Everything you didn't learn in school that will help you survive the world of work. A place for newbies, for working moms, for seasoned professionals and "free agents" to share strategies, tips and tales from the trenches.

Aug 23, 2008

Correcting the Boss

In a recent issue of "Real Corporate Email," a publication of the Finishing School, a discussion arose about errors made by the Bosses and just when and how (and how!) to correct them.

from one of the subscribers:

The squirmiest misuse: there I was, in the audience as my boss gave a presentation. She deftly built up to her point, clicked to go to the next slide. Here it--and she--announced in all caps, "WALLA!"

WALLA? really?
And this wasn't an episode of The Office?

It is easy enough to make fun of the pointy-haired boss, to imagine how we might let them swing in the wind, to perhaps bait them to repeat the mistake: bigger, better, to a more impressive audience. I once had a Boss who used the word "behooved" when she meant "appalled," and I enjoyed getting her to do it. I was terribly young, and she was mean, but let's try to move past that, shall we?

How do you correct Boss for her benefit, and the betterment of your team?
Don't you tell her when she has poppy seeds in her teeth?

Our WALLA storyteller offered this:

"I agonized about how to handle this forever. I couldn't spare her the initial occurrence, but I thought I could prevent future folly. Finally I decided to let a little time pass, then start using 'voila!' in my writing at work. It was tricky to find the right situations, because I didn't want to come off as (any more) pretentious (than usual), so I was on the prowl for circumstances that might merit the sardonic use of the word. I think I even managed to pull off reading it aloud from my scrawl on the whiteboard in a meeting, which I thought a special triumph. After about four sweaty usages I decided I had achieved my purpose--I was in my early 20s at the time and I took this all very, very seriously."

An excellent example for us to work with, early 20s or no. These days, it is The Boss who is likely to be in her early 20s, so this opportunity may come around more than you expect.

Let it Pass
That is to say, avoid the urge to gasp, point, or mutter "Dear Lord." Practice this in your meetings, because these moments will sneak up on you. Embarrassing her will cut off any chance you have to counsel her.

Consider your relationship
If you are the Boss's consigliere, you may be able to process the incident once the right moment comes (see below). If you do not have the Insider/Personal relationship, you may choose the route our subscriber took and lead by example. An elegant choice that can work whether she is your Mentor, or you are Eve Harrington to her Margot.

Pick your moment(s)
Consiglieres have this easiest, at the end of the day when everyone's corsets are loosened, and you have your stocking feet on her chair and she on yours and you can do the slow sleepy blink and open with, "I think the slide deck worked today. Know what, though?"

In the 2nd scenario, reenacting the event correctly at the first opportunity does the trick. You have to be humble enough never to let on what you just did.

Correct with love
The slowest zebra is individually vulnerable; legend has it that the herd will move at the speed of the slowest zebra in order to protect it. It is a variation on "only as strong as our weakest link." When that zebra is The Boss, your group is easy prey. If you have the opportunity to increase her speed, it is in your best interest to do so.

Remember your Golden Rule and she will too, the next time you make some behoovingly boneheaded move.

~~ CB

Outside Reading
Better than Perfect, Dale A. Dauten
Giving Feedback, Harvard Business School Press
Managing Up, Michael S. Dobson
Quick Solutions to Common Errors in English, Angela Burt

Mar 2, 2008

Workplace Dangers: The High-Strung Filly

Instructor, Caroline Bender

As part of our occasional field guide to the wild creatures in your workplace, the Finishing School presents a general overview and wrangler's manual to The High-Strung Filly.

General characteristics:
sex: female. There are high-strung colts in the workplace, but they are rarely dangerous, until they become stallions.

aged: any, but usually peaks between 25 and 40

breed: hotshot new manager, newly promoted middle manager, imported rock star, freshly-minted MBA, Boss's stable queen, etc.

markings: edgy business couture, PDA, stack heels, smart-girl glasses, office-to-evening hair, expensive bag, couldn't-be-bothered jewelry.

action: late night emails, frequent use of "I, me, mine," unsolicited feedback, frequent reference to previous company, scolding/condescending tone.

