Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How to Know What Your Boss is Thinking

I remember watching an episode of "Gilligan's Island" where the hapless castaways ate some kind of seed or berry, and it turned them into mind readers. They quickly discovered that it wasn't always such a good idea to be able to know what someone else was thinking -- but I'm not so sure those in the workplace would agree. Here's a story I did on nonverbal cues for Gannett....

There are some days you may wish you were a mind reader.

For example, in a job interview, you may wonder if you’re making a good impression on the hiring manager or boring him silly. Or, perhaps you present the boss with your new idea, but you wonder if she thinks you’re brilliant, or about as smart as a bag of rocks.

If you could just know what a hiring manager or a boss – or even a customer or colleague – were thinking, it would certainly save you a lot of stress and aggravation, couldn’t it?

That’s how someone like Joe Navarro, a former FBI special agent who specializes in nonverbal communication, can help. He may not be able to teach you to be a mind reader, but he can help you use the same strategies that law enforcement professionals use when trying to get the truth from a suspect, for example. From the raised eyebrow to the crossed arms, Navarro says these “non-verbal cues” can give you a real insight into what someone is thinking.

For example, he says that if the person greeting you has an “eyebrow flash” – or quickly arched brows – “that means I’m really impressed with you.” On the other hand, barely lifted eyes show “I’m not very interested,” he says.

“Non-verbal communication is everything that’s not a word. It could be how quickly someone responds to a question, or how they tilt their head while listening to you,” says Navarro, author of “Louder Than Words,” (Harper, $24.99).

Here are some ways he says we can learn from non-verbal cues:

  • When someone likes what you’re saying, they lean forward or write down more of what you say. For example, if a hiring manager is “dismissing you outright,” he or she may not take many notes.
  • If someone nods his head while you’re speaking, or tilts it to one side, this shows they’re being receptive to what you’re saying. Holding the neck or head rigidly means the person isn’t open to your words.
  • Someone who squints may be hearing something she feels negative about, while large, open eyes mean the person in interested in what you have to say.
  • When lips are compressed or narrowed, it means the person isn’t really interested “and is just going through the motions.” Full and pliable lips mean the person is enjoying what is being said.
  • If an interviewer gives you more time to answer questions, it means things are going well. If the hiring manager is cutting you off, it can mean that things are going downhill.

How can you use non-verbal cues to your advantage with a manager? Navarro suggests you:

  • Observe the boss’s habits. Some managers like to hit the ground running first thing in the morning, and are focused on getting their “to do” list done. This means it’s not a good idea to interrupt him or her immediately upon arriving unless it’s critical. Or, maybe the boss likes to walk around and socialize over a cup of coffee. The boss will be receptive to a message while relaxed and chatting with others. Then is the time to say, “I need to talk to you later about something” and make an appointment.
  • Look at the boss’s face. A furrowed forehead and a narrowing of the gap between the eyes points to tension, so steer clear of the boss when that is present. The only problem with this cue is if the person has used Botox, which can make it difficult to tell if the person is truly angry or happy. In that case, look for other signs such as a throbbing muscle in the jaw or lip compression. “That means it’s not a good time to talk,” he says.
  • Share good news. If you only talk to your supervisor when you have bad news, then he or she will begin to form negative impressions “before you ever open your mouth,” Navarro says. Instead, find ways to share happy or non-stressful news sometimes so that he’s more receptive when you do have bad news.
  • Angle in. Never stand or sit directly in front of a boss, because “it’s too primate, too aggressive,” Navarro says. The boss will feel less tense if you stand slightly to one side.
  • Display confidence. Keep your shoulders squared, your hands in front of your body to gesture and don’t entwine your fingers. To show great confidence, steeple your hands when speaking and never keep your hands below the table.
Do you try to read non-verbal cues? Do you think it works?


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

6 Ways to Show Your Worth

When you invest money, you want that investment to grow, right? You certainly don't want it to LOSE money, nor do you want it to just sit there, never earning an extra dime. That's why it's an investment, right?

That's how bosses look at employees. Employees take time, money and energy. If you're not giving your boss a return on his or her investment, should you be kept around simply to warm a chair?

It's a question I explored in this week's column for Gannett:

The most successful employees know they have to start at the bottom. Not the bottom of the career ladder – but the bottom line.

“People may say that they get ahead because they are the only ones who know how to do a certain function, or because they know office politics and they get along with everyone. But the truth is, that’s not how a business functions. It’s what you can do for the bottom line that really matters,” says Larry Myler, a business strategist and consultant.

