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.

Dec 21, 2009

Working with a “Master Manipulator”

Guest Blogger, Savvy Working Gal
The Finishing School welcomes Savvy as this week's guest blogger.  We began following Savvy very recently as we discovered some collective conscious around topics such as organizational politics and the strange games manipulators play, especially when it happens between women.

We invited Savvy to give today's lecture, including links back to her own manipulation story, as it unfolded over this past year.  You will also meet Anita Bruzzese, who writes 45things.com.  She is also the author of 45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy (check it out in our carousel at right)  Enjoy.  We hope you will add them both to your list of weekly career leads

I recently came across Miss Minchin’s fascinating post Manipulative people in the Workplace and was amazed how closely the personality traits of the “master manipulator” resemble that of the “hostile HR manager” who works at my company. I was especially intrigued to read:

The most dangerous of all workplace dangers, the manipulative coworker has mastered the art of aggression disguised as helpfulness, good intentions, or working "for the good of the company". These people are brilliant at hiding their true motives, while making you look incompetent, uncooperative, or self-centered. They can make you lose your job, do their job for them, or even get you to apologize to *them* for trying to confront them about their own bad behavior.
Here is my experience:
I had been employed as the Accounting Manager at a family-owned company for eight years when in the summer of ’07 the CEO asked me to stay late; he wanted me to meet a family friend he was considering employing as a temporary HR consultant. This was an odd request, since I did not hold the primary HR position in our company. At the time, our company's HR duties were split amongst the company Controller who is my boss, the HR Assistant and me, the Accounting Manager. Both my boss and the HR Assistant were more heavily involved in HR than I was. These meetings continued for several weeks, all of them occurring behind my boss’s back. Fortunately, I was smart enough to keep my boss of informed of these meetings; I did not want him to think I was undermining him. This went a long way in preserving my relationship with my boss in the upcoming months.

Eventually, the company brought her on board; informing our 115 employees of her arrival via memo and asking for their cooperation if she requested information. She was introduced as an HR expert who would be working on special projects and assisting our company’s HR assistant in setting up a properly functioning HR department. She had concurred with that we were not set up properly as a result of our meetings. She was to remain in our employ approximately one year.
She was never given a detailed job description, nor did her introduction memo give our employees a clear understanding of her role in the company. This allowed her to create her own job description, develop her position as she wished and gave her the freedom to step on whoever got in her way.
From the beginning, she employed many of the master manipulator tactics to achieve her goals: backstabbing, playing the victim, crying (she cries more than anyone I have ever met), intimidating, shaming, playing the servant, blaming and outright lying. She used her position as HR Manager to quiz employees about their managers and co-workers, searching for weaknesses. She used this information to favor her goals. She set employees up for failure, pitted them against each other, taking relationships that were previously strained and making them worse. She targeted specific employees until they either quit or she had compiled a file large enough to fire them. One of my employees actually saw her laughing as a former employee left her office in tears after being fired. Through all of this, she remained charming articulate and funny with our owners, justifying her actions by claiming she was making our company more professional.
So what were her goals?
I believe her initial objective was to secure a permanent position with our company -- a powerful position that came with a fancy title, a higher-than-normal salary and an extremely flexible schedule. She achieved all of this over the course of a year. I also believe she had a secondary motive, a motive that was all about control and power. She has a deep need to prove she is superior, to always be right and to win. She wanted to win even if it meant alienating most of the managers in the company.

How she gained my trust:
Since I was the first employee she met at our company, she continued to treat me as if I was her confidante. She was constantly in my office sharing employee confidences and asking advice. In looking back, I believe she used these confidences to manipulate me into sharing information she shouldn’t have been privy to.

She turns on me:
On January 7, 2009, we crossed paths as she left a meeting with my boss and our company President. She said something about an upcoming project where we would work together as a team training staff on company policy. I told her I was too busy to think about this until after our accounting audit mid-February. She then insisted I hire another employee. When I said that isn’t going to happen, she began verbally attacking my management skills, crossing the line from constructive criticism to a personal attack. She went on and on about how my career was going nowhere, I was the weakest manager my company had and that it was my own fault.

Luckily, I had read this post on Anita Bruzzese's blog "On the Job" a couple of days prior to the occurrence. I kept repeating to myself this isn’t about me, this isn't about me. I knew what she was saying wasn't entirely true and that the attack was more about her career than mine (she was being forced to do administrative work she felt was beneath her and most likely felt her job was going nowhere), but her words still stung.

I thought I handled myself as well as I could while talking to her, but afterwards I went back to my office and cried. I hadn't cried at work in 15 years.

I made it through the rest of the work day and even went to my Pilates class, but once I was home I just couldn’t shake the incident. Foreseeing a sleepless night and inability to concentrate at work for the next several days, I posted a comment on Anita’s blog asking:  Does anyone have any suggestions on how not to dwell on a personal attack after the occurrence?

Anita posted the following suggestions:
1. Talk to someone you trust about how you're feeling. This can be a family member or friend, someone who will be empathetic, without trying to fix the problem for you.
2. Get moving. Studies have shown time and again how important it is to use physical exercise to relieve stress. Go dancing, to a gym, indoor pool, or go bowling! Do something physical that will help burn off some of your anxiety.
3. Write it down. Put down everything you're feeling. And then write all the positive things you did in the situation and review how well you handled it.
4. Look deeper. You say you haven't cried in 15 years at work, and feel you handled it well. That could mean it wasn't this particular incident that was so bad, but perhaps an indication that a lot of things are building up. Maybe things have gotten out of balance and you can see this incident as wake-up call that you need to re-balance your life.
5. Laugh. Rent a funny movie, go to a comedy club, watch stupid videos on YouTube. Laughter truly is the best medicine and can help you relieve the stress.
6. Be good to yourself and others at work. Erase a bad situation at work by replacing it with good things. Put 5-10 coins in one pocket. Every time you pay someone a compliment, move the coin to the other pocket, with the aim being to have moved all the coins by the end of the day. Buy yourself a nice flower to put on your desk. Go to lunch with friends or co-workers you enjoy. Take a walk, weather permitting. Just be good to yourself.

Finally, I know it sounds trite, but you truly do have a choice to make. You can choose to let this incident drag you down, to make you lose sleep and be miserable. Or, you can choose to focus on something else. It really is your decision, and you have the control. Good luck, and let me know how things go.

