Thursday, October 30, 2008

Workers Behaving Badly: Why Our Stress May be Bringing Out the Worst in Us



After 9/11, I was struck by the sense of caring we showed for one another. It was a horrible, stressful time, but it seemed to bring out the best in us. We began to look out for one another, even at work. We shared our mutual pain about what had happened, and even expressed our fear for the future. Office squabbles seemed ridiculous, and petty jealousies even more so.

Now it's seven years later, and we're facing another horrible, scary time. We see empty chairs at work, evidence of the people who have taken early retirement or other buyout packages. Almost every one of us know someone who has been laid off. Our own employers have stated they will not be filling empty positions for now.

And yet, office politics are on the rise. Gossiping, backbiting and negative campaigning dominate the airwaves, and we seem to mimic that behavior at work.

So, instead of pulling together on the job as we did after 9/11, we seem to be our own worst enemies right now. Of course, much of that is due to the enormous stress in both our private and professional lives. No one can predict what will happen next week, let alone in the coming year.

If makes workers feel powerless, and that's a lousy feeling. It makes us want to grab whatever we can and hold on, everyone else be damned. But here's the thing: We actually DO have a lot of control right now. We have control over how we treat one another.

It's not a easy thing to admit that we've been a jerk to people we work with, either through our silences or our short-tempers or our snide comments. But we've got to own up to our bad behavior, because until we do, we won't begin to fix what needs fixing.

So, today, I want you to think about the person in the cubicle next door or down the hall. I want you to think about how fear and anxiety has made you and others behave, and what you can do to start making things right.

Remember, the evidence supports the fact that when we are friendlier to one another at work, when we genuinely care about one another, we are not only happier but more productive. And right now, that's definitely a very good thing.

What are some ways to improve relationships with others at work?





Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Friday, August 22, 2008

What To Do When the Gossip is About....You


Go ahead and fess up.

I know you look at those gossip rags near the checkout supermarket lines. I know that you know that Brad and Angelina had twins. I also know that you are aware John Edwards cheated on his wife, Elizabeth. If you don’t know these things, then you’re not human and obviously live under a rock.

As much as all of us proclaim we don’t listen, see, spread, smell or otherwise consume gossip, we really do. Maybe not on purpose. Maybe just by accident. We can’t help it, we say. We can’t walk around with our palms over our ears singing “nah, nah, nah” or slap our hands over our eyes so that we don’t see Britney Spear exiting a car sans underwear.

And the same is true of the workplace. If you have a job, then you have gossip. Maybe we don’t even think of it as gossip, but call it that more politically correct term, “office politics.” We listen to it because sometimes our very survival depends on it. We’re aware of the blow-up the boss had with his boss. We know that positions may be cut in another department. We have heard that a co-worker has been demoted for yelling at a colleague. All of that, we say, is important stuff we need to know.

But then one day, you’re sitting at work, and you realize that the talk is about you. You realize there are discussions about the mistake you made last month that cost the company money. Or, you find out that people are talking about your son being arrested for DUI. Maybe there are snickers or sly glances your way and lots of hushed tones to indicate you’re the subject of some kind of gossip.

You ignore it as long as you can. You’re hoping it goes away. You figure the gossips will tire of you and move onto something else. Still, no matter how much you try to put it out of your mind, you realize that the gossip mill continues to grind away, and you’re still caught in it.

While our mothers may have taught the old “sticks and stones” routine to us when we were in school, it doesn’t always work when we’re older. For one thing, gossip can hurt our careers. For another, it can make us physically sick and unable to do our jobs. And here’s the real modern-day kick: It can continue to be spread online.

So, what to do when you realize you’re the object of gossip at work? There are several routes to take, depending on what you feel is best for you at the time:

1. Confront the source. This takes a lot of guts, and you need to do it in a calm way. Walk up to the person and say: “I heard that you’ve been discussing issues in my personal/professional life.” Then, summarize what you’ve heard: “I understand that you’ve been talking about my son/job performance, and I would appreciate it if you would come to me if you have any questions or comments rather than talking to others about it.”

2. Ask for help. If you think someone may be talking about you, but you’re not sure (or maybe are sure), then you can act as if you’re enlisting their aid, which can help shame them into stopping their wagging tongue. “There seems to be gossip going around about me. I don’t know if you’ve heard it, but it’s really not OK with me. If you hear anyone gossiping about me, I’d appreciate it if you tell them to stop.”

3. Keep your nose clean. The worst thing you can do if you’re being gossiped about is to attack with the same kind of talk. Make sure no one sucks you into talking about the person who may be gabbing about you, or tries to ratchet up the destructive comments. Just change the subject, or say: “You know, I don’t like talking about other people. I know what that feels like, and it’s really hurtful.”

4. Go to the boss. This can be risky. If your boss doesn’t support you in stopping the gossip and confronting the ones at fault, then the gossip is only bound to get worse. The only choice may be leaving the job. Still, if your company has a formal policy in place that states no gossiping, you could have a better foundation to build your case.

What would you do if you were being gossiped about at work? Is there any way to avoid it?