Myler says too many people who found themselves laid off in the last year didn’t make sure they were continually offering specific examples of how their contributions made the company money – or at least saved it money. The result, he said, is that it was easier for management to make the decision to slash a job they didn’t see as really critical to the company’s survival.

“No matter what your job is, what you do impacts the bottom line. You have to always keep your priorities on making sure what you do helps the company, and you have ways to prove it,” Myler says.

In his new book, “Indispensable by Monday,” (Wiley, $24.95), Myler offers several suggestions on how to show your worth:

· Before submitting a proposal, do your homework so that you can show that the time and expense needed to implement it would be worth it. Don’t focus on personal gripes, but instead prove through facts how it helps the organization, such as improving customer service or it lines up with the company’s overall strategy. Make sure you submit your proposal in a professional way using “profit proposal” software found free online.

· Look for costs to cut. Maybe you can’t figure out a way to generate extra money, but companies are always looking for ways to cut expenses. For example, with a little research you may discover alternative sources of power or a way to manage peak power times. Perhaps you learn that workers within the company are willing to do the landscaping as part of their job, saving the company the cost of mowing services.

· Catch mistakes. While you want to make sure you’re doing work that is as error-free as possible, you can become a critical employee if you’re able to stop ineffective or defective work by others. If you view even one mistake as critical to the company’s bottom line, management will begin to depend on you more and more.

· Hang on to customers. “Let’s say you are a receptionist and you learn from talking to a customer who calls that they’re unhappy with a product and want to return it. But in working with the customer, you find a way to only give them a partial refund, and they’re happy. You’ve just kept the customer from leaving, and saved the company money,” Myler says. “You’ve just saved a deal. That’s important.” Keeping customers – or getting unhappy customers to return to your company – is a big plus for your career, he says.

· Know what you cost. Many older workers were stunned when they were laid off , and Myler believes some of them may have become lax in making sure they were contributing to the bottom line. The higher you are in the organization, the more you cost, and the more “precarious” your position becomes because your salary and benefits take more from the bottom line, he says. That’s why it’s critical to make sure you’re finding ways to pay for your position by either generating more business or finding cost savings, Myler says.

· Document it. Make sure you get credit for your contributions by sending e-mails or making reports that show when you made the suggestion. This not only helps your current job, but can be key proof for future employers that you can deliver what you promise on your abilities.

What else can you do to make yourself more valuable on the job?


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

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Do You Have What it Takes to Work in a Non-Profit?

As I've watched the disasters in Haiti and Chile, I've been inspired by the hundreds of non-profit organizations that have poured into those areas, ready and willing to help. At the same time, I'm aware enough of my limitations to know that I'd have a hard time coping with the devastation on any long-term basis if I was called to work there. It got me thinking about what it takes to work for a non-profit, and how many people find out it's not the right job fit for them. That led to this column for Gannett:

The poor job market has led many job seekers to be creative, seeking work in fields they may not have explored before. But for those who believe moving from a for-profit arena into the non-profit world may give them more options, the transition may not be that easy.

“I think many non-profits are using more management techniques found in the business world, but I wouldn’t suggest a job seeker sit down and say to a non-profit organization: ‘Listen, I can help your non-profit run more like a business.’ There’s a good chance you might offend them saying something like that,” says Heather Krasna, director of career services at Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington.

That’s because non-profits often focus on the “cause” of their organization, putting less emphasis on the bottom line. That’s one of the reasons that moving into the non-profit world may not be the best career move for everyone.

Kisha DeSandies, who works as a communications manager for a non-profit association in Alexandria, Va., says that while non-profits are more team-oriented and focused on a common purpose, there’s often not enough staff – or money – to get all the work done. Many non-profits find themselves equally hard hit by the recession, she says.

“When the economy is in trouble, you lose members (of the organization). When you lose members, you lose money. You lose money, you lose jobs,” DeSandies says. “I’ve heard of other associations that just aren’t doing well.”

DeSandies, who has worked in the for-profit world as well, says non-profits often are not as strongly managed financially, and mismanagement by boards can lead to overspending and poor organizational planning. That’s a recipe, she says, that can bother many workers.

“I think every job has its issues, but not having structure and accountability can be a downside of non-profit work. It can be sort of like a dysfunctional family. The place can eventually implode,” she says.

Before choosing to apply to a non-profit, Krasna suggests checking out the group’s mission and seeing if you are truly interested in their goals. Further, many non-profits can’t offer as much in salary, but other benefits may balance that out for many job seekers.