I read Anita’s response before going to work the next morning:
I tried all of her suggestions, but it still took almost a week to shake the incident. I particularly liked her advice to look deeper. The reason I found the criticism so upsetting is because I have been disenchanted with my career and feeling overworked for quite sometime. The manager's approach may have been too harsh, but her message was valid. My work load is getting out of control and it's time I start taking steps to rectify the situation.

I came up with a couple of strategies going forward:
In future dealings with our HR manager I am going to keep discussions focused, never giving advice or asking for an opinion. Even though she gave me a little present a couple of days ago, I need to limit the time I spend with her. I am not ready for another attack.

Perfect my work. This goes for me and my department. I have been saying this for quite some time; this manager has caused problems in my department in the past by personally attacking my employees. If we work together as a group, get our work done accurately and timely she won’t be able to touch us.

What about complaining about her to the owner? Just about everyone in the company wants this to happen, but nobody wants to be the one to do it. Even my boss, an officer of the company, feels the President needs to rein her in, but is unwilling to be the one to complain. She has such a volatile personality we are hoping she will one day do herself in.

The aftermath:
It has now been a year since the confrontation occurred. Here is an update on where my relationship currently stands with the HR Manager, what tactics worked and what I recommend to others.

The hands down most helpful event of the past year was confiding in Jerry, a trusted manager from one of our remote locations. He had had conflicts with the HR Manager himself -- even catching her in a lie. He was sympathetic to my story, telling me I was an easy manager to work with and my greatest strength was that I didn’t rattle easily. This was a pivotal event; I clung to those words for weeks to come. It was also the catalyst that pushed me into a year long search to discover who I am.

Jerry, along with Rick his top salesman, approached two of our owners on my behalf, informing them of the incident. This should have carried a lot of weight, since both Jerry and Rick are two of the most respected employees in the company. Rick also told the owners this so-called HR Manager can’t work with anyone and the employees don’t like her. To which one of the owners exclaimed, “That is because she’s HR, nobody likes HR.” Rick then replied, “No that’s not it, they don’t like her.” Of course, Jerry informed me of this incident.

I waited a week and not a word from the owners, so I approached our CEO in hopes of discussing the incident. He said he had decided the story was so outlandish he’d dismissed it as an untrue rumor. He was shocked to hear the incident really occurred and seemed appalled by his friend’s behavior. He commented I was actually one of the strongest managers our company had, and mentioned how easily I can juggle all the different things coming at me. He did ask why I confided in Jerry rather than going to my boss or to him. I explained I had gone to my boss immediately after the incident, but had asked him not to talk to our President (the CEO’s son). He said he had given our HR Manager too much freedom, and would have our President rein her in.

I think perhaps the owners may have talked to her -- at least, they stopped gushing over her in my presence, but nothing has really changed. She still harasses employees, and basically does whatever she wants. My boss tried to get her position eliminated in a recent downsizing, but his suggestion upset our CEO so much he practically lost his own job in the process. He was told she brings a professionalism to our company we never had before.

To this, Jerry said, “Since when is lying and intimidating employees considered professional.”

The second most helpful piece of advice was Anita’s statement: "You can choose to let this incident drag you down, to make you lose sleep and be miserable. Or, you can choose to focus on something else. It really is your decision, and you have the control."

As time passed, I increased my workouts at the gym; taking boot-camp like classes, if I couldn’t be strong mentally I would at least be strong physically. I also spent time blogging and commenting on blogs focusing on topics unrelated to the incident. I was surprised how therapeutic writing can be. Then late last summer, I realized I no longer hated our HR Manager and no longer think about the incident.

The third most helpful piece of advice is as follows: When dealing with manipulative people, you need to be on your guard all the time. If you've been played with once, don't be too quick to trust that person the second time around.  A couple of months ago, after I had forgiven her, she came into my office telling me she was in a slump. She asked if I ever feel that way.  Actually, I was in a slump; my boss had just put me in an awkward predicament asking me to choose between another paycut for myself or shortened work hours for our employees. I made the critical mistake of telling her I was in a slump.
She proceeded to ask me a series of personal questions: Why I married so late, if I had been previously married, if my husband had, why I didn’t have children, if it bothers me that I don’t have children, why I spend so much time with my husband as opposed to spending time with friends, and if I knew I was underpaid?   On and on until she got to me. She ended by saying if I had kids and spent my vacation days shopping with my girlfriends I wouldn’t be in a slump. How did this happen? She was the one in the slump. Afterwards all I could think of was why didn’t I say something like, “I see my friends every night at the gym.”
This ended up being a helpful event. I realized she didn’t upset me attempting to inform me I was underpaid, nor did she upset me asking why I didn’t have children. I have accepted those things. I was upset that she realized I don’t spend enough time with my friends; perhaps this is something I need to improve on. I spent the last few months of the year really working on accepting myself. Perhaps I can use her cynical advice to continue this process.
The fourth piece of advice: Limit your interaction and perfect your work.
Recently she came into my office carrying our HR Assistant’s work complaining it was all wrong, (this is one of her favorite things to do). I looked at it, asked a couple of questions then said, “I don’t see anything wrong here.” She made a couple of justifications for her interruption then left.
Last week, I ran into her again, she asked if I was "having a bad day like everyone else around here." She began talking about the economy and how underpaid we both were. I told her the economy was bound to get better in the coming year. I was having a great day and everything was going great in my department.
And it was.

Dec 18, 2009

Salary Negotiations

Instructors: Caroline Bender
Guest Lecturer: WEBB, Gardener/Blogger, It’s My Garden

At a recent faculty meeting, we presented a short video from a WKMG (Orlando, FL) news story about salary negotiations and differences between male and female styles, showing 2 female candidates blowing the opportunity to define their worth, and the male candidate taking control of the interview to his own advantage.

Contributor “Webb,” commented, “Doesn't it … tick you off that we are so poor at negotiating salary. We turn to mush. Can't tell you how many times I've done it.”

We immediately gave her the floor.

