Wednesday, November 5, 2008

How to Get the Boss To Listen to You



Do you sometimes think you've become the invisible employee? Do you think the only way your boss might pay attention to you is if you were holding a phone and saying: "I've got Oprah on the line for you!"

You're not alone. Many people have felt ignored by their managers, but they are really beginning to fret more about it these days because they fear that "out of mind" may mean "out of a job" if layoffs hit their workplace.

Unfortunately, some employees go about getting attention in the wrong way. They begin to slack, believing that if the boss doesn't pay any attention to them, what does it matter what they do? Or, they may believe the boss's inattention gives them license to sort of "creatively" handle their job, which can mean anything from illegal acts to taking advantage of other workers.

I once interviewed James E. Lukaszewski, one of those super management gurus, and he had some great advice for finding a way to get yourself heard by the boss. In what called the "three-minute drill" he said that you had to really hone your message, to practice and to do your homework so that when you spoke to the boss, she listened just like you really did have Oprah on the line.

He suggested that you write out your three-minute pitch (or about 450 words) to the boss. It should go something like this:

* In 60 words, describe the nature of the issue, problem or situation that requires decision, action or study by the boss. What you're saying is: "Hey, boss, this situation requires your attention and we've got to talk about it right now."

* Lay out for the boss what it all means. Is it a threat from a competitor? Is it an opportunity to grow the business? Let the boss know WHY is all matters. Again, keep it to about 60 words.

* Say what needs to be done in 60 words.

* Give three options: do nothing, do something or do something more. Giving multiple options is what helps you keep the boss's attention, instead of her just tossing you out when she doesn't like your recommendation. This should be about 150 words.

* Once you give the options, then you need to be prepared to give your recommendation on which one to choose. Being prepared to give an immediate answer keeps her focused on you and your solutions. Hint: Give the one that has the least negative consequences. Total: 60 words.

* Forecast what you think will happen, both the positive and the negative, if any. The boss needs to understand -- in 60 words -- the consequences.

What are other strategies you can use to become more "visible" to the boss?

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Is There an Addict in the Cubicle Next Door?



Six months ago on this blog I wrote about a smart and talented lawyer with four beautiful children who had a drug and alcohol addiction. The story, I said, was that of my cousin and her struggle for recovery in a world where she had once had it all -- but was stripped of nearly everything because of her battles with her addictions.

She died last week.

I had not seen her since my father's funeral eight years ago, but through family contacts I kept up with her health and addiction struggles. I'm not going to go into specifics, but suffice it to say because of her disease she at one point had lost custody of her children, divorced and lost her law license.

I debated writing this post, but after watching stress taking it's toll on everyone in this country because of the economy and the heated political atmosphere, I think it's important that we all make a promise to look out for one another. Addiction doesn't reside just on the street corner with junkies looking for the next fix -- it's also in the meeting rooms and boardrooms and cubicles where we work.

For my newspaper column earlier this year I interviewed Eric Goplerud a Ph.D. and the director of Ensuring Solutions to Alcohol Problems at The George Washington University Medical Center, who told me that while workers’ alcohol problems cost employers millions of dollars each year and contribute to skyrocketing health insurance costs, the problem often is not effectively dealt with in the workplace.

“I think one of the reasons that more employers have not addressed this issue is because it’s perceived as a private issue in the life of an employee,” he said.

He told me that one of the most effective ways to help someone at work is to use what he called "AIM" – aim, inform and motivate.

“You go to someone and you say, ‘You know, you seem to be drinking more – how much are you drinking?’ Then, you inform them that what they’re drinking seems like an awful lot. Finally, you motivate them to get help, by expressing your concern and saying: ‘Have you thought about changing?’”

Goplerud also told me that even those who have not become alcoholics according to the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) guidelines are running a risk by drinking too much.

“What we’ve learned is that many people drink alcohol in ways that are unhealthy to themselves and others,” Goplerud says. “There’s no need for them to go to AA, but it does affect their health and there may be a need to go to counseling in order to handle the progression.”

He stressed that employers need to be aware of situations that can lead to overuse of alcohol by employees, such as workers who labor with little or no supervision or in remote locations – or who travel a lot for business. Also, younger workers (males under 21 have the highest alcohol dependencies) can be greatly influenced to drink more in a company culture where older employees drink heavily.

