b Self-Helpless: True Tales of a Working Girl: September 2006



Fired? You’ll Live

In his book The Art of Firing, Guy Kawasaki has this to say about firing:

"Look in the mirror. Ideally, the situation should have never come to this. You should have hired the right person. You should have set and communicated the right goals. You should have provided course corrections. Some of the “fault” probably belongs to you. It’s too late for the case at hand, but it’s not too late to prevent this from happening again, so take a good, long look in the mirror."

While I have never been fired from a job, I can say from what I’ve seen that getting fired isn’t the end of the earth. It’s a blow to the ego and stings when it happens, but I learned that sometimes bad things happen to good people. Or in many cases, bad people happen to otherwise good careers.

What I learned is that some people fall into the wrong roles. I agree wholeheartedly with Guy’s point about some of the fault falling on the person that hired the employee in the first place. It is up to them to be a fully competent leader. If you can’t lead your people, some of them simply won’t make it. That is not a reflection on them; it’s a reflection on you.

It does not always happen however, that the firing manager was also the hiring manager. Sometimes the firing manager walks into a bad situation where it’s simply too late for redemption. This is a scenario that I’m unfortunately familiar with. I knew it was too late for the employee and far too many things worked against them. In that situation it was not completely their fault. Hopefully, they see that now.

Getting fired from a job does not mean that you’re a bad person or aren’t smart. It just means that the person that fired you thinks so. Although your boss can have a big impact on your career and reputation, they are just ONE person and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of anyone else. As stated in Harvey Mackay’s We Got Fired, no one is immune to bad judgment or back stabbing. It’s just something to keep in mind.

For some, getting fired is the best thing that can happen. The following people have all been fired:

Larry King
Lee Iacocca
Joe Torre
Jesse Ventura
Michael Bloomberg
Billie Jean King

Getting fired can open other doors of opportunity for you. It may not sound great at first… but when the dust settles, you may agree that it was probably all for the best.




Blah, Blah, Blah... and Other Incoherent Words

Top-notch presentation skills are a must in business. I can't tell you how many times I sat in meetings and suffered through bad speaker after bad speaker. That isn't because I don't want to tell you, it's simply because I lost count of how many bad speakers there are out there.

Believe me, I get it; not everyone is a natural-born public speaker. For most, these skills only come with a lot of practice. However, if you have a job that places you in front of people on a fairly regular basis (oh I don't know, like maybe in SALES), it's really in your best interest to learn how to present well.

It's a pet peeve of mine to listen to the repeated, "Ahhh's" and "Ummm's". It makes you sound ridiculous. Again, I'm talking about people that speak in front of others on a regular basis. This bad habit is distracting, and to me, is the equivalent of sitting with your mouth open and letting all the flies in. We all know how cool you look when you do THAT!

So what can you do to brush up on your presentation skills?

First of all: Get a clue! Know what you're going to talk about. It's easier to talk about things you know. So get on it and do your research.

Be clear! If you ordinarily have a difficult time conveying a coherent thought (and so many in business fall into this sad category), it's time to write out what you want to say and make sure it makes sense.

Don't read! If we want you to get up and do a reading, we'll call on you. Otherwise, put some effort into your presentation and try to at least remember the key points.

Sound human! We know you sometimes don't act like one, but if you're going to pull off an act in front of others, make sure you don't sound robotic. A monotone voice quickly turns an audience off. They'll never get your message.

These are just some things off the top of my head. Work on that for a bit and I'll be back tomorrow.




Office Romances for Dummies, Part III

The last thing I mentioned about dating a coworker was to keep your personal business personal. Lock those secrets up like Fort Knox!

Here is today’s tidbit: Regardless of what you do to cover it up, you will eventually be found out. For me and my Significant Other, that came a year and a half into our relationship. My guess is that management put 2-and-2 together when my S.O. and I took vacation at the same time and ended up in Paris together. Boy, what a coincidence!

Now, I should mention that no one knew about it until the day before we left. Even then, we only told one or two of our friends. But again, you tell someone about a trip to Europe, that news will spread. Where we worked, traveling overseas was a big deal.

That said, I should mention that we were not in violation of any company policy. Intra-office dating was certainly permissible provided that it wasn’t between a manager and a direct subordinate. Although he and I worked in the same department, we were in separate groups and therefore we did not actually work together in any respect.