“My first job out of grad school was as a counselor in the community college system – a state job. I am fairly sure that at that time (in the dark ages!) I had not heard of "negotiating" for salary, and I think I truly thought that STATE salaries were "fair", by which I meant "all the same".
"They offered me what seemed like a fortune - it was actually 3 times what I had been making as a secretary right out of college. I said "thank you very much, what day shall I show up?" Never even THOUGHT about negotiating!
"About six months later I learned from the one other woman in our group that the men in my job ALL started at 25% - seriously 25% - more than I did, AND a couple of them had negotiated to start as Assistant Professors instead of Instructors. I was so hurt and angry; felt really mistreated and betrayed by my boss.”

We knew Webb’s experience was not unusual, but we were still surprised by the statistics that back that up. In their 2003 book Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide, authors Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever offer the hard facts of their research:  In surveys, 2.5 times more women than men said they feel "a great deal of apprehension" about negotiating.
  • Women are more pessimistic about how much is available when they do negotiate, so they typically ask for and get less when they do negotiate—on average, 30 percent less than men.
  • 20 percent of adult women (22 million people) say they never negotiate at all, even though they often recognize negotiation as appropriate and even necessary.
  • 63% of Saturn buyers (the list price = your automobile price) are women.
  • By not negotiating a first salary, an individual stands to lose more than $500,000 by age 60—and men are more than four times as likely as women to negotiate a first salary.
Webb says, “when I moved to another community college, I tried to negotiate an increase then, but was told that once in the system, they couldn't give me more than the 'step' increase for that year. And that's when I learned that one could have negotiated faculty rank.” She reflects, “I assumed that state salaries were set in stone and never even tried to find out if there was a range or any room for negotiation. Sadly, I had two friends already in the system who would probably have been happy to tell me the ins and outs of state pay ranges. Had I bothered to ask them, I might have done better.”
Webb missed one of the first steps in her job hunt, which was to do her research. “In the dark ages,” as she says, such information was closely guarded, but she recognizes that her inside sources could have helped set her expectation. Notice too, that salary team members was no secret from the other woman on her team! “There is no reason now not to know what the job pays in your area, in your state, in companies the size of the one with which you are interviewing,” says Webb. “ One should be able to find a calculator that will take into account one's experience.”

Salary information is fairly easy to come by today, using Internet search tools and resources. Salary.com is the easiest first level source. The Salary wizard tool averages salaries for jobs like yours in your location to give you a range you can expect. Base Salary ranges are offered at no charge; for a fee, Salary will compare your individual experience against its data to give you a more focused range using the experience calculator idea Webb talks about.

For example: A first year college counselor in Richmond, Va. today ranges anywhere from 37-64K, with most between 45 and 55. Add Webb’s M.Ed, and a state college size, and Salary estimates $50,000. This same position in New York City, the Bell curve peaks closer to $60,000 In Helena, MT: 45,000. It literally pays to know your market.

We do not suggest that male applicants do this research, but we do suggest that it matters less to them. They are not necessarily trying to reach consensus, to find a figure both parties can agree on. They are trying to Win, as the candidate in the news video says. 

In a recent appearance at the Massachusetts Conference for Women,  Women for Hire's Tory Johnson described one of Babcock's research experiments, where participants were invited to play a game in exchange for a fee of "$5-12," as stated on the flier.  Fliers were also present on the game tables where the game took place. At the end of the game, facilitators thanked the participants for playing, and offered $5.  Male participants were 9 times more likely to ask for the higher end of the offered range than the female participants.  (see full description in Women Don't Ask.)

Babcock and Laschever comment, “Women more often than men take a 'collaborative' or cooperative approach to negotiation that has been shown to produce agreements that are better for both sides. Women are more likely than men to listen to the needs and concerns of the other side, communicate their own priorities and pressures, and try to find solutions that benefit all parties—to find the win/win solutions.”

When the power dynamic is skewed, such as in a job interview or performance review, women will likely defer as a way of keeping the win/win as even as possible. This is sometimes read (by women and men) as “I don’t want so-and-so to be mad at me,” or “I want them to like me,” and the negotiator may actually be feeling that in the moment, but the root cause is closer to “I want to reach an outcome that makes us both happy, not just one of us.”

When asked what advice she would give a negotiator, based on her prior experience, Webb admitted, I can't honestly say that I do much better today - 30 years later! I usually decide what I want and ask for $5000 more. The last two jobs have said 'that's fine,' which tells me that I asked for too little!"   Again, research is better than a gut feel. Webb believed she was playing hardball when she picked the $5000 figure, forgetting for the moment that she had been underpaid for years and that salaries had ballooned. “I picked the $5000 higher amount because I thought it really was 'too high' and gave me room to come down to what I really wanted. When I got it immediately I realized that they would have gone higher, but at that point had no idea how to ask for even more - still don't.”

In their follow-up, Ask for it: How Women Can Use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want, Babcock and Laschever outline a program for understanding one’s worth and asking for it.

This does not mean changing your personality, or being “more like men.” In fact, Babcock and Laschever assure the reader that “Women can ask for what they want in ways that feel comfortable to them… women have excellent relationship skills and good intuition about what's going on with the people around them, and this can help.” Negotiating can still be a way to getting to mutually beneficial outcomes – men who play to “win” every discussion could stand to learn this too. What Babcock and Laschever want to reinforce is that women should ask for what they want, and not limit themselves to what they can accept.

Take a look at the Women Don’t Ask website for more interviews with the authors, and to watch for appearances in your area. The Finishing School is eager for a review of either Women Don’t Ask or Ask for It from our readership.

Tell us your negotiation stories! What worked, what didn’t? Comment on this post or contact us through our Facebook page.

Dec 17, 2009

Ask the Readers: What do women do to sabotage their careers?

Miss Minchin, Dean of Students

Sometimes we women can't get out of our own way. What are the worst moves women make (or don't make) to sabotage their own careers?

Is it selling ourselves short by not negotiating salary offers? Do we avoid risk and therefore lose out on the rewards? Do we treat our workplace like our extended family and get too involved in co-workers' issues? Do we hold ourselves back by having children? (Why does it never seem to hold back the fathers?)

Post your thoughts in the comments!

Dec 16, 2009

Holiday Shopping online? Find coupon codes for great deals

Social club meeting minutes by Miss Minchin

If you still have online holiday shopping to do, don't forget to check the web for coupon codes before you make your purchase.

