people who always have to look for the worst in their fellow humans all the time. Think about what it takes to generally perceive those around you looking for angles or trying to guess how stupid the general populace might be and try to counter the negative effects of their actions like some sort of fortune teller with a broken, ugly crystal ball that only shows the bad stuff. Sometimes I feel sorry for them. I said sometimes… obviously there are other times when I think they should take off the warning labels and let Darwinism sort that @#$%. However, as a middle manager, I can’t do that. I have to not only follow the dictates of common sense and corporate policy, I also have to make sure that those for whom I am responsible are AWARE of said policies, ATTEND to said policies, and ADHERE to said policies… even when the policies seem to make no sense at all (until you think like the aforementioned folk living in the murky fortune-telling tent). This is especially difficult when the employees in question can see that there was someone at some time who violated common sense resulting in untold calamity… but still don’t understand why the rule has to apply to everyone generally making life unpleasant for all instead of just focusing on the perpetrator of idiocy as an individual.

This pretty much describes most difficult part of all of this is that writing blanket and universal policies that apply to everyone generally results in some of the most biased and unfair feeling systems on the planet. While it might be effective in resolution to address an incident with the individual who screwed up, the purpose of rules and policies is to avoid some other ignorant soul from ignoring history and blundering in to repeat it. It means that while person A is a responsible, hard-working, dedicated employee that consistently goes above and beyond, they cannot actually be given more leeway to self-govern or be allowed privilege outside the normal constraints, there had to be a policy preventing self-governing principle because person B is lazy or incautious or irresponsible and would generally get themselves killed or the company sued with the same leeway.

But wait! This is the 21st century and we recognize individuality and creativity and promote the general welfare and…

Ok, yeah, each and every person on this planet is an individual. They are unique. Unless you are an identical twin or a clone, your DNA doesn’t match another human being on the planet. (And there are even mutations and differences in those as well… not the clones of course because we wouldn’t possibly know anything about human cloning, right?) However, while talents and skills and uniqueness of individuals are appreciated on that individual and unique basis, in a large business and corporate structure, everyone is subjected to the same rules and regulations. Why can’t we be more individualized in our application on a massive scale? 1) Because it is massive. Large companies have thousands of employees. Imagine trying to individualize rules for each and every one those; and then, trying to enforce them. Can you say headache? And while we are discussing headaches, let’s talk about a legal one. 2) Discrimination. Let’s say it together. Dis-crim-i-NAY-Shun. Discrimination is one of the most winnable legal suits there is, if you have the documented evidence. In fact, most organizations, if threatened by the merest hint of a discrimination lawsuit will cave and try to appease the plaintiff to avoid the stigma or hell of an individual civil case or worse, class action. Due to corporate legal departments and standard written policies, though, it can tough to build a good case against a corporate entity for a discrimination suit. What isn’t difficult is to put a colleague, supervisor, manager, or director in some excessively hot HR-supported water by filing a complaint. So, the result is 3) the perceptively unfair application of rules and policies upon the staff under any given manager. Most good employers and managers struggle with this concept every day. They lose sleep over the give and take of being a compassionate, understanding, and well-liked employer vs. being accused of bias, pandering, discrimination, and favoritism.

Managers fight the slippery slope of good employee relations all the time. With few exceptions (and I may have met them), managers are humans. As humans, we cannot avoid the natural desire to be liked. I don’t care how strong a foundation of positive self-esteem, as long as you aren’t a complete sociopath, it is just programmed into humans to want to be liked. For most people the “I don’t care if people like me” statement is a defense mechanism. It is absolutely true that there are some people that improve my own self-esteem by not liking me, but for the majority of the world at large, I prefer to be at least tolerated. For a manager, this can be difficult, because employees want to be liked as well. They want to be liked, acknowledged, and rewarded for their work. They dislike being reprimanded, coached, or evaluated (especially if it does not coincide with their self-evaluation). No one likes negative feedback, and it colors the impression of the person providing said feedback… which is frequently the manager. So, you have a manager trying to adhere to the company policies and make sure that the people who report to them adhere likewise. This sometimes requires a little course corrective measure that can sting a little, and voila you have the “hated-boss-phenomenon” (yeah, I made it up, y’all should be used to this by now). Boss is a bitch… or jerk… or asshat… whatever terminology used, and the boss in question perceives employee as having a negative attitude, being resistant, and possibly a bad employee.

How does this relate to the title? Well, we’ve all gotten into this rut of believing that everything has to be personalized, individualized, and that everyone deserves special circumstances in all situations. That’s just not how it works. Everyone believes they deserve special treatment, all the while never realizing that each and every person around them holds the same belief.

But wait, I’m more special than THAT guy over there!

Are you? Really? Are you? And that is where the manager starts really wrestling with their ideals. The truth is that every single person believes, truly believes that their case is special. In many situations, they believe that their case is more special than their colleagues, the guy down the hall that’s been waiting for two weeks for a 5 minute one-to-one with their boss, the boss themselves, and certainly more than some faceless corporate entity. They resent having the generalized rules applied to them, because their situation is obviously unique. Many times, the individual in question can’t imagine that there are a multitude of other people that are considering the same circumstances unfair because everyone has to follow the same rules. So, back to persons A and B. The manager evaluates and finds value in person A (as an employee) who always has a positive attitude and makes excellent performance marks. Person B, on the other hand frequently does the bare minimum and it is obvious to everyone. However, person B may still be valued in a different sense by being a very is generally a pleasant person, having a good sense of humor, and being extraordinarily likable in social situations. They just aren’t terribly diligent about work. So, person A asks to be able to attend a seminar that is out of town and requires travel so that they would be absent from normal work duties for a couple of days. They would like to be able to attend during work hours and do not have sufficient leave time available to take the time off. As a manager, you look and say, “Hmmm, yeah, A has been such an excellent performer, and while this seminar doesn’t have a direct impact on their current job, I can totally see how they might move up in this company and it would help them towards that goal…” Sounds reasonable, right? Nope. Why? Well, because when A happens to mention this at the water cooler where B and C are chatting, B says “Hey, she turned my request down for that seminar! I asked first. Boss must like you better than she does me.” Oh holy @#$%! And that is where discrimination complaints originate, blossom and grow. Whispers boil in darkened corners of special treatment, biased application of the rules, privilege because they like them better… you get the idea. Rumors can be started of even more unethical behavior. So, from a management perspective, if you are not willing to allow the same privilege to all of those in your management impact, then you probably shouldn’t allow any of them. Seems harsh, I know, but it is ultimately not only the safest path ethically, it is also the most fair, despite perception to the contrary for those who are subject to the decision.

