Wednesday, March 29, 2017

How to Stop the Bully at Work

Anyone who has been bullied on the job knows how miserable it can be. I've been there, and I know firsthand about the stress it causes.

I have always wondered what turns adults into bullies. I can understand children doing it -- they're not fully formed humans yet, so they make mistakes. But adults?

Dr. Mary Lamia, a clinical psychologist and professor, writes that people often think that bullies have low self esteem, but they're really just people who are acting out because of internalized shame.She explains that bullies attack others "to take away their shame -- which allows them to remain unaware of their feelings."

I've often seen bullies attack those who are competent at their jobs. Lamia explains that when bullies fear looking incompetent, then they attack others. So, if you're doing a great job and are competent at your job, you could become the target for a bully who sees you as a threat.

But here's another interesting thought: Lamia says that those who become bully magnets tend to be "sensitive people likely to attack themselves in response to shame."

So, if you're someone who puts yourself down in front of others or blames yourself openly for failure, then you could make your situation even worse when the bully decides to step in and join the blame game. I'm not saying you shouldn't admit mistakes, but it might be a good idea to frame it in a way that makes you less vulnerable to bullies, such as "I didn't correctly interpret this data, but I've now learned to consult a second source before drawing a conclusion." This way you don't put yourself down by saying something like, "I'm such an idiot! How could I make such a stupid mistake with the data? I just feel so awful!"

Lamia says that you're never going to beat back the bullies at work as long as you still believe that the bully is aware of his or her shame and cam feel remorse.

She suggests the best way to deal with bullies is to rally your team. If co-workers stand together, you can support one another and show the bully that he or she risks being isolated.

Other ideas from the Workplace Bullying Institute include:

  • Naming it. You can begin to heal by naming the behavior for what it is: BULLYING.
  • Taking time off. Bullying causes a lot of stress, emotionally and physically. Such trauma is overwhelming -- get the professional help you need to deal with it.
  • Developing an action plan. Use resources from the institute to make a business case for stopping the bully. Stick to the bottom line -- emotional pleas can be discounted by the bully.
  • Giving the employer one chance. If they side with the bully, you will need to start looking for another job for your health's sake.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Perceptions Matter on the Job

Several years ago, I was in a meeting and had just given my report. 

When I was finished taking questions, I sat back in my seat and crossed my arms while I listened to others in my group provide their own reports.

After the meeting, a co-worker I had known for many years stopped me in the hallway.

"Are you mad at someone?" he asked.

"No, why?" I said.

"Because you sat in that meeting with your arms crossed and it just seemed to me you looked mad -- or at least not happy to be there," he said.

After assuring him I was fine, I reassessed what I had done. I often sit with my arms crossed because I tend to fidget, which I worry will distract others. Crossing my arms tightly is a strategy I developed as a child in church so that I wouldn't get "that look" from my mom that said: "Stop fidgeting and sit still!"

I guess I adopted the same strategy as I got into the business world, especially since we all know that most meetings run too long and that can make anyone fidget -- especially me.

Now I worried that I was sending the wrong message in meetings to my colleagues who saw my crossed arms not as a way for me to focus and pay attention, but as a way to convey my boredom or ire. Not good.

I share this story because no matter how long you've been in the working world, there are still things left to learn. One of the most important is to constantly reassess the message you're sending to others through your actions. Are you unconsciously giving off a message of boredom, anger or disinterest?

Here are some things to think about:

  • Staring. Sometimes when you sit behind your laptop or desk at work, you may get the sense that it's shielding you in some way. It's not. Others can still see you staring at them, especially when they're having a private conversation via phone or in person. Offices are often wide open these days, so it's important that you give everyone a sense of privacy by not staring at them while they work or have conversations. Staring comes across as disrespectful and nosy.
  • Dodgy eyes. I came across this recently while have a conversation with a young woman. I'd ask her a question, and as she answered her eyes moved all around the room. She looked at the table, across the room, then quickly swerved back to my face for a second before against dodging her eyes to various places. I sensed that she was perhaps shy or nervous, even though she was telling me about her vacation. In the end, it was a bit exhausting to watch and I thought of how it made her appear unconfident -- not something that will be a benefit at work.
  • Being too relaxed. A lot of workplaces have relaxed their dress codes and have become more lenient with other behavior such as allowing employees to wear headphones to listen to music. But things can go too far when you're slouched in a meeting or at your desk like your spine won't hold your body up anymore. Or, you take your shoes off (if your shoes are uncomfortable, wear other shoes). Or, you show up for work with wet hair that doesn't dry until about noon. Or, you wear a t-shirt that says, "I slept with your sister." Remember that every day you want to give the impression that you're ready for the next big challenge or promotion, not considering a nap.
As for my crossed arms, I found a study that says you're 30% more likely to stay on a difficult task with crossed arms. So, my crossed arms in a meeting show that I was indeed paying attention and engaged in what others were saying.

