Everything you didn't learn in school that will help you survive the world of work. A place for newbies, for working moms, for seasoned professionals and "free agents" to share strategies, tips and tales from the trenches.

Dec 1, 2006

When the Boss likes Christmas More than you Do

It’s that time of year—time for awkward staff meetings that open with,” Would people prefer we have the Yankee Swap during work hours or after work?”

Here at the BWFS&SC we try not to take a position on whether co-workers should throw showers, potlucks, birthday sing-a-longs and secular humanist winter holiday festivals of lights. We rather think our attitude comes out in the way we advise you on getting through them.

When the enthusiasm comes from the Boss, this is especially awkward, and we will assume in this lecture that she knows it too, but genuinely believes
a) team-building exercises do indeed build teams
b) we’ve worked hard all year and ought to have some fun
c) people work better together when they occasionally play together
d) Christmas rituals are fun

Here then, as you have come to expect, Miss Bender’s Guide to Getting Through Office Holiday Celebrations Without Alienating the Boss for the Rest of the Year

General Tip: Know what you want and what you will compromise on. Don’t say it doesn’t matter if it does matter. But give in on the things that don’t matter. Because they really don’t.

Unfortunate Best Tip: Offer to help.
Standing by pouting never works in this situation.
Offer to Help does not have to mean setting up the punch bowl or playing Santa. It can be the kind of private sidebar that starts with “I’ve been thinking about what you said…” They love when you think about they said.

Like any other disagreement with the Boss, you can best make your case by agreeing that you want things to work out the best way possible, and you think your idea will either achieve that end directly, or prevent potential disaster.

Yankee swap
Miss Bender remembers well her first Yankee Swap, which appalled her Southern upbringing and confused her understanding of Christian giving. Twenty years in-country, though, have assimilated her to the Yankee Swap, known in other regions as Dirty Santa or (god help us) Chinese Auction. It is a gift grab/Let’s Make a Deal combination that results in players arguing over the “good gifts,” and begging to pawn off the “bad ones” (which sometimes the giver thought were “good”)

1. Keep the price low. You weren’t going to buy any of these people a gift anyway.
If the participants represent a range of ranks and salaries, here is your chance to remind the Boss of that-privately, of course.

2. Know your audience. This game can take twists that are not appropriate for mixed company.

Secret Santa
Don’t we all have enough projects?
This beloved treasure of sorority houses and freshman dorms everywhere has the same risk factor of the Valentine Shoebox. Someone’s feelings are going to get hurt. Here, names are drawn and the Giver (or "Santa”) surprises the Receiver with a gift each day until the grand unveiling party known as the Anticlimax. If you must…

1. Remember the price rule

2. Encourage people to write likes/dislikes on their name slip when it is drawn so you don’t give brittle to the nut-allergic.

3. Come up with a name for the Receiver. The most irritating factor of Secret Santas is that no one knows what to call the person whose name you drew.

Cube decorating
There are people who decorate their cubicles and people who don’t.

Of those who do, there are those who decorate for the holidays and those who don’t.
Of those who do, there are those who decorate in the same magnitude of any other holiday and those who think there is a prize.
This is bound to be your cubemate or your Boss.

1. Your cube is all you have that belongs to you in this frontier. Stand your ground. But always politely, and with a phrase that complements their own prowess while asserting your own wishes. “You have a real flair for that” can work.

2. Do not encroach when you decorate. Stay in your own holiday zone. This includes electrical cords, things that blink, and anything that sings a song, Ho-Hos or jingles.

Family dinner
The Boss can easily be encouraged to turn this into lunch. It’s cheaper, there is no transportation issue, and people are more likely to come. Just go. It’s like 20 minutes.

1. Sit by people you like.

Usually MissBender recommends mingling, but in this case, your movement is restricted. The advice is to limit your mingling to people you can tolerate. Like a wedding reception.

2. All other office party rules apply.

Crafts, Caroling, and Charitable Giving
The Company never assumes that you have other resources in your life, so they like to bring the charities and the life coaches and the dry cleaning to you.

It is a nice gesture. If it motivates you , enjoy it. Wear a scarf and a top hat.

Otherwise, this category is fairly easy to avoid at a large company, since there are always plenty of people who sign up.

1. Be in the audience. Attending the craft fair, or clapping for the carolers doesn’t cost anything and looks like involvement.

2. If you want to buy gifts for the Toy Box, or the Angel Tree, or the Community Chest, do it.

3. Don’t ask your co-workers if they did it, and never ever ask your employees if they did.

4. If you don’t want to do it, don’t. And don’t feel bad about it. Until this whole company visits your grandma in the Home, you don’t owe them these little indulgences.

Giving the boss a gift
Should you? Miss Bender advises against it, with very few exceptions.