There are several good Coupon aggregator sites but I recently discovered RetailMeNot. Features of the site include success ranking and comments from other shoppers who report back on how well the code worked. You can share shopping tips and even retailers share their own coupons. There are also printable coupons for "offline" shopping, grocery coupons, and a community feature. I used a coupon code I found here to get 10% off my husband's home soda making machine (that's right make soda without corn syrup and it's great for seltzer and Italian sodas too) which basically covered all the shipping charges.

Here are some of the deals I found there today:

Toys R Us: $15 Off $100 or more. Coupon Code: TOYGIFT

LL Bean: Enjoy free shipping. Valid till 1-1-2010. Coupon code: 3013598

Victoria's Secret: $30.00 OFF $175.00 purchase + Free shipping &handling when you spend $100.00. you can use these together or separately Coupon codes: FA919573 + FA919549

Back to Basics Toys: Free standard shipping on orders of $50+ . Valid through 12/31/09
Coupon code: UPROM09

Share your shopping tips in the comments! Any good gift ideas for my 10 year old nephew who is into science and kind of introverted?
Disclaimer: Business Women's Finishing school is not big enough to receive any compensation for endorsing any sites and services. We are also not a real school, and while we're being honest, these are not our real names.

Dec 15, 2009

My Color-Coded Calendar or... Keep killing trees so I can keep track of my life

Instructor, Betsy Boesel Sagges, Independent Public Relations and Communications Professional

In today’s fiercely competitive market, we are busier and busier, and working harder and harder to keep afloat. There’s a myriad of influences on our lives, and the critical need to plan, organize and track our hectic days to ensure we meet all the demands on our time.

Has technology driven this feverish activity? It surely has propelled multi-tasking to a whole new level. My Blackberry is a constant beacon of lights and sounds --  my personal connection to the outside world through alerts, messages, notices, feedback, and, every so often... a phone call.

I have a love/hate relationship with the device: Love that I find out things instantly. Hate that it can always find me. The tiny screen shows correspondences that are critical to my world, as well as utterly useless spam that I’m quite sure I did not “opt in.” With such a cacophony in my hand, I relish the peaceful, passive essence of my life-tracking, life-saving, week-at-a-glance, spiral-bound, paper calendar.

In the early 1990’s, when I worked as an assistant to the Editor-in-Chief of a magazine, the only way to keep track of appointments was with a paper calendar. My boss used a purse-sized no-nonsense version that neatly fit all her appointments and travel plans fit into its time slots. I found that style the most useful for my own bustling, single-working-girl lifestyle as well – with plenty of room to keep track of all my meetings and dates and parties and vacations. It was a personal bible that organized my schedule and showed how fulfilling – and filled! – my big city life had become.

Over the years, technologies emerged that offered sleek alternatives to challenge my paper calendar. PDAs and Outlook and iCalendars have all vied for the role of keeping track of my life, and I’ve tried many of them.  But with every digital calendar I have had the same, annoying, time-consuming issues. For example, every recurring entry I add took several steps then went on ad infinitim, so I’d have scroll through and delete it each time it was a holiday, or we were traveling, or for some other conflict. I also can’t see more than the day on that tiny screen, because I have so many entries they wouldn’t fit in one window. And I hate not being able to plan ahead without constantly flipping back and forth from day to week to month and trying to guess what each abbreviated entry signified. I’m done trying the digital options. They’ve left me exhausted, frustrated, and still needing other versions for the rest of my family to share.

My life is blessed (and complicated) with the activities of a consulting business, a husband, two kids, and a dog, all with their own schedules. And I feel strongly that still, the best way to keep track of everyone and everything in my world is my paper calendar (now a desk-sized version) with different colored pens for each member of my family – blue for me, green for my husband, purple for daughter #1 and pink for daughter #2 (the dog is also blue since everything she does is pretty much reliant on my schedule).

My calendar of choice is the week-at-a-glance that shows 7-days over 2 pages when open. Mentally, it helps me prep and plan for what’s coming up – work meetings, blog commitments (!), flute lessons, soccer practice, lacrosse try-outs, basketball games, vet appointments, holiday parties, in-law visits, friend’s birthday, etc.

It always works without battery life, without internet connection, without guilt if I don’t respond. It even works without me being there at all. How wonderful is that?!

I gather my entries from a variety of sources. My husband calls to tell me his plans to be added to the calendar. My kids leave me notes of upcoming events, playdates, or activities on top of the calendar to add in.

One time, my older daughter wrote her own plans on one of the days. She even used her purple colored pen. Perhaps I’m too possessive, or too anal-retentive, or just plain neurotic, but I white’d-out the entry and rewrote it, although not before I lauded her for her for her organizational acumen. Then I asked her to never touch Mommy’s calendar again.

I have a variety of vendors that I use because they are of a good quality and value.The ones I keep going back to are the ones that make the extra effort for my attention:  “Hello Mrs. Sagges, this is Don’s gutter service, it’s that time of year again…” or “Hi Mrs. Sagges, this is Richard Ziff and I’ll be at your neighbor’s tuning their piano if it’s convenient that day for you as well…”

I love to get postcards from my dentist reminding me to schedule my next teeth-cleaning, and from our vet for the dog’s annual check-up or prescription refill. Anyone who helps me keep track of services I need will always be my first choice. Businesses shouldn’t expect me to remember them when I only see them a couple times a year.

As we enjoy the onset of holiday madness at this time of year, traditional holiday cards with photos of our friends and family are being replaced by Facebook videos and e-cards. Wood-burning fires in the fireplace are being replaced by eco-friendly, no-tending, “logs.” We’re living in a world of conservation hyper-awareness, and I will do my best to try methods to preserve our forests for the future and my children.

But for the sake of my sanity, and the perpetual motion of my life, I will continue to embrace the sanctity of my paper calendar.

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Dec 13, 2009

Take This Book to Work (book review)

I stumbled onto this book accidentally, looking for a different Tory Johnson reference for an article we are working on about slary negotiations (coming soon).  The library did not have Johnson's newest work, Fired to Hired, but this volume was available, so I took a look.

Take this Book to Work: How to Ask For (and Get) Money, Fulfillment, and Advancement, was co-written with Robyn Freedman Spizman, known for her advice on creative gift-giving (Giftionary and Make it Memorable).  What began as a poll of working women to discover the "hot-button" issues they face revealed a pattern of reluctance on the part of respondents in all industries, at all levels and ages, to simply ask for the things they want to change.  So much of the frustration underlying workplace issues pointed back to the respondent's silence, or struggle to be understood and respected, and her regret over being unable to solve the problem at hand when she knew exactly what she wanted the outcome to be.

