Archives for Revolutionary Assistant

Death at the Office

Sounds like a book out of a mystery series, doesn’t it?

I wish that’s all it was, but frankly, death is a part of life and everyone – family, friends, co-workers—experience loss at one time or another. And if you’re like me, you really don’t know what to do when it happens, especially when it comes to a co-worker who’s just experienced a devastating loss.

We recently experienced this situation at work, where a co-worker lost her adult child unexpectedly. Even though I have no children of my own, I have to think that this is one of the worst things that could possibly happen to a person. My heart bled for her, and thoughts of her situation, her hell-on-earth, followed me around for days.

But when I next saw her, I was tongue tied. I wanted to be helpful. I wanted to say all the right things to make an awful, horrible situation a little better. Still, a dozen different thoughts raced through my mind. If I said, “I’m so sorry for your loss,” would she start to cry? Would she say, “Thank you, I had just stopped thinking about it for a second and now I’m thinking about it again and it’s all your fault”? Would she say, “Sorry?! You have no idea

My feelings are not unusual. It can be hard to deal with emotional situations when someone you love is suffering. But when you have a working relationship with someone who’s experienced a loss, you can’t always offer a hug or a kiss, or any kind of loving human contact. You don’t necessarily hug and kiss people you work with. And this situation is a part of your co-worker’s personal life, not his/her professional life, which makes it all the more awkward. So how do you deal with the emotional response your comments might illicit?

Easy! You avoid saying anything!

(Yeah, that’s what I told myself, but I couldn’t pretend that it didn’t happen, that’s just not right!)

So, here are a few tips to get you through this difficult situation:

Express verbal condolences to those co-workers you don’t know well when you need to speak with that person for other reasons – Start out the conversation by saying, “I’m here to talk with you about X, but I wanted to let you know that I heard what happened and I’ve been thinking about you. I’m so sorry for your loss.” This gives the mourner the chance to say thank you, and then jump onto another subject. If he wants to talk about his loss, it gives him the opportunity to do so.

Drop a card at the co-worker’s desk if you don’t know that person well – This is a great way to express condolences to a co-worker you don’t know really well. At your next interaction, you can ask him how he is, he can thank you for the card, and you can move on to a conversation that’s the subject of his choice.

If you know the person well enough or work closely enough with him, express condolences and ask him about his work load – Your mourning co-worker might not have the level of concentration necessary to tackle everything he has on his plate at the moment, or might need help catching up.

As a Revolutionary Assistant, make a plea for your manager to be flexible with your mourning co-worker – Some find work a great release that helps them navigate their loss, but others will find even the easiest work tasks an unbearable burden that’s layered on top it. Everyone reacts differently, and you’ll help your manager maintain a strong working relationship with the mourner if she can be flexible with his needs.

Avoid saying things like “This happened to me” or “I understand exactly how you feel” or “At least you have_____” – Again, everyone processes loss differently. Saying that it happened to you or that you know how the mourner feels marginalizes what he might feel, and furthermore makes the conversation about you and not him. Telling him, “At least you have another son,” or “It was God’s will” just minimizes the huge effect that death has had on this person.

After you express your condolences, just listen – Sometimes, that’s the best gift of all.

If you’re really having a hard time approaching this person, think about the last time you experienced loss and what was most helpful to you. It’s a rotten thing, having to live through something like that, but sometimes a new bond is formed, a new friend found, and a new point of view understood. And that’s not a bad thing at all.

Next Post:  Wednesday, July 29

Manage Your Variables

The other day, I was making reservations for one of our new hires to spend four weeks with a trainer.  I had no less than twelve trainers to send him to, but I chose the one that was geographically closest to the new hire, which saved our company money and time.

OptionsI had no sooner finished those arrangements when one of our field leaders emailed me and suggested a particular trainer for this new hire.  Of course, not only was she not the trainer I’d chosen, she wasn’t available the week I needed her for a variety of reasons.  So I wrote the field leader (not the new hire’s boss, by the way), told him, “Unfortunately, she’s not available to start with a new hire that week, so I chose another trainer for her.”

