Archive for February, 2014

Hoarders At Work: Clean Or Consequences

Thursday, February 20th, 2014


When you have to separate a very talented person from your company, it hurts. As my partner often repeated, “Nice beats genius every time.” Make sure you fit into the culture and connect with people at work in a polite and congenial way. Showing respect for your co-workers is paramount, no matter what else you produce.

Having empathy, sensitivity, and good personal habits are all part of the emotional intelligence that can come with good parenting, life experience or coaching. For many of us, relational skills are not innate or intuitive, but simply learned. The sooner, the better.

There are certain chronic personal problems that cut down even a towering intellect, great talent, or an otherwise hardworking individual.

Hoarding is one of those personal problems that can ruin your career. Unfortunately, this affliction seems to come with a “thick skin,” which may be a euphemism for an antisocial personality disorder. That’s why the hoarder acts like a victim when people are finally fed up, no matter how many times they’ve been told to clean up their act.

We think of hoarding in its extreme as a problem people have in their homes, where they can hide from onlookers. Hoarders often make less of a mess at work, because at the office a cleaning crew comes in and tries to toss away the worst of it. But sometimes, even the cleaning people can’t approach the task of untangling what should be saved and what’s trash. And, they certainly can’t file away piles or make order out of chaos.

You may have seen this at your office: a staff member who has an obvious insensitivity to the rules of shared space, despite repeated attempts to make them aware of how they are affecting those around them. Here’s what we dreaded facing at work, every day.

A small aisle through half open boxes and old lunch sacks led the way toward my co-worker’s desk, where she sat amid a half dozen empty Coke cans and a stained, two day old Starbucks vente cup.  To her left and right, sat small mountains of discarded documents, several pairs of reading glasses, pens, soiled paper towels and crushed flyers. On her credenza, a load of whatnot crammed the small space in front of books leaning at different angles. Color charts splayed open, a clutch of paper cuttings sat precariously atop the cutter, and an exacto knife stuck into a board perched above it all. The floor under her desk was crowded with more used bags, old paper and rotting food, giving her just a few inches of space to move her small chair.

No amount of asking, explaining, or doing got the office tidied, much less clean. A couple of times each week I stayed late, putting things in order. But it didn’t take a half-day before she was sunk in her mess, and we all were surrounded by it.

The best we could do was shut her door, but sometimes clients came in and we were mortified.

Her office mate got sick and stayed sick for months, perhaps from the dust and the dirt. Plus, he was just plain miserable from his increasingly smaller oasis of clean amid her uncontainable mess.

So, after years of trying to manage this, we had to be fair to everyone else in the office. We had to lose a hardworking teammate and a really talented person. No more hints, no more talks, no more cleaning up after her, no more good friend. We simply could not operate around the problems she was causing. In the end, it’s everyone’s loss.

Are you struggling with hoarding or another personal problem that’s cutting away at the goodwill of your co-workers? There are many support groups that offer guidance, often with a sponsor who has made their way through the problem you have. Do something about it, and let your co-workers know what your plan is.

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Why Your Boss is a Jerk

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

Yurlour boss is a jerk, right? It’s pretty likely you’ve told someone this or you’ve at least thought it. In an informal survey of people I’ve met in my seminars, on planes and at dinner parties over the last 20 years: out of four workers I’ve met has repeated the same refrain: “My boss is a jerk.”

Could it be true that 25% of the population is working for a jerk?

The last two times I heard someone say it, I was in my office during job interviews. Typically, after the candidate gets comfortable talking about their aspirations, their achievements and their experience, I ask a pretty predictable question.

Why are you leaving your current job?

Leaning forward in a kind of it’s-just-us-here posture, these two candidates told me about this jerk they each work for. Different interviews, people from two different companies, but apparently they work for twin jerks.

Are you working for a jerk?

The same topic came up with one of my executive coaching clients. He’s working with me on how to improve his communication skills.

