It’s been a minute since I’ve contributed anything for TNC. What am I saying? It’s been more than a minute since I posted anything at all…
I’m sorry. With all the best of intentions for posting more regularly, I find time passing with a remarkable rapidity while I’m juggling flaming brands and suddenly it’s been months between posts. At least I know I’m not alone in post frequency lapses as my friends Tangent and Tess have both attested to in their own forums. Life happens and as previously attested, time passes. And that is about as much apologizing as I’m going to do on this point… back to what prompted this post…
Competing. Now, all in all, I have to say that healthy competition can be very beneficial. A lot of erudite folks have actually done studies to show that children among peers actually progress better when they have evenly matched colleagues to spur their own creative or productive efforts in competition. There is absolutely nothing wrong with competing or testing our own abilities against those of others. There are large amounts of money spent and made off of this concept on a professional and even amateur levels of this in sporting events. However, it isn’t limited to just physical prowess.
Competition is everywhere. It exists in academia. It exists, obviously, in market and business. It exists in the workplace. Employers in sometimes well-meaning but unthinking ways attempt to encourage productivity or innovation by creating competition and comparison in the office. In the purity of form, there really isn’t anything wrong with this either. Humans tend to excel when given something to exceed, even when that something to exceed is their colleague or a team in the other department or a different segment of the business. But, it can be taken too far. Additionally, it can become a lifestyle or a culture and that can become stressful and unhealthy.
Every job has expectations. Most employers have to set a scale of some sort that identifies when an employee is meeting or exceeding (or even failing to meet) those expectations. In artistic or creative arenas, the esthetics become the measure of acceptance and success. However in the more prosaic areas of toil and with larger workforces, you have to have something a bit more objective. It would be wonderful to just say everyone deserves the same increase or bonus, but that is neither feasible or realistic. Also, human beings are … well… human. If Sally looks over and sees John sitting on his laurels and doing nothing but knows that she is paid the same as he is regardless… Sally wonders why she should have to work so hard. She might (if she has no pride in her actual work) give up and decide to slack off like John. “We’re all getting paid the same anyway… why should I bother?”
And there it is… the downside of the competition/comparison game…
The bigest fail point of competition or comparison is that when we start trying to evaluate score and tally it up by comparing ourselves to some other person, we are always going to lose. This isn’t just in the workplace, by the way. I talk to couples all the time who have gotten stuck in this imaginary scoreboard where one party always thinks they are doing more than the other. Nobody wins. Everyone feels like they get the short end of the deal. It creates resentment and hurt feelings and antagonism instead of support. In relationships, it generally takes a while to counter the mindset of the score-keeping competition. I end up spending a lot of time trying to get each party to start feeling more like a team player instead of looking to see how they are getting short-changed in the system. The same occurs in the workplace. Overly competitive environments breakdown sense of team and turn everything into silos of influence where people hold back information and decline to help so that they can “out perform” that guy over there or the other business segment.
Again, I’m not saying that competition is a bad thing. It often results in better options for a customer as people try to offer better for less. However, in less purely capitalistic arenas (and when taken to extremes), it can lead to negativity. Comparing oneself to others constantly generally leads to resentment and lassitude. “I’m never going to be like her/him… so, quit trying?” or better yet, “It wouldn’t matter if I did ten times the stuff they’re doing, I’ll never get the credit. So, I’m just going to do what it takes to get by…” It’s depressing, and for managers who try to encourage the best performance from all members of their team it’s exhausting, disheartening, and sometimes quite infuriating. Again, it’s applicable in other, non-work instances because whenever people compare their own input into a situation, relationship, or project, they always feel like they are doing more than the other participants and getting less out of it. Aaannnnndddd… resentment again.
So, when is it ok to compare, or perhaps, is there a comparison that can be more positive? Why, yes there is! It is absolutely free, and if you call in the next 5 minutes…oh wait, that’s something else. What I mean to say is the best comparison is always to our own performance. When we are looking to others instead of to our own performance past and present, we’re never running our best race. For many, winning against someone else only involves doing the minimal effort to just surpass rather than giving it all we’ve got. The best competition is always to better our own performance and achieve personal goals, taking pride in that outcome. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love recognition and external praise/reward as much as the next person… it’s just if I rely solely on that for my sustenance, I’m probably gonna starve, but that is a whole other issue (SELF-PITY PARTY FOR ONE, YOUR TABLE IS READY!) Consistently working to improve and seeking self-approbation for achieving a goal can be incredibly satisfying. For myself, I enjoy a friendly competition now and then, but the true wins for me will always be judged on how I did against myself.