Most of the time, the situations are nowhere near as clear cut as a high performer vs. low performer and special privilege. In that case, chances are that there are documented instances and sufficient evidence to support why person A deserves the privilege or reward as an objective measure rather than a purely subjective or perceived “She likes so-and-so better than she likes me… that’s discriminatory.” However, it is generally more often merely a matter of perception, language misconstrued, or normal application of policy for one staff member while another one was let slide because “well, they were going through a hard time.” Sometimes it is something as arbitrary as some employees feeling that others get all the boss’ attention and time. It might sound silly, but the employee who wants to be noticed seeing that the boss spends more time on the phone with, IM’ing with, going to lunch with one of their colleagues will take that unbalanced attention to be a privilege or bias that could construe discrimination. “He wouldn’t take time to meet with me to talk about that situation last week, but he spent two hours with his little pet.” Yep, that’s the sort of thing that gets said, with or without foundation. That is where the rubber hits the road. It is nearly impossible to be completely unbiased and fair at all times, but we have to make the best attempt at doing so. And that is why the policies are written with what can appear to be a redundant attention to minutia and universally applied in ways that that seem impossible and ridiculous at times. It isn’t that leadership doesn’t recognize uniqueness and individuality in diverse and varied situations, it is that the uniqueness and individuality of every person in their charge needs to be acknowledged, recognized, and attended in as equal a measure as is possible. To do so, it means that there is a movement towards heteronormativity that is frustrating (and I positively hate because it can seem unfair in its own right), but necessary to avoid discrimination by perceiving a subjective application of rules, regulations, policies, or laws.

Everyone is different. Each person is unique due to biology, environmental impact, and experience. Every person has the right to be recognized for their individuality as a human being within some sphere of their life. However, it also means that to do so, each person must recognize the individuality and the rights of others, and it doesn’t mean the rules should not apply to you. However, you shouldn’t need special consideration or dismissal of the rules to feel your own uniqueness. So, I hereby recognize and appreciate the uniqueness of all of you who read this, and I hope that somewhere in your life, you actually have that uniqueness acknowledged and recognized as special. In the meantime, I will continue to be unique myself… just like the rest of you.

The Ongoing Struggle of a Type A Woman in a Type B World…

typeApersonality

It’s been a while since I’ve posted… in truth, it has been an age since I have felt I have the time to write. Isn’t that a shame, too. I know you all are waiting on the edge of your seat for me to say something profound.

That’s a joke… in case you were wondering.

The sad fact is that I have been too busy, or possibly too distracted to write anything on one hand. On the other hand, I’ve been terribly worried that anything and everything that might flight off my fingertips would be in the nature of a horribly alienating rant of biblical proportions or so very “emo” that it would set up depression in the heart of a reader that Prozac couldn’t fix (No, I actually do not think Prozac “fixes” anything, but you know what I mean).

Just to let you in on a secret… that maybe isn’t quite so very secret… I’m a Type A personality. Shocking! I know. Try as I have to fight the label and the traits, it seems I am doomed to always fall under the category. I don’t like it. I really don’t. I get very offended when people tell me that I am such a thing, or at least I used to get offended. I still feel a twinge if someone refers to me in those terms. It isn’t so much that being a Type A person is so very, very bad. At least, I don’t think it is so very, very bad. Oh, lord, I hope it isn’t so very, very bad… and off the tracks I go, giving you an excellent example of why I haven’t been able to bring myself to type anything lately. As a Type A personality, I do tend to overanalyze and rethink and second guess and re-analyze a bit.

Once upon a time, there were really only two types of personality in this particular classification. There were the Type A’s, who were the task-oriented, goal-oriented, pushy, bossy, busy… you get the idea. There were the Type B’s who were laid-back, go-with-the-flow, roll-with-the-punches, experience life, enjoy the right… yeah, hippies. Ok, so, not really hippies, but again, you get the idea. The point to all of it was that a lot of people with letters after their names (I can get away with saying this without being terribly derogatory because I have a couple or three of those letters myself… they totally do not give me any discounts when buying coffee or pop) ran some statistical tests that indicated that Type A people were more likely to have cardiovascular health issues than Type B people. It is pretty intuitive actually. Picture that Type A who wants everything in order and it its place and getting blood pressure increases because they are going to be late due to unforeseen circumstances like traffic or a Type B person having a friendly conversation at the checkout counter of the local convenience store while waiting to purchase coffee. Yeah… like that’s never happened to me, right? Anyhow, the idea was that Mr. (or Ms. I don’t want to appear to be sexist… though there was a point in time where it was shown that males were more likely to be Type A than women… but I digress again) Type A tends to sweat the small stuff lending to higher stress levels and putting more of the strain on his/her cardiovascular system. Type B persons would tend to be less tied to time schedules and wouldn’t get torqued if the person in the 15 items or less line had 23 and couldn’t find their wallet once they were rung up on the till.

