P is for Polite

Too often in our day, people on the “inside” at the office (boss, co-worker, manager) will think that what is most important to them is equally pressing to you.  With vendors, strategic partners, media, clients, and prospects also vying for your attention from the outside, it is pretty easy to get caught up in who to answer first and which people you would like to give a piece of your mind…

It may be surprising to them to know that they aren’t at the top of the food chain in your world nor is their item of much personal concern to you.  The important thing for you to keep in mind, however, is that some of these things are vital to making your firm look good.

Just like in a job interview, you only get one chance to make a first impression.  As sad as that may be, it often does not take much from you to ensure that the impression is a good one.  Listen carefully, make notes, and follow up when you say you will.

A good friend encouraged me to listen twice as often as I talk.  If you know me, you’ll realize that was a difficult challenge to undertake…  I have to say that active listening was a goal for the last year and I have found it to be incredibly informative. 

When you focus on listening, you gain insight on what to do to keep your bosses happy, and often also learn what not to do if there is a crisis.  Then when a problem arises you can use the tools you learned to lay out the issue clearly and simply in the manner that they will understand – as well as get you closer to a solution and further from the brunt of someone’s wrath.

No one wants to be polite all of the time, but being prepared is something we can all manage.  By listening carefully to what people are telling us we can have a better experience working with them. I encourage you to open your ears and give active listening a try!  I assure you it won’t hurt or cost anything other than time, but you will most assuredly have a better experience at the office!

B is for Balance

Balance is tough enough to achieve when you stand on one foot…  When you have multiple bosses, as I am so blessed, it becomes a near impossible feat!

Not only do they each have a separate agenda and priority list for me, neither of those lists takes into account my priorities or the things that I can see would benefit our clients.  (Oh before I forget to do so, I should let you know that I work in customer service for clients around the globe.)

Our firm is the beneficiary of nearly 30 years of success in a narrow field of business.  Though we do have competitors, no one is a 1:1 match for our offerings.  You may also have read my earlier post about Anger Management (the “A” in my ABCs of Workplace posts, and the first in this series).  If not, I would encourage you to take a look if you are interested.  Therein lies much more background about how our firm is set up.

With over 250 clients to report to, help out, or simply rally on behalf of, it is a tall order that one person can make each of them happy.  That said, however, I do try hard at it.  I love working with the clients and understand that I am often the only one in their corner in our workplace.  That is an honor, but it also comes with it some serious weight…

For a number of years now, I have been trying to play nice with all of the bosses and accomplish much on their aggressive “wish” lists for things they want me to tackle.  This often leaves me tapped emotionally and physically, not to mention it drags down my optimistic outlook.

I am slowly coming around to a new approach that someone recently shared with me, “Do your best, but don’t lose yourself at the expense of having a job…”

This was a hard adage for me to adjust to.  I always think that I have to handle projects or issues on my own or it just won’t get done.  Though there is some truth (and probably some stats) to back me up that some things will remain undone unless I finish them, the firm is still not going to be wasting any time replacing me when I go…  They are simply going to go to the well and reel in another fish that they hope will be competent.  (I think they will be quite surprised how much they miss me when my feet cross that threshold one last time, but I digress…)

No, it is up to me to stand up for myself and make the workplace adjust to me for a change.  I need to recenter and make my priorities the ones that count.  My opinions carry no less weight than those of co-workers or bosses, and my ideas have clout.  Empowerment is going to be the new rule of thumb!

It pleases me to report that I am now happier and getting more accomplished than ever since I gave myself the option to speak my mind and not just be trampled over.  There will always be many people with something to say or a plan to influence you to bend to their will, but you just have to find that inner peace, take a breath, and be confident that you can balance your tasks and in return you will find the calm you need.

A is for Anger Management

Hopefully you read my note about an approach to my blog unfolding…  I am going to go through the alphabet (perhaps not always in order), on a particular topic. 

Though I am relying on my experiences to select the word or topic for each of my posts, I am in no way encouraging people to follow my lead…  Simply, I am using this blog as a form of catharsis (and it is cheaper than therapy!).  If you like it, great.  If you don’t, at least I got my thoughts written out and sent down the river.

Let me start by owning up that I have a marketing background.  As such, I tend to use buzzwords – a lot more than I would like too.  In fact the buzzwords start to infuse themselves into your everyday vocabulary (much like how they suggest starting with hot pink socks will have you wearing a hot pink sweater in no time as you get used to seeing yourself in that color).  Hopefully they don’t bother you as much as they do my husband!