I copied the training leader on the email.  It wasn’t more than a few moments later, she came over and started giving me options for how I could reassign this new hire to the trainer that our field  leader had requested.  I could hold the new hire’s start date for a week, I could start the new hire at a different location for the first week and transfer her, and so on.  After presenting me with the options, she suggested I could reach out to the field leader again and let him know these options so he could choose which was best among them.

I did not do that.

This is what I like to call “managing my variables.”  Now, I’m the type of person who’s never been inclined to try to please everybody all the time, but those of you Revolutionary Assistants out there that have that fine quality should consider this little time-saving suggestion.

I manage this training travel process, and the path I chose for this new hire was a perfectly acceptable one.  I had put in about an hour of work getting it arranged after sending emails back and forth with the trainer to confirm availability, etc., which took at least one business day.  On the other hand, the field leader came back to me with this suggestion for personal reasons, as it turns out he’s acquainted with the new hire.

By telling him (truthfully) that trainer he’d suggested was not available and not opening the conversation to other options, I saved a day’s correspondence and more work.  I could have been unnecessarily accommodating, but by limiting my response I was able to dedicate time and energy to giving other “customers” quality results in a timely manner.  I kept control of the situations by not offering hard-to-complete options (or “variables”) that would steal my time from others who needed my services.

How did this work out for me?  Well, the field leader wrote me back and said, “Okay, great, I just thought I’d ask!”  When the training manager saw it, she said, “Oh! It all worked out.”  Of course it did.  If there had been a valid reason for the request, the field leader would have pushed back, explained his request, and I would have accommodated.  But there was no reason to throw options on the table when a simple “no” might have been all that was necessary.

Revolutionary Assistants, take every opportunity to professionally, courteously and intelligently manage your variables.  It’ll save you a lot of time and effort on the back end and make you more available to others whose work really needs your attention.

Next post:  Wednesday, July 15

Theater of the Absurd (or, How To Deliver A Presentation To Make It Count)

More real-time musings from the person who just came back from running the biggest event her company will host this year. Like I mentioned in my last post, our senior leaders were really on the hook to deliver good content and engage their audience. I went into great detail about how to arrive at good content for a presentation by cutting irrelevant points, making it about the audience, creating a structure and theme so that important points make sense and are easy to remember.

But I didn’t talk at all about how to deliver it.

barry_manilowWriting good content is hard, but unless you have a real gift for theatrics, delivering it is even harder. I joke with people that I learned everything I know about staging events from watching Barry Manilow in concert. They don’t know that I’m kind of telling the truth. So today, on Barry Manilow’s birthday, I want to prop up his work as an example of how hook an audience.  Consider the following:

Barry Manilow doesn’t sing just one note – Barry actually sings many notes, and while you may not be singing your company’s year-end results, you shouldn’t be talking at one, consistent, droning level, either. If you’re excited about something, raise the volume and the level of your voice. When you’re sad, bring it down a bit. Make your tone fit, make it interesting.

Barry Manilow doesn’t sing “Mandy” like it’s a carnival song – Emotion, emotion, emotion. In my last entry, I talked about how appealing to your audiences intellect will get you nowhere, but touching them emotionally will incent them to change their behavior. How many people ran out to buy that sappy song when Barry sounded like he was all but crying at the end? I mean, he really wanted her to come back!!

Barry Manilow doesn’t sing with his hands tied behind his back – Sure, he’s done a gazillion concerts, and he looks comfortable in front of a crowd. But he’s probably not as comfortable as you think! I don’t know him personally, but I’m guessing he’s a little nervous when he steps out in front of 20,000 people. You will be, too, but, like Barry, try not to show it. Loosen up those arms. Bend those knees. Don’t stand there like a statue because you have 300 eyes on you. Use body language to help.

Barry Manilow doesn’t forget the words to “Looks Like We Made It” – His band doesn’t forget how to play it, either. So, when you go out on stage, you should know your material. It’s not enough to run through it and take up some note cards. Get it into your brain so that it’s second nature. If you know your speech inside and out, you’ll have extra confidence up there, and it’ll help everything else.

Barry Manilow’s show doesn’t run long – When Barry is singing in Vegas, his concert is 90 minutes long. If he runs over, Wayne Newton won’t have enough time to do his material, right? Don’t take away from the other guy by using up all of your time and part of someone else’s. No one wants to hear you yammer on longer than you should, anyway.