1. The Boss can not afford to buy all her staff a gift. Don’t put her in that position.

2. Giving “up” creates competition among staff members and any reward you get in the coming year will be suspect

3. Exception: if the Boss is truly a personal friend. If you know the names of her children and her home address, drive over there and give it to her on your own time.

When you don’t celebrate Christmas
Well, who does? We celebrate Winter Gift-Giving. And it can be perfectly enjoyable.

If you follow a faith which does not include Christmas, (or which does include Christmas, but the hymn-singing candlelight family-only kind) you should spend the rest of the year demonstrating the same. If it is important to your spiritual integrity, you don’t keep it a big secret until you need it.

Happy New Year from the Faculty and Staff of the Business Women's Finishing School.
Weare closed Dec 25 because it is a federal holiday, not a religious one. Please write your Congressman if that irks you.

Jun 17, 2006

Jungle Fighting

It's funny where one finds inspiration. After a workplace skirmish erupted Friday morning (from which the team and I emerged to fight another day), I happened to read the following in a workplace manual of another sort, sent by a friend. That bell you hear is the ring of truth.

1. Fight to win. Use all your strength and cunning. Surprise and defeat your Enemy.
2. Learn your job. Then do it. Dangers and hardships can't stop a jungle soldier.
3. Use cover skillfully. The jungle is your friend.
4. Guard your health. Without health you are useless in the jungle.
5. Protect your arms and equipment. Never leave them. You can't live without them.
6. Keep calm. Keep silent. Keep mobile. Keep alive.
7. Make every shot count. Never fire blindly. Save ammunition.
8. Use team work. Do your part, especially when alone.
9. Never surrender. Withdraw into jungle cover. Or kill one more Enemy.
10. Strike where it hurts most, when it hurts most.
~~ CB

May 20, 2006

Secret Identities

In our
last session, we discussed how strange impressions are formed around the office, and why it may be advantageous to let them lie. Miss Bender has recently learned another "fact" about herself that came as a complete surprise, but was greeted with a straight face.

Apparently, Miss Bender was once a med student.
Well, why not.

Part of the skill of maintaining an image as an International Woman of Mystery is to let these chips fall where they may. I don't tell elaborate stories of my days in a labcoat, as if it were true, but I didn't correct it either. I thought I'd find out what I could find out.

I have learned that the reason I took Latin for four years (which is true, and a fact I have volunteered myself as an apologia for my vocabularly -- which includes words like apologia. Why use Saxon when a Latinate will do?) ...the reason I took Latin for four years was to prepare for medical school. uh..huh.

I think this may have started because I did once tell a story that involved my preparation for doctoral school. (Also true. Also ill-advised. Also not the story I am telling.)

No one says "Doctor School." This is not a phrase. But I think that's what people heard.

Here then, are your Bender-style guidelines for creating your own aura.

Just enough backstory: Stick to the story you are telling. This is Miss Bender's general rule anyway. Too often, people provide so much backstory that one loses track of the main plot, and interest in where it is going. Remember Seinfeld's rule of the Yadda: "We went back to my place, yadda yadda yadda, I never saw him again." Besides holding your audience, what it does for your secret identity status is show only small windows of information that when strung together... don't seem to go together at all.

Play with numbers: I had a co-worker who was often referring to "an old boyfriend," in a Stanley Kowalski way ("An old boyfriend of mine was a skydiver..."). Somehow at 30, she'd had a fleet of "old boyfriends." Most of them were actually "old dates," and the remainder were the same guy.

Play with time: Miss Bender is fond of dropping that she saw Elvis in concert, which is true. She was 10 at the time.

Horde skills: If you can actually play ragtime piano, say, save that fact to whip out at the christmas party. In icebreakers, dig deep for the "something about yourself." Never repeat them. And of course... never say more than is required.

Acknowledge your contradictions: The tomboy who knits, the bookish type who is also a skeetshooter, the devout christian who swears like a sailor cause others to think, "well, ya think ya know a person..."

Nod agreeably with the stories others tell: Not only is it polite, it gives them the impression you identify with their story because you have a similar one. When you don't tell it, they decide you are just modest, or "private." You have no such story, but subconsciously, they tell themselves you do.

Remember your "outside obligations." (see previous post). Also a good phrase: "I am expected at home."


May 4, 2006

Other Obligations

When Miss Bender was an eager young professional, there was an often-told (and doubtless apocryphal) story told of the young woman who started a new job at a new campus with a wedding ring on her finger and pictures of her husband and young children on her desk.

But the facts eventually revealed themselves: the family was invented, and she was not married. But she wanted to set a tone in this new job that she had other obligations to go home to. For years, as the unmarried childless member of the staff, she had been expected to stay late, come early, work holidays, and take less vacation.

She and her story were invented, and also 100% true, as all of us living that story knew.