And so it goes… Type A personalities were felt to be less healthy because of that sweating-the-smalls thing, and Type B got the rep for being so laid-back that they never really got anything done since they don’t set much store by accomplishment. NONE OF THIS IS ACTUALLY TRUE. It stands to reason there are traits and similarities, but people are individuals. Most of these personality things are a continuum, not a light switch that is ON or OFF. Which leads to the next evolution… and more types. Since society could not be satisfied with two types that might have varying degrees of how they fit, a couple more were identified. Type C’s are like Type A’s in being detail-oriented, logical, focused on goals and tasks, but seemingly with less of the heart attack in the wings situation of getting completely bent over the small stuff. In fact, they sway more towards not rocking the boat and leaving the big decisions to other people. They are way less concerned over the big pictures or ultimate goals than the details. They would rather examine the puzzle and put together the pieces than actually finish the whole 5000-piece-high-difficulty monstrosity and gaze upon the finished result with a sense of accomplishment. They seem to be a combination of Type A and Type Be personality, but they can get bogged down into the details to the extent they never finish the job. Type D’s are what someone at some point categorized as “distressed”; thus, D… for distressed… get it? These are pessimists with an external locus of control who believe that everything happens TO them and cannot be impacted BY them taking action. This is obviously the extreme of the type, but Type D’s are susceptible to depression, as you might well imagine.

Why am I even discussing this? Well, it has occurred to me that the most difficult part of being a Type A is that we can control our own behavior and very little else on this planet. That makes it a bit like torture when we are trapped in situations where our drive, focus, and task-orientation doesn’t do squat: In other words, when we have to wait and nothing we can do will change it.

I am the world’s worst Type A in situations where nothing I can do will impact it. It could, possibly, turn this Type A into a Type D if allowed to spiral out of control. I am first, and foremost, a control-freak… which is a common trait of the Type A’s of the world. I make lists. I cross things off. I make plans. I have back up plans. I have back up plans to back up my back up plans. I have not only plan B but plans C through Q, typically. It is how I try to avoid being taken aback by contingencies that I didn’t expect. I literally try to expect the unexpected… BUT the world doesn’t quite work like that. Especially my world, it seems. Whether I like it or not, I work and live in environments chockablock with Type B’s and C’s and D’s who aren’t nearly as concerned or involved in planning and acting as I am myself. Additionally, the laws of physics and nature have yet to obey my commands, and that is highly unlikely to change in future… but I do continue to try.

For the most part, I have developed my own coping mechanisms for living in the less than pressed world full of beings that do not realize that being five minutes late will cause me agony the likes of which no one without Type A personality will understand. To me, it is about consideration and valuing the time and efforts of others, but I have, after many, many years grown to understand that not everyone has this sense of concern nor do they possess a desire to control their environment and outcomes to that extent. For me, having a list of tasks that is due by a certain time will prompt me to start getting said tasks done as quickly as possible so that if any snag happens to present, I have time to sort it. This usually results in me handing over all the necessary work and elements far ahead of the deadline and waiting… and waiting… and waiting for some bureaucratic process in the ether and Bureau of They to be presided over by a Type B person who believes everything will just fall together… or it won’t, and that won’t end the world… Type C who is more concerned about their data or details than my project… or some Type D procrastinator who might feel that it isn’t worth hurrying because they will just screw it up anyway.

My father had a great way of dealing with his Type A daughter. When I worked myself into a tizzy of frustration due to the Type B world I could not force to my will, he would calmly ask, “Can you do anything about it?” That was all. The first time he asked, I was almost offended (Well… as offended as a 7-year-old worrying about anything could be). He followed up with, “If you can do something about it, do it.” That floored me. I hadn’t really thought about examining the situation to see if there was a further action on my own part. Quickly, I assessed and decided I had fulfilled every possible part of my own requirements and any action I could take in this situation. Dad watched me and gauged precisely when I had taken appropriate inventory and again spoke, “If there is no action you can do to impact the situation, then there is nothing to worry about.” Just like that… at the delicate age of 7 years, I had heard the mysteries of the universe: If there is something I can do, I should do that instead of wasting energy worrying, and if there is nothing I can do, worrying is just a waste of energy that could be applied to some other task. Holy @#$%! Lightbulbs and lightning bolts and all sorts of astounding claps of thunder should have accompanied this epiphany. As it was, I think my father returned to reading his book (oblivious to the earthshattering revelations he had imparted upon his female offspring), and I went about my business of winding myself up into a tizzy again only to repeat my father’s words to myself.

It still isn’t automatic, even after a good many years between the first time I heard the wisdom and today. I still get frustrated with the inability to bend the world, time, the universe… and mostly other people… to my will. I grind my teeth (as evidenced by the new crown on a back molar where I broke it… *tsk…tsk*) and put my phone on mute while I vent profanities. I push and shove and try to make outcomes fall into the place where I want them, and the rest of the world continues blithely along without one bit of care that they are messing with my plans. And so it goes… I live my life as a Type A person in a Type B world. So, I stop sometimes, and I go for a run. I take a moment to reset. I stop the continual circle of rumination and pointless activity and take time to ask myself again, “Can you do anything about it?”

If any reader might like to find out whether you are Type A or Type B, Psychology Today has a test that takes about 15-20 minutes: http://psychologytoday.psychtests.com/cgi-bin/tests/transfer_ap.cgi

SERIES: EMAIL DISEASES: HOW THEY AFFECT YOUR LIFE AND HOW YOU CAN AVOID THEM (ISSUE 5: VOICELESS MISCOMMUNICATION)

I was originally going to call this piece, How to Avoid Electronically Pissing People Off, but figured since I was striving for professionalism I’d better rethink that title.  So, you get Voiceless Miscommunication instead.  Confused yet?  Don’t worry…I’ll fix it.

I’ve said it before and I’m fairly certain I’ll say it again: we are virtually (no pun intended) overrun with technology; from cell phones to wireless networks, massively multiplayer online games to blue tooth and everything in between. These days it’s hard to tell when an actual person ends and their technology begins because one’s tech is very much another appendage which, if severed, could cause physical pain.