Johnson and Spizman categorize those issues and provide practical, actionable advice, Finishing School style, for issues of
 Getting Hired and On the Job
Professional Adnacement
  Onward and Upward, Successful Networking, Office Etiquette
Personal Fulfillment
  Time Management, Flexibility, Personal Issues

The authors use the title Take this Book to Work, and in fact this is more a desk reference than a straight read -- like some of us used to keep the Secretary's Manual next to the Selectric.  Most of the sections are short, and begin with "How to ask..."  such as "How to ask for a meeting with the CEO,"  "How to ask to transfer to a new city,"  "How to ask for a mentor." The simple outline approach breaks down teh request activity, with suggested wording and talking points.  The authors acknowledge that some situations vary the approach, and include that as well.  For example, when asking to view your personnel file:

If you work for a small business, you may be more direct about your intent.  Say, "I have some concerns over what may be included in my file...."  In some states, you are not allowed to remove any items from the file -- even if you believe errors exist.  But in some states, you aer allowed to amend the information by submitting your own explanation and specifically asking that it be placed in your permanent file... You may have the right to copy the contents of your file, although your employer may charge you a copying fee...

The example shows why you would not necessarily read this book straight through, as many items will not apply at all times.  On the other hand, if you are the type who enjoys reading desk references and fact books for the trvia of it, this will also serve.  If you don't want to actually take it to work, keep it where you keep your go-to casual reads, (whichever room of the house that happens to be for you).

What makes Take this Book to Work a less threatening book to take to work than, say, Bad Bosses, Crazy Co-Workers and Other Office Idiots, or Toxic Workplace is that is signals you are serious without insulting other people.  Chances are, the Boss would like money, fulfillment and advancement also -- she may even ask to borrow your copy.

Dec 11, 2009

Creative Uses for Commuting Time

guest lecurer, Nadia K.G., corporate executive and blogger

For those of us who are proficient multi-taskers, have poor attention spans, or simply can't deal with down time, I'm here to let you know that minutes and hours logged in your vehicle can be re-purposed for a wide range of activities.

Having spent 10 years with daily commutes exceeding two hours, I've gone from doing nothing-but-driving to coming up with a number of ways to make good use of the time. Here are the 10 driving activities that top my list:
#10 - Listening to the radio (satellite or old fashioned "terrestrial"). Only music for me, thanks. Talk radio gives me a headache and that would impair my driving.
#9 - Listening to CDs or MP3s. I like something with a good, fast beat. It helps me keep my eyes open.
#8 - License plate poker . Do you remember this game? Scan the plates you pass throughout the drive to find the best possible poker hand. Why? What else are you doing?
#7 - Learning a language. Those two hours per day in the car are perfect for language lessons on CD.
#6 - Singing a tune (with or without the help of the car stereo). Similar concept to singing in the shower: you can belt out a melody whether you have musical ability or not while in the privacy and safety of your very confined car. Just make sure the windows are up, just in case.
#5 - Meditation / breathing exercises. Sometimes you just need to take a few minutes to get centered. This is a new addition to my commuting repertoire as of this year and it's a great way to wind down from the day. Keep in mind that you'll want to practice the form of meditation that doesn't involve closing your eyes.

#4 - Just driving. That's it. Drive. Maybe look around a little. Kick it old school. This actually could be the same as #5 if you really think about it. Being in the moment and all of that.
#3 - Listening to an Audiobook. If you do this regularly, you can easily go through one a week. That's a great way to catch up with all those books you've been meaning to read. If you're anything like me that's a LONG list.
# 2 - Coffee. Do I need to say anything else? Okay, maybe tea. Or other beverage. You get the idea.
And the #1 activity of choice in the car is................
Dancing. Yes, that's right. Nothing's more fun than bopping around to an upbeat tune. And you're burning calories to boot! You'd be surprised how many moves you can pull off while seated. Get creative! You can invent new ways to look ridiculous while still operating the vehicle safely AND having a good time. What's better than that?
Hopefully, from the above, you were able to pick up an idea or two about how to take advantage of commute time. And with all of these recommendations, please remember to always drive responsibly.
a footnote from the Management:
notice how NKG doesn't say... dictate emails, dial-in to meetings, balance the checkbook, try to train the dog, TEXT....?!  You know all that Me Time we're always talking about -- take it where you can find it!

We'd like to hear your creative uses of your commuting time.  Do you carpool?  Ride with kids?  What are some additions to our list for situations where you share the ride?

Dec 7, 2009

Ask a Manager: What does my title-only promotion really mean?

Guest Lecturer, Dick Whitman, Manager in Residence 

Dear Manager,

My company recently opened up a new office in the city about 30 miles from where we work. They moved my group to the new building, which requires us to pay for parking ($200/month) or take the commuter train & subway (about $300 / month). This has created a hardship for many, and at the least is creating a new cost just to keep showing up to work. Many important people are starting to give notice, and many more are looking. Upper management has said they are working to get us some kind of stipend, but that was a couple mponths ago and I'm losing hope in that.

This is the backdrop to my dilemma. Out of the blue I was told I was being promoted to "senior", with no extra pay and a vague promise of extra stock at bonus time (which will vest over 4 years). It really doesn't affect my day to day worklife in any way, and was not expected. One other person on the team was also given a senior title. The two of us have been working long hours on high visibility projects for the last year or two, and we were told that they wanted to acknowledge our contributions with a title that fit our level of responsibility. This is nice, but I don't need a title, and don't really know how to intepret this. It would seem that they want to reach out to top performers to keep them from jumping ship, but I'd rather have the company subsidize my monthly train pass, since in reality I'm making $3000 less per year due to commuting costs and I'm spending 3 hours less per day with my family.

What is your perspective as a manager? What does this kind of action mean? How should I react?

Should I:
A. Be grateful for some job security in tough economic times, I'm lucky to be employed
B. Accept that they sincerely want to reward me for my work but truly have no budget for a wage increase or stipend
C. Be insulted - now they can give me even more work and I'll be dumb enough to feel good about it
D. Negotiate, the commute is costing me a lot and I don't want to end up leaving a job I like because of commuter burn out.
E. Feel good that I'm valued and wait patiently for more financial rewards down the road.