I always liked the idea, even long after I had left the kind of field (even position) that required that kind of dedication. My next move was to an hourly position, where I was too expensive to stay after hours. When I returned to salary, I adopted the unapologetic phrase, “obligations outside work.”

Here’s how it works:

Dear Boss,
Thanks for sending the information about the on-site training class to be held next month. I look forward to this opportunity.
You mentioned that this training lasts all day and goes into the evening.
Can you advise what hours we should commit? I need to reschedule my other obligations, depending on what time we expect to begin and end each session.
I understand the class is Top Priority that week, but adjustments will have to be made.

You see I still work nights and evenings when I have to. Meeting a deadline is still of greater importance to me than making a point on a time clock (I never said I was cured).

But this sets that legendary career gal’s tone that the Company has competition for my attention, with the added emphasis that the Company doesn’t get to decide whether it is more or less important than what they want me to be thinking about. Because I never explain what the obligations are.

Then this happened – subconsciously perhaps, but quite by accident.

I was in a second interview, and at this point in the conversation had already been offered the job. So I cut to the bottom of my list of questions and began asking the practical things about working from home, and doctor’s appointments, and other flexibilities of salary life (which one does miss when one doesn’t get paid for not working).

I got to the bullet point about my volunteer work. I volunteer once a week at a site about 20 miles from where I would be working, so there is always a sticky point where I have to flex-time myself into a schedule that accommodates that.

I meant to say "I have a volunteer job once a week that requires me to leave an hour early that day. Usually I come in an hour earlier that day, if that will work for you. I can choose any day of the week we like, but then I have to stay with that day." In my nervousness though, I didn’t say “volunteer job.” I said “community service.”

Read that paragraph again.

It hung there in the air, and I heard it, and I thought… well, let’s just leave it like that.

Community service. Why not just say…Standing appointment. Session. Meth dosage. Shock treatment.

So before this guy who had just offered me a job had time to think too hard about what I just said, I added “Am I required to travel in this job? Because I can’t.”

I’ve been waiting ever since for this rumor to come back around to me, but so far it hasn’t. I do show some occasional leg around the office, so he knows there’s no ankle bracelet. Maybe he’s forgotten it already.

Apr 20, 2006

What to Expect from the On-Site

The off-site can be a delight -- even if you don't care for all of your co-workers, and even if ropes courses are involved. It's at least a day out of the office and a change of scenery, catering and guest facilitators.

The office on-site is a horse of a different color. If your calendar holds such a day in your future, review the following carefully. Our motto, as always, is be prepared.

There is no agenda
The longer the day ahead of you, the less likely there will be a plan for spending it. The Boss who tries to cram a 12-item agenda into a 60 minute staff meeting every week suddenly has a free-form 8 hours ahead of you.

Same math for the meeting room
That is... if you manage to score the "good" board room, with a/v and cushioned chairs, you can have it from 9:00-10:00; 11:30-12:00; 2:3:30; after 4. The room you can have all day seats 4. In folding chairs. And...

You'd better layer
That room is either freezing cold or boiling hot. With a blasting fan or banging radiator, respectively. Tank-tops according to your own comfort level, but Scrunchie is a must.

Pack snacks
Corporate catering will show up with the Big Cookies and the strangely dry brownie, which can hit the spot. But if you need your juice, Red Bull, Bubble Yum, Balance Bar, popcorn, Starbucks and other Standard Operating Procedure daily snacks, better bring them with you. Ditto cigarettes.

Pack supplies
There won't be any.

Come early
For the good chair and the network connection.

Leave early
Things really do suddenly come up.

I'm sorry, but you really will go starkers otherwise.

Is anyone still reading this blog?


Mar 15, 2006

Meeting on the Boss' Bad Habits

Instructor, Caroline Bender
Here's an awkward moment for the new professional or new staff member:
Boss says, "Come have a drink/smoke/bone/lap dance with me and we'll talk about it more."

See how the range of activity suddenly reveals your boundaries?

What's a girl to do?
Miss Bender encountered this scene this morning when New Boss invited her for the privilege of standing in the cold and breathing his smoke while he delivered a briefing that was already complete by the time the elevator hit the lobby. "This is a coveted privilege," he said, "because you will have my full attention."

His lungs, one can assume, would be doing the rest of the work.

My advice on this issue is to gauge the importance of taking a stand. What's your issue?

Are you in recovery?
Maybe this really is a struggle for you, to be around the vice you are trying to kick. And most people with vices are trying to kick them. So maybe you could offer, "I'm trying to quit. Let me catch you when you get back." (or before you go, as suits the situation)

Is it a health issue?
Too cold/hot out, can't be around a lot of people, sprained your ankle.... what have you got?

