Wednesday, November 28, 2012

5 Etiquette Lessons for the Workplace

The workplace sometimes changes so rapidly it's hard to keep up with what we're supposed to do and not do.  But some things stick around -- like the importance of good manners. That's why I thought it was a good issue to explore for my Gannett/USA Today column...

Is it OK to tweet during a business conference?
Should you stand up when shaking hands?
Do you get the boss a holiday gift this year?
These are all common etiquette questions that Anna Post, great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post, can answer correctly. For the rest of us, the answers often are not as clear, turning the most capable professional into someone who may be seen as a mannerless slob.
"Using poor etiquette can severely limit your opportunities," Post says. "To advance, you need to be able to build relationships. People don't want to work with people who are a pain to be around."
So that Metallica ringtone on your cellphone? It's gotta go. Any cellphone in the office should be on vibrate — and then not left to gyrate in a desk drawer for 10 minutes, she says.
Along the same lines, don't answer your cellphone when you're in the middle of conversation with another person unless it's an emergency call from home. For the record, Post says an emergency is a wife having a baby, not a child unable to find his tennis shoes. (And children should be instructed on what constitutes an emergency to cut down on such types of calls.)
"Giving someone our undivided attention is how we show our respect for others," she says. "When you divide your attention, then that person feels respect has been diminished."
Some other workplace etiquette dilemmas that Post, as a co-author of "Emily Post's Etiquette, 18th Edition," addresses include these:
1. Tweeting responsibly. If you're attending a conference where you're expected to tweet updates, the speaker usually understands that.
But if that's not the case, put your phone away and listen.
2. Getting the phone off the table. "It's not another utensil you need to eat a meal," she says. "If you put it on the table 'just in case,' then that means the potential is there for you to answer it. It's like a ticking time bomb waiting to go off."
3. Giving up texting. Again, if you're texting during a meeting or a conversation, you're showing disrespect to others.
4. Shaking hands. If someone offers a handshake, you should return it and make sure you're standing.
The only excuse not to shake hands is if you're sick. Then Post says she's not sure what you're doing at work in the first place because infecting other people is rude. Still, if you're feeling under the weather and somehow still find yourself offered a handshake, explain that it's nice to see the person, but you're not well.
5. Remembering you don't owe anyone a holiday gift. It can be seen a "currying favor" to give the boss a gift, and you don't owe a colleague a present even if he or she gives you one.
"And don't lie about it and say you have something for the person at home when you don't," Post says. "Just say thank you."
Gifts such as cologne or clothes should be returned to any officemate who gives them to you with an "I appreciate the gesture, but I feel this is inappropriate" response. She advises that any gift from the boss that crosses the line should be reported to human resources.
Another common holiday dilemma: fundraising, whether it's a colleague collecting for the local food bank or a co-worker helping a child sell cookie dough for school.
In those cases, Post says it's best to come up with a policy and stick to it or be prepared to go broke with an ever-growing number of fundraisers.
"You can choose to give on a first-come, first-serve basis to whoever hits you up first." she says. "Or, you have a set amount of maybe $5 that you give to each one. Or, you can simply say, 'No, thank you and good luck.' "

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How to Lead Like Abraham Lincoln

I don't profess to be an expert on Abraham Lincoln, but what I have read about his life has been inspiring. He was the focus on a recent column I did for Gannett/USA Today....