Barry Manilow doesn’t just walk up on stage and start singing – Barry is well lit, and there’s usually some music that introduces him. If you have the means and the equipment, lower the lights and put on the intro to “Copacabana” when you walk on stage. It looks professional and it gets the audience into a cheerful, energetic mood.

Barry Manilow doesn’t sing his last song, talk for a little bit and then wander offstage – No, he’s singing, “I Write the Songs” or a reprise of “It’s a Miracle,” and the audience is on its feet, clapping along, cheering him as he’s played off by the band. Similarly, is your finish strong? Do you have a call to action, do you give them a reason to applaud? If not, reconsider your content.

If you’re trying to get the feeling for your next presentation, use these guidelines set by me and Barry Manilow to help you reach your audience a little bit better. With a little practice and some thought toward showmanship, you’ll change your presentation from boring to a true, blue spectacle that will keep your listeners engaged and encourage them to tackle action items.

Next Post: Wednesday, July 1

Theater of the Absurd (or, How To Construct A Presentation To Make It Count)

So, some real-time thoughts and musings from someone who just came home from running the biggest event her company will host this year. I enjoyed the company of about 140 attendees at a two-day meeting this past week. These attendees were franchise owners of our company, and let’s just say that they’re not an easy group to warm up. If The Beatles had been contracted to perform, they would have withheld applause till the end of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” just to make sure they found value in the band’s delivery.

There’s nothing wrong with this, of course. They should expect, and get, the highest quality from us. And that’s why the pressure is on when the individuals on our senior leadership team have to get up there and deliver a speech on company goals, marketing strategies, and so on. Presentation content is a minefield full of possible on-stage death scenarios. Sadly, I rarely see any sweeping of the field before the soldiers march on, and the result is a bored, unengaged audience who might as well have not listened to the presenter at all.

Comedy and tragedyI wish I could send every one of our presenters off for about three years of community theater experience.  Why? Well, a corporate event, when done correctly, is a theatrical presentation, because it…

…tells a story. – Yes, a story. A presentation should always have a structure. Just like Romeo and Juliet, your presentation has a mission and a message. Determine what it is, and build your information around it. Make sure it has all the elements of a story, including theme (below), conflict, and a beginning, middle and end. All the pieces of the event should fit into the story, because it helps the audience makes sense of it and remember it.

…has a theme. – Your theme doesn’t need to be one central idea. Just like Romeo and Juliet was about love, fate, and society, you can deliver messages on several important points. Use the structure and framework of your “story” to help your messages be more memorable, and to make sure your audience doesn’t get confused.

…isn’t about you, but about the audience. – In case you didn’t realize it, Romeo and Juliet is about you. So is every other book and play text. Art is a reflection of humanity. Otherwise, we wouldn’t like it so much. If you go up there and tell them why you want to see better sales figures, your audience won’t care at all. If you go up there and tell them why THEY want better sales figures…well, then you have something.

…exhibits emotion and vulnerability. – I could stand on a stage all day long and tell you to donate to causes that help victims of domestic abuse. My message would touch you intellectually, and you’d think, “Perhaps I should do that.” But if I stood on stage and showed you a picture of a domestic abuse victim, told you her story, explained how your small donation would make a new life possible for her, you’d probably be writing a check before I walked off.   You can fill someone with facts and figures and appeal to their intellect all day long, but emotion is what changes people’s behaviors. If you want people to get excited and take action on something, don’t stand up there and drone over a graph.

…is free of all but the most important points. – Presenters, please hear me when I say, IT’S NOT ALL IMPORTANT. When you’re in the middle of all the details, you feel compelled to inform the world how you came to make decision #1, but if it’s not relevant to the story (above), then cut it from the talk. Does Shakespeare introduce a vial of poison into Romeo and Juliet only to have the couple skipping off into the sunset as the play concludes? Um, no.

I understand that when someone runs a company, that person might not have time to think about these things when putting together a presentation. But let me ask you this: do anyone really want to spend $200,000 to gather all these people together, and then NOT get the desired impact? As a Revolutionary Assistant, put on your literary/theatrical cap and make sure you get your money’s worth out of the event by constructing your presentation right.