We love our cell phones, our texting, our emojis and emoticons, instant video, on-demand anything, now, right now, hurry up please. Can you say instant gratification? The problem this has created is we are, less and less, communicating with one another as we are with an artificial-like intelligence. Hey, Siri? Hi, Galaxy! And, wonder of wonders, our devices talk back to us. Sometimes with flippant comments cleverly programmed by those invisible actual-humans who program such wonders, and other times with seamless internet searches which delve for answers even before you’re done asking the questions.

Do you know that feeling you get – those of you who have experienced such things – when Siri comes back with a sarcastic non-answer? Or when Galaxy responds, “That’s a tough question. Allow me to search the internet for an answer to ‘What is two times two?’.” Meanwhile, you’re thinking: “Really?” And each time you attempt to clarify your question to the faceless, emotionless, quasi-A.I. which lives inside your device, the response you get only serves to confuse you further. As if two times two could ever equal purple, because aliens don’t wear hats. Say what?

But, in true Tangent style, I digress.

I was headed toward discussing email – another faceless, emotionless, quasi-A.I…. Ok, not really, but definitely one of the most widely-used forms of communication technology we have. But, as useful a tool as email is, email really doesn’t have a voice unless you give it one. We can take thoughts from our clever brains and type them out neatly into whatever email program you use (Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo! – you get the picture) and suddenly thoughts become visible words. And, though you know how those words are supposed to sound, once they get ‘on paper’ they suddenly lose their tone. The words have no voice. Further, not everyone is as creative as you are, so your words may be misconstrued on the other end because the recipient was unable to hear with your intended voice. You are now voicelessly communicating with another human being.

Let’s face it, though. At the root of this, we’re all human beings; and therein lies the problem. Have you ever tried reading lips? Have you ever witnessed a conversation taking place in American Sign Language and wondered what was being said? Have you ever heard another language being spoken and felt left out? Now, I know there are a lot of you out there who can read lips, or understand ASL, or have an ear for foreign languages, so you may have to stretch a bit here, but stay with me. I’m trying to convey the level of confusion, exclusion, or even frustration you may feel at not being able to understand what is being said. Your logical brain tells you that, because two people are conversing they must be using a language they both understand and therefore, the conversation is meaningful to them. Your feeling brain is simply confused, lonely and left out. Though, really, you do not need to be involved in every conversation you hear (sorry, my inner mother just came out).

Wow…I went off track again. Sheesh! I must need some more caffeine.

How, you may be asking, do I give my email communications a voice? Well, to be perfectly honest, it’s hard. And some people are just unable to do it, no matter how hard they try. It could be a matter of, “I’ve gotten my point across,” or, “I’ve said what I meant to say,” or, “If they take what I’ve said in a way that I didn’t intend, well…that’s not my fault, is it?”

Actually, it is.

Relationships have been established, strengthened, fought for, and finally solidified or lost entirely using email. Through email, it is just as possible to capture someone’s attention in a positive way as it is to really tick someone off. Just a possible to get your message across in a friendly manner as it is to simply state facts.

Let’s test this, shall we?

Morning friend!

Just thought you’d want to know those catalogs you ordered have arrived. They’re on the shipping dock, which is currently overloaded with deliveries. WOW! I’m gonna be busy the next few days! Let me know if you need help moving them to storage.

Vs.

Your catalogs are on the shipping dock. Dock’s full, so get them to storage soon.

Which email would you prefer to receive? While both emails contain the same information – catalogs have arrived, the shipping dock is crowded, the catalogs need to be moved to storage – one email is friendly and implies the sender’s willingness to assist the recipient with moving the catalogs in order to clear off the dock while the other email is basically, “Your stuff’s here. Come get it.”

Let’s try this again.

Hey,

I just got a call from a customer who said you were unfriendly to them. I would really like to hear your side of the story. Do you have time to come see me this afternoon so we can work this out? I’m sure it’s just a misunderstanding.

Vs.

Hey,

I just got a call from a customer who said you were rude to them. You have got to tone it down. We need to talk about this a.s.a.p. I need you in my office before noon. This is not the kind of behavior I tolerate.

Again, which email would you rather receive? While both emails contain the same basic information, one is open-minded and non-accusatory; taking the facts as they are known and relaying them in a way that gets attention, but also lets the recipient know that no judgement is going to be handed down until both sides have fully vetted the information related to the situation. The other email is accusatory, judgmental and automatically assumes the recipient is at fault. Yes, both senders want to talk to the recipient, but it is apparent one prefers to hear both sides of the story before making any decisions while the other has already made a judgement call on the situation.

You can make or break any relationship via email. The trick is to find the right words, in the right context, which will convey the right meaning to the recipient. This is extremely difficult at times. Also, there are some folks who simply cannot do this, no matter how much they might want to or how hard they try. Bottom line is you need to write, and read, email with your human voice instead of your electronic one.

Here’s another way to look at it: If you are automatically inclined to react in a particular way to an email from a particular person, there’s nothing that particular person can do to beautify their words so you won’t take offense. I mean, let’s face it: there are some folks who just rub you the wrong way, no matter what they do, right? Just as there are folks who you can’t help but like, even if you may not really want to.

So, this voiceless communication thing is a two-sided coin. On one side, a sender really needs to pay attention to the words they are using, taking into consideration how those words will be received on the other end and if those words will convey their meaning in an appropriate, non-offensive way. On the other side, the recipient really needs to pay attention to the words as they are written and make an attempt to hear them with the human intonations with which they were intended.

Bottom line is: words are words, meaning is meaning, but undertone, intent, and predetermined feelings such as like and dislike are also key factors to consider when composing electronic communications. It’s a skill. And like any skill, it takes practice. So the next time you sit down to compose an email – however brief – consider the above-mentioned factors of words, meaning, undertone, intent, and feeling as you type. You may just find that your email has a positive impact on more levels than you ever thought possible.