Is this creeping you out?
Are you afraid people will start saying about you what you heard them saying about the last woman he took out smoking and drinking? For after work events, try "I am expected at home." For mid-workday events, try a different kind of lie. Like you're trying to quit. Or have a health issue. You will have to practice this to have it fresh in your mind. I didn't.

Is it just rude?
Here's where I was. Rude...and annoying to be put in this situation. So I took the meeting. In my youth, I would have smoked as well. But I hear it's bad for you. After I've banked some more credibility with New Boss, I'll decline, with something like the recovery answer, without the recovery part. A full year from now, I'll be able to say something like, "That's no fun for me."

Is that your good cashmere sweater?
Take the meeting and be very annoying about where you stand. Wave your hands a lot and stand about 20 feet away, shifting everytime the wind does. Or ask for a wipe-down of the bar, and refuse to sit on the stool. He won't ask you again.

Do you enjoy such vice?
Then do it. Maybe some good will come of it.

To be fair here, the Boss isn't really testing you. He or she enjoys this activity, and doesn't get it that you don't. Rude, obtuse, inappropriate? Perhaps. But not mean-spirited. Decline nicely, as you would a peer and find a quite escape.

Females executives who like to talk in the stalls will be covered in a different post.


Mar 3, 2006

Last Week on the Job

Instructor, Caroline Bender
Congratulations. You're clearing out. Moving on. One hopes, to greener pastures, but then you thought they were, didn't you? One expects that when you walked into this job, you were focused on making a good impression. You want to keep that same focus as you depart.

In these final 5 days, it is tempting to get a jump on the new thing, which is certainly more interesting to you. We at the BWFS(&SC) want to encourage you to work up to the last day. Leave a clean campsite and please douse all your fires.

Ask for deliverables
What do you need to complete before you go, or what needs to be taken to the next milestone for transition? The Boss has trouble with questions like these, because she doesn't really know your job. Think of it like a preplan for a vacation (from which you will never return). Make sure you also find out who is to receive what you are delivering.

Tie up loose ends
Let your counterparts know who they will deal with once you are gone. If the replacement has been hired, indicate the name and start date. If the seat will remain open, try to identify resources who can fill in what you used to provide. This is a good use of email (not everything is).

Provide clean files
If this is not already in your nature, you not achieve this in a week. No one requires typed labels or color coding. But some sense of categorization and order is the minimal requirement.

Thin your folders.
Some historical reference is appreciated, but not every piece of correspondence is required. This goes for electronic folders as well. Watch out for notes of a personal, snide, nature, which you have scrawled in the margins. Or perhaps Miss Bender is only speaking for herself.

Always be working
(or appear to be) The truth is, if you plan it well, you can complete your work 2 or 3 days before your departure. But try to look busy 9-5. Keep going to your scheduled meetings, unless you are asked not to (you traitor).

Participate in calls, represent your role's concerns, just as if you were in for the long haul. Nothing's worse than a project team short-timer.

Don't pack on company time
I'm sorry to say this will mean staying later. Plan on one hour each day of your last week for every year you have been in this job. If it takes longer than that, you are a pack rat.

Leave personal items on the walls until the very end. Their removal saddens your co-workers.

Now you are ready to go. Files clean and meaningful, colleagues prepared to turn to others, projects transitioned or stable.

Do one last nice thing. Wipe down your desk, dust the monitor, Lysol the phone. New people like to feel expected.

Feb 25, 2006

What to say to pregnant women around the office

You can never go wrong with "Congratulations!" and "How are you feeling?" (although the latter does get old and hard to answer as it gets closer to the big day).
Here is a helpful list of things that pregnant women you work with wouldn't mind hearing from you:

1. You look great.
2. Can I help you carry that?
3. Here's a chair for you.
4. Would you like me to bring you back something for lunch?
5. No really, you look great.
6. Whatever you decide will be the right decision because you made it, and it's what's right for you.
7. Why don't you go take a break, I'll finish up here.
8. I have a ton of cute maternity cothes and baby stuff I won't be using, you're welcome to it.
9. Where are you registered?
10. You're going to be a great mom.

What not to say to the pregnant women around the office

Now that Miss Minchin has stepped over to the other side of motherhood, she has become much more aware of the awfully insensitive, ignorant, or downright rude things that some people seem to spontaneously utter to women who are expecting. Below are the top things one should never say:

1. Wow, you're huge! Are you sure you don't have twins in there?
When tempted to react to the size of your pregnant coworker's belly, try to remember a few things:
  • You are not a medical doctor (unless you actually are, and if so you should really know better). Do not try to assess or question an expecting mother's development. She sees her doctor every four weeks and would really much rather get evaluated by her.
  • Pregnant women's bodies are not any more appropriate to comment on than any other woman's body at work.
  • Whether she is large or not, she probably feels as big as a house. Her body has taken over and she no longer has any control. This can be emotionally difficult, don't make her feel any worse, or any more unattractive.