He said, “I may be a jerk.” After all, he explained, I am the boss. That means my life is at the mercy of people who work for me. At some level,  I absorb every single mistake that every single person in my entire organization makes. I absorb the financial losses when orders are returned or orders aren’t taken, the stress of losing clients who are underserved, the distress of employees who are angry with one another, the fury of managers who see their subordinates waste a good part of the day gossiping or trolling the web, and the loss of talent because so much of our training and development walks out the door when a slightly better offer turns the head of someone we’ve invested in.

No wonder the guy is a jerk, albeit a good-hearted, well-meaning, hardworking fellow who provides jobs for over a hundred people. His rent alone would make you a jerk, if that’s what you woke up to every morning.

Maybe you don’t work for the CEO. Maybe you work for a junior executive, a department head or someone with “supervisor” in their title. Maybe you’re micromanaged, your best ideas are turned down, and your request for a raise has been denied.

I understand your impulse to name call, but when something happens that seems unfair to you, or even when you are put off, are you really qualified to feel jerked around?

What would change if you could relate to your boss as a person? If you felt empathy for your superior? It occurs to me that in all the trainings I have conducted, I have never been asked to train employees to act or think with empathy for their bosses.

We have to do a better job of educating employees on this, because it would improve so much of what’s wrong in the workplace. We must explain that sometimes you simply need to do what you are asked. That you must remember to follow instructions, if for no other reason than your boss will be a jerk when you don’t. We have to help you understand your boss has pressure that you might not see. That your boss typically has a larger picture of the work, than just what you’re assigned to do. And, we have to help you see, no disrespect intended, that you have perhaps less than all the knowledge, experience, goals, and responsibilities of those above you.

When you lack empathy, your boss will surely seem like a jerk.

Is your boss a jerk? Tell me why and I’ll give you some guidance on how to cope. Email: [email protected]. Subject line: Jerk.

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Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

Change?SMIf you have a job, you have asked yourself, “Should I stay or should I go?” You may have the same question about your location. And, if you’re in a relationship, you undoubtedly have asked yourself the same thing.

Should I stay or should I go?

It’s just human nature to wonder about finding something better.

Last night my fiancé brought home Sunset magazine, with its headline screaming: Best Places to Live! I noticed our town (if you can call Los Angeles a “town”) wasn’t listed.

Does that mean LA is NOT the best place to live? The default answer is right now, it is and we are staying. Not always and forever, but right now we have great work, no house payment, and two great big furniture-eating, hole-digging dogs under two years old. But I have to say, once they lifted the quarantine laws off dogs coming from the US, the south of France started to look really good.

I can complain about why everything here is difficult. The traffic alone makes the case to go (if the traffic would only let up so you could).

Do you feel the same way about work? You feel stuck. You are not sure you have a long-term future in your company. Maybe your issue is you can’t keep working these hours, or reporting to your boss, or sitting in a cubicle, or being isolated at home.

As this economy has crept upward, increasingly people write me, asking whether they should leave their jobs or flee their industries entirely. It is the single most common question I get.

The correct answer is no. Don’t leave. That’s the default answer, anyway. The reason is simple.

No matter where you go, there you are.

Consider that it might not be the job, the industry, the town, or anyone else around you that makes you want to leave. Consider it just might be YOU that you secretly want to leave. You may simply be tired of repeating the same patterns, making the same mistakes, and doing the same old things.

Before you make a move, make a list of what you would like to change about your life – not just work. You haven’t finished until you have written at least 15 things that are making you miserable. In the next column, write down what’s at the root of each misery. Then, in the final and third column, write down the solutions that you can put into play. Consider what you can change NOW about yourself and the way you do things, while you stay in place.

Until you have a strategy for making each those changes, and you have accomplished ten out of the fifteen: you can’t jump jobs, move out of town or leave your lover.

Big decisions are best made when you can see things clearly. Leaving might be the best thing you ever do, but only if you are leaving having learned how to be the best you can be.

Do you wonder about leaving? Send me a quick brief about why, and I’ll send you some guidance. Email: [email protected]. Subject line: Leaving

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