For example, DeSandies says that her non-profit work often has allowed her more independence with less management oversight. She says she’s also been given the chance to take on tasks that interest her, since non-profits often foster a culture of teamwork and pitching in where needed since resources are often limited. “I’m more of a free spirit, so nonprofits are a good fit for me,” she says.

Krasna points out that working for a non-profit organization shouldn’t be discounted just because salaries are sometimes lower. Non-profits such as hospitals are competitive on pay, and many executive positions are filled by MBAs or others with business-world experience. As more donors and fundraisers ask for more specific accounting of their contributions, non-profits are interested in those who understand for-profit realities – with a healthy dose of altruism thrown in.

Krasna, author of the upcoming “Jobs That Matter: Fin a Stable, Fulfilling Career in Public Service,” (JIST, $14.95) says those seeking a job with a nonprofit should:

  • Do the homework. Check out the organization’s mission and culture through the organization’s literature or online site. Also, look at the group’s tax forms found on www. to gauge the group’s financial health.
  • Volunteer. “This is really one of the best ways to check out what an organization is really like,” she says. “And, it’s going to be important to any non-profit to see that you’ve done some volunteer work somewhere. It’s something you should highlight in your resume and cover letter.”
  • Values. Do a gut check and determine the causes you feel strongly about. If you can’t commit yourself to the organization’s mission, the job won’t be a good fit.
Do you think you could work in a non-profit? Why or why not?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Do You Know What Other People are Saying About You?

I've known Marshall Goldsmith for many years, and he was kind enough to give me a blurb for my last book. I recently read his new book, and wanted to ask him some questions about a Chapter 6 -- on reputation. Here's what I learned and wrote for my Gannett column:

When you look in the mirror, do you see the same image that your co-worker or boss see when they look at you?

If you’re not, you may be in trouble.

That’s because your reputation is critical to your career success, and if your self-perception is out of sync with what others believe, it can not only hold you back now but forever hinder your progress.

Marshall Goldsmith, a leadership guru, says that many people are clueless about their reputation among business associates. For example, you may be unaware how your behavior – including in your private life – impacts how others feel about you. You may think your education and work history mean your professional reputation is great – but colleagues have been passing around photos of you drunk at a party, or the blog post you wrote about trouble in your marriage.

Goldsmith says one of the biggest blows to a career reputation can be made online, especially through social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. “People post about their private lives on these sites, where anyone can see them. It’s insane. They’re showing a total lack of judgment,” Goldsmith says. “It takes about two minutes to find something out.”

At the same time, monitoring your reputation can be critical if lies are being spread about you – your career can be torpedoed if you’re not managing information and aware of how others see you, he says. With the Internet, and “everyone having a camera,” it can be tough to maintain control over your reputation, but the key is being vigilant about not letting your private life overlap into your professional world.

While what you say on Twitter or Facebook may not seem like a big deal now, will it still be OK if you were suddenly out of work and needed to apply for a job? Or, if you were up for a big promotion? How would a boss or potential employer view your words and actions?

“The truth is, we may never completely know how a damaged reputation impacts us,” Goldsmith says. “It can be a silent career killer. That’s why it’s time to quit drifting through life, and understand the importance of being aware about what is being said about you.”

As for the contention that many people believe being “transparent” online is a way of just being themselves, Goldsmith says that instead of “revealing honesty,” such actions show a lack of professional judgment that will haunt the person for years to come. “It comes down to this: Your personal life is personal. Keep it that way,” he says.

In his new book, “MOJO: How to Get It, How to Keep It, How to Get It Back if You Lose It,” (Hyperion, $26.99) Goldsmith says that you should understand:

  • The reputational goal. It’s easier to build your reputation if you have a clear idea of what you’re trying to achieve. For example, Goldsmith says he wants to be considered one of the best in helping make leaders successful, so he always asks himself what he can do to have the most impact on helping others. “I don’t have to be the smartest, but I want to be the most effective,” he says. “That’s the question I ask myself constantly: Will this make me effective?”
  • A bad reputation is gained through a series of events. One mistake won’t ruin you, but if it happens again and again – for example, you crumble under pressure – then people start to believe that you can’t handle leadership. He suggests doing an annual “behavior review” about your past performance, such as six “great” personal moments or “bad” personal moments and looking for a pattern.
  • It’s difficult to change your reputation – but it can be done. Opinions of you are not formed overnight, and they won’t be altered quickly, he says. You must consistently deliver the same message, so that people begin to interpret you in a new way. “Also, if you make a mistake, sincerely apologize for your sins, and then try to get better over time,” he says. “It’s not going to improve instantly, but stick with it.”
What do you do to manage your reputation?