Still, that doesn't erase the perception by my co-worker (and maybe others) that I wasn't engaged in the meeting or was even mad at someone. Since then, I've tried to watch my body language in meetings and elsewhere, thinking about how my behavior affects those around me. 

If you've got a trusted colleague, or even someone you look up to professionally, ask them to give you a heads up if your body language isn't professional or you're doing something that undermines your credibility at work. Sometimes it's the little things that can get you ahead at work -- or put you behind.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

How to Keep Teams Motivated to the Finish Line

How many times have you been about to reach your goal and for some reason, you lose interest?

I've heard bosses complain that they've just about got their team to achieve a new goal -- and then enthusiasm seems to wane. The bosses try to figure out a way to jump-start the flagging interest, but can't seem to keep the team motivated.

A new study sheds light on why this happens. It seems that in the early stages of competition, the newness of the event and uncertainty about a competitor's abilities makes those involved wonder if they can even win. If a team performs well and jumps to an early lead ahead of competitors, for example, then they start to believe that winning is possible and that feeds into their motivation, researchers say.

But, once the team stops worrying about attaining their goal, then they begin to think about how much more they're going to have to do in order to finish. That causes them to relax too soon and their efforts begin to decline, the study finds.

The key to maintaining motivation? Focusing the team on more than just the position as a leader. Instead, researchers say bosses can keep teams motivated to the finish line by talking about a higher standard -- such as the team's strong finish in other projects. The comparison to past success often spurs teams to push with greater effort in the final stages, researchers say.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Tips for Helping You Work With Different Cultures

Lionel Messi is a beloved Argentinian soccer player who became a lightning rod for criticism last year when he offered a pair of his used soccer shoes as a donation during an Egyptian charity fundraiser on television.
“We (Egyptians) have never been so humiliated during our 7,000 years of civilization,” said Said Hasasin, a parliament member.
Unknown to Messi was that in the Arab culture, a shoe is considered lowly because it touches the ground. Calling someone a “gazma,” the Arabic word for shoe, is considered a big insult.
Those are the kind of cultural mistakes that garner a lot of publicity, but it’s unlikely that many people have run into the same problem.
Or have they? With the number of cultures melding in the workplace today and the growing reliance on worldwide teams, the chances of unknowingly offending someone is growing. For example, there are currently about 42 million documented immigrants in the U.S., more than four times the number in the 1970s. Pew research finds that 43% of Millennials are not white, and non-Hispanic white births fell below 50% for the first time in 2011.
That’s why even if your teams don’t travel internationally, chances are increasing that there is going to be more “culture crashing” in a workplace that can hurt productivity, collaboration and the bottom line, says Michael Landers, author of “Culture Crossing: Discover the key to Making Successful Connections in the New Global Era.
Landers  explains that a “culture crash” is when you unknowingly offend someone else. It can happen when a U.S. employee for example, offends a customer from Asia. Or, it can even happen when a team member from New York communicates in what is considered a brash and overbearing way to an employee from Atlanta, he says.
In addition, there are plenty of horror stories such as Messi’s that make employees even more worried that a cultural misstep could gain the recognition of others and possibly damage their careers and a company’s reputation.
For example, one American businessman says he unknowingly offended a Scottish businessman when he asked about the man’s family while another U.S. businessman insulted his Thai counterparts when he tried to talk about business before lunch.
Landers, who runs a global consulting company, says it can be intimidating to try and figure out every rule and nuance of different cultures – even those within the U.S. That’s why he says it’s easier to challenge your own assumptions about proper behavior, and then learn to look for signs on how to adapt quickly to avoid offending others. Such a tactic, he says, is critical if businesses want to remain competitive and not get caught up in cultural faux pas.
It’s also important to understand that cultural differences aren’t something that can only be seen from the outside – cultural neuroscience shows that culture physically molds our brains. People from different cultures actually use different parts of their brains when they’re doing things like listening to music, looking at someone’s face or crunching numbers, Landers says.
That’s why it may seem so challenging for workers from different cultures to work together, finding offense in the way others greet them, the emails they send or even the way they give presentations. But Landers says that for teams, the first step is understanding how they automatically default to their own cultural norms and how they can change that reaction so that they are more open and results-oriented.
A simple example may be when a New York employee emails a colleague in Atlanta first thing in the morning. The (read more here)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