I’ve come to a very difficult conclusion in my life… I’m old.
At least, that is the best and most feasible explanation for what I might term as an involuntary revulsion and full body shudder when watching current events, attending meetings, listening to conference calls, or reading emails and allegedly professional publications. I’ve seriously tried to find any other explanation than my downward slide into the deterioration of advanced years, but I was finally forced to face my fears and dreads. I’m old. I’ve reached that stage of maturity that twitches at the extreme levels of informality and familiarity that speaks only given names and coins terminology that Webster never intended. I’m not the cool, hip career woman I wanted to be…
Did I really want to be? And… that is a topic for a whole other post. My point here is a peeve of mine (pet? not really): The overuse of “hip” jargon, slang, and familiarity in allegedly professional contexts. Honestly, I do understand the desire to appeal to the young and innovative generations, but seriously? Do we have to give over all dignity? And to be frank, what does some of that crap mean?!?
Just for example, let me run through some of the more glaring vocabulary issues.
Side hustle. This is also known to most people as a second job. Yeah, so apparently that doesn’t sound nearly cool enough. Therefore making it sound like something you could possibly be arrested for on the street corner while catching a communicable disease sounds oh so much better.
Buy-in. This one isn’t nearly so twitch-inducing to me, but it is possibly due to over-saturation levels of hearing it when I worked briefly in the advertising segment of a business publication (yes, that happened… I don’t like to talk about it). Anyhow, the problem is minor, but here it is. This terminology is fine if you are talking about investing… or possibly poker. However, it has come to be used in business situations as accepting an idea. It has the power of making someone who doesn’t actually go along with the proposal feel that they are missing out on a deal, right? “ACT NOW… While supplies last…WE HAVE OPERATORS STANDING BY…”
Move the needle. Unless you are a seismic event, or possibly a lie detector? What people generally mean by this is to point out that a change will or won’t actually have a measurable effect. See what I did there? I used actual vocabulary that explains that any change of process should be impactful. It should have a measurable outcome. In other words, we don’t just do something to say “look what we are doing.” It should have a result. That said, this little phrase probably sounded truly profound… the first time. After saying it for every bloody process change, it rather loses that shiny new profundity. When it is applied to process changes that have no appreciable effect? It loses all meaning.
Corporate values. Only one thing to say about this one. Corporations don’t have values. People have values. Corporations have policies. Boil it down, people. The leadership of a company values certain human characteristics and believes that those characteristics will support the identified mission of the company? Awesome. Then, say that.
Take the temperature. Because someone might have a fever or be incubating a virus? Because you want to see what to wear today? What the actual…? Apparently, this little phrase has taken the place of hoary ol’ chestnuts like “testing the water.” I suppose it is meant to say that you are evaluating whether someone is amenable to an idea? Like, “I think they are warming up to me,” or perhaps, “She seems quite cool in her demeanor.” However, it seems just a little invasive, to be honest. I always seem to picture a rectal thermometer… ok, so no one else does that? My bad…
Game-changer. This one makes my list because, honestly, overuse. Everything is a “game-changer” it seems. Truth be told, the results never quite answer to the hype there. Additionally… it’s not all a game. If everything seems like a game to you, might I interest you in an MMPI for psychopathy?
Empower. Great word. Improperly used most of the time. I believe entirely in empowering people. That is to say that I think individuals should be given the tools and knowledge to advocate for themselves. I think they should be given opportunity to grow. However, I see this used more often by managers, directors, and various forms of business leadership as a way to spin their disengagement from advocating for their own employees. Instead of abandoning them to sink or swim, “I’m empowering them to act on their own behalf.” Um… really? I don’t think that is what that is supposed to mean.
Open the kimono. So, I’ll just disclose here that I’ve never truly heard this one used myself, but I read it in an article and snarfled my coffee. There are so many things wrong with this phrase, I do not have sufficient time or space to innumerate. It is meant to be a clever euphemism for “reveal the information.” The levels of cultural and gender insult… well, let me just say that I hope that I never actually encounter this phrase in real life. Lewd. Inappropriate. Slightly perverted.
Think outside the box. Again, overuse, and if we truly examine the number of years that everyone has been encouraged to think outside of this imaginary box, it begs the question: Is anyone thinking inside it anymore? Does the box even exist? Maybe the new innovative thinker thinks inside the box.