Still, word got out. I know I mentioned it two days ago, but it warrants repeating: things changed from then on. Management never said “Boo” to me about it (probably because they were not legally allowed to do so), but I know it hung over my head.

People have asked me if I would have done things differently if I’d known then what I know now. My answer is NO! I conducted myself like a professional as did my S.O. and there was never anything that could be said negatively about our behavior. It took eighteen months for anyone to take notice! It took others even longer. That should say something about our level of discretion.

So here’s the thing: Know your company’s policy on dating before you jump to it. Most companies however, don’t have a policy. It’s still crucial to keep in mind how your relationship will be perceived by others. Will it be frowned upon or not? Will you become a professional pariah or will things remain unchanged?

These are things that can affect your reputation so you need to know what you’re doing before you do it. Trust me on this one; I know A LOT about it!




IM: Devil in Disguise?

Here's something that occurred to me: Is IM really good for us?

Employees like IM because it allows for the opportunity to stay connected with pretty much everyone they know. It’s a way to chat conveniently with co-workers, clients, and friends.

But has anyone given thought to the notion that IM is actually a bad thing? A tool designed to keep workers chained to their desks? So do you think bosses really hate this tool now or not?

In an article by cbsnews.com, studies show that individuals in office jobs tend to gain more weight. They gain more weight because they’re sedentary than those that work on their feet or who have more active jobs. Office workers are even more sedentary now due to the use of IM: You don’t have to get up off your ass anymore!

So, while your boss may bellyache that you (or anyone) is on IM nonstop – whether for work or social purposes – they will always know where you are. On top of that, it’s killing you! Weight gain can increase dangerous health risks.

Don’t give in to it. If you have the opportunity to see someone face-to-face, seize it! Your waistline (and probably your heart) will thank you for it.




Office Romances for Dummies, Part II

…continued from yesterday:

True to my personality, I turned my date into an ax-wielding-homicidal-alcoholic-dead-beat-dad who chewed food with his mouth open before the date even happened. Forget about a second date; in my mind I wasn’t sure I’d make it through the first one. Luckily, that proved not to be the case.

What happened at the office: I either had to stop dating my beau or I had to stop talking to the people at work. I chose the latter. Social conversation did not cease altogether, however, I did separate myself a little bit from those I was friendly with. It’s hard to avoid an aspect of your life that you previously joked about with others. Still, I knew it needed to be done or my reputation potentially would be finished.

So here’s today’s advice: Don’t share secrets with others that you do not want becoming public! Even though people promise, they still can crack under pressure or just innocently slip up. Consider if that’s a risk worth taking. For me it wasn’t.

There is a way you can test the waters if you really want to share this with others: let them in on smaller secrets and see if you hear about it through the grapevine. It’s an option, that’s all I’m saying.

Stay tuned for more tales of Office Romances for Dummies…




Office Romances for Dummies, Part I

It’s easy to find people to date at work. You probably spend more time at the office than anywhere else. Why go bar-hopping for singles when they could be right under your nose? An article on askmen.com suggests waiting up to a year to get to know a coworker before you begin to date them. It may be fair advice, but who waits a year to date anybody?

I’ll admit, when I asked a coworker out for a date it was cause for trepidation. Yes, I dated a coworker… for several years (we live together but no longer work together). Realistically I was pretty sure he would accept the offer, although rejection did fly through my mind. What would happen if he said No? I certainly didn’t know him well enough to be sure that he wouldn’t go around to everyone telling them that I invited him out. What would happen once he said Yes? Again, I didn’t know that he wasn’t going to blab to everyone or even make up stories.

So how did I do it? I made the invitation as simple and “non-date” as I possibly could. The offer was to get together for a cup of coffee or tea (whichever he preferred). This way, if he did blab to anyone, I could very reasonably say that Yes, I invited him for coffee… no harm in that, is there? So if everyone found out the worst they’d know is that we shared a cup of coffee. Big deal. So I took the chance.

Would it have been better to forge a friendship first? Well, technically speaking, by inviting him out for coffee I was forging a friendship. I didn’t want it strictly to remain a friendship though - and I certainly didn't want to wait a year for that to change. I think this is a natural thing. Sure, there are people that get involved with others from the office who are longtime friends before there is ever any romantic involvement. I just think that if there’s someone you’re attracted to, waiting a year for them is a very difficult thing to stick to – and not very realistic.