Next Post:  Wednesday, June 17

Trustworthy in the Workplace

I’ve been reading the Harvard Business Review again, and I ran across an article on conveying and cultivating trustworthiness In the workplace.  I felt like this was something I needed to read.  After all, as a Revolutionary Assistant, I want people to understand that I’m trustworthy.  I also need to make sure that I work with people I can trust, as we assistants always rely on others to get our work done.

But I also have to trust vendors, consultants…oh, the list goes on and on.  How do I know when folks are being square with me?  According to HBR contributing author David DeSteno, body language is a tell-tale sign.

But not really.

“All those books that promise to teach you how to spot a liar through body language?” DeSteno writes.  “None has empirical support.”  Still, when someone leans away from you, touches his hands or his face, or crosses his arms, this can be a sign that your trust is misplaced.

DeSteno and his team did a study that programmed a humanoid robot to perform these body cues with a perfection not found in actual humans, and test subjects reported that they thought the robot would cheat them.  Of course, the test subjects were picking up on obvious signals, and humans would not be so consistent.  “These findings demonstrate that we have built-in trust detectors,” DeSteno writes.  It’s important to go with your gut feeling.

So, how do you foster trustworthiness, then?  Well, it helps to be trustworthy yourself.  You can:

Be careful of proprietary business information
Be careful of your own body language
Build a rapport with others, make sure they know you care about them
Be generous with yourself, your information and knowledge, and your time

That’s just about you.  You can also build trustworthiness by creating a common interest, helping the other person decide that you are not all that different.  And avoid leveling punishment on others.  Exacting a penalty for undesirable behavior might work in the short term, but you’re likely to experience long-term issues.

A Revolutionary Assistant counts on trustworthy connections to help her do her job.  Hopefully, these hints will help encourage interactions to stay above-board and mutually beneficial!

Next Post: Wednesday, June 3

Personalities Matter in the Workplace

Success is all about establishing good habits, like we talked about in the Umpteen Habits of People. And it’s about those personality traits that make you who you are.

PersonalityYour human resources department may advocate taking tests that tell you more about who you are. This initiative of theirs might manifest itself in the form of a Myers-Briggs test, or maybe something more modern like Strengthsfinder. All of them are interesting and insightful. But why does it matter?

Well, for one, it helps you understand yourself a little bit better. I remember when I took the Strengthfinder test, it told me that one of my strengths was “context.” That means that when a task or an issue lands on my desk, I like to find out everything that has gone on regarding this task or issue before it came to me.

I decided that Strengthfinders was full of hooey, because “context” was not one of my strengths at all. I told my manager how I thought their results were totally unfounded. And he said, “But you do that all the time. I never have to ask what’s going on with a project, you always know.”

Three other former managers and co-workers told me the same thing. “Context” is one of my strengths. Who knew?

Even more, though, it helps you understand how to work with others. And in the end, I think nothing is more important to your own success than learning how to work successfully with other people. Harmony doesn’t always equal success, but conflict almost never does.

I found an article on Fox Business on Why Personalities Matter in the Workplace, and as we close this subject I wanted to share it with you. It’s a great way to bring this subject of behavior and personality to a close. Enjoy!

Why Personalities Matter by Dr. Michael Woody

 

Next post:  Wednesday, May 20

Are Introverts or Extroverts More Successful?

In our last post we talked a little bit about how personality means as much – if not more – to success than intelligence does. Specifically, we talked about conscientiousness and how it’s the single most prevalent trait among those who are successful, because they’re organized, focused, orderly people who keep their eye on the prize.

Extrovert vs introvertNow let’s look at interaction with other people, more commonly known by fans of the Myers-Briggs personality tests as the Introverts versus the Extroverts. Who among them is the more successful? One might think that the introverts are at a disadvantage. They don’t say much, don’t get to know folks, don’t help themselves. Extroverts know how to mix and mingle. They must be more successful, right?

A Washington Post article states that neither introverts or extroverts have the edge. In fact, it’s the “ambi-vert,” the one that falls in the middle of the scale, that tends to have the most success.

Said author Daniel H. Pink in the 2013 article, “Extroverts can talk too much and listen too little.” And introverts “can be too shy to initiate, too skittish to deliver unpleasant news and too timid to close the deal.” Ambiverts strike the right balance.