Can you pass The Resume Test?

You all have been listening to me spew advice, thoughts, peeves, rants and other information for a long time now.  For that, I must say thank you.  I have a lot of experience and lot of knowledge, but it’s all self-taught and learned through many years of keen observation and asking enough questions to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool.  The point is: I know what I’m talking about and I don’t make stuff up because it sounds good.

One thing I know – for absolutely certain – is what employers (recruiters, specifically) are looking for when they review resumes and assess applications.  Bottom line?  They’re looking for formatting faux-pas, spelling snafus, and informational inconsistencies as much as they’re looking for employment experience and skill set.  Yes, the alliteration is fun, but what those alliterative allusions allude to (sorry, couldn’t help myself) could be detrimental to your job search.  You can be certain they’re testing you.

Have you ever asked yourself this question: “I’ve put out tons of resumes, I know my stuff and I’m an great candidate, so why am I not getting any call backs?”

First of all, the very best piece of advice I can give you is, “SLOW DOWN!”  You may be in a hurry to get a job, and therefore in a hurry to update your resume and start submitting applications, but don’t.  Hurry, that is.  Take your time.  Be thoughtful.  Be deliberate.  And BE HONEST.

Secondly, when you put together your resume, have a trusted friend look it over.  Heck, have two friends look it over.  Ask your friend to not only look for glaring errors, but ask them to think like a recruiter: what would they want to see?  If possible, show your friend a copy of one of the job ads you’ve responded to and ask them to impartially consider the match.  Also, have them take resume format into account.  Not just the way your resume is laid out on paper, but to look for spacing problems or things that just seem…off.  Then, no matter what they say, listen.

Third, SPELL CHECK!  This cannot be stressed enough.  You could be the best match for the job, but spelling errors could get you fired before you’ve even gotten the job.  Most employers aren’t going to think, “Well, she looks great on paper, and those spelling errors are probably just accidents, so let’s get her in here for an interview.”  They’re not going to give you the benefit of the doubt.  They are looking for the best, so be the best.  Further, most spelling errors aren’t accidents.  Yes, typos happen, but the worst thing you can do is show a potential employer you don’t know how to spell.  The second worst is showing them you didn’t bother to spell check your work.  Spell Check is there for a reason, so use it.

And lastly, be very careful about inconsistencies with your time-line.  In any type of resume, if you list start and end dates of a previous job and then have months or years in between listing your next job, consider saying something of what you were doing during that time.  For example: From July 2012 through January 2013 assisted a family member recovering from major surgery.  Whatever the case may be, say something so a potential employer knows you were not simply sitting around on the couch, eating yellow cheesy sludge out of a bucket with your fingers, and hollering at the television while collecting an unemployment check.  For that matter, if you were collecting unemployment, you may want to say something like: From July 2012 through January 2013 was actively seeking permanent employment.

One other thing.  It is in your best interest to keep your resume to one page, or two pages printed on one sheet if you’re using hard copy.  It is definitely a challenge to get all of your important information on one back-to-back page, but if a recruiter has to read War and Peace, they’re going to get bored awfully quickly.  Would you want to risk it?

The above tidbits don’t just apply to resumes, but also to online applications and any forms a potential employer may send you to fill out.  Also, understand this: Your resume is not the right place for elaborating.  The interview itself is the right place and time for further explanations and storytelling.  A recruiter worth his or her salt will only pre-screen potential employees who pass the resume test.  If you’re job hunting, go back and really look at your resume.  Do you think YOU would pass the resume test?

PS: Tananda says. “For the love of all that is holy… do not use some sort of decorative font or put artwork/graphics/selfies all over it.” For what it’s worth, I wholeheartedly agree. Once you’ve got the words on the paper, let them speak for themselves.

SERIES: EMAIL DISEASES: HOW THEY AFFECT YOUR LIFE AND HOW YOU CAN AVOID THEM (ISSUE 4: TOTAL INFORMATION OVERLOAD or EMAIL IN-BOX APOCALYPSE)

Kaboom

In an age where we have so many options for communicating, we rarely communicate. I mean, yeah – we all still talk to each other – but do we really communicate? If you’re like me, you spend a lot of time on Total Information Overload (T.I.O. – Remember that; I’ll use it again) and sometimes, especially in times of high-stress or high-emotion, T.I.O. is, quite literally, the straw that breaks the camel’s back. You know what I mean. It’s the “If I have to deal with/fix/listen to/solve one more problem I’m gonna [insert your own descriptor here]” symptom of a greater issue.

All that being said, at this point we’re only going to get busier. Information is going to continue to flow faster and faster. Things will change so rapidly we’ll eventually be buying new tech every other week as our “old” tech continues to become obsolete just so we can keep up. It’s maddening.

I know when I’m in T.I.O., I tend to shut down. I remove myself from most social media; I don’t write anything I don’t absolutely have to write; I don’t read anything I don’t absolutely have to read; I don’t talk to anyone I don’t absolutely have to talk to. I’m not being mean or even truly anti-social; I’m in full self-preservation mode. To be honest, my withdrawal is probably more for the sake of those around me than for my own. Heaven only knows what might come out of my mouth on an off day – or even an off minute.

You: Where in the heck is she going with this?

Me: I do realize I’ve taken the long way around the barn and I’m currently at risk of running away with the horse. Please hang in there.

You: <sigh> Okay.

(Truth be told, this could be considered – at least in part – a continuation of Tananda’s “Skimmers and Non-Readers” article from several months ago. But it’s also more than that.)