Stay tuned for more tales of Office Romances for Dummies…




Time Management Techniques

For the discerning micromanaging boss: Microsoft has a Journal feature that works real well. When turned on, it tracks all of your activities until you turn it off. It helps you guage how long certain tasks take. This way your bat-$#@%-crazy boss can either constantly check up on what you’re doing or simply receive super-detailed status reports each day. Microsoft calls this “evaluating your efficiency”. Either way, it’s delightful (right). Of course, it might actually help when your manager sees exactly how disruptive they are to your day when they see how much they interrupt you.

There’s also this bit on time management: Follow this link to see suggestions on how to manage your email while you’re out of the office. I can tell you how I manage email when I’m out of the office: I ignore it! If I’m on vacation or taking a personal day, I’m NOT concerned with what’s going into my email. If I don’t run the company, I don’t give a rat’s ass. It’ll still be there tomorrow.

Here’s another thought: Hire Wile E. Coyote to chase after your idiot manager. I hear he freelances (the coyote). Of course, he’s never been really successful, but his techniques are sure to give you a reprieve from your boss’ delusional antics for an afternoon. If nothing else it should provide some much-needed comic relief.




History Proves That Not Every Leader Is a Good Boss

Just take a look at these, for example:

Sure, he’s the kind of guy that wants to have a good time. However, his idea of a good time involves watching various acts of barbarism over supper. So, if the company’s had a bad year, you and your team may be this year’s “entertainment” at the holiday party.

Niccolo Machiavelli
Niccolo is certainly a man known for getting things done. Not known for his “soft” skills, Niccolo invented throwing employees under the bus to move ahead centuries before it became fashionable.

General George Patton
This is a man who would require some training when it came time for giving annual performance reviews to his staff. Always known for being blunt, his opinions made him wildly unpopular with the masses. Kinda reminds me of a boss I once had. I shudder to think.

Count Dracula (a.k.a. Vlad III the Impaler)
Vlad III is another man known for getting things done as well as being a great strategist. Again, tick this boss off and he’ll impale you where you’ll die a very slow and painful death.

Mary, Queen of Scotts
Although she had the ability to rally the people to her cause (somewhat), she repeatedly made bad decisions that eventually landed her in a lot of trouble. Mary takes an updated approach to Machiavelli’s throwing people under the bus rule. Never one to admit mistakes, it would be crucial to keep a concrete paper trail to protect your own hide from Mary.

Sigmund Freud
Just think how infuriating this man would be to work for? You'd never really know what he was thinking, or you'd be wondering if he's analyzing your every last move. Forget about it if a problem arises; he'll start pulling you apart by telling you it's because of the relationship you have with your mother. Who wants to work for THAT?

Ike Turner
There's no pleasing this man (like SO many bosses I've had!). He had a groovy thing with Tina there for a while, but things went south REAL fast. If he was your boss, chances are he'd be a lawsuit waiting to happen. Working for Ike, you'd want to have your lawyer by your side. Oh yeah, and don't ever be late.




Pizza Parties = Bad News

I once worked at a company that used to deliver bad news by throwing pizza parties. Okay, so sometimes the pizza would follow the bad news, but it was always clear why us pee-ons were eating pizza: management thought they could buy us with food.

Here's a hint: If anyone wants to buy me with food, please buy me a 2 lb. lobster and have a bottle of Piper Heidsieck chilling. That's how you impress me and make me forget whatever news you had to deliver. I'm easy like that.

But pizza? Come on, I could walk to the corner and get some slices myself, thankyouverymuch.

It was funny though. When several of us got "restructured", we counted down the days till the next pizza gathering. They were so predictable.




Dressed for Success?

Years ago when I still believed that I could move up in my career, I had a conversation with my manager. I'd been working at this particular company for over a year and I was getting concerned with what I needed to do to get promoted.

My manager told me that I needed to dress for the job I wanted. Of course I couldn't afford to dress quite like that, but I caught the drift: I needed to dress for success.

Then I thought some more about it and it struck me odd that this advice was coming from an individual who rotated the same 3 outfits for as long as I knew them. Not only that, this person smoked non-stop. So on top of the same 3 outfits, there was a consistent stale stench of old cigarette smoke. To make matters worse, when I used to speak to my manager I had to hold my breath because their breath was so awful it could peel wallpaper.