Drill down/Deep dive. I put these phrases together because they generally mean the same thing. It is someone’s attempt to illustrate getting into the most minute of details regarding a project or report. Often the reason for this is a negative outcome or errors. It is technically not that offensive, but it is unnecessarily “cool” terminology. It makes it sound like an adventure instead of what it truly is: A lot of time examining huge amounts of information looking for what amounts to a specific needle in a pile of other remarkably similar needles.
And now to the section that I like to call “grammatically challenged” or “what part of speech are you?”
Solutioning. This is not a word. Most spellcheckers will actually scream at you for even trying to type it. So, stop it! Solution is a noun. It is NOT a verb of transitive, action, or passive form. You cannot add -ed or -ing to it. The word you are looking for is solve. When we are trying to make the meaning of this word an action, we say SOLVE! or solving or solves or solved. We can resolve. However solution is the result of solving… unless we are talking about chemistry and that is the combination of two or more elements… or is that a compound. Anyhow, the moral of the story… stop trying to solution things.
Leverage (as a verb). Again, see above. A lot of folks like to use this to mean influence or put on pressure to change a situation or opinion in their own favor. This would be applying leverage.
Ask (as a noun). I’m not precisely sure where this came from originally. A friend actually told me that this is a prison culture form of speaking. In that context, “the ask” is a favor for which the person doing the asking is promising a future claim to the person granting the request. Oh, and yes, that is actually the correct form: The request. Ask is a verb.
Synergize/Synergistic. Blame Stephen Covey for this language/grammar mutilation. When he wrote about those 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, it was mind-blowing, ground-breaking, and a few other hyperbolic terms to describe common sense concepts collected and marketed in palatable form. He made the noun synergy into a verb to imply cooperation of two or more individuals with unique talents for the purpose of unified positive outcome. It’s been nearly 30 years now, it’s totally ok to use proper words again to describe collaboration.
Learning, or learnings (as a noun). This is another of those things that people say, going for clever… and missing. We do not get “learnings” from educational seminars or training programs. We can learn new facts and ideas. We can develop new skills. When I read or hear people talking about their “learnings,” I generally think they skipped class.
Socialize it. Apparently this is the new way we disseminate information. We no longer announce or provide. I blame social media for this one. Since Twitter and Facebook have a broader outreach capacity than your general office memo, the concept of broadcasting information that needs to reach masses of individuals can no longer be merely “told” or “shared.” I suppose socializing also makes it sound more fun. I suppose I can also blame certain psychological concepts. We talk about socializing children to help them learn to interact with others. However, might I call your attention to the fact that information shared doesn’t interact and doesn’t need to learn not to bite the other children in daycare.
Actionable. If you are not an attorney discussing legal aspects of a contract or case, please do not use this. Just no. Thank you.
Hack. “What’s wrong with hack?” I hear you say. We can hack through underbrush and hack fallen trees to create combustible fuel for warmth. The term has been adopted now by the computer age to mean taking apart code and sneaking through security. Sadly, now, it is now used as a noun… and verb… applied to life? I really do not need to hack up my life. It is quite unnecessary to damage it further. To call something a “life hack” sounds catchy and modern, clever… slightly illegal… and ridiculous. They aren’t hacks. Hack is a verb. It is a strategy or an idea or a helpful piece of advice that might make something challenging more reasonable or simple. That’s not hacking. That’s helping.
There are others. Of course, there are; like everyone calling each other by first names and acting like everyone is old college chums in every board meeting. Overly familiar behavior, lack of formality, and general misuse of language. Every day someone, somewhere misuses a word that becomes popular slang because of the situation or the popularity of said person. Seemingly without end, I continue to hear these newly coined terms and assassinated parts of speech thrown about like rice at a wedding. Oh, wait, we don’t throw rice at weddings anymore. There’s that age thing again. It would just be nice to say what we mean without trying so hard to sound hip or cool. It’s become rather passé, which is the opposite of hip and cool, right? What I think, personally, would be fabulous would be for professional people in professional situations to actually conduct themselves and sound like they have intelligence and a sense of decorum and respect for their colleagues. That, in my so humble opinion, would be the hippest. And then again… maybe I’m just old.
One of the most amazing things about technology and the advances in communication is that we can impart messages and important information across our planet or even outside the planet (remember that we do speak with the people on the space station and get regular reports from that poor little rover on Mars that sings happy birthday to itself) in an almost unimaginable brief span of time. When you think about the fact that people used to have to deliver messages by carrying them by foot travel, equine travel, or other conveyance, this is an astounding evolution. One of the scariest things about technology… is the speed with which you can decimate relationships, reputations, and revenue with that same speed.