Let me simplify. What is, for all intents and purposes, the most commonly used form of business communication these days? That’s right! Good for you! It’s email. We’re absolutely inundated by, and totally dependent upon, email. I know I am, at any rate. Sometimes it’s next to impossible to weed through it all, and yes, sometimes things get missed. But in my case (and I can truly only speak for myself here) things aren’t missed because I’m lazy. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, I miss things because I’m overwhelmed. Total. Information. Overload. I work very hard to make sure I accurately take stock of the information which has been communicated to me and disseminate it appropriately.

Perhaps one has an email which informs one of the date and time of an upcoming event, but the information on said event is buried among the verbiage weeds. You literally have to dig through the barrage of words to find the pertinent information. Even the best of us struggle with such a task. (With apologies, we so-called “writers” – because I would never condescend to truly call myself a writer – tend to err on the side of being overly verbose.)

Let’s pretend you’re like me – a very busy administrative assistant – trying to make heads or tails of not only your own email, but your boss’s in-box as well. Now, let’s pretend you’ve become involved in a chain of back-and-forth emails between yourself, and another (at least one other) individual. Pay attention here:

From:                    Them

To:                          You

Subject:               Quarterly Report

Hey – just checking in to see how that report is going.

_____

From:                    You

To:                          Them

Subject:               RE: Quarterly Report

Hi. Great! Just putting the finishing touches on it. It should be in your in-box by noon.

_____

From:                    Them

To:                          You

Subject:               RE: RE: Quarterly Report

Fantastic. Thanks!

On another note, do you think you’d be able to help with the annual fundraiser this fall?

_____

From:                    You

To:                          Them

Subject:               RE: RE: RE: Quarterly Report

Sure, I don’t see why not. Send me the details.

OK – enough pretend; back to reality now.

You just witnessed one example of something the organizationally challenged abhor. At least, this organizationally challenged individual abhors it. One might even go so far as to call it a peeve, though I think that’s stretching it. Silly, but true.

You:       What in the heck is she talking about? That email exchange looks fine to me!

Me:        Be patient, my young Padawan.

Notice, if you will, the subject change? No, not in the actual subject line – ah ha! – but in the body of the email. Now, consider a few months down the road “Them” comes back to you and says, “…but you said you’d help with the annual fundraiser!” after you’ve publically announced you’d be taking a short leave of absence. And you, being the conscientious person you are, go back to check because you can’t really recall what you’ve committed to and, though you know something came through about it, the details are a little fuzzy. (Hey, it’s months later; you can hardly remember what you had for dinner the night before!) Do you believe you could quickly and accurately find this little gem among the overwhelming number of emails which have hit your in-box since the original request?

I don’t care how diligent you are, how organized you are, or how good your memory is. This would be nearly like trying to uncover the proverbial needle from the proverbial haystack.  But – what if you took the same exchange (I won’t reiterate it) and changed the subject to Annual Fundraiser when you hit “Reply” that last time? Not only would it make your life easier, it would make searching it out several months later easier as well. It would also accurately represent the content of the email and document the subject change.

Furthermore, upon separating the wheat from the chaff, you realize that yes, you’d been asked to help with the annual fundraiser, but your request for further details was accidentallyonpurpose ignored and therefore you have nothing further to go on except the original agreement to assist. Therefore, the “argument” in question is invalid. You win.

Yeah, yeah – I know. Asking folks to change the subject in the subject line of an email would be like asking people to reinvent the wheel, or rediscover fire, or relearn how to breathe in O2 and breathe out CO2. And anyway, it was just a suggestion.

Let’s take this one very confusing step further, shall we? We’re going to pretend, for the sake of this argument, there are seven people involved in the email exchange above. Seven. Not a couple, not a few, more than several, but not a lot. It starts innocuously, asking about the status of the Quarterly Report, and then morphs into a request to assist with the fall fundraiser. Are you with me so far? And with responses from the seven folks who all agree to help with the fundraiser, you now have multiple answers, suggestions on what to do, ideas, themes, colors schemes, rules, a ridiculous amount of Reply-to-All instances which have quickly gotten out of hand (thank you very much) and suddenly your in-box is not just overwhelmed, but on the verge of exploding; you along with it. Most unfortunately, there is no possible way to stem the tide at this point. The email has taken on a life of its own and all you can do is hang on and hope you don’t get crushed.

Six weeks down the road, someone asks, “Hey, who came up with the idea of putting glitter on all the banquet table centerpieces? I’d like to give them a piece of my mind! I’m covered with glitter. I think I may even be pooping glitter. My 4 year old daughter thinks I’ve been hanging out with unicorns and fairies.”

Yeah. Good luck with that.

The bottom line is, in a post email in-box apocalypse, there is no hope of ever effectively going back to find out who came up with what idea because, guess what? The subject line still says “Quarterly Report” and didn’t have anything to do with fundraising.

Or glitter.

The New Cheese: Leadership Guide for the Professionally Traumatized

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For all of us with professional PTSD…

Today, I had a “skip-level meeting.” Now, for those of you who do not know what a skip-level meeting is (I had to Google it, actually), it is a meeting with leadership to whom you do not directly report. I actually had never heard my meetings with upper management described in this way. It was a little unsettling at first.

So, to give a better idea of what goes through my mind when I have meeting invitations from management, I need to talk a little about my own past relationships with managers. I’m going to attempt not to air any dirty laundry. It’s not exactly my style to talk out of school, but without an understanding of my history, most of what I’m going to impart is not going to make much sense.

I’ve been both blessed and cursed in my employment history. The managers and supervisors to whom I’ve reported have run the gamut and hit all points on the scale of managerial aptitude. I won’t take you all the way back to the Stone Age, but I will say that my initial forays into the world of the working weren’t really all that bad. I personally did not grasp the sitcom stereotype of the horrible boss. I figured, in all honesty, that most employers and supervisors had their good days and their bad days, just like anyone else.

