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.

Jan 12, 2010

Ask a Manager: What should we focus on for the new year?

Guest Lecturer, Dick Whitman, Manager in Residence 

What goals would you recommend our readers focus on at work for the new year? (e.g.what general skills should most people take more time to develop? What could women in particular do better at?)

You might have noticed that a lot of my answers to these questions have taken on a theme of “it’s not about you / it’s about the business.” Perhaps this is because a lot of the questions I’ve been getting have been about some sort of negotiation that is taking place in the workplace, where I maintain that you can be so much more effective in sticking to the facts.

I saw one of your (wise, charming) readers post a reply to the post about how women can hurt their own careers with some insight into the way women answer unreasonable requests with “it can’t be done” while men tend to turn the situation on it’s ear and lay out the scenario in which “it” could be done. I think this analysis is dead on.

While I referred to this just now as negotiation, I think the overall category is bigger than that. At the core of it all is interpersonal communication. It’s pretty big if you think about it. Ultimately we want to be successful in getting what we want. In the professional world, we use our communication skills to achieve this, just as a welder uses a blowtorch and a tailor uses a needle and thread.

Understanding how we communicate is just as important as the mastery of any tool by the person using it. Unfortunately, looking at how you communicate through your own lens is only part of the solution. It is more important to understand how you are perceived by others. You might be throwing off signals that are unknown to you but which can cause others to perceive you negatively without your knowledge.

It is hard to generalize and suggest a course of treatment that works for everyone, so I will recommend a more personal approach for you to meet your goals. I’m a big fan of gathering feedback from others. It can be something formal like a 360 review, but it certainly doesn’t have to be. Try having some one-on-one conversations with people that you interact with and whom you respect. See if you can get them to give you some input on how you are perceived.

Of course, it is very hard to get someone to open up with constructive criticism, but if you make it clear that you are trying to grow, you just might be surprised at the help you get. The key is to set up a non-threatening environment for the person you are talking to: nods and clarifying questions are much better than disgusted looks and folded arms. One trick about gathering constructive feedback from someone who is otherwise a fan is to ask the question this way: “what is one thing that you think I can do to improve at [insert lofty goal here].” The person you are talking to is more likely to understand that no one is perfect and it’s ok to call out just one. From there, you can ask for examples around where and how this issue has come up.

If you can stay mindful of the perceptions that others have of you, you will be on your way to changing the ones you don’t like so much. In the process, you will probably find that your openness to feedback will strengthen the relationships that you have with the people who have helped you to gather it.

Talk back to the manager:
What do you think of what our Manager in Residence has to say?
What management puzzles would you like our manager to unravel?
Let us know in the comments...

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More

Powered by Blogger