What Dogs Can Teach Us About Careers -- and Life

It's been about a year since my beloved dog, Annie, went to doggie heaven. She was a constant companion while I worked every day, and recently I came across this post I wrote about her several years ago. In honor of a great friend, here's a repeat of the post.

Valuable career advice can be gleaned from a variety of sources, including Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Apple founder Steve Jobs and even Monty Python.
I recently sat down my dog, Annie, to find out why dogs seem to be just so darn happy with whatever job they’re asked to do in life.

AB: Thanks for agreeing to chat today. I have to be honest that I never thought I’d be asking you for career advice.
Annie: I’ll bet you never thought I’d find that ball you hid the other day so you could stop playing fetch, either, did you? Did you honestly think I wouldn’t find it under that chair cushion?
AB: Uh, OK. You caught me there. Actually, that brings up a good question that readers may find helpful. How do you stay so tenacious in getting what you want? How come you never seem to give up?
Annie: Dogs don’t worry about the future. We live in the here and now. We’re not worried about what anyone else thinks of our actions – we want what we want. Why get bothered with distractions when they don’t really matter?
AB: You’re telling me that you never get distracted? What if a squirrel ran right by you?
Annie: Squirrel?!? Where? Where?
AB: That was just an example. Can you focus, please?
Annie: There’s another lesson for you. You humans get cranky over the dumbest things. There’s no reason to get your back up. A simple growl is enough.
AB: Are you saying humans aren’t good communicators?
Annie: Honestly? You humans are the worst. Simple directions are the best. You go on for 10 minutes about how I need to behave on a walk, when all I really want is to pee on that mailbox and sniff the dog next door. I end up forgetting what you told me to do, and then I’m the one who gets the “bad dog” look.
AB: Yeah, about that sniffing. What career lesson are you trying to teach with that one?
Annie: Look, there are some things humans will never understand, OK? Next question.
AB: I get your point about staying focused on your goals and keeping communication simple and direct, but what exactly am I supposed to learn from dogs when it comes to peeing on mailboxes or trees?
Annie: Look, we dogs know that if you want to stay ahead in the pack you’ve got to make sure others know you’re around. We mark our territory not to be mean, but to say “I’m here. What’s up?”
AB: Sounds a lot like networking among humans.
Annie: Yeah, that’s sort of it. But without the expensive drinks and lousy cheese puffs.
AB: I think what a lot of people want to know is why you dogs are so happy with what you’ve got going on. I mean, we humans stress over our careers, over balancing our work and family demands – even over missed emails. What’s your secret?
Annie: As I said, dogs focus on the here and now. If we’re tired, we take a nap. If we’re hungry, we eat. If we want to play, we try to find someone to throw a ball. We focus on what we need to do to be content or happy or relaxed in that moment. When you take that approach, you never know what great thing will come along – without you even worrying about it.
AB: You mean like a squirrel?
Annie: Squirrel?!? Where? Where?


Monday, March 13, 2017

5 Ways to Enhance Your Professional Online Image

Fifty-two percent of recruiters say they always search for social media posts during hiring, and what they’re seeing often isn’t  flattering to job candidates: alcohol or drug use; a profile that links to an escort service and revelations about activities in a demonic cult.

Still, it can be difficult to figure out exactly what you need to post to boost your professional image online, to make yourself seem more relatable and capable. Without the right content, you may sabotage not only new job opportunities but saddle yourself with a less-than-flattering professional reputation that can follow you for years.

Lori Randall Stradtman, author of “Online Reputation Management for Dummies,” says that the first rule to establishing your online professional reputation is to remember that  trying to build a following by being provocative may not always work. "Unless you want a reality TV spot, don’t do it,” she says.