And then… I worked for a dragon. It wasn’t so much that power image of dragoness. It was more breath that could kill at 20 paces and a somewhat ungovernable temper that caused an entire office of people to walk around on eggshells. I suppose this was also my first experience with “skip-level meetings” since I was frequently called into her office (and yes, just like it sounds… always felt like getting called into the principal) though I reported directly to the person below her. It never boded well, to be called into that office, and she was one of those types that actually designed her office with the visitor’s chair sitting lower than hers while she presided behind a large desk. Now that I am older and more experienced, if not wiser, I recognize these behaviors for what they are: Power manipulation. But back in my days of innocence (do not laugh), I just felt exactly what I was supposed to… intimidated.

Escaping from that situation felt like surviving the Titanic. At that point, I figured nothing could be worse… Never challenge worse.

As it happens, my next superior was like a breath of fresh air. Honestly, he smelled better, and he was kind and supportive. I could not have asked for a better teacher and clinical supervisor. I learned a great deal reporting to him, but bless his heart, he was disorganized. Think absent minded professor, but better dressed (I actually believed his spouse assisted with that last bit). However, it detracted not even slightly from my experience as an employee. I learned to remind him of things that were important, and what I got out of the relationship with regards experience and knowledge was well worth any occasional frustration when he couldn’t find the paperwork I gave him three times.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end. In this case, my dearly beloved clinical supervisor and boss moved on to greener pastures and we got a new director. It wasn’t bad… for a while.

I’m not going into details of the next several years. Suffice to say that the majority of my current levels of work-related post traumatic response is due to the years that followed. To be honest, I cannot lay all the blame upon my employer. I can lay a large portion of it, because some of the things done were ethically and morally reprehensible. However, I will also say that I take responsibility for my own weaknesses and naivety. Because I lacked confidence in my own worth, I allowed myself to be manipulated and believed that I had no choices but to continue working for someone who made it their purpose to make the workplace toxic to me until I would comply with some, shall we say less professional requests. Eventually, things got beyond what I could tolerate, and I woke up. I handed in my resignation without any idea of where I was going next, but I could no longer put up with what I knew to be… in plain language… just bloody wrong. I walked away with thoughts of leaving my career path entirely. Anyhow, the universe rewarded me for making the right choices, and a new job was offered before the week was out. It came with a pay raise and the second of the most admirable bosses in my life.

Again, I was lucky to have this boss come along at that point in my life. He was everything that his predecessor was not. That said, it was a traumatic occurrence for both of us the first time we had a one-to-one meeting for feedback and supervision. I really do feel sorry for him. It was a little too close to my recent traumatic near-decade of abusive work relationship. He led off with “You are one of the smartest people I’ve met…” and I burst into tears. Yep. Poor dear. He didn’t know what he had done, but that particular phrase in my past always prefaced something truly horrid. Terrible, demeaning statements that left me feeling small and worthless. Hell of a thing, isn’t it, and not expected at all given that you would think being told you are intelligent would bolster the ego. Again, my poor boss was at a complete loss. I excused myself and took a moment to compose. I was absolutely certain that I would likely be considered a complete basket case and my time with my new employer would be curtailed. In all of this, I underestimated my new boss, probably because I wasn’t used to professionalism or compassion anymore. When I managed, with great embarrassment, to reenter the room, I managed to explain what had overwhelmed my ability to maintain composure. He not only did not hold it against me, but he understood. Perhaps he had some sort of experience that was similar in his own past. He recognized that I was recovering from being bullied in the workplace. I am grateful to him for helping me step away from that shadow and remember that a manager doesn’t have to be an ogre. To this day, this is the boss I think of when I am trying to gauge my behaviors and manage my own staff.

I’ve had a few more managers in between. Some good. Some, not so much. One of sad facts of humanity is that we often retain the experience of negative much more readily and with more clarity than the positive counterparts. Thus, my motto of “blessing my teachers” more often applies to the less pleasant interactions in my past. I wish that it were not so.

Going back to my “skip-level” meeting with the director, I was irrationally anxious. It didn’t help that it was rescheduled several times (the director’s schedule is positively ridiculous, and I don’t know how she does it, but that is an entirely different matter). The thing is, by the time that the meeting actually occurred, I was positively freaking out. I had all manner of unpleasant projections of what the meeting would entail. Again, I remind you that we tend to remember most clearly the negative, and just like Pavlov’s dogs, I went straight to my worst experiences of the past. As it happens, the meeting was very positive. She’s a brilliant business woman and understands way more of the corporate political machine and what it takes to run the business than I ever will. My fears were irrational and unfounded (no, kidding). It just made me ruminate on the differences between the leadership I have experienced and the bosses that have been inflicted upon me that resulted in my workplace PTSD.

Coincidentally, I’ve been participating in a management group training about the culture of our organization. Our last session was all about what sort of shadow we cast as a manager. By that, they mean for us to think about how our employees would describe each of us as a manager. We talked about the difference between being a critic and a coach. Critics find flaws, present obstacles, interrupt, nitpick, and listen only to judge or criticize. Coaches encourage, focus on outcomes, find the gold in the ideas presented, are willing to hear other points of view, and listen to understand. That’s a pretty simple, boiled-down version, but I will tell you for whom I would prefer to work.

Each and every manager participating discussed their own nightmares from the past and the common element was those supervisors who were always a critic, but never a coach. That did not mean everyone wanted cheerleaders exhibiting all the traits of Pollyanna. The idea is to be sincere in praise and positives, but if something is wrong to address it as an opportunity for learning or improvement. Yeah, I know. It’s not always possible to avoid the negative entirely. Sometimes, you have to pull out the bitch card (I actually have some of those… I got them for a birthday present one year). However, that should be the exceptions. What I took away from those sessions was that I want to be remembered like my clinical supervisor and the boss that started my road to career recovery. I do not want to be remembered for power struggles and gamey manipulation. I want my staff to know that if I say it I mean it (whether it is bad or good). I want to lead, I don’t want to merely drive.

