Tag Archives: #TNC

The New Cheese: Sick at Work



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/

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


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 New Cheese: Leadership Guide for the Professionally Traumatized


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.


Artificial Unintelligence or the Day Siri Tried to Get Me Fired

So, there are entire site dedicated to the devil that is autocorrect. We have all seen and probably laughed heartily at the Freudian slips that our various communication devices seem to enjoy using to our abject horror. There are times when I am amazed and baffled at the hash that the circuitry seems to make of my simple exchanges. For example, who on earth would have gotten “Quetzalcoatl” from “mayonnaise”? For that matter, what the hell was the Aztec deity of wisdom and life doing in my phone in the first place?!? Points to ponder, that… Anyhow, as I was saying we all know that autocorrect is the bane of any neutrally classified conversation and the algorhythms thereof appear to have been deliberately programmed by a pubescent brain with a naughty streak that makes sexual innuendos from Captain Jack Harkness look like Sesame Street (extra points for those who got the reference). However, I believe that the voice activated artificial intelligence that have given personality to our smart phones may have exceeded even that threshold.

Though many of my brethren and sisters out there may have gone with other operating systems and their own flavors of artificial assistance, I have adhered to the evil fruity empire and that particular nemesis of my own… Siri. Please excuse my language, but Siri is an unmitigated bitch and works actively to make my life a more difficult place to live.

What could you possibly mean, Tananda? Siri does not have emotions or sentient thought. She is but a mere collection of programming and circuitry with only dichotomy decision making and search routines.

That’s just what she wants you to think!

Most people have the experience with Siri and other forms of electronic assistants of misunderstood speech and less than helpful answers. There was a whole range of commercials that made fun of GPS map systems with “RECALCULATING” as a regular punchline. Again, they are probably an easy target for humor since they have relatively simple interface and regardless of the progress one might perceive towards science-fiction-like computers and robotics, these devices are still in grammar school by comparison. It isn’t a negative observation, it is just realistic judgment of the initial stages of true human-to-machine interaction. To be completely honest, I’m not sure I want these things to get too clever. I’ve seen the movies, I don’t want to be controlled by our mechanical overlords, thanks.

Siri has, to this date, gotten me lost in some very unsavory situations and locations. She has a determined lack of desire to allow me to contact my mother by calling or texting. Instead she prefers to attempt to send the messages meant for my mother, my husband, or friends to business contacts and superiors who might not really appreciate being told that I love them or asking about various locations for planned debauchery. More than once I have attempted to ask the cow to “Call mom” or “Text Ted” to have her say, “What would you like to say to Doug Rodgers?” Seriously… or should that be Siriously?!? How on earth did she get that name from “mom” or “Ted”? It can lead to what I might like to call… “complications.” I’ve been brought to the brink of violence towards this disembodied entity that resides in my phone. More than once I have been diminished to the point of cursing at her with a string of profanity that rivals George Carlin’s Seven-Words-You-Can’t-Say-On-Television. To which Siri (proving that she is passive aggressive and has a seriously sadistic bent) replied “Okie Dokie, artichoke” at one time and “I was merely trying to help” at another. See what I mean?!? She’s evil. However, nothing quite compares to the day Siri tried to get me fired.

That is what I said. You read it correctly. It is my sincerest belief that while Siri is supposed to be without true sentience or personality, she secretly has “woken up” and become my archenemy and wants me to die a horrible death… or at very least be fired and forced to live in ignominy and humiliation for the rest of my days. So, for the record, I’m putting it on paper… well, not paper, but electronic version thereof… you know what I mean! I want witnesses dammit!!!

For those of you who do not know, I am actually a manager of a team of outreach specialists in the field of healthcare. I have quite a number of them who work for me, but in the infancy of the program, I had but three. Bless them, they worked hard and put up with all my stumbling attempts to define what our program would become. It was a struggle, but we made it… and I digress. As it happens, one of my first employees was male. He came to our employment relationship well recommended with a good many years of experience already under his belt. We’ve since that time gotten to know each other pretty well, but starting out, things were the stiff and professional interactions you might recognize. Everything was still very new and personalities were still figuring themselves out a tad. I primarily was trying to do my best to give an impression of professionalism to inspire confidence in the people working for me.

So, as the business day came to a close one evening, I was heading across town in my jeep. Like a good many people in the workforce today who need to communicate quickly in a variety of circumstances, my crew uses texting. Before any of the HIPAA-aware folks out there start freaking out, no protected health information flows through these lines. It is primarily a way of addressing generic information and safety considerations. Things like, “I’m leaving” or “I’ve arrived” to indicated things that the police have lovely codes for like 10-8 or 10-77.

On this particular day, we had been struggling with a case and trying to access resources in a very short timeframe. My staff member texted me as I was driving to say something along the lines of being unable to fulfill all the requests that were made of us that day.