As Steven Spielberg's Lincoln brings audiences into theaters to learn of the 16th president's astute leadership and President Obama vows to work with opposing lawmakers in his second term, it's a good time to consider how compromise can be gained in the workplace on a day-to-day basis.
First, it's not easy. Second, many leaders attempt it and bungle it so badly they forever damage work relationships and hurt the bottom line with their ineptness.
Still, it's not impossible and historical figures like President Abraham Lincoln prove it can be done even in the most difficult of circumstances, says John Baldoni, a leadership coach.
For example, when faced with a group of people who disagree with a course of action, leaders can't immediately dictate "it's my way or the highway" or they will drive valuable employees away, Baldoni says.
"What you want is a win-win solution," he says. "To achieve compromise, the first thing you've got to look at is what is our unifying purpose? What is the one thing we all want?"
In Lincoln's case, it was preserving the Union. "We are not enemies, but friends," he said in his first inaugural address in 1861. "We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection."
In a company today, leaders may be fighting to keep not a country united, but a company. Baldoni says a leader can use the same tactic as Lincoln, pointing out the "greater good" that will be achieved through compromise and teamwork, such as saving jobs.
Still, once that compromise is achieved it's important not to muck it up by gloating about victory or ignoring a former rival, Baldoni says. It's a lesson, he notes, that Lincoln never forgot.
"You've got to reach across the aisle to rivals and tell them that you still want them around, you still value them," Baldoni says.
But what about when that rival continues to sow seeds of discontent?
"A leader's job is to make sure there is alignment and everyone is united in a purpose," Baldoni says. "So if you as a leader find out someone is going behind your back, then you've got to call people on the carpet. You've got to hold them accountable."
Baldoni says that once compromise is reached and a team direction is established, anyone found deviating from that in order to pursue his or her own best interest should be advised to stop such action or face termination by the leader. While that may seem harsh, "a leader's job is to lead the team," he says, "and you cannot tolerate anything else."
Baldoni says that while the political atmosphere in America today is often divisive, it's fortunate that American workplaces don't experience such widespread strife and dysfunction.
"In the workplace, you have to live with these people. You have to engage, cooperate and coordinate with them every day to get things done," he says. "Compromise in the corporate sector is not perceived as a negative. People don't like that 'my way or the highway' attitude."
In his new book, The Leader's Pocket Guide: 101 Indispensable Tools, Tips, and Techniques for Any Situation (Amazon, $19.95), Baldoni offers other leadership tips that can help lead to forming a consensus with the most contentious groups:
How others perceive a leader is critical. The leader's reputation "is essential to creating trust, and in turn getting people to work together to achieve mutually beneficial aims," he writes.
Learn to listen. "Listening to others has seldom been as important and seldom been as neglected," Baldoni writes.
Be optimistic. "People want to believe in their leaders, if only for the simple fact that it makes life easier. People want to believe what they do matters," he writes. "It falls to the leaders to provide that assurance."
Or, in the words of Lincoln: "Determine the thing that can and shall be done, and then we shall find the way."

Friday, November 16, 2012

How To Handle the Mean Girls at Work

Many women would like to believe that the ugly behavior they may have experienced at the hands of other girls in junior high – or perhaps even exhibited themselves – is just an unhappy memory by the time they join the working ranks.
But the truth is:  The mean girls are alive and well in the workplace today.
In a new book, “Mean Girls at Work: How to Stay Professional when Things Get Personal,” authors Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster say they were at first reluctant to tackle such a subject for fear of contributing to bias against women or portraying women in such an unflattering light. But when they got a rousing response to the subject of “women haters” at a training session, they say they knew they had struck a nerve.
“Women have been pushing uphill for so long and trying to get ahead, that no one really wanted to look at what wasn’t working. It is something that women are reluctant to talk about and acknowledge,” Elster says. “It’s sort of the dark side.”
Crowley and Elster says that most women will recognize the “mean girl” at work. “The key indicator is that you have a feeling that she doesn’t like you and is in competition with you,” Crowley says. Elster describes it as a “sinking feeling in your stomach” when you’re around the woman.
There are various levels of professional-woman meanness, such as the “meanest of the mean” the “passively mean” and the “doesn’t mean to be mean,” they explain.  The woman may exclude her target from emails, gossip about her, use body language that conveys (read the rest here)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Why You're Never Too Old to Launch Your Dream

Workers over age 50 may only feel exhausted when they think of starting over. But there are plenty of older workers that are successfully launching new businesses that will inspire anyone of any age.  Here's the story I did for Gannett/USA Today on one older entrepreneur who has launched a new business....