2. You don't look that big, are you sure you're that far along?
Expecting mothers, and especially first-time moms can experience a high degree of anxiety about their own progress, their baby's welfare, etc. Remember all the points above, and don't give her anything extra to worry about. Every woman, and every pregnancy is different. If her doctor thinks she is devloping just fine, that should be all that matters. Again, you are not a doctor, you do not know this woman's medical history, so just zip it.

3. Was this a planned pregnancy?
Do you really think you have a right to know all about the woman's contraceptive methods, fertility issues, or family planning? Seriously.

4. You're going to name her that? Oh, no that's an awful name...
If you ask, or are told the baby's planned name, react just like you would as if you were being introduced to the baby. Keep your opinion about the name to yourself. Imagine if you were introduced to someone, and their reaction was "That's your name? Oh, no, I think Bernie is a much better name for you." Most parents have put a lot of thought into a name that is very special to them, has personal significance, or is treasured in some way. You have no place to interject your opinion into the mix. Even if the name they choose is Slartibartfast, keep your trap shut.

5. Oh that's nothing, when I was pregnant (horror story ensues)...and there was blood everywhere!
I know that seeing another pregnant woman can cause you to reflect on your special time, and any special hardship that you went through, and that you are a much stronger person for having gone through it, but believe me, this is the last thing an expecting mother wants to hear. She has enough to deal with in preparation for her own big day, she doesn't need more things to worry about. And really, this information is way too personal to be sharing with coworkers. Oh and don't compare your pregnancy to hers, every woman is different.

6. Should you be eating/drinking that?
Unless it's a bottle of poison, or a bottle of vodka, butt out. Pregnant women can pretty much eat/drink anything in moderation, even a glass of wine now and then (not that I would). Up to three cups of coffee a day are considered safe, or 300 mg of caffeine. If you see an expecting mother enjoying a Coke, or a bag of chips, or a cup of coffee, leave the poor girl alone. For all you know, it's the first coffee she's had in 3 months, and she drinks nothing but water and juice otherwise. Don't imply she's a bad mother from one item you notice her ingesting.

7. You keep eating like that, and you'll be huge!
What is it about being pregnant that makes everyone think your body is public domain? Would you ever say anything like this to a coworker who is not pregnant? Pregnant women need to eat 300 more calories a day to support their growing fetus, so back off fatty.

8. Aren't you cold/hot in that? You're wearing that?
Let's get one thing straight - maternity clothes suck. Not only do they suck, but they tend to be overpriced and poor quality. If you see your pregnant coworker in a light cotton top in February, it may be because nothing else fits. How would you like to have to purchase a whole new wardrobe every 2 months? Sometimes, stores stop selling winter clothes in preparation for the next season. And, pregnancy makes you really tired, so it's even harder to go shopping than usual. So sometimes, a pregnant woman will take what she can get. And sometimes that means ill-fitting light cotton shirts in February, because the stores are all out of maternity sweaters in her size. So give her a break, it's probably a touchy subject.

9. You're not doing a natural birth? I had all five of my kids without so much as a Tylenol.
Listen, just because something is a natural process doesn't mean it doesn't hurt like hell. Passing a kidney stone is a natural process, but you don't see people bragging about passing theirs without pain medication. Respect a woman's decision about her own birthing experience, and try to remember that it is none of your business. You may have been blessed with all the right factors that made your birthing experience easy. This doesn't mean that every woman is.

10. Who's the father?
For some reason, people think this is a really funny joke to make.

And lastly, don't even think about touching her belly.

    "Good" Gossip.

    Instructor, Caroline Bender

    Scoop. Skinny. Scuttlebutt.
    The Goss.

    Inside information is the secret weapon on the intra-office battlefield. Love to get it, love to have it, love to pass it on.

    But there is also "bad" gossip -- stuff you wish you hadn't heard, and are sorry to know.

    case study:
    On a rare sunny afternoon, you actually take your full lunch hour -- outside the office -- and arrange to meet with an old friend you do not work with (anymore), at a small spot blocks from the building, after twelve. Perfect get-away opportunity, right?

    Until the hostess at this tiny restaurant helpfully seats you right next to 2 co-workers. She says, "You can be by the window, so you can see your friend!" The 3 of you nod hello (though you all think, "$#!+") then you try to disappear, and they try to talk in code. This is when you realize, because you can't help it, that they are comparing their painfully sad marriages -- not in a "top this" way, but in a "I can't breathe most mornings" way.
    And this is not good gossip.

    Good gossip has work-relevance. Good gossip provides strategic direction for the things that really matter, like raises, and desk locations, and who your boss next year. Good gossip makes you immediately think of who you know who wants and needs this information.