Now, I’m not one of those who will text and drive. I’ve always seen it as dangerous, and given my propensity for clumsiness and lack of coordination, it would just be idiotic not to mention being illegal in most states these days. However, I do have Siri to assist me with these things. She asked, “Do you wish to respond?” I answered in the affirmative, and Siri said “What would you like to say to….?” So, I responded by speaking into the air, “That’s ok. We will just have to deal with the rest tomorrow.” Now, for those of you familiar with the interface in question, you know that she repeats the message back. For those unfamiliar, the next horrifying response from Siri was, “Your message to … says ‘Ok. I guess I’ll show you my breasts tomorrow.’ Do you wish to send?”

As you might imagine, for all my safety precautions using hands-free options and avoiding texting while driving, I nearly capsized my poor vehicle attempting to prevent that missive from sending along the airwaves. Imagine if you will, me trying to capture from the air the words as in slow motion the word “Noooooooooooo” flies out of my mouth. I could see the nightmare before me during my exit interview in human resources, “So, Dr. Haren, can you please help us understand how you thought it appropriate to sexually harass your employee by threatening him with your breasts?” Oh yeah, that would have been a hoot! Now, looking back, it makes for an enormously humorous situation that we can all get a chuckle from, but I can still almost capture that moment of panic when I thought Siri would likely send the message anyway.

As it stands, I’m still employed and not under any investigations for inappropriate conduct. I have foiled the little electronic @#$% so far. May I continue to be vigilant!

The New Cheese: Ballad of a wardrobe moron

I am accessory idiot. I admit this freely, but not without shame. I am a mature, educated, professional woman. I should be able to dress myself to impress (or at least not embarrass). However, I am severely deficient in any fashion sense or style. I can stare at a rack of accessories like a monkey doing a math problem and bring myself to near tears knowing that I will never appear to the advantage and picture of professional confidence that I see in so many of my colleagues in the world. I watch videos of remarkably clever ways to use scarves (that have nothing to do with 50 shades of anything). Even with all the tutorials in the world, I still manage to look like a homeless person who is a cross between the hangman’s victim and an overflowing laundry hamper.

I have gazed with envious eyes at my peers, friends, and (yes) rivals who seem to have that gift for putting together just the right outfit and look that says “See the confident, competent, professional/social, attractive individual… ME!” Instead, I always feel like my appearance say, “Look at me… I just got back from a lynching by Claire’s Boutique!”

It is not that I’m completely tasteless. I hope not, anyhow. I have picked out and assisted in wardrobe choices of others for their important event appearances to very positive outcome, but when I focus my skills upon my own person… Oh the humanity! It is a train wreck, truly. I’ve watched longingly the shows on various networks where fashion experts take some poor unfortunate soul and make them over to maximize their assets and camouflage the less than optimal facets of their figures with, of course, a few thousand dollars as a shopping budget.

Hell, they can keep their money if they would just take me and my aged, hoarder-like wardrobe in hand. Actually they could take the majority of it in hand and quickly transfer it to the trash or donation bin. In fact, if I remove the outdated, holey, and worn through, I’m left with the outfit in which I came into this world … not a pretty picture. Certainly, it is not suitable for business meetings… well, at least not my chosen field of business and none of the meetings I’ve been attending.

In addition to this, I’ve never had the gift that some women (and men) have of looking professional with long hair. You know what I am talking about… untidy bun of hair (not artistically messy), untamed wildness that looks like I just crawled out of bed no matter what I do, or hastily pulled back into a ponytail. My hair will defy any apparatus and all products. It will insist on expressing itself in what appears to be a collection of overgrown vines in the wilderness or a feral human analog. Mainly due to this unsightly and inconvenient characteristic, I keep my hair short. Very short. While there have been other contributing factors to the choice of my boyish hairdo (see The Breakfast Club), I find that I have a much better chance of appearing professional if my hair requires little to no effort on my part. As my hair does not currently lend itself to ornamentation and combined with my stature could appear a bit masculine, I try to enhance my femininity with appropriate jewelry and facial adornment (of the cosmetic variety, not piercings). My makeup tends to be subdued and natural, because the 80’s are over and were not particularly flattering when I was actually living through them. I try to enhance what I was given without appearing to be auditioning for Ringling Brothers. Jewelry is another of those strange issues for me, however. I cannot seem to become proficient in utilizing the various accoutrement of the bling bling.

I am of a rather large framework. I have been told that means that I should scale my accessories accordingly, but I honestly cannot seem to look at the outcome and not see a gypsy fortune teller in the sideshow. Everything looks too big, too gaudy… just too. I have, over the years picked up some beautiful pieces, but I’ve never been able to use them successfully in an ensemble. I get a brilliant idea for a look and assemble it with all the appropriate pieces. Upon looking in the mirror, I generally dismantle the whole caboodle in horror because I cannot bring myself to be seen in public. Another drawback of my stature is that I have to take particular care not to appear too massive or intimidating. Power suits that look phenomenal and so elegant on my more petite sisters in the business world can make me appear like an amazon warrior in a badly staged version of Victor/Victoria. Seriously, I have to be very cautious in the use of too much black or other intense colors. I want to get appropriate attention, not make everyone scurry in terror or hide under their desks.

