Thursday, June 28, 2007

Tolerance in the Workplace

I receive some really great letters from readers and always appreciate their viewpoints, even if they don't agree with what I've written. Many readers take the time to outline a particular problem at work, and ask me for help in dealing with it.

But sometimes I receive letters that are full of anger and resentment -- and intolerance. These writers blame a certain person for their trouble -- but also the person's gender or the ethnic or religious group to which the person belongs.

Diversity experts told me I shouldn't be so surprised at those letters. They explained that people need someone to blame for their troubles, and blaming "those" people is a convenient outlet.

At the same time, they said, not all intolerance is so obvious. Some of us are intolerant to others at work, and we may not even be aware of it.

Right about now you may be saying you're not like that because you treat everyone the same.

But do you really?

Have you ever said someone is a "real slave driver"? To someone who is African-American, this comment may be offensive. Or, have you said that "all women love to gossip" but thought about how insulting that may be to the females where you work? Saying "all men are slobs" is just as unfair. Anything that has a "those people" kind of edge to it shows that you are making sweeping statements -- not based on fact, but on intolerance.

So, what should you do if you recognize that you're guilty of making such statements? First, be honest. If you have offended someone you should apologize and say, "I know this is awkward, but I'd like to keep working with you."

At the same time, you may not realize you've been offensive until it has been pointed out to you. In that case, be open to the criticism. "So, it was offensive when I said that all Asians are bad drivers? Obviously, it's something I need to work on, and I'm sorry. Thanks for pointing it out."

What should you do if others are making insensitive remarks around you and they won't stop? Say something like, "I don't want to hear racist or sexist jokes anymore. I hope you'll respect my wishes and not tell them in my presence." If you can, get a coworker who feels the same to support you.

Finally, be patient with yourself and with others. It will take some time to drop bad habits that you may have had for a long time. But remember that once you start being more aware, then you will continue to grow in tolerance and understanding -- and that will make you more valuable in the workplace today.

If you'd like more information on diversity, check out If you think you may be the target of discrimination and want to learn more about your legal rights, consult the Equal Opportunity Commission Web site at

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

What's in a Name?

Penelope Trunk, who was kind enough to blog about my new book, “45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy…and How to Avoid Them,” pointed out that while she liked the book, she wondered about the name Bruzzese. “What’s up with her name?” Trunk wondered. “Who has any idea how to pronounce it?” (

“If you want people to talk about the stuff you do, you need a name people can say,” Trunk wrote.

First, let me say that Bruzzese is Italian. There’s been a gradual Americanization since it moved from the old country, but when I took it as my married name more than 20 years ago, I was told that it was said “Brew-ZEES.”

As you can imagine, Trunk’s remarks generated plenty of responses, ranging from the outraged to those who agreed with her. Trunk further explained her thinking, writing that “when your success hinges on people being able to pronounce your name, I think a name might need to serve a different purpose than just cultural identity.”

Trunk’s post really got me start thinking. Did my success hinge on people being able to say my last name? I began paying much more attention to people I was exposed to every day through the media: Anderson Cooper, Barbara Walters, Charles Gibson. But then I also noticed who these people were talking about: Barak Obama, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Renee Zellweger, Martina Navratalova, Rudolph Giuliani and Ellen DeGeneres, to name a few.

So, even though my unpronounceable last name has become a topic of conversation, I understand now that I need not worry. After all, as far as difficult names go, I’m in pretty darn good company.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Blogging About Work

The subject of free speech has been a theme of several columns I’ve been writing these days.

As a journalist, I’m a big proponent of the First Amendment, and bristle whenever anyone tries to tell me what I can and cannot write. I maintain that information in power, and people deserve to know the facts and then make up their own minds about what to do with those facts.

So, that means that I have the responsibility to make sure my facts are correct, and the information I provide people is accurate, without “spinning” those facts to reflect my personal opinion.

Unfortunately, that’s not always true of others who use the written word. With 8 million blogs, there are plenty of people who use the forum to spread gossip and innuendo, or to even spread a message of intolerance and hate.

I, myself, have been the subject of blogs, mostly because of my recent book, “45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy.” For the most part, I’ve thought what was written about the book has been fair and most of it has been very positive and flattering. However, some personal comments were written about me – that had absolutely nothing to do with the book – and I can’t say I liked it.

That helped give me some insight about why bosses get so nervous about employee blogging. Bosses don’t know what could possibly pop up on an employee’s blog – could it be proprietary information or a riff on how incompetent the CEO is or some snide comment regarding someone’s weight? – but they know enough to be concerned that once the blog post is out there, there’s not much they can do.

That’s because the written word is forever. Companies understand that once you post something they consider detrimental to their reputation or hurtful to morale or productivity, then it’s like trying to put spilled milk back in the container. While you may remove the actual post, it’s still likely to exist in other places in cyberspace by bloggers who pass it on.

