Monday, September 29, 2008

Can a Crisis Revive Your Reputation?

One of the interesting bits of theater to emerge from the financial bailout has been watching certain people revive their reputations during our nation's Wall Street meltdown -- and arguably, no star has begun re-burning more brightly than Sen. Christopher Dodd.

Dodd, whose presidential aspirations were dashed when pitted against the formidable Sen. Barak Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton, was forced to limp back to his regular job on Capitol Hill after he bombed miserably in the early presidential caucuses earlier this year.

It must have been embarrassing for Dodd, a veteran politician with more than three decades of service. (He was already under fire for his handling of the mortgage mess in his role as chairman of the House banking committee.)

But now, here we are, seeing Dodd interviewed on every major news outlet as one of the key players in brokering a deal on the financial rescue, and being given enormous credit and praise for his ability to bring both Republicans and Democrats together.

Dodd is a terrific example, I think, of how to understand that just because your reputation takes a beating on the job, it doesn't mean your career is over. Let's take a look at what we can learn:

* Own the criticism. When you're under fire for something at work, don't run and hide from it. As much as it may hurt your pride, be honest with yourself and say: "Is any of this justified?"
* Be a Monday morning quarterback. Write down just the facts from when the problem started until present day. Make notes about how you might have handled a decision or action differently if you had to do it over.
* Go for the ugly. Dodd obviously had to be in on these negotiations because of his job, but he clearly put himself out there to deal with a very controversial idea. He didn't shy away from it, didn't try and push it off on someone else. He took some risk -- he knew that it was a chance to redeem his reputation, and he went for it 100 percent. If there's a "not pretty" issue at work, go for it. Resolving a difficult issue is one of the best ways to garner respect and admiration when your reputation has taken a beating.
* Reach out. One of Dodd' s key abilities has been working with diverse opinions to form a solution that everyone can live with. If your reputation at work has taken a nosedive, now is not the time to hunker down only with your supporters. Reach out to your most vocal critics. Those who often bitch the loudest are often the most willing to sing your praises once you work to resolve differences.
* Be prepared for a marathon. If you've gotten a look at Dodd after more than a week of wrangling over this bailout plan, he looks a bit rough around the edges. He looks tired, his voice a bit hoarse at times. But he's still intense and focused when asked about the issue. If you're going to revive your reputation, it's important that you look like you're trying really, really hard. It means putting in long hours, it means meeting with others when all you want to do is go to bed or have a beer (or maybe both). It means showing others beyond a shadow of a doubt that you're willing to hang in there and get the job done.

It will be interesting to see how Dodd's actions contribute to his political power in the future. One thing is clear, however, is that he's done a lot to gain one of the lead roles in a real national drama. His script is one we could all learn from.

What else can someone do to restore a battered reputation at work?


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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

When You're The Obnoxious Twit

Is there someone at your workplace that everyone pretty much despises? You know who I'm talking about -- the person who can take a perfectly nice day and ruin it just by showing up?

Now, here's the million-dollar question: Is that person you?

Most people can relate a few stories about some obnoxious co-worker who drives everyone nuts and has people plotting about how to get him or her fired. But what if it’s you that co-workers can’t stand -- and you know it and want to change?

Well, first you must realize that it isn’t going to be easy. Whatever overbearing, anti-social and grating behavior put you at the top of the workplace “most disliked” list won’t be erased immediately. But it can be done, and if it is accomplished successfully, you and your co-workers will benefit greatly.

If you truly want to turn things around, then you’ve got to map out a strategy that will involve regaining the trust of co-workers and proving you are sincere. In other words, you've got to let go of the job strategy that says you don't need friends at work (you do) and you only need yourself for job success (wrong).

One of the first steps is to find someone you can trust to help you regain the ground you’ve lost. While it may be difficult to find a close co-worker to help you, consider someone from human resources or an ombudsman who can discreetly help you test the waters. This person can get a true indication of where your mistakes have been made with co-workers, and what you need to do to correct them.

At the same time, you and this third party should assure a supervisor that you want to make a sincere effort to mend fences. Then, you must begin changing your ways, showing others in the workplace that you know you have offended them, stepped on toes, and in general, been a pain in the ass.

Still, despite your best efforts, some co-worker's opinions of you are going to be tough to change, particularly if you've undermined them in the past. But if you make inroads with at least a few people, they can help smooth the way so that you begin to create a stronger bond than ever before. In this highly competitive global marketplace, it's very difficult if employees do not work together as a team and your co-workers may soon come to realize that your efforts will benefit them, as well.

One other consideration: If your bad behavior has been the result of a personal problem (depression, divorce, alcohol), you might consider sharing that with co-workers, telling them that you're determined to turn things around. If you're unsure whether this is a good idea, you might want to discuss the details with your third party. In general, people are much more sympathetic to these issues in today's workplace, and may judge you less harshly if they understand the root causes of your bad behavior.

Finally, keep in mind that dealing with your workplace conflicts now, rather than later, is important. Your reputation of being generally unlikable can become easily known through increased use of online networking sites. In today's competitive workplace, that can be a mistake that haunts you now -- and in the future.


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