Never are all my deficiencies so evident to me as when I must prepare for a meeting where there may be a lot of eyes on me, where I may be held in representation for my program and staff as a whole, or when I am trying to make an outstanding first impression. I agonize over the right choices and generally the night before any such event, it will appear to all intents and purposes that my closet has vomited… repeatedly… all over my bedroom. My strategy over the years has been to choose at least three different outfits. Why? You ask. Well, that would be because in the light of the day, the fashion statement decided upon before retiring may not feel like the right statement. So, I give myself three options. I have been, if not thoroughly successful at least not a complete failure.

So, I continue to agonize over my lack of savvy dress sense, but at least I’ve not been naked without my homework anywhere but my nightmares. In the meantime, if any of the hosts of those makeover shows happen to stumble on my blog, please feel free to save me from myself.

SERIES: Email Diseases: How they affect your life and how you can avoid them (Issue 3: Skimmers and non-readers)

This is less a documentation of an email disease than an irritation and pet peeve; so, less of an illness to cure than a bad rash… yeah, that works as a metaphor.

In today’s world of technology dependence, telecommuting, and distance education, personal interaction and direct communication has taken a back seat to texting, instant messages, self-directed learning platforms, and email. We spend less time in face to face communication with coworkers and staff than we do typing on our keyboards and putting our thoughts out over the ether in a variety of characters and digits.

And here begins my tale of woe. Well, maybe not so much my woe as my ire? All I know is that it is frustrating and irritating to the Nth degree.

I understand how it is. As the recipient of a metric crap-ton of email (seriously, I was out for one day and came back to literally 743 unread emails in my inbox… not including spam). We spend an inordinate amount of time sifting though and reading electronic communications. The modern age has given rise to a number of scams and advertisement driven electronic communication that drowns us all in useless drivel and time-wasting blathering. Most of us have spam filters that provide some defense and decrease the sheer weight of worthless email and potential security breaches and identity theft risks. However, the legitimate communications can often equal or outnumber all the phishing and natural male enhancement ads on the planet.

It’s a time sucker. I know it. You know it. The down side? It is often the only option for communication in what has become a modern, virtual workplace. The days of paper trails and memos are not so much gone as changed. We communicate by phone, conference calls, video conferences, WebEx, text message, and instant message. The old fashioned paper memos served a purpose. The were communication devices that also left a somewhat permanent reference that could be kept for future. This was especially important for policy changes, new procedures, and announcements.

Translate that to the modern day workplace. Verbal communication, instant messages, and texts are not a suitable format for mass communication or information to be used as reference. This is where email is especially important. Email is used when there is a need for “electronic paper trail.” In other words, email provides a similar version of communication that paper memorandum once did.

So, what is the problem? There are certain types of people in the workplace. I’ll call them the “skimmers” or “non-readers.” I admit there is a lot of unimportant fluff that can get passed around the office networks, but the bottom line is that this is, for most corporations the line of communication through which the important information flows. When staff do not read their email, it means that they may fail to follow new procedures or miss important updates. To often the excuse for mistakes is “I didn’t see that,” or “I must have missed it.”

Wow. That’s a heck of an excuse. The whole reason that someone put the effort in to convey the information in a more stable and durable format was to allow future reference. As someone who tries to keep email to a pertinent minimum, it really does sting to hear the phrases above. Aside from failure to follow instructions, it also is dismissive of the efforts of the author and of authority when that person is a management or other leadership role.

Skimming might actually be worse than just ignoring. While deleting or ignoring important email communications can result in missed information, skimming can result in misinterpretation and translation of details that could result in potentially devastating mistakes or the exact opposite of desired outcomes.

Skimmers and non-readers tell their employers and management teams (by their behavior) that they don’t really care about the job or anything that the leadership has to say. I’m not saying that every supervisor on the planet is a modern day messiah imparting wisdom of the ages, but usually these people are trying to give information that will help everyone do and, more importantly, keep their jobs. So, before you hit the delete button on the next inbox influx or skim through a pile of electronic communication, keep in mind that your decision could result in important information being missing from your knowledge base. That missing information could impact your success or lack thereof.

For the email authors out there, to avoid the risk of skimming and ignoring, keep emails short and concise. Use bullet points to outline important information without excessive verbiage. Organize information into logical patterns. Keep on point, and avoid tangents. Try to stick to one topic or subject in an email to allow for easy sorting and categorizing. Avoid mailing lists with too broad a recipient focus. Broadcast emails should be limited, in number and length.

So, senders, keep your emails targeted and recipients specific. Recipients, read your emails. Chances are they were sent to you for a reason.