Digg!

del.icio.us

Subscribe with Bloglines


Add to Technorati Favorites

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, July 14, 2008

What's So Bad About Being No. 2?

As Barack Obama and John McCain try and decide who should be their vice-presidential running mate, let's take a look at what's so great about being No. 2.

OK. Hmmmm...

1. You're not No. 3.
2. You usually get a good parking spot.
3. See reason No. 1.

All right, all kidding aside, is it really so bad to be No. 2? Well, it can be kind of tough to proclaim that you're really proud to be second-in-command in this country. After all, aren't we programmed from an early age that we want to be -- no, must be -- No. 1?

Our children must go to the top preschool, elementary school, high school, college, etc. No one, after all, holds up those foam fingers at football games that proclaim "We're No. 2!" Companies proclaim they have the No. 1 laundry detergent and we must be the No. 1 sales team before we get our bonus from the boss.

But what if your life's aspiration is to be No. 2? Does that make you a loser?

Hardly.

The No. 2 can wield enormous power. Just look at Dick Cheney. (OK, on second thought, let's not.)

Let's instead look at all the reasons that being No. 2 isn't such a bad gig:
1. It's action-packed. While No. 1 gets to make the final decision, it's the second-in-command who puts it into play. If you like facing challenges, being the go-to person, this may be a job you love.
2. You can be a fly-on-the-wall. People pay a lot of attention to No. 1, and may carefully watch what they say or do around him or her. But the No. 2 can often sit back, observe and learn. Seeing people in their unguarded moments can be a fascinating adventure.
3. You learn from No. 1's mistakes. It's called second-mover advantage by game theorists: No. 2's gain an edge simply by observing what the first mover has done.
4.You get to keep your head on your shoulders. When times are tough, people are looking for someone to blame. That usually is No. 1. And No. 1 usually is asked, or forced, to take a hike.
5. You get a great parking spot. Did I already mention that?

Of course, there are downsides to being No. 2. In a sort of "kick the dog" syndrome, the No. 1 can take out frustrations most often on the second-in-command. Or, it can get frustrating seeing No. 1 taking credit for your hard work. And, when you're No. 2 sometimes you have to do things you don't agree with, but you have to because your boss is -- you got it -- the boss of you.

But if you can get past some of the frustrations, some of the blows to your own ego, No. 2 these days may be the best position on the field. You can be exposed to important people and jobs, you can have a real impact on a company's direction and outlook and you probably won't take the hit if things go south. If you have problems saying you're not No. 1, just remember the words of Margaret Thatcher: "Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't."

Do you think being No. 2 is a good thing? Why or why not?

Digg!

del.icio.us

Subscribe with Bloglines


Add to Technorati Favorites

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, October 29, 2007

Office Politics Can't Be Ignored

As the race heats up for the presidential nomination, it’s a good time to remember that politics isn't confined to just those running for office. In fact, some of the most sophisticated politicking takes place in the workplace.

Who hasn’t been on the receiving end of some on-the-job political maneuvering that would put even the most savvy national campaign strategist to shame? What workplace hasn’t seen people choose up sides, putting their support behind certain people while working to undermine others?

For those in the professional political arena, this is part of the game and they readily admit they love the rough and tumble stuff. But for those who want to just do their jobs, this is a nasty side of business they could do without.

Still, it’s naïve and unwise to ignore office politics that have been a part of the work life since man first earned a wage. The key is to understand that you can – and must – understand on-the-job politics in order to not only survive, but thrive, in the workplace.

Here are some things to think about:

1. Hating it won’t make it go away. In a perfect cubicle world, office politics would cease to exist. Forget it. You have a better chance of the Easter Bunny being named CEO. The sooner you accept it’s part of life, the sooner you’ll understand that you can deal with it and not sell your soul to the devil.
2. Know your code. While you may detest some of the smarmier aspects of politics in the workplace, it doesn’t mean you have to sink to that level in order to participate. You don’t have to lie, cheat, steal or cause physical harm – but you can listen, learn, be professional and ethical.
3. Seek win-win solutions. Politics in the workplace often get rough when someone is going to come up with the short end of the stick. If you become known for creating situations where everyone gets something they want, then you’re less likely to be blindsided by dirty politics. This may mean you give a little, or you negotiate with someone else to bring about a positive solution for a third person, but in the end, everyone feels they’ve gotten a fair shake.
4. Don’t gossip. Some people equate gossiping with office politics, and that’s a big mistake. Gossiping is dishing dirty on another person in order to put down or minimize him or her in some way. Office politics, on the other hand, means understanding the relationships among the people in your workplace, and how they connect to what you’re doing and want to accomplish.
5. Don’t hold a grudge. If someone plays hardball and actually sets out to do you professional harm, then you’ve learned an important lesson that you need to be careful with this person in the future and not provide another opportunity to hurt you. That doesn’t mean you shut down communications. In fact, it means that you stay even more in tune with this person to avoid a repeat performance. What if someone accidentally harms you and seems genuinely sorry? Then you hold to your code of conduct and accept the apology and go on to behave with professionalism. Remember that if you hold a grudge, then it bars you from learning from the experience and moving on.

Digg!

del.icio.us

Labels: