Thursday, February 28, 2008

Body Language Speaks Volumes

It’s one of those awkward situations we’ve all found ourselves in: we’re standing around at a company function, and all of a sudden the top brass shows up and heads our way. Suddenly we don’t know what to do with our arms. Our hands are some strange appendage that hang uselessly, or flutter nervously. How did our necks get to be too short for our bodies? When did we become unable to smile without an eye twitching?

All this is, of course, a natural reaction under stress. We want to make a good impression, but our bodies seem determined to make total twits of us in front of some pretty important people. But if we just remember some simple rules about body language, these situations can be brought under control.

There are a number of ways we can make a good impressions without saying a word, whether it’s in a social situation, or a formal business meeting. The most common mistake people make is that they don’t adjust to the situation, to the person they are speaking to. For example, when making small talk, body language is very important. But when it’s a serious matter, then it’s not as critical because the message becomes more important.

Still, the most effective users of body language use gestures and speech patterns similar to the other person in the conversation — especially critical when the other person ranks higher in an organization.

Some of the key ingredients to using body language effectively include:
· Facing the other person squarely. Show your interest by looking directly at the other person. Tilt your head to one side, arch your eyebrows and nod every once in a while to show you’re listening. Keep your face relaxed, and smile when appropriate.
· Assuming an open posture. Researchers have found that when negotiations are going well, participants unbuttoned their coats, uncrossed their legs, sat forward in chairs, and moved closer to the other side of the table. Such body language was often accompanied by comments expressing common needs and advantages.
So, the way you stand and walk can convey your openness to what the other person is saying. Standing tall and walking with shoulders back shows your confidence, and usually those who walk rapidly and swing their arms project confidence.
· Leaning forward. When you want to show interest, lean forward slightly in your chair, and lightly clasp your hands in your lap or place your hands near your knees. If you lean back, place your hands in a “steeple” position, then you’re showing your indifference.
· Maintaining eye contact. The last thing you want to do is have your eyes shifting all over the room when you’re talking with a boss. When we’re nervous, our eyes typically meet the other person’s less than 40 percent of the time. As a result, we begin to make people feel uneasy, or make them begin to distrust us.
· Touching. Some people are afraid to touch another person because of sexual harassment claims, but with a friend or close working buddy, touching on the shoulder can deepen a contact. It's a good idea to take the lead from the other person, especially if it’s a leader. If they touch you on the arm, it's probably OK to do the same to them.
Still, since a handshake is often the most acceptable form of contact in the business world, make sure yours is not limp, or clammy. Keep your handshake firm and brief, hold it about three to five seconds, then release. And no trying to crush the other person’s fingers in some kind of power play.
· Remembering to relax. This may be difficult to do when the CEO is headed your way and you suddenly can’t remember your own name, but take a couple of deep breaths, and concentrate on standing straight, with shoulders back. Spread your feet a bit and don’t lock your knees — keeling over at the boss’s feet like a downed tree won’t be good for your career. Keep your arms and hands still, and keep an open and welcoming look on your face.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Looking Good for that Presentation Matters More Than You Might Want to Believe

You’ve practiced your presentation until even the family dog heads for cover when he hears your opening line. You’ve researched your data, got your handouts ready, the slides have been double-checked and now the big moment is near.

Time to give your big presentation that will hopefully rank right up there with The Gettysburg Address and catapult you into the career stratosphere. But wait a minute. You’re not going to wear THAT, are you? And your hair -- are you sure?

Unfortunately, it is a fact of life that while you’re giving your presentation, many people will be mentally checking out your clothes and if they find anything about your appearance distracting, you can kiss the presentation hall of fame goodbye. (We are all judged in some way by our appearance, no matter how talented we are -- just look at shows like American Idol.)

I've been on television several times in the last year, and I took some time to ask the on-air reporters and anchors for their tips on what to wear. They advise:

* Dress like your audience or one step above. That means if everyone is in black tie, then you should be, too. If it’s a more casual setting , then wear more relaxed clothing, with perhaps a jacket. If you’re unsure, think about who your audience is going to be. If it’s a bunch of bankers and lawyers, then a conservative suit is a good bet. More creative folks like artists or advertisers would be okay with something a little jazzier, but just make sure it doesn’t go overboard. Remember you don’t want to distract anyone with your clothing.
*Even minor details are important. Find a mirror before you confront your audience and comb your hair, freshen your makeup, straighten your tie. If you’ve got on dangling earrings, a wild tie, a flashy scarf or a rumpled suit, your audience will be distracted. Take off a name tag and tuck it in a pocket until the presentation is over.
* For men, a charcoal gray or blue suit or sport coat is best -- no black. Wear a long-sleeve white shirt, unless television cameras are present. Then select light gray or light blue, which will help prevent you from looking washed out. If you button your coat, make sure that the lapels lie flat. If they don’t, then leave the coat undone, and avoid vests. (They add pounds.)
Find a conservative, even boring, tie. Striped red or maroon is good. And if you’re going to be seated at any time, find socks that reach high enough that no one has to see a slice of hairy leg. Black or brown shined shoes are a good idea, and make sure there are no holes in your soles.

If you wear jewelry, only use a watch and a ring. No tie pins, lapel pins, earrings or necklaces.

* For women, avoid pastel or pale-colored suits or dresses since bolder colors will make you look strong and confident. (A pastel blouse with a strong suit is okay, and best if there are television cameras. White blouses should be used otherwise.) If you are going to be sitting where others can see your legs before or after the presentation, keep your skirt length at knee- to mid-calf length. Shoes should have moderate heels with closed toes. Carry an extra pair of hose for emergencies.

Keep your jewelry simple and conservative. Pearls or gold look fine, but avoid diamonds and large, chunky or dangling necklaces, bracelets or earrings. Avoid low necklines, heavy makeup and black clothing -- it adds 10 years to your age.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Don't Be Naive When Working From Home

If you work from your home, either full or part-time, you probably feel pretty lucky. You don’t have to fight the traffic, you get to wear your bathrobe if you want, and no co-worker is hitting you up to contribute money for another employee’s baby shower.

Everything is pretty cool. In fact, you’re so relaxed you haven’t bothered to lock the doors, you don’t hesitate to brag to everyone in the grocery store that you work from home and anyone can look in the window and see all your nice, expensive office equipment.

With that attitude, working from home could become your worst nightmare.

Just because you don’t go into an office does not mean you are not vulnerable to thieves and others who want to take advantage of your lax attitude. In fact, just as carjacking gained in frequency after annoying car alarms made it easier to just grab the car with the person in it, home invasions may become more likely because burglars have to become more aggressive when people are at home working.

Security experts say home invasions are extremely dangerous because once a criminal gets into your home or apartment, he is now out of sight for easy detection and now has free rein to do what he wants.

It's naive for people to believe rising violence in the workplace will not follow them home. This si especially true if your work involves contact with people who may have a reason to want to confront you personally -- and that could mean in your home office, with your family nearby.

For that reason, experts advise a number of steps be taken by those working from home, to protect themselves and their families. Among them:
1. Getting a dog. In a fenced yard, the dog can provide good company for your children, as well as signal trouble outside. When inside, the dog can alert you to anyone near the house when you are working.
If you must have clients in the house, have the dog trained to sit quietly in the same room.
2. Securing the doors and windows. In addition to keeping doors and windows locked at all times, get an intercom for the front or back doors. These inexpensive systems are easy to install and allow you to listen for outside activity as well as inquire who is at a door without opening it. Also, use covered peep holes for solid doors. Uncovered peep holes allow anyone on the outside to look in the peep hole and determine when you approach.
At the same time, use window blinds that lower from the top, so that you can still get light, but don’t display expensive equipment to outsiders.
If you can afford it, a video system is the best for screening visitors. If not, a good perimeter alarm system -- that is turned on while you are at home -- is a good idea.
3. Protecting your privacy.There’s no reason everyone has to know you work from home. In fact, the fewer people the better. Use a company name with a post office box, or some other delivery address other than your home. Use your company name in the phone book without the address listing, and answer the phone with your company name.
Forget just putting your first initial with your last name in the phone book. Everyone knows this is a trick mostly used by women -- a perfect tip-off to the bad guys. Have a male voice on your answering machine.
4. Being aware. You may be running around on company business, your mind on the work you have to do when you get home. That makes it easy for a criminal to follow you home, and drag you inside. Make sure you check your rear view mirror when driving. If you suspect someone is following you, drive around the block. If you are suspicious, use your cell phone to call police or drive to a well-lit place or police department.
5. Covering the bases. If you must have an associate or client come in your home on business, always have another appointment to keep -- lunch with a husband, another meeting, etc., so that they know someone will be checking up on you.
Always meet someone for the first time in a public place. If it is a sales person, then call the company to confirm the person’s identity, and try to get a physical description. Call your local Chamber of Commerce if you are not familiar with the business.
6. Delivering the goods. Overnight package deliveries and courier services probably will be a fact of life if you work from home, but anyone can put on a uniform and use a van to pose as a delivery person. If you are not familiar with the delivery service, do not open the door, but have the package placed on the step. Wait several hours before retrieving it -- bad guys can hide in the bushes and grab you when the door opens.
Only open the door to sign for a package if you are sure it is a legitimate service.


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Friday, February 22, 2008

Caution: Critical Thinking Ahead

Today is the last of my two-armed blogs for a while.

That may sound strange, but true. On Monday, I go under the knife (gasp) to have torn tendons fixed in my elbow. I'll be in a full cast for a couple of weeks, then face whatever comes after that. While I've planned ahead as much as possible (turning in work early, advising people I may be on drugs), there's still a knot in my stomach as I contemplate what's going to happen when I can't even do my own hair, and can't write (it's my right elbow and I'm right handed...of course).

But, being a Little Miss Organizer, I've already gotten a new wireless track mouse for my computer that will make it easier for me to use while in a cast. I've stocked the freezer with easy foods and even written out a day-by-day menu for my family. I've paid the bills early, made sure there's plenty of dog and cat food in the house and stocked the garage with enough toilet paper and paper towels that we won't run out until the next presidential election.

Still, I think what I'm the most leery about is what I'm going to do with my mind while I'm forced to recuperate. My doctor has issued strict instructions: rest, rest and rest. "Stay off that %$# computer!" he warned me. "And once your cast comes off, stay off that $%^ computer!"

Of course, he knows that's not going to happen, but I've been in enough pain for more than a year now that I'm not foolish enough to go back to work too soon and ruin all his hard work.

I remember a CEO of a Fortune 100 company I interviewed about 10 years ago who was retiring. He told me at the time that what he was most concerned about regarding the success of American businesses was not our ability to be productive, or our ability to compete on a day-to-day basis. What worried him, he said, was our lack of critical thinking skills that would really impact us in the coming years.

How many bosses, he asked me, would think it was OK to see an employee reading a book while on the job? How many managers, he said, wouldn't have a problem finding a worker staring out a window for an hour?

The CEO said that most managers would hit the roof if they saw an employee doing either of those activities. The reason, he said, was because workers were becoming so task-oriented that they were judged more on their busyness than their ability to think. And, without that, American companies would not have the creative and innovative solutions they needed to stay ahead of the curve, he said.

This conversation from 10 years ago is ringing very true with me lately. I know that I spend less time just thinking. I've become very task focused, and much less comfortable just sitting somewhere and contemplating life, or reading a book just because it will expand my mind, and not because it has something to do with my work.

I see employees every day grapple with how to stay ahead of e-mail and phone calls and meetings, with little or no incentive to just take time to think. Shoot -- people don't even want to take all their vacation time because it's too much hassle to get away, and even when they do go somewhere, they take e-mail and cell phones with them. They multitask like crazy, even though it's been shown that's a less productive strategy.

As I write this last two-armed blog, I know that the coming weeks will be interesting, unsettling, frustrating and filled with lots of bad hair days. At the same time, I know that I'm lucky in many ways because I'm going to do something I've needed to do for a while: think.


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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Read Any Good Books Lately?

There's a new meme being passed around the blogosphere, and it's pretty simple and fun: Find the book nearest to you, go to page 123 (this may not work if you're reading comic books at the moment), go down to the fifth sentence and then type the following three sentences. After that, you pass the message along to other people you want to bug... uh, get to contribute.
From David Maister's blog he noted this book entry:

From EPIC CHANGE: How to Lead Change in the Global Age, by Timothy R. Clark:
"In almost every case, change must be handed off for implementation. Unless there is broad-based action by many people, change won't take place. Change usually affects far more people than those who identify it as a need."

Of course, the book nearest me is my own, "45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy...and How to Avoid Them":

"Anything that has a "those people kind of edge to it should be ommitted from your language in the workplace.

Speak up if there a problem. If you find something a coworker says is insenstive, take the person aside and calmly say, "You know, you're giving all women a bad name when you make sweeping, derogatory comments about men." Focus on the behavior, not the person. Calling someone a racist or a bigot won't get you anywhere -- it will just erect more barriers."

I'm going to pass this game onto Miriam Salpeter at Keppie Careers", Erika Mitchell at Qvisory and Lena West at xynoMedia.

Please, join in!


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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Being Right Doesn't Mean You Win

In the working world, we try not to show our weaknesses, concentrating instead on displaying our strengths. We respond to others with confident tones, argue our point of view firmly and lead with authority.

Too bad we’re not always right.

This may be a hard concept to grasp for some people, especially those who have risen in the ranks because they are always right. But it is true that those who become the most rigid in their attitudes -- who always have to have the right answer and must always prove others wrong -- are not only annoying, but well, wrong.

While it is ingrained in us from the time we are young that we must strive for the “right” answer, must sit “right” and look “right” -- and we will somehow be shamed for being wrong, we start to confuse being right with winning. And it's not the same thing at all.

Often, managers are the most guilty of the “always right” atittude, and can be very defensive if they are challenged. But by denying there is anything left to learn, we undermine ourselves and our companies. Failing to acknowledge that other people may have the right answer can lose the respect of others and cause real morale problems.

The most successful teams and the most successful individuals challenge each other to come up with the best idea and the best process. The key is being able to say to someone: "You were right. That is a better idea. Thank you.’”

Still,letting go of being right all the time takes courage. You may have to admit that you are insecure about being "wrong", but are willing to make yourself vulnerable so that you can learn and grow.

If you realize that your “right” attitude has gone too far, the first thing you need to do is admit you have a problem -- that's often half the battle. Then:
* Define what winning looks like to you. Think about what you really want, considering how you feel about an issue and what personal experiences come into play.
* Look at how often your need to be right really interferes with what you want. If you shut people down by interrupting them with your “right” solution, or they turn away because you have proven them “wrong,” write it down. Note what happened and what the result was (damaged relationship, less creative interactions, etc.) The key will be to later figure out what would have been a better response.
* Define your fear or anxiety. If you can’t be right, what will be your strategy to deal with that? Tell yourself over and over that it’s okay to win, but you don’t have to be right.
* Ask more questions. Become curious. Those who are always right don’t try to find out what other people may know. Only after someone has given you an answer do you respond with your perspective. That starts a dialogue, and that begins the learning process.
* Step into the unknown. Focus on the shades of gray. Notice how often your thinking is automatically right versus wrong. Argue the other side of the issue first, and look to see the larger perspective.


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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Good Looks, Marines, Genetics and Knowledge

On this Tidbit Tuesday, the first order of business is to plug my podcast today where we'll talk about how your physical appearance in the workplace impacts your success. If you think I’m talking about just women, forget it. We’ll also talk about how a man’s height (or lack thereof) affects his chances for raises and promotions. Author Gordon Patzer, who wrote “Looks: Why They Matter More Than You Ever Imagined,” will be my guest. One interesting note: Can you be too good looking to be successful?

Now, for a couple of other items:

Where did you get those blue eyes? There is a growing concern among employees that an employer’s access to genetic information about them may lead to discrimination in the workplace, according to Pepper Hamilton, a multi-practice law firm.
Although advances in genetic research have resulted in benefits such as helping to predict one’s predisposition to a disease – allowing people to take proactive steps to protect their health – these developments have also brought renewed attention to the implications of genetic testing for the workplace.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill, but the Senate has not yet voted on it. The act would protect people against discrimination based on their genetic information in health insurance and employment-related matters. In addition, 41 states have passed laws that protect individuals from genetic discrimination by insurance companies, and 32 states have enacted laws that protect individuals from genetic discrimination in the workplace.

A round of applause, please: The Wounded Marine Career Foundation program aims to help wounded and disabled Marines and Navy corpsmen land jobs in the film industry. Forbes has written about it, and how more than 8,000 returning wounded soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq face daunting challenges in findings jobs.
“The Wounded Marine Training Center for Careers in Media program consists of a specialized training center, where more than 30 film industry professionals will share their video and photojournalism expertise with participating wounded Marines,” says the Web site.

We're so not on the same page: From "Knowledge is a curse because the more you know, the harder it is to talk to someone who doesn’t know the same things. Basically, someone afflicted with the curse of knowledge is someone who is unable to clearly communicate the topic on which they are an expert. They are so entrenched in their area of expertise that they can’t possibly imagine someone who doesn’t also know those things. The sender of the communication speaks at one level, and the receiver just isn’t ready for it. Victims of the curse tend to use long sentences full of jargon. The results can be dissastrous. Imagine giving your elevator speech to the CEO and having that CEO reply with a blank stare because you just went way over his head with details."


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Monday, February 18, 2008

Beating the Sunday Night Blues

When I was a kid, I hated Sunday evenings. I'm sure I wasn't alone -- I think kids throughout the ages have hated Sunday night because it means doing homework and going to bed early because it's a school night. Kids know that on Monday they face another week of teachers, tests and more homework.

As an adult, I still get a sort of melancholy feeling when the sun begins to set on Sunday. The weekend is coming to an end, I'm nagging my kids to do their homework, and I think about the new week that will be full of challenges and problems in my professional and personal life.

And, again, I know I'm not alone in this feeling. My doctor once admitted to me that he always has to take a sleep aid on Sunday nights because he can't stop thinking about everything he will face at work on Monday. Another colleague told me that she becomes so blue on Sunday afternoons that she plays Billie Holiday and drinks several glasses of wine.

I'm not advocating pills or booze to get you through the Sunday night blues, but I do think there's got to be a better way to cope with it all. While it's a good sign that you need to be looking for another job when you start to get depressed on Saturday (been there, done that), I think most of us go through some letdown on Sunday.

Wouldn't it be great if we didn't let our jobs take away from our weekends? If we found some ways to make Sunday evenings special instead of depressing?

I asked some people what they did to get through the Sunday night blues, and many didn't have an answer. But a few people had some good ideas, and I wanted to share them with you:

* Game night. A friend said she gets her kids to do their homework early so that after supper they have a couple hours of play time as a family. She said that keeps everyone occupied with fun instead of contemplating a new week of work or school.
* Books and bubbles. A co-worker told me that she always indulges in a good book and a warm bubble bath on Sunday evenings.
* Play hard. A neighbor told me that the key to dealing with his stress on Sunday evening is to get together with some friends and play basketball at a local rec center. He said the physical exertion helped him sleep better.

If you have anything you do to deal with the Sunday blues, I'd love to hear from you and share them with others.


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Friday, February 15, 2008

Smash the Ladder and Build Your Own!

Thousands of years ago, news often was carried by word of mouth. Peddlers, travelers and soldiers moved from place to place, telling those they met what was happening elsewhere in the world. Although certainly not a speedy way of getting the latest news, it served its purpose for those times.

Now, we're in an era where, with the touch of a computer key, we can be connected to the world in an instant. Still, our longing to hear news from the mouth of a human, to interract with them and offer our opinions, has led to an explosion in podcasting.

According to a guest on Peter Clayton's Total Picture Radio, there are 18.5 million listeners of podcasts, a phenomenal growth of 285 percent last year.

As a journalist, I refuse to think about a world without newspapers, but it's clear to me that people want to also be informed in other ways. Since it's my mission to try and be part of sharing news and information that will help others in some way, I've decided to launch a podcast.

Of course, I'm no fool and wanted to partner with someone who I believed shared my vision and would help me along on this new venture -- and also would be a lot of fun. Diane Danielson of the Downtown Women's Club, fit the bill and happily, she agreed to take this journey with me.

Our show is called "Smash the Ladder with Anita and Diane." We chose that name because we believe the old way of working is changing because of a variety of factors. On the show, we're committed to offering information on navigating this new and evolving workplace, and providing advice and insight from experts we believe will help you smash the traditional workplace ladder and build your own.

We've already done a test run of the podcast. We had great fun doing it, and despite a technological glitch in the beginning, I think we did a good job of telling our audience who we are, where we're going with the show and previewing some of the future guests.

On Feb. 19, at 10 a.m. CST, I'll be speaking live with Gordon Patzer, author of "Looks: Why They Matter More Than You Ever Imagined."

We're going to talk about if the way you look matters in the workplace, and how your own perception of yourself affects your success. I've already written about this in an earlier post, but there's lots more to talk about, so it should be a lively and provocative show. And the best part? You can call in and add your comments. If you can't stop by during that time, the show will be available anytime, and you can even download it on your MP3 player or add your comments later.

Finally, if there's a topic you'd like to see discussed or a question you'd like answered, send Diane or me a note and we'll do our best to get it on the show.

Listen to Anita59 on internet talk radio


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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Love is in the Air

As I've written in the past, I met my husband at work, and we've been married for more than 20 years, which just goes to prove that you can find love and happiness in the workplace. But if we're going to be truthful, love in the workplace can really go wrong, too.

Remember: Just because Valentine's Day is around the corner and that person sitting across the room is starting to look pretty darn good right now doesn't mean you should jump into anything you're going to regret. I've interviewed lots of experts about workplace dating, and here are some ideas about Cupid in cubicle-land:

1. Know what you want from the relationship. By observing your romantic interest at work, you can decide whether this person is truly someone special -- someone you will be willing to have a lasting relationship with. Office romances are not easy, and there will be problems along the way. Make sure this relationship is worth the extra effort.
2. Start out as friends. Not only will there be the chance to get to know each other professionally, socially and personally through work, but shared experiences and mutual respect will add to the foundation. And the more solid the friendship foundation, the better chances are for a long-term, loving relationship.
3. Date because you like each other -- not for power. Never trade sex for influence, money or any work-related advantage. Don’t date because you’re afraid to say no. That’s not romance, it’s sexual harassment.
4. Check out the corporate climate. Determine your company’s written and unwritten rules on relationships, and possible reactions from co-workers. Keep a close eye on the office busybody or political cutthroat who would love to cause trouble.
5. Evaluate the pros and cons for your career. If your career could be hurt by the personal relationship, would you consider it worth it? If the romance fizzles, will you feel you have won or lost? Are there other career paths in your company if you find you need to make a change because of your personal life?
6. Create a joint partnership. Look at the critical issues you both will face, and make a joint decision regarding priorities and plans for dealing with the future. When -- or if -- you go public with your relationship should be discussed, and determine whether work responsibilities need to be realigned and whose career may need protection.
7. Establish clear “exit routes” in the beginning. Not every work relationship ends in bliss, so it’s a good idea to discuss how you’ll end it gracefully if it doesn’t work out. Talk about possible career fallouts, and look for a trusted mediator to be brought in if needed. Is there an option of transfer or leave time if required?

If the relationship does end, give yourself time to grieve, or cool off. Don’t plot revenge at your desk or sob in the restroom. Talk about your feelings with friends -- after work.


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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Laws of Khaki Revealed

On this Tidbit Tuesday, I'd like to begin with a great quote I found from Mary Pickford, that Hollywood legend who had a way with words: "You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing that we call "failure" is not the falling down, but the staying down..."

As for some items I think you might find of interest:

* Tuck in your shirt and stand up straight: Many men seem to be confused about what to wear to work when the dress code is casual (why else would anyone think Crocs were OK??), but Esquire magazine does a terrific job in its latest issue to illuminate more males about what is appropriate. Advice ranges from the fact that you should never wear a beret, to the the idea that any man who wears a shirt with a saying on it "has neither the intelligence to form a cogent opinion nor the good sense to keep it to himself." This is the kind of article to tuck into your sock drawer and study every night before bedtime. An example: "There are worse things in the world than being known as the guy who always wears a blue button-down. Like being known as the guy who looks like he just rolled out of bed or the guy who always smells a little funny. If you're going to settle on a look, get it right."

*Sorry, I've got to wash my hair: Next time you ask a co-worker to hang out after work or on the weekend, don't take it personally if you get some lame excuse. Seems most of us would rather ditch the colleagues and hang out with people we well, don't work with. A new studyby the University of Michigan found that only 30 percent of employees have a close confidant at work, down from nearly half in 1985.
On average, U.S. workers spend time outside of work with less than half of the co-workers with whom they regularly interact on the job, compared to 74 percent for Polish workers and 78 percent for Indian workers.

*Make sure the spinach is out of your teeth: The growing popularity of video resumes, coupled with the desire to network directly with employers, has been put into a new product called VisualCV. The Web site allows job seekers to build online resumes with videos, work samples, reference letters and other media, in addition to the standard work and education information. Links to the pages can be sent to prospective employers and shared with firms that have pages on the site.

* I'd like dental, too: The presidential race has given voice to a lot of concerns in our country today, and one of the most prevalent has to be health insurance. Especially concerned are young people just entering the workforce, often with crushing student loan debt, who are worried about not being offered some kind of health insurance plan from an employer. That's backed up by a recent Robert Half International survey that found that benefits such as healthcare insurance are nearly as popular as salary for today’s job seekers. Thirty-seven percent of CFOs interviewed said offering higher compensation than competitors is the most effective incentive for attracting accounting professionals, while 33 percent of respondents cited benefits as the top draw, a 31-point increase from 2003.



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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Will You Still Be Working at 95?

I get a lot of mail from readers of my nationally syndicated workplace column, much of it coming from people who have a workplace dilemma they'd like me to help solve (and more than a few letters from the unfortunately incarcerated who would like to be my pen pal). Today, I want to share a recent letter I received from a 95-year-old woman who told me she had been employed full-time from 1929-1971, and has been working part-time for the last 27 years.

For those of you without a calculator handy, or suffering from Monday morning brain freeze, that means this woman has been working for 79 years.

While she did not share with me the specifics of her work experience, or why she chose to work for nearly eight decades, I will tell you that she said she was interested in my book, "45 Things You do That Drive Your Boss Crazy...and How to Avoid Them," and asked me to send her a copy.

Then, she asked me this question: "Where did I fail?"

Where did she fail? I wondered how someone who was still working at 95-years-old could even think of herself as having failed. Did she have jobs she hated? She didn't offer me a clue. Did she have trouble with a boss or co-workers or perhaps never have the career of which she dreamed? I don't know. Her letter was short and provided few details.

So, I will send her my book. I can't imagine that it will tell her something she doesn't know. After all, by the time I entered the workforce she had been there for more than 50 years. What could I possibly tell her that she hasn't known or experienced firsthand? In her lifetime, she has seen men gladly working for pennies a day just to try and feed their children during the Depression. She has seen blacks forced to sit at the back of the bus, then fight -- with grit and intelligence and determination -- into the board rooms of this country. She has seen women start their own companies and go to outer space and possibly become our next president.

"Where did I fail?" I don't think I can begin to answer that question. She will, like all of us, have to answer that for herself. But I think her letter should make each of us think about what we're doing right now to ensure that if we work for one decade or eight, we will not look back and consider having failed.

For each of you, your success will be of your own measure. It will be a reflection of the road you took, the goals that you set for yourself despite the odds against you or the advice directing you another way.

So, my question is this: What have you done right? What important lessons do you have to share with others about surviving and thriving in the workplace so that none us has to ask at age 95: Where did I fail?


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Thursday, February 7, 2008

Which Came First: The Cliche or the Business?

On my bulletin board there hangs a yellowing slip of newsprint with a "Top 10 Cliches of 2006." I've kept this post because I want to remind myself that no matter how long I've been writing, I can still fall prey to everyday jargon that can only muddy a message.

In fact, the longer I write about the business world, the more I've come to understand that employers are masters at jargon. They spread the stuff like a virus, first using these phrases in management meetings and seminars, then repeating them to employees in internal memos and and meetings. Pretty soon we're all spouting things like "win-win," "core competency" and "pushing the envelope" and before you know it, there are bestseller books talking about "synergy" and "value-added" ideas and "rightsizing."

Over time, I've scribbled my own "do not use" cliches and words to this list, and I'd like to share some of them with you today. Keep in mind, however, that I can be caught at any time using them, but hey, I'm trying. (Is there a recovery group for Business Jargonists?)

Please feel free to add to this list. In fact, we all need to band together and try and stop the madness:
1. At the end of the day
2. Change agent
3. Authenticity
4. Transparency
5. It's not brain surgery/rocket science
6. Throw him/her under the bus
7. Start a conversation
8. Create a new paradigm
9. Level the playing field
10. Wealth of experience
11. Visioning
12. Leverage
13. Blah, blah, blah
14. Show the love

Please, join in. At the end of the day, I want to be as authentic and as transparent as possible, and would like to start a conversation about this topic and level the playing field.



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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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Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Workplace Impact on Political Views

As thousands of us head to the voting booth today, I'm going to offer up some Tidbit Tuesday ideas that focus on, of course, politics:

* Despite cautions about discussing politics at work, it appears that at least half of us do it. Further, the Adecco Workplace Insights survey also found that 61 percent of Millenials surveyed said they talk politics on the job, while 59 percent of black workers reported participating in the political conversation, compared to 37 percent four years ago. Of those American workers who knew which presidential candidate their boss would be supporting, 39 percent reported this information having impact on their perception of their manager.

- These growing numbers have me wondering how much influence our workplace culture, co-workers and bosses influence our votes. If we're spending 10 to 12 hours a day with other employees, might they have a bigger impact on our decisions? Will we vote the way the boss does just to get in good with a manager? Can who we vote for adversely impact a career?