So, why is that speed and efficiency scary? Most of the time we, in the modern world, are consistently frustrated, irritable, and just plain pissy when we have to accommodate delays in any form or fashion. We’ve become very inured to instant gratification and immediate access to information. The pace at which we live our lives is breakneck and the tempo is constant without pause or quiet most of the time. However, I’m not discussing my displeasure with the way our society has ceased living in the present in this particular instance. Instead, I wish to go back to what I was saying about the speed with which we are able to send and receive communication via technology.
It is absolutely a miracle of modern contrivance, and it is more than useful to be able to stay in contact with people at long distances. However, the lack of pause and delay has shortened a particular gap between thought and action that previously gave opportunity for choice sandwiched somewhere in the middle. In this episode of Email Diseases, we are talking about what I will call “Sender’s Remorse.” Picture, if you will, employee Joe who is possibly having a rough day. He may have been cut off in traffic or spilled his coffee. Perhaps he has had a perfectly reasonable morning, but then upon reaching the office… [cue dramatic music]… he opens his email to perceive a particularly peevish request from Susan the boss. In this email, she is asking for the umpteenth time information that Joe has spent many hours collecting and collating, parsing and construing to Susan multiple times… but she either cannot lay hands upon said information, is too busy to look (especially when she has Joe that she can just ask again), or never read it the first time. Susan may suffer from a number of previous diseases covered in this series, and she may literally just not recall that he has sent this same information multiple times. But Joe does recall… He feels dismissed and that his hard work has been unappreciated and generally ignored. He is angry and irritable and has had a horrible morning already and is wearing the coffee to prove it, thereby increasing his lack of tolerance. Joe hits the Reply button before he has a moment to think. He types a scathing message in response to the request (possibly using inappropriate italics or SHOUTY CAPITAL LETTERS). He types with the speed and alacrity of a rapid firing machine gun. There! You clueless wonder, maybe now you will get the message through your remarkably impermeable cranium!!! and hits Send before any other impulse in his own cranium might have a chance to make other choices. This rash action may potentially set off a chain of email back and forth with unpleasant outcomes. If Susan the boss is so inclined and read negative attitude or tone into Joe’s response, there may be disciplinary action in poor Joe’s future. All because of hitting that Send button instantaneously.
The other aspects of an inadvertent, rashly Send could be incomplete information and failure to address all points of a request. This can also be linked to other email diseases such as skimming or non-reading. When we move with speed but lack of diligence and forethought, we can occasionally find that points are left unaddressed and certain communications can be misinterpreted, like poor Joe and his rash rapidity. With just a pause to think how his words might be received and perceived by his recipient, he might have elected to compose a different retort.
Victor Frankl, the founder of logotherapy, said “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Technology has shortened that gap to a mere fraction of what we used to have. It therefore becomes a conscious decision on the part of us in our daily lives to be more deliberate and to take the time to be conscious of our choices… even in something so simple as a phrase in an electronic message.
In a recent training conference, I heard a colleague talking about the “rule of three.” Now, I know there are several different rules of three out there, but the two most common of these with regards to electronic communication go like this:
Once the email chain goes back and forth three times, pick up the phone. It’s time to talk.
Read every email three times before hitting send: First for spellcheck and grammar; second for intent and content; and third for tone.
While it may seem to be picking nits and taking more time, it may save reputations, inbox from email jail, and good working relationships. So, the moral of the story would seem to be, in order to avoid sender’s remorse, pause before hitting Send to allow that intervening gap between the stimulus and our response for choice to be conscious, deliberate, and well thought.
Once upon a time, in a land far away… no, that’s not how that goes. Nevermind. However, I will say that at one point in our collective job markets and career paths the first step was always just getting your “foot in the door.” Am I right?
Of course I am. Think about it. How many self help books or blockbuster movies talk up the dream of “mailroom to boardroom”? We were all told, “Yeah, that may not be the job you want entirely, but it gets your foot in the door.” I must have had that particular sentence said to me more than 20 times over the years of job hunts and resume submissions. I recall trying to find something that would give me the vaunted experience that everyone wants. I applied so many places to hear that they were looking for “license eligible” or “more experience” or possibly “more skilled,” only to have my internal voice screaming Well, how the hell do I get those things without a J-O-B?!?