    Bad gossip is the horrible thing about you that you hope a co-worker would not discover. Bad gossip makes you feel like you should promise the subject you would never repeat what you wouldn't admit to them you heard.

    Overhearing execs fighting.....Good
    Obligatory, in fact. IM was invented for the sole reason of transcribing high-level blow-ups to those out of earshot. All its other uses came later.

    Overhearing spouses fighting...Bad
    People who have marital spats by phone (or in person, if you work in one of those kinds of companies) are so deep in the moment that they forget where they are. And you see and hear sides of them you will think about in all subsequent interactions.

    Negative feedback....Good
    If it is your nemesis, your boss, or your freeloading colleague.

    Positive diagnosis.... Bad
    Never has "what's heard in the cube stays in the cube" been more true

    Who's zoomin' who...Good
    When they are both single.

    Who's zoomin' who...Bad
    When they are not.

    Lovey-dovey baby-talk.... Good
    Because it's repeatable to the point of becoming a catch-phrase

    Creative swearing... also Good
    And for the same reason

    And usually nauseating.


    Feb 10, 2006

    On the 300th Day... She Resigned

    The common rule of business writing -- simple is best -- serves your resignation letter as well. Typically, simple can be difficult to get to behind regret, defeat, and vitriol.

    As I began to research for this article, I discovered that any "tips for writing resignations" has already been done. So I'll just discuss my own. Feel free to use it; it wasn't submitted.

    Dear <>,
    Please consider this notice that I am vacating my position on
    the *** staff end of day Friday, February 10, 2006. I am unable to commit to the ****business, and the role that has been defined for me in it. I believe it is in the best interests of the team for you to find a better fit for your needs; it is in my best interests to undertake a full-time effort toward finding the
    right fit for myself.
    I will be able to provide a list of my expected end-of-week deliverables in our 1:1 meeting tomorrow afternoon, including a discussion of any transition plan you feel is required.

    The ball began rolling in a cross-functional team meeting when I heard myself think, "I'm not doing this anymore." And I knew it as clearly as I knew anything that by the end of the day I would have said my good-byes. I had been meaning for several days to prepare a letter in advance, to carry on my person like a concealed weapon.

    Last Wednesday demonstrated why people should not carry either.

    When you realize you are about to walk away, you might just tell your boss where to step off in a cross-functional team meeting -- in front of his peer and both of their subordinates. I can tell you however that I never raised my voice, I never used profanity, I never called names, or so much as waved a hand. Nothing is more intimidating than a woman who says, "I am angry" without any appearance of being so.

    One guaranteed outcome of a display like this is some private time with the Boss. And if he was expecting that I was afraid of getting fired (when I was instead reloading) that would explain the look on his face. As they used to say in the Uncle Arthur Bedtime Stories, "let us draw a veil over that scene."
    It ended with this:
    He: You haven't come by once to even ask me questions about your job.
    She: I've been focused on leaving it.
    He: I'm not going to pay you to look for other jobs.
    She: How much notice would you need?
    He: A week.
    She: I can do that.
    I had a project milestone at the end of the week, and said I was committed to that (a jab - this project is not owned by our department), but Monday we would see where we were.

    Knowing it is unusual to have such a long run-up toward the walk-off, I took my time.
    Thursday: Cleaned off the hard drive. This probably would have been easier if I could have figured out how to burn a CD, but it only took a few floppies to capture was what mine: about 10 variations of my resume, my browser bookmarks, my Outlook contacts, and my Schwab 401k statements. Just for good measure, I copied work-related folders onto the department's shared drive (because I don't screw my co-workers).
    Friday: Lots of time spent on IM and phone calls with friends and colleagues. To all of you said "you'll be fine," because you know I have done this before, my many thanks. To Pete, for the offer of part-time work before I even needed it, I will always be indebted.
    Saturday: Project delivery day. Then I packed my desk and wrote my letter. The message is not very different from what I had told the Boss a month before. Adding the sentence about deliverables and a transition plan was just a bit of the Ice Princess. Also wrote 3 other letters to execs who knew I had been trying to break free, but could not get more action from the Company than "you are such an asset." I wanted to be able to come out of the Boss's office with the deed done, hit send, and get right back to work.
    Sunday: Faculty meeting with our Dean of Students, Miss Minchin. If you question your affiliation with BWFS&SC, let me assure you that membership has its rewards. We strategized the Monday meeting to come and explored the concept of "fit and match" in light of MBTI type indicators (one of our preferred topics).

    Monday afternoon: 3 copies of the letter in a manila folder -- one for him, one for me, one for HR -- in a leather portfolio, which I set on the floor beside the chair. And I let him set the tone. I let him decide where this would go. I was prepared to follow through, but I was not hoping for either outcome.
    He: I thought you were going to come in here with a decision.
    She: I can do this job, but I will always be unhappy, and I will still be looking for something else. And I understand that is not acceptable to you.