My answer to this is somewhat “most of the above”. You’ve got a tough situation, and I think you need to break it down a little bit more. I see two distinctly separate things going on here. I think it would help you to think about them as such. I know it is hard when it is all happening to you and it is all part of your work experience, but since you are trying to make sense of the actions that your company is taking – to interpret the motivation behind them -- I see the grouping as dangerous and misleading for you.

First, the promotion: This is something that was done within your more immediate chain of command, and it is more specific to you as an employee. I think you should look at it first as recognition for a job well done. You are right in that titles are not the most important thing, but from your employer’s standpoint, it is a way to differentiate you from others, to call out the fact that you are a high-performer and that you know what you are doing. The senior title – as well as the promotion – has value on your resume; the fact that you have earned it should be a point of pride for you. You can look at it as “they are just trying to keep me from quitting”, but I suspect that if that was their only motive, and they were truly concerned, they would have found a way to increase your salary with it. The fact that it was just the change in title tells me that they are trying to do right by you in some way, even if they can’t justify a pay increase at this time.

I have had some situations where I have brought someone in at a senior pay rate but without the title, based upon past employment history. Then after seeing the person’s work, I determined that the senior title was warranted to go with the pay. I don’t know if that was a factor here, but in general, I would say that the title coming by itself is just a form of recognition and differentiation. Maybe they think that it is enough of a retention incentive on its own, but you might sleep better if you just think of it as your management ensuring that you have a title (if not the pay) that is appropriate for the work you do. And if you are already working hard, I don’t think you need to think they are trying to get you to work harder. It is very rare to promote someone in hopes that you will make them more productive. Employees earn the promotion before they get it. In short, this doesn’t have to be a big deal, but it is still ok to feel good about it, and I wouldn’t go looking for a hidden motive other than an attempt do show some recognition. Congratulations, I say.

As for the move and the commute, this is not something that is happening to you alone. It sounds like it is affecting many people. If the company has made vague commitments around making this right, then it is reasonable for you to continue to ask about it. You might approach your manager -- or better yet, your HR department -- and say something like, “I really like working here, but I am having trouble covering the additional expense since the move. Can you tell me if anything is being done about this, and if not, is there an opportunity for me to work from home part of the week or work in the other location?(or some other solution you might find to be a fair compromise)”

Then you see what they say. If the answer is “we’re working on it”, then you can ask when they think they will know, and if the answer to that is “I don’t know”, then you can ask if you can follow up on it in a few weeks. The key is to be persistent without being threatening. You need to make them understand that you want to make this work, but the situation is impacting your ability to provide for your family while continuing to work there. Ultimately, if you do not get any relief, you need to decide whether the job is worth the net income that you get after these expenses.

I would not consider this as part of your pay / promotion situation because you will end up personalizing something that was the result of a company cost-cutting measure (the move). As a result, you will have a pile of seemingly negative scenarios compounded into one, floating around in your head to make you feel bad and distract you from your work and your life. Also, in bundling them (assuming you get someone to listen to you) you might end up with a raise instead of the stipend to cover the parking fees. If this happens, the raise potentially ends up bringing you back to your starting point, and the opportunity for a true increase based on your performance is gone. If you can get a stipend for the parking situation, you can still negotiate a higher salary later without appearing to be “going to the well” too many times.

You are lucky to have a job, but that doesn’t mean you just have to accept everything that happens no matter what. My advice is to question what you don’t understand, and in doing so, try to get at the business needs that are being addressed by the company’s decisions. From there, it is up to you to decide whether your situation is acceptable for your own personal needs.

Dec 4, 2009

Weekly roundup 12-4-2009

Some 2nd and 3rd opinions on topics we covered this week:

Waggleforce is a network of career clubs that provide a 10-week course of action for managing your job search.  If you are feeling lost and un-energized, if you have tried the local job center and found it wanting, find a local Waggleforce to connect with.  You will need to register before you can explore the tools, and most clubs will charge a fee for pay for materials.  You may also find success forming a club of your own with former colleagues, alumni, sorority sisters, even your book club has some percentage of members "in transition." 

We have not talked about the Jobs Summit in the space, but we can connect you to a couple of sites that are.  One CEO's open letter to the President was published on the Huffington Post and responds to most of the major points raised at the Summit.  Sphere takes an angle on the CEOs in attendance who represent some of this year's significant losses.

Recently one of our readers brought to our attention the role that childcare service can play in choosing a gym membership, which led us to this resource on licensure of in-gym childcare.  The article is from last year, and tips you off to what questions you should ask and assumptions you should not make.

Dayton Business Journal quotes BWFS member/reader Jay Hargis of HRCleanup.

We'll recommend another read -- good for both New Professionals and the Seasoned among you starting a new job, perhaps after several years as an expert on your last one: Michael Watkins' The First 90 Days.  Check out this article ("What to Do in the First 100 Days of Your New Job")  as well, from CIO.com.

Have a great weekend!

Dec 2, 2009

Workplace Dangers - Manipulative people

Freshman seminar with Miss Minchin

Required Reading:
In Sheep's Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People
George K. Simon, Jr., Ph. D.

The most dangerous of all workplace dangers, the manipulative coworker has mastered the art of aggression disguised as helpfulness, good intentions, or working "for the good of the company". These people are brilliant at hiding their true motives, while making you look incompetent, uncooperative, or self-centered. They can make you lose your job, do their job for them, or even get you to apologize to *them* for trying to confront them about their own bad behavior. As Dr George K. Simon explains in his book, without the ability to recognize these "wolves in sheep's clothing", you are at risk of becoming their next victim.

Recognize who they are and what they want
In order to deal effectively with manipulative coworkers, managers, etc. you must first understand what they are all about. This involves letting go of preconceptions you might have about why they do what they do.

Jan Wiley* had had enough of Susan's sniping during team meetings. Susan regularly singled her out and critiqued her efforts to the most trivial detail, while practically sleeping through the presentations of others. Jan decided to address the issue with Susan in private, and get the problem squared away. She was not prepared to see this seemingly strong woman burst into tears at the mention of the issue, sobbing about how hard she has it at work and how she puts in so many hours because she just wants to company to do well, and never gets to see her family.