If you’re new to the social media arena, you might want to start with Google+, as the Google search engine will help you get higher visibility, she says.

“Google plays favorites, so if you’re on Google+ it will help a boss or potential employer find you faster,” she says.

Not sure what to post? Try thinking about hobbies that can make you relatable – something that is “authentic” so that others can feel your passion about the subject. Just be careful that some of your interests – such as acting out the various roles in “Fifty Shades of Gray ” – are left offline, she says.

 “You want to post stuff that your grandma can see,” Stradtman says.

Here are some other things to consider if you want to improve your professional online presence:

·         Twitter is read by everyone.  A 10th grade teacher in Colorado was fired after various tweets about drugs, hinting that she was grading papers while stoned.  Another woman was fired after tweeting Halloween pictures of herself at work dressed as a Boston Marathon bombing victim. Stradtman says Twitter’s free-wheeling nature can make you forget that your boss and co-workers are reading your tweets, not just your friends. “It seems harmless in the moment, but it you’re trying to build a positive reputation it might not be the best place to direct your energy,” she says.

·         Facebook can help you make connections. You can also use Facebook for professional visibility, such as joining professional groups, sharing links that others in your industry might find useful or connecting with other professionals who share your interests.

·      Put some effort into LinkedIn. Recruiters often check LinkedIn looking for “passive” job candidates (those who aren’t actively looking), so it’s a good place to make your mark. It’s also a good site to join groups and connect with others in industries that interest you. It’s also a great way to get recommendations from others.  “Join the communities that are available because it’s a great way to build trust – and connect to people who can help you get a job,” she says. Make sure you complete the entire profile so you don’t look like someone who leaves a job undone.

·         Smile! LinkedIn says that those with a profile photo are 14 times more likely to have their profile viewed that those without one. You can also get more “likes” by posting a photo on Facebook. Just make sure these photos show you in a professional light.

·         Don’t overdo it. If you decide to launch a blog and post about your interests, it’s a big time commitment and can backfire if you lose interest. “You have to post fresh content, and you have to redesign the website every couple of years,” Stradtam says. “It can look deserted if you don’t keep it going and it can become more of an albatross.”

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Don't be Afraid to Question the Data

“Don’t fall in love with the data.” – Frank Sesno

Not many companies ignore data these days since it’s often thought to be the secret sauce that’s going to lead to greater success.
Yet data can be an inexact science.  Whether it’s erroneously predicting the winner of a presidential election or the number of expected flu cases in a certain year,  data science is a technology that “can see things as never before, but also can be a blunt instrument, missing context and nuance,” finds The New York Times.
That’s why companies cannot be lulled into complacency when it comes to data, and must instead be ready to question it thoroughly, says Frank Sesno, a former CNN anchor.
Sesno, author of “Ask More: The Power of Questions to Open Doors, Uncover Solutions, and Spark Change,” says that teams and leaders can’t ignore their “gut instinct”, relying only on data to make decisions or predictions.
Experts say that data science is just another tool, and it’s designed to provide probabilities, not absolute answers. In addition, companies must understand that those who build the predictive models may have flawed assumptions or be mistaken about what data is most important to a company’s objective or strategy.
Data also can lead to teams not relying on their own knowledge and experience to come up with the best solutions. Researchers found in a study that 60% of radiologists asked to analyze a routine chest x-ray failed to detect that a collarbone was missing – because they were so familiar with data that trained them to expect to see one.
So, how do organizations use data to its best advantage? Experts say it begins with committing to a strategy that uses data – but not to the exclusion of anything else.

Asking the right questions

Sesno, who has interviewed five presidents and other world leaders, is now director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University. He says that his journalism training has taught him the power of asking the right questions, and he’s learned even more from people like Colin Powell, former Secretary of State and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Dr.  Anthony Fauci, who was critical in cracking the HIV/AIDS mystery.
While data certainly adds to the overall picture when it comes to forming a strategy or developing goals, Sesno says that teams can’t “park their common sense” when using it and must still:
  • Ask diagnostic questions. “What’s wrong?” “How do we know?” and “What are we not seeing?” are all way (read more here)

Monday, March 6, 2017

The True Cost of an Arrogant Boss

Do you have a boss who discredits the ideas of others while claiming to have superior ideas? Does your boss blame other people and refuse to take personal responsibility for anything? Does your boss reject feedback?