Eventually, I settled for a J-O-B that wasn’t in my chosen field, just to pay the bills. All the while, I was still trying to find that first step on my career path. I needed time in my profession. I needed experience… and I continued to hear the same things: “Well, I see here that you have held several positions, but none with any experience in healthcare/mental health.” Yep. It’s enough to discourage the most diligent of job hunters. Eventually, I was at the point of taking any job in the field, no matter the pay, just to be able to put something in my chosen path on my resume. Know what happened then? I bet you can guess. “I’m sorry, but you appear to be overqualified for a non-degree position.” Awesome.
I did gradually wear them down and got my first, barely paid, position with a local mental health agency. It worked. It was my “foot in the door.” I cannot tell you the giddiness with which I handed in my resignation to the 2-3 other jobs I was holding in completely non-related fields just to pay bills. I was finally getting to put my hard-earned degree to work. I saw before me a vista of career moves that led me to higher paths and eventual leadership and…
Five years into that position with barely an increase in salary over that time it dawned on me. I’m going nowhere. It wasn’t that I was content or unambitious. There was literally nowhere for me to go in the organization. My chosen step to place my foot in the door had landed me in a department with virtually no upward mobility and zero feed into senior leadership.
Here is the sad fact about the modern job market. A foot in the door doesn’t do what it used to do. This is where the once upon a time comes into the picture. At one time, in the not so very distant past, the idea was to get a position (any position) in a stable or up-and-coming organization. That meant that you were officially on the “ship” and could move around and up in the organization.
That is not always the case in the new, modern market. First, more and more corporations are following a “right-to-work” marketplace. It’s not a bad thing, but it doesn’t carry the lifetime (or working-lifetime) guarantee it used to carry. It means that the agreement between employer and employee can be terminated on either side at any time for almost any reason… or for no reason at all. While most organizations still follow a specific set of rules and processes to avoid potential damaging lawsuits or reputation burners, it is not technically necessary.
On the other side of that coin is the part about having a foot in the door and whether that gives you opportunity to do anything else except nurse your foot and stand there like a doorstop. Gone are the days of working your way up from the mail-room into the penthouse office of the CEO. Jobs and career paths have become specified, specialized, and terribly single-minded. Diverse and varied resumes need not apply. It seems that in the workforce of today, employers are looking for expertise rather than wide experience. Learning all parts of the job rarely gives extra points.
In many organizations, it is almost easier to get into management and leadership positions from the outside than from within. That sounds pretty odd, I know, but it is true. Some places have specific caps on how far you can jump from one position to another. For instance, many companies have a cap on the number of paygrades that a person can move. While a promotion of one or two paygrades is permissible, a jump of three or more will rule out a candidate faster than you can say glass ceiling. Additionally, even acquiring a paygrade promotion can potentially be limited in the compensation that goes with it. Some companies actually have rules (some actually in writing and others unspoken) that a raise of 5% per paygrade is what you can expect. This is one of the things that can impact a candidate’s ability to attain a higher promotion. In order for them to hold a position with that high a paygrade, it may technically require a higher compensation change, thus violating that rule. Outsiders applying for the same position are not in the same quandary. Their salary and change of salary is not necessarily in question or even in play (and strangely this particular topic of conversation seems to be taboo before the 2nd or 3rd interview… see Salary & Skilz).
So, you see what I am saying? No longer is merely a foot in the door the main consideration in the search for a job. Applying or accepting just any opening in a company or organization is not necessarily the best strategy for long term success within said organization. Where once entering a company at any level provided the opportunity for upward movement, promotion, and growth; now, candidates need to think well ahead for where they want to go within the job market and choose their entry points wisely.
So, too, the resume that once showed how well-rounded with varied experience an applicant is no longer may carry the strength it once did. Employers are looking for candidates that have experience and skills for the position in question and sometimes they look for loyalty (meaning longer duration in the different entries on the resume).
All of this sounds like a very disappointing and depressing outlook on getting into the job market. However, it shouldn’t be. It is merely a caution to be selective and savvy about the steps you take entering any potentially new opportunity for career. It also means that you may need to be patient and understand that an entry level position will not shoot you to the penthouse corner office like the proverbial rocket. It may take some strategy and a lot of patience to get potentially where you want to eventually go. Just make sure that the door you step through is the foot on the path to the place you want to go.
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.
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.
Consider the content. Is this information acceptable or appropriate to be shared?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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/
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.
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.
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.
A blog about a few thing I picked up along the way… Hey driver, where are we going?!?