When Anthony Full decided to launch his own business in 2010 at age 52, some people might have considered him crazy.
After all, who would start a new business at his age and in such a difficult economy with new businesses dropping like flies?

But Full, who has been a barber since 1979, knew he had a great idea. So with optimism, the support of his family and some working capital, he launched a barbershop in Louisville, Colo.
Again, the skeptics might wonder what Full was thinking to start a business with competition in just about every strip shopping mall from New Jersey to California.
"I think as you get older, you have a lot more clarity about what you want," he says. "You have all these ideas about how to make things better. It was time to sort of bet on myself."

Full’s foray into owning his own business was not his first, and past business experience had given him the entrepreneurial chops to make things happen. Today, his shop is so successful that he is looking into launching a second one.
"I think people feel really good about supporting entrepreneurs," he says. "They want to help you succeed."
That support has been demonstrated by the number of people who have posted photos of themselves wearing hats with his Rock Barbers logo in locations such as the Arctic circle and the equator, he says. His "male friendly" shop offers a putting green, a guitar inscribed with the signatures of anyone who wants to pick it up and play and a hot-sauce tasting test.
"I’m always trying to think of things that are new and fun," he says. "Getting a haircut should help you escape your regular life. I want to build an experience around it."
Full says another key to his success as an older entrepreneur is listening to the ideas of his younger staff and "making sure they’re happy and fulfilled." That leads to customers being treated well.

"I don’t want a myopic view," he says. "I always want to know what my employees see that I may be missing."
Full’s advice echoes the words of wisdom offered by Bill Zinke, founder and president of the Center for Productive Longevity. At 85, Zinke says his boundless energy is what drives him, much as it does other older entrepreneurs.
"It’s not a path for everyone, but it’s a chance to use your accumulated wisdom and experience to create something," he says.
Zinke’s center has been having workshops to help older workers decide if they want to jump into starting their own businesses. Zinke says one of the most common problems is entrepreneurs not realizing how much cash they need to get a business off the ground and survive before the company make a profit.
That’s why the Center for Productive Longevity offers a checklist of what aspiring entrepreneurs need to consider before tackling a new venture. The organization suggests researching the competition, considering how personal and professional connections can help and developing a personal vision.
When Full was putting his business together, he says he turned to a contact about establishing a website. That website has turned out to be a boon to the business because it allows customers to make appointments online at any time and even can send text alerts about upcoming appointments.
The website also features social media contact information, staff profiles and a blog Full writes. Recent posts include three simple rules about the "manly art" of shaking hands properly and information on learning to play adult hockey.
"Every day the staff and I talk about how to get more exposure for the business and new ideas to try," he says. "It’s a lot of fun."