    Here he had the opportunity to fire me if he wanted to, and I thought I could at least collect (thanks, employment at will) while I job-hunted. But I quickly realized he wasn't going to.

    Even he knew this wasn't a win -- not for him anyway; he could not care less about me. Firing me sent a message that he had no other options, that he couldn't handle me, and all things considered, was disproportionate to embarrassing him. Letting me resign would certainly solve both of our problems (hating each other and all) but sent the wrong message about how to solve labor/management relations.

    Toe-to-toe, eye-to-eye across that desk, we both knew there was still a way for us to close this incident with both of us saving face. I took a weak scolding on my lack of deportment and a warning about continuing to complain. I was genuinely contrite about my behavior and pledged to control it.

    He never saw the letter. Perhaps he believes he called my bluff. Perhaps I called his. Because now he is invested in coordinating my clean departure from his department (and expects daily thanks for his effort).

    And I have an interview tomorrow that he doesn't know about.

    Feb 1, 2006

    Cube Rude

    Why do you check your voicemail on speakerphone?

    - Do you have a physical disability?
    - Are you breastfeeding?
    - Are you so multi-tasky that you must email with one hand while mobile phoning with another, and all messages are vital?

    No, you are just a self-important attention-craving sad case who thinks we want to hear them.

    You hope with crossed fingers that someone important will call in need of you -- call you by a nickname, ask for your advice.

    Who do you think that will be?
    The president? Of the United States?

    Get over yourself already.

    ~~ Bunny Watson, Student at Large

    Jan 27, 2006

    10 More Great Working Woman Films

    Have a nice weekend.

    1. Broadcast News
    Oh, Holly Hunter, I have been you.

    2. Network
    What everyone worried those Libbers would turn out to be like

    3. Desk Set
    What we turned out to be more like

    4. Camille Claudel
    Behind every great woman is some guy saying it was his idea

    5. Pat & Mike
    Ditto. With sports

    6. My Brilliant Career
    Often appears on lists like this, though you might wonder what all the fuss is about

    7. Roman Holiday
    When your brilliant career gets to be too much, you just want to pack it all in

    8. Gorillas in the Midst
    Yes, you can put too much of yourself into your work

    9. Silkwood
    Mind how you stick it to The Man

    10. Norma Rae
    But stand on the table if you have to

    Jan 23, 2006

    Weak Men and the Women Who Hire Them

    Instructor, Caroline Bender

    I first identified this phenomenon in my 2nd professional job, where the highest ranking woman was second to the president. The man under her (my boss's boss) saved all his assertion for the females under him. To her, he was unconditionally referential. I liked it at first -- like when your grandmother tells your mother where to get off -- but over the years I began to question why she needed him that way. It was painful to watch how she had no expectation, or even desire, that he would get stronger. He was a small man who made her look bigger.

    So OK, it's a trick male executives have used for years ("Yes, JT." "No, JT." "I was just going to suggest that, JT."). This isn't a commentary on women, but on power.

    And my field guide to the Alpha and Omega around your office complex, and the Delta between them.

    ... seems breakable. If tall, painfully thin. If at all muscular, then the size of a fireplug. Nearly always glasses
    .... is the highest rank he has ever been, and likely ever to be. Typically, she beat him out for her position, or passed him when he wasn't looking
    ... invokes her name as the only explanation he needs for what he is requesting... but never when she is in the room
    ... throws up his hands when cornered, suggesting she made him do it
    ... believes that he has hitched his wagon to a star (however supernova)
    ... congregates with those like him

    ...is larger than life. Fast-talking, deep-voiced, piercing eyes, impatient hard-mouthed glare. She fills a room with height, weight, shoulders, and/or a drill sergeant's timbre
    ... is higher ranked than any other woman, and the only woman on her tier
    ... lets him take the fall for her, unless she can help with a push
    ... acts surprised when cornered, suggesting he misrepresented her
    ... will never allow him to succeed, and never let him go
    ... is without peer. but not in a good way

    So, to our She Veeps, may I say...
    We are so pleased you made it to the top. We are sure it was hard. We get it that it's a man's world...you have to be twice as tough to be taken half as seriously... Ginger Rogers backward on heels...etc etc. We're not asking you to be better than "they" are, only that you stay someone we can look up to.

    Because our respect and need for you wanes over time. It's uncomfortable to watch the way you remind us we work for your fraternity of losers by belittling them in front of us, or hanging us out to dry as an example of their ineptitude (you know when this was). It's hard to hear what they say about you, and not know whether we should agree, defend you, or head to the kitchen for more pie.