One of my most recent columns dealt with free speech in the workplace. Bruce Barry, a Vanderbilt University professor, makes the point that if employers restrict what employees can and cannot say in the workplace, it undermines the value of our society. He maintains that it’s our ability to talk about issues of the day that is critical to the health of our democracy.

With an upcoming presidential election, and the growing number of blogs, the line between company governance and free speech is bound to generate even more discussion.

The importance of responsible blogging cannot be stressed enough. Firing intolerant messages or poisonous rumors into the Web audience is harmful. It’s like spewing shotgun pellets into a crowd of people – innocent people are going to get hurt. Companies are not going to put up with it, and neither should anyone else.

Let’s continue to support free speech, but let’s also be focused on keeping the debate healthy and fair.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Making a Bad First Impression

There's no better feeling than coming out of a job interview and feeling like you nailed it. You and the interviewer clicked, everyone seemed very impressed with your resume and abilities, and there was plenty of positive body language.

On the other hand, there is no worse feeling than knowing that you messed up -- that somewhere in the interview you really bombed and possibly blew your chances of getting a job you really want. You head home,deeply depressed, ready to beat your head against the nearest wall for being such a numbskull.

But before you put that knot on your head, consider that you may be able to salvage the situation. So maybe you called someone by the wrong name or showed up late for the interview -- you still may be able to recover and put yourself in serious contention for the job.

Annie Stevens, managing partner with Boston-based ClearRock, says that the right follow-up plan and quick action can turn around a bad first impression.

Specifically, you should:

* Assess the damage. Take a hard look at how badly you may have hurt your chances, and whether it was a big deal -- or no one else really noticed.

* Act quickly. Don't give the bad impression time to sink in. Take immediate steps to correct it.

* Re-establish your qualifications. If you follow-up with a phone call or e-mail, use it as a chance to again outline your skills and experienced. "Keep this succint," Stevens says.

* Apologize. Don't go overboard, but if you made a glaring error, then you should offer a sincere "I'm sorry."

* Use humor carefully. You can make the situation worse by joking about it.

* Prepare for the next shot. Chances are, you'll be given another chance to interview with someone else, so take steps to make sure you don't repeat your missteps.

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Thursday, June 7, 2007

Choosing a Career

When I was a kid, I don’t remember anyone asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up.

A career was just not something I contemplated at an early age. When I played Barbies with my best friend in first grade, my Barbie was always named “Beth” and she either worked as a florist or in a Woolworth’s. This was the extent of my career knowledge – my grandfather owned a nursery and my mother and grandmother took me to Woolworth’s every Saturday.

As I got older, I used to talk about being a teacher. I have no earthly idea why – I didn’t even like to baby sit, so being around children all day obviously held no appeal. I guess since the women in my family were either secretaries or teachers, I decided on teaching since I hated typing.

But I remember the day I took my first journalism class in high school. It was like the planets aligned, the future seemed clear and nothing ever felt more right. After more than two decades in journalism, I’ve never once regretted my decision and have loved (almost) every day in my chosen profession.

After being a workplace columnist, however, I know this isn’t typical for most people. Many times, people go to technical school or college or even get advanced degrees in what they plan on doing for a living. Then, either before they finish their schooling or sometime later in their careers, they discover they don’t really want to be a stock broker or a teacher or a doctor for a living. They would really rather do what they always dreamed of as a kid: run a bait and tackle store in Key West. Or, maybe they dreamed of designing kites for a living, but their parents vetoed that idea and so they became a computer technician.

My point is that we often try and find careers based on our skills – not our passions. In elementary school today, they are testing children to see what their natural career paths will be based on the child’s test scores and interests. Maybe this works for some people. All I know is that while “Beth” was happy working in Woolworth’s or arranging flowers all day, I would hate to think I missed journalism because I tried to make a decision without finding my passion first.

Career counselor Marty Nemko makes the point that finding the “right chemistry” with a career means doing something for a living that involves both your head and your heart. I think one of the best ways to do that is to explore what’s out there and really look honestly at what you like to do – and what you don’t. (Sometimes just eliminating things can put things in perspective.)

Here are some good resources to help you to begin your research:

• The Bureau of Labor Statistics offers career guides and outlook for hundreds of jobs and industries.
• This site helps you navigate through hundreds of federal sites when searching for a job or career.
• If you don’t have a clue what you’d like to do, start here with this guide that helps guide you through the choices.
• This site provides thousands of links to a wide variety of career resources on the Internet. You can also take a free career test to find out what job is right for you.
• With more than 90 streaming video interviews with celebrities, business leaders, athletes, musicians and career professionals in different industries, this site is cool for kids and adults.

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