Thursday, November 8, 2012

How to Stop Procrastinating

I'm not a big procrastinator. In fact, I probably try to do too much all the time, which would account for waking at 4 a.m. and making lists and putting the pork chops in the dishwasher instead of the oven (multitasking is a problem for me.) But I know lots of procrastinators (who may never get around to reading this), so I thought it was a good time to address the subject of procrastination in my Gannett/USA Today column...
Thomas Jefferson once said you should never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.
Of course, Jefferson didn’t have kids to get to soccer practice, a 45-minute commute, hundreds of emails to read and a boss who believes micromanagement is a gift.
It can be difficult to get everything done in our busy lives. But when you add procrastination to the mix, you’ve got a recipe for career disaster.
Jay Earley, a psychotherapist who has written on procrastination and what to do about it, says procrastinators don’t make a conscious choice to put things off.
“They know they need to do certain things, but they avoid it by forgetting about it or getting distracted with other things,” he says. “Or they may plan to do something, but they just sit there and can’t get going.”
Psychologically, he says procrastination can come from a fear of what will happen if you do the task.
You may be afraid that if you take on a project at work, you will fail or look bad. Or you may even fear you’ll be successful and be attacked for it.
“You may believe people will take pot shots at you or you’ll be ostracized,” he says.
Another psychological reason behind procrastination: unconscious rebellion.
You may not want your boss or your company telling you what to do. You may even be waging an internal rebellion against the part of you telling yourself to do the task and the other part that rejects the idea, Earley says.
The key is getting in touch with the root of your fear or defiance.
“Usually fear comes from childhood, and that’s why it may be overblown,” he says.
If you had a father who was heavily judgmental, you may overreact to a boss who gives you feedback. You then may fear the boss’s reaction to your work, put off completing assignments and miss deadlines.
“In other words, this boss is probably not as judgmental as you believe him to be. You need to do some introspection and see that what is really going now is really not that difficult,” Earley says. “Or you can tell yourself that you can come up with a plan to handle what’s happening in your life today.”
Earley, author of “Taking Action: Working Through Procrastination and Achieving Your Goals,” (Pattern System Books, $9.45), says you can deal with procrastination in several ways:
• Clarify your motivation. Do you want to feel better about yourself or stop disappointing colleagues? List the pain that your procrastination causes and what you have to gain from making improvements.
• Plan ahead. Ask yourself what tasks in the next two weeks you are likely to procrastinate on and what you need to do to overcome those tendencies.
• Get a buddy. Get someone supportive in your life to listen to your plans and help you stay on track. You can check in with that person on your progress.
“This will help keep you on track because you know you’re going to have to talk to someone about what you got done,” Earley says.
Procrastination can be a headache for those who don’t practice it, but must work with someone who does. Earley advises to avoid triggering fear or rebellion in colleagues by not being judgmental.

Friday, November 2, 2012

CIA Officers Share Tips on How to Detect A Lie

There’s an episode of the old “Gilligan’s Island” television show where the castaways eat seeds that make mind reading possible. While it seems fun at first, the Gilligan gang soon finds out that sometimes it’s best not to know what everyone is thinking all the time.
But wouldn’t you like to know what your boss is thinking? Wouldn’t you like to know whether someone at work is telling you the truth or not?
There may be a way to do that without eating some seeds on a fictional island.
If you take the advice of some of the best lie detectors in the world – CIA officers – then you may be able to glean when the boss is fibbing about giving you a raise or a co-worker is lying about meeting a deadline. Such information can be helpful in making career decisions and avoiding missteps that can get you off the fast track.
In a new book, “Spy the Lie,” three former CIA officers share decades of experience in recognizing deceptive behavior and how you can apply their methods to everyday work situations.
One of the authors, Michael Floyd, has spent 35 years finding the truth for the CIA and the National Security Agency. While he says that you don’t want to use these methods to decide who is lying about a romantic weekend liaison while gossiping around the water cooler, it can come in handy in more critical work situations, such as a job interview or to discover who may be cheating on an expense report.
The authors stress that the average person often doesn’t detect untruths because he or she believes that others simply won’t lie or they are just uncomfortable judging someone else. In addition, sometimes we rely on beliefs by others that a person is honest, so we don’t look deeply enough and take everything at face value, they say.
“We’re not human lie detectors,” Floyd says of his fellow authors, Philip Houston and Susan Carnicero. “But we’ve developed a method to help spot deceptions based on our experiences, in real-world situations.”
One of the indicators that a person may be lying is a “cluster” of behavior. Exhibiting what’s considered one suspicious action isn’t enough to show someone is being deceitful, they say, butseveral clues should put up your radar.
Listening for lies
Some of the verbal cues that someone is not being truthful include:
  • Failing to answer.  Dodging a direct answer to your question may indicate the person is trying to come up with a good answer because he or she doesn’t want to admit the truth.
  • Denial.  If you ask someone, “Did you do it?” and he or she answers (read the rest here)