potential dangers: Can undermine your authority and take credit for your work, if not take it over completely; can convince highers-up that you are a liability; bypasses established procedure under the pretense of "getting it done;" expert at covering her tracks.
see also Idea Stealer

watch for: email subtext, staff poaching, off-line meetings with the Boss (yours, hers, or anyone's), systems analysis and flowcharts.

when in danger:
stay out in the open - avoid 1:1 meetings without witnesses
stay above board - do not allow yourself to be baited into over-reacting
poll your mates - find out whether you are being singled out, or caught in a wake. Either is dangerous, but it can help to know you have allies
document and file - it takes several data points to spot a trend

How to calm a high-strung filly:
The BWFS&SC goes straight to the experts. Real-life advice serves just as well in this situation. Take the reins in hand before things get skittish.

1. "Get ahold of yourself. If you are feeling nervous or upset, calm yourself down because it will only make the situation worse."
Or as they say around the paddock, "don't step in it." This advice leads right into #2. With most wild creatures, it is best not to show your fear.

2. "....show ...that you are not concerned."
While training the Filly that you will not run for the fence when she rears up, you are training yourself as well not to be afraid.

3. "Identify and remove the cause of the distress..."
Usually, for the Filly, the distress comes from your having something she does not have -- territory, influence, power, popularity... anything that adds up to established position, even if it is not a position of authority. This is not the cause you want to remove. You want to remove her distress over not having any herself.

4. "Allow [her] to do some things [s]he instinctively wants to do.."
Give her the things you don't want. It's a Tom Sawyer move, but it works nearly every time.

5. "...carefully place your face close to [her] nose and exhale out of your mouth..." Ok, not literally. With a real horse, regulating your breathing with hers will having a calming effect on both of you. In human relations, this is done by "mirroring," matching your stance, tone, posture with that of your counterpart. The Filly likes nothing better than herself, unless it is the idea that others want to be like her.

Trainer tips will also advise to "learn what scares or overexcites your [filly]," as you get to know her, and try to preventively anticipate those situations. And never turn your back on her.

Jan 3, 2008

LinkedIn Etiquette

Graduates of the finishing school should be knowledgable about online networking tools and be prepared to utilize such tools with grace and charm. In this seminar, we discuss the proper etiquette to employ when using LinkedIn.

Part one: Requesting endorsements

1. Endorse them first.
Asking someone to endorse you is akin to asking for a letter of recommendation. Although the means of drafting the endorsement are less cumbersome than an old-fashioned letter, the task of authoring a thoughtful and sincere commendation is no less work. If you know and respect the person well enough to expect her to provide a positive assessment of your abilities, you should show that respect by endorsing her first. This expression of good will reminds your colleague of your positive attributes and feels good to do. It may very well inspire your colleague to draft your endorsement in return, without you even having to ask.

2. Personalize the request.
LinkedIn provides template emails for requesting endorsements, but graduates of the finishing school should know better than to simply send the boiler plate request. Doing so could send the message that you couldn't be bothered to type a few personal lines, yet you are requesting that they compose an original tribute to your abilities. The message you send should be customized to suit the tone of your relationship and the purpose for your request.

3. Explain the need.
While you are personalizing the message you should explain why you are seeking this endorsement. This gives your request some significance, a sense of timing or urgency, and may also provide your colleague with an opportunity to assist you beyond the endorsement request. Whether you are seeking a specific job opportunity, branching out into your own business, or looking to generally enhance your profile, these details can help your colleague form the content of their endorsement and prioritize your request among their other tasks. Your colleague may even have some good leads for you now that he/she knows what you are looking to do.

4. Make it easy for them.
Writing an endorsement can be a difficult to begin. Writing is not a strength for everyone, and it may have been a while since you two last worked together. Remind your colleague of the projects you worked on and what went well. (This is another good reason to endorse your colleague first). You may even suggest some skills or accomplishments you would like them to highlight, specific to the purpose of the endorsement. For example: "Since I'm seeking a project management position, it would be great if you could mention anything you felt I was particularly good at such as delegating tasks, multi-tasking and keeping the project team on schedule.")

5. Don't forget to thank them.
Always follow up with a note of thanks. Your colleague has taken time out of her busy schedule to help you in your career efforts. A quick note or a phone call to thank her will always be appreciated.

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