I hope that not everyone who reads this has had some of the incredibly traumatizing job situations that I have had the misfortune to experience, but I’m realistic. I know that most have had some bad jobs or bad bosses that have impacted you and your expectations of treatment in the workplace. For those who have, like me, moved into management or supervisory roles, I encourage you to be a coach instead of a critic. Lead your people instead of driving them. Be a leader, not a boss. Maybe we cannot change our history, but perhaps the managers of today can help decrease the amount of workplace trauma going forward.

Pie and the Dalai Lama: Writing Bios

No… not BIOS. Different topic. Not my bailiwick. Well, it sorta used to be, but I digress. That’s not what I’m talking about. Bios. Biographical content. Those little blurb things that people put on dust jackets and seminar packets and programs for lectures and playbills. Those witty little summaries that people seem to put together that takes all of their life and interests and rolls them into a 150-word attractive package to let anyone interested in more than just the content of the book, lecture, or entertainment production know the real person behind it all. There are at least two of said bios in the About section of this blog. I think maybe all of 2 people have actually read mine. It is, as I said, probably the least interesting part of the whole shebang so… not necessarily worth the read. However, for ALL of the people who would rather know who is typing this drivel, the information is there in pithy commentary laid out to give you the snapshot of who I am.
That said. I HATE WRITING MY OWN BIO. I always do. I generally believe I suck it at, and what do I say? Seriously? No one wants to know about me. Hell, I wouldn’t want to know about me, either. I’m boring. I talk about neurochemicals and the dopaminergic response to antipsychotic medications. I occasionally discuss Dr. Who and Star Trek and many other terribly nerdy things. I obsess about books and… sadly, work. I talk about my cat and spend way too much time considering whether he thinks of me as a food source (the jury is still out).

Therefore, when it comes to requests for me to write my bio, I panic. I freeze like a deer in the headlights. I consider running away to a foreign country. My mind becomes a beautiful and drool-inspiring blank. Brilliant. So helpful. NOT! Strangely enough, I have been asked to perform this task more than once. You would think that by now I might be over my phobia, block, general dislike of the task. Not so much. I still stare at a blank screen or page like a monkey doing a math problem and dither between “I like pie,” and “This is my erudite application to be the next Dalai Lama.”

And there you have the crux of the matter. Seriously, if I write this thing from my heart and first impulses, people would walk out of an auditorium as soon as they read the blurb in the program. They would leave the book on the shelf. There is no way anyone would actually put time into anything produced by anyone quite so incompetent.

Obviously, this is the bio produced by the darkest parts of my insecurities and all those self-deprecating instincts instilled by a lifetime of acculturation as a southern female following the footsteps of generations of my foremothers. You just don’t brag on yourself. That is considered rude. Well… it was. I think things are changing a bit, but it is hard, so very difficult to undo all those years of being told that “nice, polite girls do not compliment themselves.”

So, I try to be objective. Take a good, honest look and who I am, what I have accomplished, and put all of that into words that are positive and believable. That is usually when the monster from the closet of insecurities (extra points if you are a Bloom County fan and caught that one) comes out and says, “Really?!? You think you are all that?!? Hahahahahahahah!” And I’m back to “I like pie!”

What makes a bio more difficult to me than say, a resume, is that you can’t have just one standard one that you use for every situation. For authors, public speakers, or subject matter experts who make public appearances, lectures, and book tours, the focus is generally the same every time. They have their field of expertise, their latest book, their regular genre. The audience for these things stays pretty much the same each time, as does their topics of presentation. They probably also have a snazzy publisher/editor who does the despicable bio-writing task for them. For actors and actresses (or do you all prefer to be called just actors or performers… again I digress), different roles are taken, but people just want to know your bio for what else they may have seen you in and what do you do in your off stage hours and for the creepy fans, are you single? For the rest of us mere mortals, we have to consider what is our role this time? Who is the audience? What about my pedigree and credentials is going to be important enough to them to make it worth their time to actually listen to or read what I’ve put together. Different subjects draw different crowds, and while the Board of Professional Counselors, Marriage and Family Therapists, and Pastoral Counselors may want to hear me give a lecture on the use of technology in process addiction research and treatment, it is unlikely that they are going to come and hear me sing show tunes from Chicago in a local theatrical review. See? Different audience. There may be overlap, but the professional board probably won’t particularly care that I was in the Dhahran Theater Group production of Guys and Dolls, and audiences wanting to hear me sing “When You’re Good to Mama” are going to take a powder for the production by reading that my interests include the varying PET scans of brains focused on different sensory and cognitive functions.

So, how the hell do I figure it out? First, who is the audience? Usually I have some basic idea of the people who will be attending. If the person inviting me to speak can’t tell me that much… I might actually want to skip it as it may just be a thinly veiled abduction attempt by aliens. The thing about audience is that it lets you know if they want to know your professional credentials and why they should trust your knowledge base, OR they may want to know more about you as a person and value that you aren’t an android (providing you actually are not an android. If you are, that would be fascinating… but maybe awkward). Once I have the audience, I have to think about what my subject matter will be. It always helps me if they give me a word count or some sort of limitation. That way I know whether I need to write a telegraph message or War and Peace (exaggeration of course… NO ONE wants to read a War and Peace variety bio).

After I address the content and what elements I want to include or that I actually want anyone to know about me, I read it aloud all the way through for flow. People usually read the same way I do. They hear it in their head. If I can’t actually read it without the cat looking at me funny… well, funnier than usual, then I probably need to rework it. Then, unless specifically given instruction for longer, I edit to keep it at 150 words or less. Read it through again and send it to a friend or colleague to see if it is actually readable.

One of these days, maybe I’ll have snazzy editors to write something that is less embarrassing and painful for me, but for now… I guess I will just keep trying to keep it somewhere between pie and the Dalai Lama.