My “Alpha Series 1″, let’s call it, will be focused on the Workplace (a serious source of my stress these days and the culprit that gave me high blood pressure).

“A” is for Anger Management

I know that my office is not unlike others around the country.  Good people started a small firm doing something they loved and grew it up from a seedling to become a major player in our industry.  Even when I started here, there were only six of us in a single office.  Now we are a bustling 20 people in three offices. 

Like any small start-up, the original core team kept their “day” jobs and wanted to branch out.  When they were successful enough or felt they could garner market share, they decided to pursue their dream full-time.  As people tend to do, they stayed true to their core competency and handled their part of the business REALLY well.  They have been a huge success and deserve the accolades they have received.

The challenge or opportunity for any small business is to realize when it is they become more than a small business and to adjust accordingly.  Our firm stayed in the small business mindset for more than a little too long, and we are still struggling to ramp up from those days of humble beginnings.  Never was any thought given to a long-term plan or making sure there would be a necessary support structure for the business that was hatched.

(If you are wondering about the anger, I really am getting to it.  It is just important to share this background…)

As I said, in numbers we have grown incrementally and carefully in the time I have been here.  That said, we have not always grown it smart.  There are several sides to the business that have been handled carefully (management), a second team that has been allowed to hire in plenty of junior team members to train and nurture, and third team seems to add personnel at will, then yet a fourth group has been left to fend for themselves and “figure it out”.  I am sure it will not be a stretch to believe that I fall in “Group 4″.

Where I fit into this Group is as a long-time employee who has seen not one person added at our level in nine long years.  To give some perspective, Group 2 has gone from three to nine just in the last few years and Group 3 doubled from two to four last year alone.

Group 4 handles administrative activities.  For me personally, that means sales, sales support, customer service, trip scheduling, exhibit booths, and anything else that does not fit squarely within another person’s domain.  And absolutely, positively answering the phone!  (We certainly can’t have the important people do that…)

Though I won’t go into the gory details, of which there are plenty, what I want to address in this blog post is that for the sake of my well-being and sanity, I have been working to perfect a better way to way to deal with my anger.  I may still be angry but I need to make sure that I direct it at the correct target.  It is not the fault of my colleagues in Group 2 or 3 that they have leisure time during the day.  Someone with more power than them felt that it was more useful to vote with our firm’s dollars to make sure that they had coverage while I have no backup. 

Also a recent change to “getting my feelings put out there” for my bosses is that on my annual evaluation I wrote that my biggest accomplishment last year was “Survival”.  Perhaps one of them read it, but likely they didn’t.  For years they have been asking me to write a section in my review about what I would like to be doing in the next year.  Since I back up at least five people, I asked for a backup for my work (which seemed like a very reasonable request to me).  After being turned down or more likely ignored in the bulk of a decade for my request, I just stopped writing anything at all in this section.  This should have been a big signal to my bosses, yet here we are 3/4 of a year later and nothing.  Just the crickets…

Over and above any of my other methods for dealing with my angry work self, I am making sure that there are more things for me to concentrate on than my job.   Now you will see me more involved with organizations, community projects, and the long-neglected scrapbooking that needs a few decades of work is getting dusted off.

I find ways to tune out to more of the noise at my end – maybe they’ll hire someone and maybe they won’t, but they get enough of my time and thoughts and taking my health is not an option.  The customers come first, and everyone after that will have to wait his turn.  Sure, maybe I could do that project today, but perhaps it can wait as well as anything else can.

There is no doubt that I think it is more than fair that we should all get angry now and then, and frankly it does propel us forward at times.  Hopefully you will likewise have some luck when you bring the focus back around to yourself, redefine how you fit in the firm, and then what you can do to keep your life from being solely firm-focused.  A friend told me once that even though I may feel there is something I need to do at the office on the weekend, if I die they will still only take a week to replace me.  Sounds like a watered-down quote from somewhere, but I think she had a good point!

An approach unfolds…

A friend and I recently discussed a wide range of topics at lunch.  It was then that I realized I have had a lot of strange experiences that led me to some tips and observations that might be helpful to others.  A blog seemed like a great way for me to get it all out of my head and move on with my life, so here goes!

To keep me on track, I am going to adopt the Sue Grafton approach and start with an “A”.  That ensures that I will indeed put up 26 posts sometime in the second half of 2011…

 

 

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