Jan thought 'Wow, Susan is really under a lot of pressure, that's why she lashed out at me in the meeting. I must have made her feel threatened or insecure in some way. I'm being really hard on her and she's just trying to make this group successful.' Jan backed off and dropped the matter. When the sniping continued, Jan tried to be understanding and ascribed the behavior to Susan's over-worked state, even though it was difficult and unpleasant. Jan felt she was being personally attacked, but could find no objective evidence that this was Susan's intention. She felt guilty for being angry at Susan, who clearly worked very hard for the sake of the company, sacrificing her own personal life.

Jan didn't trust her gut feeling that she was being attacked and over time the sniping took its toll. Jan's coworkers began to doubt her competence, why else would Susan be so hard on her, questioning her every move? Jan's boss also started to believe Susan's "suggestions" that Jan was not on top of things. Jan's manager stopped trusting her with important assignments, and her workload was reduced. Eventually her work environment became so unpleasant that when an opening came up in another department, she jumped on it, leaving behind the job she had loved for so many years. So many years before Susan came along, that is.

Jan fell prey to a master manipulator, who intentionally and subtly attacked her until she achieved her desired result. Jan didn't realize until much later that Susan was merely employing some of her favorite techniques to avoid consequences for her actions, while being allowed to continue her insidious assault undetected. Dr. George K. Simon identifies these people as covert-aggressives. These are people who fight for what they want, often indiscriminately, in their "unbridled quest for power", but do so in a covert way. Whereas overt-aggressives are very easy to recognize, openly fighting with you for something they want; covert-aggressives will do everything in their power to mask their aggression, and to throw you off their trail. This is what makes it so difficult to first identify these people, and then to effectively deal with them.

But they must be hurting inside to act this way, right?
Most of us have been indoctrinated with the Freudian psychology popularized in the age of the TV talk-show. We believe people only act out because their inner child has been damaged or because they were abused as children, and 'it's not their fault'. Thus we feel it is our duty to forgive and be understanding when faced with someone behaving in an irrational or inappropriately emotional way. We feel we must have done something to make them feel threatened or insecure, and not wishing to trample their fragile sense of self. While this is true for many, Dr. Simon points out that this theory of psychology which originated in a very inhibited time has been over-generalized in the present day. In today's permissive society, the majority of problems being treated involve too little inhibition of our urges and desires. Compulsive eating, gambling, or shopping, sex addition, and drug addiction are nowadays more typical than the neuroses of Freud's day.

For covert-aggressives, their tactics are merely the way that they have learned to aggressively pursue what they want in life. They don't distinguish when things are worth fighting for and when to sacrifice their immediate desires for a better outcome for all in the end. They trample over the rights and needs of others in their desire to always "win". To them, life is a constant battle to win, and will do anything to not “submit”. Winning to them means getting their way, maintaining a position of power over you, or removing and obstacle from getting what they want. Covert-aggression is a way of dealing with obstacles that has proven to be effective for them, at least in attaining their immediate goals. In order to deal effectively with covert-aggressives you have to first understand and accept that they want something, and that they are fighting you for it.

By failing to identify Susan's manipulative tactics, Jan did not react like someone who was being attacked. She allowed the bad behavior to continue, to her own detriment, out of sympathy or fear of hurting Susan's feelings, and guilt for adding more pressure to Susan's hectic job. In reality, she played right into Susan's plan. Susan played off of Jan's sympathy to continue her assault, unfettered and undetected. In the end, as Dr. Simon points out, Susan's reasons for her bad behavior are irrelevant; the bad behavior is not acceptable and should stop.

Know when you are being manipulated
Once you can recognize a manipulator for what she is, and realize that she is fighting you for something, the next thing you need to be able to do is identify her techniques for manipulating you.

Sharon Gutierrez* was tired of David's way of treating her differently. Sharon was one of two women out of 13 employees at a rapidly growing start-up company. While David enjoyed loudly joking around with the guys, he only spoke to Sharon when he needed her to do some work for him, and only in a "special" gentle voice reserved for women and little girls. He would go out of his way to "shield" her from the men's talk together, and would act as if he was being chivalrous by removing her from the scene just when the conversation was getting good. David also had a way of monitoring what Sharon did around the office, glaring at her when she would spend a few minutes chatting with "the guys", or shaking his head in disapproval if he felt that she let the phone ring too many times before answering. Sharon felt that David's "special" treatment put her on unequal footing with her peers, and it felt not only exclusionary, but patronizing. She wanted to fend for herself as an equal with her colleagues, and she wanted to confront him about his behavior.

When the conversation finally took place, in private, David first denied that he did any of these things that Sharon experienced. He claimed to have no knowledge of this behavior and acted hurt that she would even accuse him of it. He gave a long rambling speech about perception vs. reality, and how sometimes what one perceives to be true can become that person's reality. David was angry that she could think this of him, because he said he thought they had a good working relationship and expected better from her. Because the behaviors he exhibited were so subtle, Sharon struggled to point to tangible actions that offended her. Every example she gave was brushed aside as a misunderstanding on her part. David acted so wounded, and victimized by Sharon's feelings, that in the end Sharon was apologizing to him.
Sharon left that meeting bewildered, doubting herself and the legitimacy of her feelings. She felt as if she had just lost a big fight, but yet guilty for having so misjudged David's character. In her gut she knew this person was mistreating her, but was so confused by his ability to flip the situation around, that she started to question her sanity. In reality Sharon had just been put through a gauntlet of manipulators’ favorite tactics.