The article covered the study of Adam Grant, University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business Professor who looked at sales reps at a software company. He measured their personality and rated their level of introversion/extroversion on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 being the most highly extroverted. After that, he tracked their performance for three months.

“The introverts fared worst; they earned average revenue of $120 per hour. The extroverts performed slightly better, pulling in $125 per hour,” Pink wrote. But the ambiverts? They earned an average of $155 per hour. In fact, those ambiverts who scored a 4.0 on Grant’s test, right smack in the middle of the scale, earned the most, at $208 an hour. They presented a balanced, not-too-loud-and-not-too-shy approach that didn’t overwhelm but didn’t miss the opportunity.

I’m sure that somewhere along the line you’ve taken a personality test to determine where you are on the introvert/extrovert scale. If not, it’s likely you have an idea where you fall. If you’re the life of the party and feel yourself gaining energy the more you talk to people, you’re more extroverted. The introvert experiences a drain of energy in a room of people looking to have a conversation. If one of the above situations describes you to a tee, it’s possible you may be at one of the polar ends of the scale.

This doesn’t mean that you won’t be successful in the workplace. Extroverts can force themselves to tone it down a little, develop stronger listening skills. Introverts can find ways to promote themselves and align with extroverts that will shout their better qualities from the rooftops. But the majority of those reading this find themselves in the middle of the pack. That’s good news – go out and succeed with your incredible balance of people skills and internal conversation!

Next post: Wednesday, April 29

Personality and Success – Conscientiousness

So, the Umpteen Habits of People. That was a fun article to write, and even more fun to research, because it distilled down dozens of different ideas about what successful people do differently.

But habits are just that – what people do. Is that all there is to it?

Intelligence is a factor in success. You need to be educated around your subject matter, you need to be able to evaluate situations and make good decisions. But beyond that, there are definitely personality traits that help you get to that top level. It’s not all about what you know, it’s about who you are and how you function and interact with the people that surround you.

ConscientiousAn Australian study recently published in the journal Learning and Individual Differences suggests that people who are more conscientious and open to new experiences performed better academically than those who were just intelligent. And while being open to new experiences that’s the number one predictor of creative success, it’s conscientiousness that’s the most prevalent among those who experience success.

According to a news article in Business Insider, “There’s a staggering amount of research linking conscientiousness with success. A National Institute of Mental Health study found that conscientious men earn higher salaries. The National Institute on Aging also found that conscientiousness is linked to income and job satisfaction. Other studies show that conscientiousness is the most important factor for finding and retaining employment.”

Conscientious people are organized, so they’re better at setting goals and staying the course when things go awry. They are more orderly, follow the rules, don’t stir the pot.

When you’re in an office setting, it makes sense that this particular personality trait will help you go far. Not even so much that a conscientious person has a plan to get his work done, but that others like to surround themselves with people who take direction, focus on the prize.

So, it’s maybe not so important that you’re book smart, but if you exhibit this trait you’re likely to go further in your education, career and life. What other personality traits help a person succeed? Stay tuned for more studies!

Next post:  Wednesday, April 15

So, It’s My Birthday…

BirthdayYup, my birthday is today.   And, boy, I hate it when my birthday falls during the week, because the people at the office make a deal out of it, make me eat cake and kill a tree by buying me a card and signing it.

Sound like a curmudgeon? Well, maybe I am, but a 40-something birthday isn’t anywhere near as exciting as a 20-something birthday is.

Still, it reminded me that there are appropriate ways to celebrate a birthday in the office. If you have to make a deal out of someone’s birthday, here are some good things to think about and remember:

Consider celebrating everyone’s birthday in a monthly thing – In one of my favorite jobs before I got married and moved away, we did a monthly birthday thing. We all got to pick the kind of pie we wanted, and the whole office got to share a piece of your pie with you. That was fun. I thought it was particularly fun because, being shy, I enjoyed not being the ONLY person who was the center of attention.

Manage the money aspect carefully – In my job now, the boss seems to always go out and buy a cake for a department birthday celebration, but other departments may want to do something on their own and no one wants to get stuck with the bill. Talk about birthday celebrations at a meeting and figure out what kind of “contribution” everyone is comfortable making. That could be donating money toward a cake, or even baking one. But everyone should do their best to make sure that they don’t get stuck with the bill.