If so, you have all the makings of an arrogant boss, someone who can drag down an organization with his or her sense of superiority in all things.

Researchers at the University of Akron and Michigan State University have developed what they call the “Workplace Arrogance Scale,” which they claim can identify an arrogant boss. The 22-point scale will be introduced next week at the American Psychological Association convention by industrial and organizational psychologist and professor Stanley Silverman, dean of UA’s Summit College and University College.

The scale seeks to establish a way to measure managers so arrogance can be spotted early and stopped before it has bottom-line consequences, researchers say.
Such an assessment may be necessary for many companies, as the arrogance of many corporate leaders in the last several years has led to billion-dollar losses and in some cases sent the executives to jail for illegal activities.

In a recent issue of the Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, Silverman, along with researchers Russell E. Johnson, Nicole McConnell and Alison Carr, write that arrogance “has run amock lately.”
They write that their research shows that arrogant employees have poorer performances, create greater stress for others and their behavior is likely to create a “poisonous” atmosphere.

Such problems, they write, can lead to poorer customer satisfaction and loyalty, adversely affect a team’s ability to work together and eventually hurt the bottom line.

The problem becomes even worse when the arrogant employee is a supervisor or manager. For example, an arrogant manager is less likely to welcome or solicit feedback. Or, an arrogant manager is more likely to keep subordinates in a helpless position as he or she has authority over their promotions or opportunities. Such bosses are also much less likely to offering mentoring or coaching, leading to a less-developed team.

“Arrogant managers are therefore more likely to pursue failing courses of action that could otherwise have been prevented. Arrogant behavior can be an especially challenging problem to deal with due to the fact that arrogant individuals consider their own behavior acceptable and thus do not monitor their own actions when interacting with others,” they write.

While some may believe that arrogance is a personality trait, the researchers characterize it as a series of behaviors “intended to exaggerate a person’s sense of superiority by disparaging others.”

“Despite the apparent confidence of those engaging in arrogant behavior, research suggests that it is actually a defensive display occurring partially in response to low self-confidence. Thus, performance claims by confident individuals are based in reality, but those of arrogant individuals are not,” they write.

The researchers say that arrogant bosses can be reformed, if they’re open to coaching and feedback to change their behavior. Their awareness of their behavior is key, which is why the researchers say the new scale is so important. Once the arrogance is determined, then an action plan can be developed to help arrogant managers hone their leadership skills. That can help boost their self confidence and snuff out self doubt so they can rely on confidence that’s authentic, they write.

“Although it is true that some arrogant leaders have experienced considerable success, we argue that these individuals may have been even more effective sans the arrogant behavior. Interactions with others in the organization may have been more successful, more effective communication could have taken place, and performance could have been even more impressive if arrogance had been curtailed early on,” they conclude.

Is there any way to deal with an arrogant boss?

Silverman says one way to protect yourself is to always make sure you understand your role clearly in an organization and have the parameters of your duties in writing. The other bit advice probably will come as no surprise to those who work for an arrogant boss.

“The last thing they (arrogant bosses) want to hear from you is criticism,” he advises.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

If You're Burned Out You're Not Alone

Worker burnout is getting worse.

In the last decade, I bet I've written some version of this sentence a dozen times or more.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like I will stop writing about it.

I talk to people in their 20s who haven't worked less than a 10 or 12 hour day in years. I know several baby boomers who tell me that they thought as they entered their late 50s they would start to work fewer hours or take more vacation time. Nope.

Whenever I write these kinds of stories, I always mention the fallout: Health problems for workers that can drive up company insurance costs. Less productive workers. Greater turnover that eventually increases recruitment costs. Stress that results in less creativity or innovation.

It used to be when you left the office, you left the work behind. But that's no longer the case as smartphones ding all night long with emails and the boss texts you in the middle of dinner.

What's the solution? Well, bosses could stop texting or emailing you after hours unless it's an emergency. Like an end-of-the-world emergency -- not that he needs you to send him a report that you've already sent him.

But this is easier said than done. Because we are all guilty of working too many hours, and it's not always the boss's fault. Couldn't you close your laptop at night and take the dog for a long walk instead of trying to catch up on emails? Or, couldn't you make meal times a smartphone-free zone and insist all phones be muted and shoved in a drawer?

One day (maybe) I can quit writing about worker burnout. But until then, I suggest you try to save yourself.