Learn to identify their tactics
Dr. Simon identifies 14 tactics that manipulators use to get you do what they want. He points out the importance of recognizing these tactics are offensive moves employed by the covert-aggressive to either maintain a position of power, gain power, or remove an obstacle from getting what she wants. In order to deal with manipulators, you should memorize this list of tactics, and identify them when they occur:
  • Denial – playing innocent, refusing to admit they have done something harmful.
  • Selective inattention – playing dumb, or acting oblivious; refusing to pay attention to anything that might divert them from achieving their goal.
  • Rationalization – making excuses or justifying their behavior, often in very convincing ways.
  • Diversion – changing the subject, dodging the issue, distracting us from the real problem.
  • Lying – deliberately telling untruths, concealing the truth, lying by omission.
  • Covert Intimidation – intimidation through veiled threats; hints that “it’s a tough job market out there.”
  • Guilt-tripping – using the conscientiousness of their victim against them to keep them self-doubting and anxious.
  • Shaming – using subtle sarcasm and put-downs to make the victim feel inadequate, unworthy, and anxious.
  • Playing the Victim role – playing the innocent victim to elicit compassion; convincing the victim that he/she is hurting in some way so that the victim will try to relieve their distress.
  • Vilifying the Victim – making the victim the “bad guy”; pretending he’s only defending himself.
  • Playing the servant role – disguising their personal agendas as service to a nobler cause.
  • Seduction – flattering and overtly supporting others to get them to lower their defenses and be trusting.
  • Projecting the blame (blaming others) – shifting the blame, scapegoating.
  • Minimization – a combination of denial and rationalization, “making a molehill out of a mountain”.
Change the rules
Now that you know how to recognize a covert-aggressive, and you are familiar with the techniques she is using to get the better of you, you can begin to change the rules of engagement with the manipulator. Dr. Simon suggests focusing only on what is within your power to change. Get to know your own weaknesses that may help the manipulator exploit you. Then know what to expect from the manipulator, and change how you conduct yourself with him.

Know your weaknesses
Manipulators have no tolerance for weakness, and are attuned to these traits as opportunities for exploitation in others. He will make it his business to get to know your flaws in order to ascertain which techniques will be most effective against you. Therefore, it is in your best interest to know your own weaknesses and work to overcome them. Dr. Simon lists the following as potential weakness to watch out for that put you at a higher risk for victimization:

  1. Naivete – you find it very hard to accept that people are truly as conniving and ruthless as the manipulator in your life is, despite being faced with abundant evidence. This can make you prone to being victimized several times over before accepting the reality of the situation.
  2. Over-conscientiousness – you are your own worst critic, and may be too willing to agree with the manipulator’s attempts to shame you or make you feel inadequate. This only amplifies the effectiveness of the manipulators tactics.
  3. Low self-confidence – you are unsure of your right to pursue your legitimate needs, and overly self-doubting. This prevents you from feeling you have a legitimate complaint and asserting yourself.
  4. Over intellectualization – you try too hard to understand things and think if you can just uncover the “real reason” for the manipulator’s behavior, which must be legitimate and understandable, things will be different. This can cause you to spend too much effort trying to “figure out” your manipulator, rather than protecting and asserting yourself against his aggression.
  5. Emotional dependency – you may fear being alone and gravitate toward these seemingly strong and confident people. Once involved with a manipulator you are likely to let him run you over for fear of being rejected for standing up for yourself.

Recognizing these qualities in yourself, and working to overcome them can make you a harder target for manipulators. It can also set you up to more readily identify when someone is trying to manipulate you.

Change how you behave with the manipulator
While you probably would like to make the manipulator change and pay for her bad behavior, this is fighting a losing battle, and a waste of energy. No one has the power to change anyone else, and the effort will just lead to frustration and anger. Instead, Dr. Simon suggests focusing on changing yourself and how you deal with the aggressor. Doing so can be empowering and confidence-building. Dr. Simon’s suggestions include the following:

  1. Be prepared
    • Be honest with yourself: Know what your needs are and own your agenda. Don’t deceive yourself about what you want out of the situation (e.g. you want to feel valued or need approval).
    • Set personal limits: Decide what you are not willing to tolerate, and decide what action you are willing to take when your limits are exceeded.
    • Be prepared for consequences: Anticipate what the covert-aggressive might do in response to your actions and take steps to protect yourself. Secure a strong support system.
  2. Don’t let them “pull the wool over your eyes”
    • Judge actions, not intentions: When the aggressor behaves inappropriately, don’t get caught up trying to figure out what is going on in their head. That makes it easy for you to get side-tracked from the real issue. Judge the behavior itself, and deal with that.
    • Accept no excuses: no matter how much of an explanation the aggressor gives you for their behavior, don’t accept it. Remember that they are trying to hold a position from which they should be backing away. The minute they start “explaining” they are resisting giving in to you, fighting to make you submit to them. The ends never justify the means, and you should dismiss any “reasons” they give you as irrelevant. Keep the focus on the inappropriate behavior.
    • Make direct requests: Be clear and specific about what you want, and use “I” statements: “I want you to…” or “I don’t want you to … anymore”. This technique makes it difficult for the manipulator to distort what you are asking, and if they don’t give you a direct and reasonable response, it is a sign they are fighting you.
    • Request direct responses: When you don’t get a clear and to-the-point answer, respectfully ask again. Anything else is a signal that they want to avoid the issue and are trying to manipulate you.
    • Keep the responsibility with the aggressor: Don’t let them sidestep the issue, and ask what they will do to correct the behavior.
  3. “Fight fair"
    • Avoid sarcasm, hostility and put-downs: Confront without attacking the aggressor.
    • Avoid making threats: Don’t threaten, just take action. Be careful not to counter-aggress.
    • Speak for yourself: Deal with the manipulator on a one-to-one basis. Speaking for others makes you seem insecure.
    • Stay in the here and now: Keep the focus on the issue at hand. Don’t bring up past issues, and don’t let the manipulator divert you by doing the same.
    • Make reasonable agreements: Make agreements that are appropriate and enforceable.
  4. Take action quickly: Act at the first sign that the covert aggressor is on the move, and let them know you are a force to be reckoned with.
  5. Propose a Win-Win solution: Covert-aggressives will do anything in their power to avoid losing. If they lose, they will want to take you down with them, they cannot allow a “you win – they lose” scenario. Their ideal scenario is “they win – you lose”, but an acceptable second is “they win – you win”.
Use your powers for good, not evil
Aggression in itself is an innate survival tool. When used judiciously, it is healthy and necessary. Use this newfound knowledge responsibly. According to Dr. Simon, you can avoid being a manipulator by understanding the following:
  1. Know when it is and is not appropriate to fight at all. Fight when there is a legitimate personal need, a moral value, or circumstance worth fighting for. Recognize when there is no point in fighting at all.
  2. Use alternatives to getting what you want without fighting. Know the difference between fair constructive competition and destructive rivalry.
  3. Know the difference between aggressiveness and assertiveness. Go after what you want with appropriate restraint and appropriate regard for the rights of others.

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