Thankfully I got the promotion I worked for... and then I no longer had to report directly to this person. But I just find it interesting that it's people like this that give advice that they themselves don't heed.




When You’ve Been “Restructured”

Back on August 29th, I posted an article entitled Because I’m the Boss, That’s Why. It was a teensy rant on “change management” (read the post to see why).

As I was sweating it out in my Bikram Yoga class this morning, I determined I needed to include one other little thing about it.

Change Management + Restructuring = I QUIT

I was restructured in my last job. It certainly felt as though my talents were tossed to the wayside (and indeed they were). However, in addition to hearing the rhetoric about how change was good for me and how I needed to be flexible (oh I hate that one), what really got me was how my managers said that I would be better at this job. Apparently I possessed many of the qualities for this new area that I was placed in. Okay, but what about the rave reviews I received while at my previous post?

There was no prior discussion about a completely new job or direction that I might be interested in. Nor was there any forum for me to display these talents that they told me I possessed that would make me excel in my new role. I was a true “people person” that was being ripped from a role that I enjoyed – because of the people – into a role that forced me into a dark corner – completely away from all people. Now how do you suppose that transition went?

In order for change to work for all involved, there really needs to be open communication. When there isn’t, it makes people feel as though they’ve been sabotaged, and frankly that would be accurate. I’ve said it before, but this kind of behavior screams, “Leave”. I don’t think that this behavior can be interpreted any other way.

Do you?




Burnt Popcorn

That's right. I'm surprised that I never brought this tale up. This isn't about any bat-$#@%-crazy manager that I've ever worked for. This is about office ettiquette.

At two different times in my career I had the unfortunate luck of sitting next to the office pantry. Let me say this: The office pantry is a communal area. People forget this. The first time I sat next to the pantry it put me off popcorn for almost 4 years. 4 YEARS!!! People go in, set the microwave timer, then proceed to WALK AWAY! Yeah, you wouldn't leave anything unattended on the stove at home would you? So why do you feel the need to leave the popcorn popping on its own, assuming that it won't BURN? This happened almost everyday.

Then, as I mentioned, I had the great luck of sitting next to the pantry in my last job. Why couldn't I be that woman who won the lottery twice? No, I got to inhale burnt popcorn fumes everyday.

What made it worse was that people used to COOK their lunches in the microwave too. Very often they cooked fish. FISH!!! My desk was the first desk from the pantry. However, by the time the stench of fish got to my desk and I ran to see who the culprit was, they were gone. I never caught the guilty party.

So folks, the moral to today's story is: Learn how to cook a real meal - AT HOME - and NEVER leave popcorn popping unattended.





Take the Gun, Leave the Cannoli

There’s a book I’ve been peeking at called Managing Workplace Negativity.

There’s a little chapter in here which provides “quick fixes” for overcoming individual and team negativity. I read some of these tips and had instant knee-jerk reactions to them. After the first two or three it felt like I was responding to a Rorschach ink blot test. Here’s a glimpse of what was going through my mind when I read the following:

Set ground rules

No touching of the hair or face. Leave no visible marks.

Set a time limit for negativity

It started 5 minutes ago and will continue for the next 3 years or until we finally force you to quit.

Keep thoughts in the present

Presently I’m thinking you’re the worst manager I’ve ever worked for. You should be bound and gagged.

Wear a rubber band and snap away the negativity

That way you can take it off and use it for your slingshot and hurl burning wads of paper at your nemesis, I mean, your bat-$#@%-crazy manager.

Take some pictures

Relive the kill over and over and over…

Have a favorite saying

“You are unfit to breathe. You are unfit to breathe. You are unfit to breathe.” Repeat it like a mantra.

Play your winners

Hopefully you’ll be more successful than Wile E. Coyote

Look at quality criticism as a plus

After all, no one knows how to say it better (or make you feel worse) than an incompetent nincompoop such as your boss.




We’ll Never Know

Many managers and senior executives don’t care why valued employees leave the company.

In the book 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave, 89% of the managers polled believe that employees leave for more money, but 88% of employees actually leave for other reasons (like crazy managers).

At this rate, if people continue to fudge their exit surveys upon departure, no one will ever really know why people leave a company or be able to do anything about it. Most people, when they do an exit interview, are polite because they’re afraid to burn a bridge in case they may one day need a reference. Come on people, if the job sucked that bad and you were leaving because of it, wouldn’t you want to let someone know about it so it didn’t happen to the next person? I’m not suggesting that you be nasty or unprofessional about it. However, if you were passed over for a promotion or didn’t receive constructive feedback or whatever, I think it needs to be said for the record.