Try to join in the celebrations if for only a few minutes – Everyone gets busy. And not everyone likes to celebrate birthdays (that would be me!). Still, if you don’t go in and have a small piece of cake and wish the birthday person well, you look like a spoil sport. You don’t want people to think that you don’t want to see them or don’t wish them well, so set aside your work for a minute or two and join the gang.

Don’t make a big deal out of a birthday – Birthdays are nice, but there’s no need for loud singing, singing telegrams, or broadcasting someone’s age on large balloons. If the celebrator is someone like yours truly, and they’d rather not celebrate at all, then this is particularly annoying and not making the birthday celebrations very nice.

I hope your birthday, and the birthdays of all of your colleagues, are nice ones. Remember that some individuals are less enthusiastic about the occasion than others, and try to make it nice for everyone. It’s actually very nice that co-workers are willing to do this for a celebrator, and that never goes unnoticed or unappreciated!

Next Post:  Wednesday, April 1

The Umpteen Habits of People

I follow every possible business magazine on Twitter. I love to read the articles and ponder how the ideas contained within affect the Revolutionary Assistant and the way she does her job.

UmpteenOne thing that I’ve noticed lately is that everyone has a list of habits. Just this week, I have been able to add “Seven Habits of Emotionally Intelligent People” and “Four Habits of Highly Resilient People” to the long list of habit lists started by the age-old “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” In fact, all you have to do is pick a number and type “habits” next to it in Google Search and you’ll get a wealth of information about how to be a happy couple, make better decisions, not get fat, and so on.

So, what’s the right list of habits? Who do you listen to? Well, I’ve been reviewing all of them for you, and I think that they’re all doing a lot of talking about the same elements. They may call them something different, but they’re pretty much all talking about these:

Umpteen-1: Be positive. No one likes a Debbie Downer, and Debbie Downers don’t usually take time from their belly-aching to envision themselves becoming successful, let alone achieving it. But, more than the power of being positive in your head is the power of being positive with everyone else. To paraphrase your mother, it’s never what you know, it’s who you know. You’ll meet a lot of people along your road to success, and the friends you make will sometimes open doors for you. No one wants to open a door for a Debbie Downer. Everyone wants to smack Debbie Downer.

Umpteen -2: Be a cheerleader. That is, see the good in everyone around you. Don’t speak badly about them to make yourself look better, don’t deny them an opportunity because you think you should have it. Champion people rather than criticize. Consider your actions and make sure that they benefit others as much as they benefit you. And be genuine. These people will be your team and, sometimes, your guiding light.

Umpteen-3: Start out with the end in mind. When you begin a project, or even a life-long goal, you should know what the end looks like, and how you’re going to get there. Granted, your plan and real life might not always look exactly the same, but it’s important to at least think you know where you’re going.

Umpteen-4: Be a good listener. As Steven Covey put it, “Seek first to understand, then be understood.” This comes up over and over again. Not only do you get to absorb what others think and say, your willingness to listen makes them infinitely more open and responsive to you. And please do that listening without your cell phone and your iPad and your computer. Be 100% present for others.

Umpteen-5: Have confidence. If you don’t believe in yourself and your abilities, no one else will. That means being assertive when you have to, setting boundaries when you have to, asking for help when you need to, being humble always. If you know what you’re talking about and where you’re going, these qualities will come naturally.

Umpteen-6: Understand that you won’t get there by yourself. Everyone needs a mentor, everyone needs someone to open a metaphorical door for them now and then. If you’re positive, if you’re a cheerleader and a good listener, there will be people everywhere to help you do that. If they’re not making things happen for you because they’re at the next level, they’re working for you, and doing a good job because they believe in what you’re doing.

Umpteen-7: All work and no play make Jack a very dull boy. Take care of yourself. Pursue your goals at work, but pursue a healthy, happy lifestyle outside of work as well. If you are in good spirits mentally and in good health physically, you’ll be ready to work harder for your success.

Throughout the next week or so, I’ll share some of the “habit” articles I’ve encountered recently, and you will see for yourself that this is the common theme. Of course, there are plenty of other little helpful hints that can be had along the way, too, so happy Revolutionary reading!

Next Post:  Wednesday, March 18