Unfortunately, research also shows that only 10 percent of working people with serious alcohol problems receive any kind of treatment, Goplerud said.

“This is a problem that is a whole lot easier to treat before it gets out of control,” he said.

You may not want to get involved in someone's addiction battles at work. After all, are you your colleague's keeper? In memory of my cousin, I sure hope so.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What You Can Learn from a Turkey Buzzard About Striking Out on Your Own

I often describe my job these days as being a turkey buzzard.

This is not something I am proud of. Well, maybe. A little bit.

That's because at a time when journalists are being laid off by the hundreds and the freelance writing market sometimes resembles a sweatshop operation, I have managed to survive.

How? I've learned to take what others might term "road kill" and turn it into a pretty decent meal. And you can do the same with your career.

First, in order to become a turkey buzzard, you've got to learn to see the beauty and possibility of a bird that scares the bejeesus out of most people, or at least invokes a shudder. My friend, Kathryn, at Plant Whatever Brings You Joy, once wrote a wonderful piece about these birds. I thought she was kinda crazy, but then I decided that maybe there was a lesson in there for me.

The lesson was this: Sometimes what looks ugly on the surface can really be pretty cool once you open your mind to other possibilties.

We all like to think that we're going to get the biggest piece of pie, the best promotion, the corner office or the juicy pay raise. But sometimes our careers don't always go as planned, and before we know it, we're staring at a dead carcass, known as our job.

That's where the turkey buzzard mindset comes in. Instead of seeing a dead career, you look at it from a buzzard's point of view and see.... opportunity.

In this tough economy, with industries undergoing great upheavals and more people facing layoffs and downsizings, it's the person who creates something from what others see as nothing that will survive.

So, let's talk about ways to prepare for the day you need to be a turkey buzzard:

* Learn to pick through the bones. Many companies these days are streamlining operations, or cutting out services because they're too expensive. But if you see there's still real need for those services -- just on a more limited basis -- you can create an opportunity for yourself.

My first freelance job was for a financially struggling publisher where I had once worked. I approached them, outlining what I could do for them, and how I could hit the ground running because I was so familiar with their business. They took me up on it and I think it was a great solution for everyone. It gave me a steady stream of income while I got the rest of my business underway, and they were able to get a qualified writer for less money that a fulltime writer, and didn't have to pay benefits.

So, if you are let go from an employer, consider if there is a service at your company that is being cut because it is too expensive and too far-reaching -- but you could provide it on a limited scale for less money. The employer would be more willing to contract with an employee familiar with the operation, whether it's coaching services provided by a departing manager, or a laid off worker becoming a virtual assistant.

* Look for hidden goodies. What others may ignore because they believe it's not worth the effort is a golden opportunity for you. The project that was ditched because no one had the time to devote to it, or the difficult (but lucrative) client that was avoided are just the kinds of challenges you can take on when you're on your own.

I don't know how many times I've heard people say: "I can't believe my employer doesn't see this opportunity. We could make lots of money on it, but there's too much red tape."

That's exactly where you come in. You've seen those chances for growth and can now go after them without being hampered by long chains of command and paperwork that would put the IRS to shame. Another advantage is that many times these opportunities are with people you've already met through your former job, so your path should be smoother when you pitch them your idea.

* Gather strength from the rest of the buzzards. Just look at the blogosphere to see the number of bloggers who have joined forces to create powerhouse destinations. These are people who have learned that combining the different talents of various people makes their product stronger. When you decide to create something new, make sure you maintain a strong network. Many of those strong connections will be from your former employer, possibly others who are looking to grasp a new opportunity.

* Scope out new territory. While the pickings at your former employer may be great, don't fall into the trap of only getting your meal from one source, or feeling like you owe them more than anyone else. Former employers can provide a good way to get your new venture off the ground, but you've always got to be scavenging for new sources of income and protecting what you've created.

Do you have a plan in place to propose to your employer should you lose your job?
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Thursday, June 5, 2008

Understanding Why You Really Get Distracted at Work

If you feel like you're going to scream the next time someone interrupts you at work, pay attention. The problem may not be them -- but you.

That's right. You're the cause of your own distractions. You may be responsible for driving yourself crazy.