Exit interviews may be hard for some people, I get that. But if people never say anything, they will never be heard. Ya dig?




Let the Negative Feedback Fly!

Today, in my endless quest for unending research and far too many details, I came across an interesting blog: Management Skills Blog.

While I haven’t yet had the time to give it the ‘ol critical eye, today’s post caught my attention. Appreciation Feels Goofy touches the subject of managers giving appropriate praise where it is due to their staff. You’ve heard me go off on this before: I had a manager once who used to get her panties all up in a twist over this very idea:

“Why should I give you praise for doing your job? This is what you get paid for.” Gee, thanks Boss.

Now here’s what I found interesting about this post: Tom Foster explains to the manager in his story that as a manger, they would point out a mistake to an employee, right? A manager should (constructively of course) point out the error to avoid it the next time. The same should be done with mistakes or areas that “need attention”.

Then someone left a comment to Tom’s post remarking how giving praise takes practice.

Well let me tell you how many managers I know of that have plenty of practice beating up their staff over “mistakes” like commas, font, and color in emails! They don’t seem to be too shy over letting their staff know where they went wrong do they? And yet, when I’ve questioned it (the giving positive reinforcement part), I got the response that “that’s what you get paid for.”

For some people, there aren’t enough management training courses to show them the light. I hang my head and sigh. *sigh*




Fed to the Wolves?

I’ve been reading Was Your Boss Raised by Wolves recently (yes I know, such fun books I amuse myself with), and I’ve come across many interesting tidbits. Of course I won’t get into all of them at once, but I will talk about first story that struck me. It was the story about a man who, although he was a good worker and good at what he did, ultimately was squeezed out of his job (actually I think he was fired) because he did not fit in with the company’s corporate culture. It sounds to me as though whoever was in charge of hiring him did not have the foresight to know that this was not going to work out.

If there isn’t a stringent hiring process in place, then there needs to be. So this poor guy I read about was ripped a new one every day he went in to work. It made me uncomfortable to read the story because quite frankly, it really hit home. I’m also sure that this happens more than we realize as well. It’s important to thoroughly screen all viable candidates before bringing them on board for a specific job.

If your company is a fast-paced investment banking firm where people live or die by the stock market, it might not be the best place for someone who lacks a killer instinct. It really hits the employee very hard and it’s unfair. I know, here I go again all “Whah, life’s not fair”, but people don’t seem to look out enough for one another. It’s great if someone has the credentials to do a job, but getting a job done and fitting in to the overall culture of a business are two very different animals. In the end, the fired employee then has to explain to the next prospective employer why they have that smudge against them and it’s just not their fault. It does suck to be them.

Just something else to think about folks. Carry on.




Six Degrees of Weirdness

Can You Really Fix Your Bad Situation?

I’ve been maintaining this blog for the better part of a year now. It’s been chock full of my own stories, stories from battered friends in similar (offensive) work situations, and whatever craziness I made up along the way. Additionally, I’ve read countless books and articles on the subject of bad bosses/coworkers in particular and how to survive them (I mean, just wait till you get a load of my book’s bibliography!).

What I have found is that not one person has the “right” answer. There are many individuals out there that claim they know how to “Manage a Manager” and how to cope with “Bat-$#@%-Crazy Managers” and toxic workplaces, but really… just how many people have been successful with this? I question this because of all the things I’ve read and advice I’ve received - and none of it worked.

The reason? Varying degrees of idiocy and toxicity.

For the most part, the advice I’ve read seems reasonable. But when I tried to put it into practice, it only backfired on me and made my situation worse. And really, I didn’t think it could have been made too much worse.

So, the success rates of these “solutions” primarily rest upon those involved. Of course, the defendants taking the advice need to do their part correctly. Then, and here’s the unpredictable part, the others involved need to respond in the way that the solutions say they’re supposed to. If weirdos in the workplace are the new normal, then how is it possible that there can be positive outcomes for the poor schlub beaten down by those over him? Is it any wonder that so many people are quitting and going into business for themselves?

I think the answers given by the “experts” may offer a new perspective on a situation (maybe not), but at the end of the day, there is absolutely no way to tell who has the “right” answer.


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