* According to an American Management Association survey, employees are decidedly mixed about sharing political views with their colleagues and bosses. More than one-third (35 percent) said they are uncomfortable discussing their political views with colleagues, while 39 percent said they are comfortable. Forty percent, however, are comfortable talking about politics with their supervisors, 38 percent are uncomfortable and 22 percent are neutral.
The survey shows that most employees are not campaigning in the office for their favorites. Ninety-two percent of respondents said that no one from their company —either management or labor — has recommended voting for a particular candidate because it would benefit the organization. This reveals a slight decrease from AMA’s 2004 survey on the same subject, in which 13 percent of respondents confirmed that someone from their company recommended a particular candidate.
Again, this brings up the subject of how we may be indirectly influenced by the workplace in regard to who we vote for. As the race heats up, will more employees feel strongly enough to voice their views? Will that influence a boss's perception of an employee?

There's been a lot of talk about how this is such a historic election in our country. Is that importance bound to change the way politics is viewed in the workplace, or how we view our colleagues or bosses? It will be interesting to see how it plays out in the coming year.

Now, for those of you who can, GO VOTE!!


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Monday, February 4, 2008

The Role of Good Looks On The Job

While women often complain that they are judged in the workplace by the way they look, the truth is that we may be our own worst enemies.

According to a new book, "Looks: Why They Matter More Than You Ever Imagined," author Gordon L. Patzer says that research shows that even when a woman is alone, what she is wearing can "heighten her preoccupation with how her body looks -- usually at the expense of her critical mental performance skills."

So, that means it's not just the approaching swimsuit season that has us anxious and wondering how we can grow six inches by June, it's the day-to-day judgment of ourselves that is just as problematic.

How many of us have checked out our "rear view" in the bathroom mirror at work, or tried to catch our reflection in an office window to see if the new pants make us look fat? How many times have we asked a female co-worker: "Does my hair look OK?"

This constant checking of our physical appearance -- even the tugging of a skirt or adjusting of a strap -- diverts our mental energies, "making the individual temporarily unavailable for more challenging or vital mental tasks."

Still, Patzer goes on to point out that our obsession with our physical appearance has merit: Good looking people in the workplace are more likely to get desired jobs, be paid more and have higher-level positions. And while men don't have the obsession of always checking their physical appearance, they are affected by something else: height.

Patzer says that men standing over 5 feet 9 inches are perceived as better performers, get more promotions and earn more. In fact, according to one study, every inch over this height means an annual paycheck bonus of $789.

At the same time, looks in the workplace can become even more complex as we have a younger generation that has been more exposed to visual images throughout their lives, and are more focused with how they -- and others -- look. At the other end, aging workers are becoming more sensitized to their fading looks and diminished attractiveness in a youth-obsessed culture.

The hard reality, then, is that this "lookism" as Patzer calls it, isn't going to go away anytime soon. At the same time, he maintains that even if you're not the next Carmen Electra or Brad Pitt, "you're not defenseless."

"Don't do nothing," he told me in an interview.

So, while you may not want to undertake cosmetic procedures to improve your looks, you can do other things that will improve your physical appearance, or at least the "perception" that you're good looking. Some ideas:

* Practice good hygiene. Shower every day, use anti-perspirant and wear clean, fresh-smelling clothes. Make sure your hair is clean and well groomed.
* Update your wardrobe. Nothing can make you seem older or frumpier than clothes that are out of style. If nothing else, invest in black pants and a blue shirt with nice black shoes. This works well for men or women. Invest in tailoring to make sure they fit attractively.
* Get enough sleep. Lack of sleep not only affects your mental capabilities, but affects the healthy look of your skin and hair. Not getting your rest will also cause you to put on unwanted pounds.
* Eat right. A good diet, rich in fruits and vegetables, will take years off your face and help keep skin clear and bright.
* Take public speaking classes. Being able to present yourself with confidence, to speak clearly and have a well-modulated voice will boost the perception of your attractiveness. Standing and walking with confidence, as well as using hand gestures properly will help others to see you as better looking.
* Get more education. The more schooling you have, the higher others will perceive your status, and therefore, your looks.

While these suggestions may bother some people, the truth is that improving our physical appearance should be seen as just another tool to getting the career we want. Ignoring your appearance could be just as costly as not improving your skills or completing that big project on time.


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