Let's be real. That candy dish on your desk? A "hello, stop and chat" magnet if ever there was one. Looking up whenever someone walks by (smile optional)-- a sure sign you're willing to shoot the breeze.

And let's talk about those cute little toys on your desk and the funny posters that cover your cubicle or office walls. That doesn't exactly say you're serious about work, now does it? You may consider them just part of your work space, but to some people they say: "Whoopee! Always ready to be interrupted for whatever silly thing you have to say!"

OK, so now that we've started getting to the truth of why you can't concentrate at work, let's get a bit tougher. There is no reason that once you've greeted everyone with a smile or friendly hello at the beginning of the day, you should keep it up. You're not a cruise director are you? You can always just nod when you pass someone in the hallway -- but keep moving! If an unexpected visitor shows up, you can offer a friendly smile or greeting, but stand up and offer your hand, while saying: “How can I help you?” This shows that you’re ready for business, and keeps the person from lingering for too long.

Some other tips for cutting down on distractions:
• Talk to yourself. You can either do this in your head or aloud, but continually say to yourself: “What is the most important thing I need to be doing right now?” This serves two purposes: It helps you stay focused and your muttering concerns just enough people to keep them from getting too close.
• Find your hiding spot. The advantage of having laptops is that they allow you to pick up your work and head for another destination. Ask the boss if you can go to a local coffee shop or book an empty conference room so that you can have some uninterrupted time. Turn off your cell phone and only check it once an hour.
• Consider your own behavior. It could be that one of the reasons you’re getting off track is because you’re part of the problem. How many times do you stop and talk to others in a typical day? When you’re waiting on phone calls, or between projects, do you wander over to someone else’s desk to talk? Do you linger around the coffeepot? By behaving in such a way, you aren’t respecting the time of others – and they may be only too happy to return the favor when you least need it.


What are some of your most common distractions? Do you have ways to eliminate them?


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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Seven Ways to Deal with the Co-Worker Who is Driving You Nuts

OK, time to fess up. I don't care how nice you are, there's someone at work who is driving you nuts. It's either the guy who clips his fingernails while on the phone and leaves the droppings all over the floor, or the woman who complains nonstop about her worthless, freeloading kids. It could be the person who constantly interrupts, butting into your conversations or the guy who has to always trumpet his every success, no matter how small. ("I just reloaded my stapler!")

It’s not enough that you put in long hours on the job, sit in boring meetings and put up with irate customers. No, on top of the bad coffee and the elevator that always gets stuck between floors, you’ve got to put up with the aggravation in the next cubicle, also known as a co-worker.

You’re ready to crack. You like your job, but you can't stand another day with one or more of your co-workers. You don't want to complain to the boss -- how to explain that someone's nasal voice makes you want to shove your favorite snow globe up his nose?

Don’t despair. There is a way to handle a bothersome co-worker without screaming, quitting or running to the boss:

* Write down the things that really, really bug you. Separate personal issues (she laughs like a hyena) from the professional ones (she interrupts when you’re talking). It’s not your place to comment on personal pet peeves, but rather on the professional issues that prevent you from doing your job as efficiently and productively as possible. And remember: Only address issues that directly impact you.

* Speak to the person directly. Schedule some time with her, in a private area where you won’t be interrupted and she won’t feel compelled to lash out because she’s embarrassed in front of others. Be specific about your complaints. "You’re always interrupting,” isn’t helpful. Say, “I believe you interrupt me when I’m trying to make a point in team meetings.” Try to provide an example.

* Ask for change. Once you’ve outlined the problem, then be specific about what you want to happen. “When I’m speaking, I’d like to finish my sentence so that I can make sure all members of the team understand and then I’ll answer questions or listen to other opinions.”

* Be honest. If the co-worker’s actions are really ticking you off, then say so. Describe how frustrated you feel when she pops above the cubicle partition to offer her unsolicited advice. Remain calm while describing how you feel – it will have much more impact than pitching a fit.

* Cut to the bottom line. Make it clear that you’re not bringing up these issues because you’re a whiny sourpuss. State why the issue is important in a calm, serious way.

* Fess up. You need to be honest that you’ve let the issue go on too long without speaking up, or you should have communicated more strongly your beliefs. Make sure she understands that it stops now.

* Look for solutions. Let the other person save face by helping you come up with ways to stop the problem.

So, what's the thing that drives you crazy about your co-workers?

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