    And no thanks for your backhanded patronage. Being elevated by you puts us in company we'd rather not keep, even when we are your favorite. We wonder if you would let us stay weak too, hobbled by our own inadequancies. Or hold us to a higher standard than you do the Weak Men, which we think might be worse.

    So please don't ask why we are avoiding you, networking around and beneath you, and choosing our mentors outside of your sphere. Please spare us Margaret Houlihan's lousy cup of coffee speech. Instead, show us someone we can be proud of.

    More pressure? You bet, sister.


    Jan 13, 2006

    Businesswoman, Appraise Thyself

    Instructor, Caroline Bender

    It's performance review season -- time for you to do more of your boss's job in order to justify and insure your own.

    Performance review trends change slowly, but when they do, they are suddenly treated as universal truths -- true for all employees in all industries, all over the country.

    For some time -- perhaps your entire career -- we have been subjected to the self-appraisal, which is the equivalent of writing your own letter of reference and submitting it for signature.

    There are plenty of reasons to be in favor of the self-appraisal; after all, Crazy Bosses can put a lot of emphasis on performance reviews, and you can be very vulnerable if your permanent record stands on they say alone. I am not coming out against them... except in principle. In fact, now that the Boss doesn't have to do them at all, she doesn't, and you can paint (nearly) any picture your heart desires.

    But don't work too hard. Here's my approach:
    Stick to the facts. You may wish you got the kind of appraisal that talked about your whole character, your development as a professional, your strengths and weaknesses. But you don't wish it, don't set that tone. Studies suggest that the higher a performer, the lower (proportionately) she tends to measure herself in terms of success. High achievers always see what they could have done better, while low achievers are generally satisfied with their results and rank their successes high. So, if you are an achiever (and all of our students are) you are in danger of undervaluing yourself where it matters.

    Instead, record the things you actually accomplished. You should prepare for this throughout the year by writing them down somewhere. If you haven’t this year, take a review of your planner, your mailbox, and the like. Organize your accomplishments list according to what is meaningful for your job or your company; for example, by month, quarter, area of responsibility, project. Include results in real numbers, such as revenue realized, costs saved, attendance numbers, speed to deliver, number of defects, etc. These kind of accomplishments are objective, factual, and hard to argue. Stats can always be skewed, it's true. But for the most part, they are less squishy than, "improved relations with..."

    360 feedback is another recent addition. This refers to additional commentary from your own peer level, your Boss's peer level (or higher), and those you supervise (if any). Here is another opportunity for those you really work with to comment on your value.

    Common practice is for you to name these references yourself, so here are a few tips to maximize this requirement.
    Make it a real 360. Choose someone higher than your Boss if you can -- someone with whom you have a strong rapport. At your own level, cast beyond your immediate cohort. If you work for a Boss who is working against your success, she may have too much influence on others who work for her. Diversify your reference list, not only by level, but also by their job within the company. This shows the size of your sphere of influence and the range of your talents.

    When dot-com culture began to take over the American workplace, we saw a renewal of "corporate values." For those companies who still survive, the company values often serve as a centerpiece to your employment experience. In your self-appraisal, you may be asked to evaluate yourself in the context of those values.

    The hypocrisy of your company's values may tempt you to write a long speech about double standards. Write it if it has value for you; just don't include it. Instead, you might format your accomplishments list in this order, rather than worry about finding more to say about how you aren't trying as hard as you could. why repeat yourself?

    Finally, we get to the section where you are asked to identify areas of improvement. I generally advise leaving this blank. If you are not confident in doing so, stay factual and objective, like "increase budget by 50%" or "improve time to deliver by 10% fewer days than last year." Keep all items year-over-year measurements, and see if you can leverage them against some goal the company has (or should have).

    Remember: measurable and deliverable. This is what your Company does. They don't do to market with "have happier employees," or "make fewer mistakes." Numbers, numbers, numbers.

    Through it all, what really matters are these real world facts about the performance review:
    1. The review itself can not make your actual performance any better or worse than it was.

    2. The review is rarely a true determiner of your raise. Those things tend to be divided on a curve, and the most aggressive manager wins. If the Company has frozen raises, even the best employee doesn't get one. And even the worst salaried employee, if she is not let go, gets a cost of living increase.

    3. When you are let go, they always say it was for performance, even if it wasn't. And you'll always say you were a great employee, even if you weren't.

    If you have a developmentally-minded supervisor, and this can be a genuine opportunity for you to grow as a professional, then I clap you soundly on the back. take advantage of it, then, and throw yourself in. You may not get that opportunity more than once.

    Everyone else... don't stress it. Those of you who need to evaluate staff... read this.

    Jan 11, 2006

    Ten Annoying Phrases in My New Co-Worker's Repertoire

    Dear Annoying Co-Worker,

    when you say {this}, I know you really mean....{that}

    1. heavy lifting.... effort
    2. the ____ side of the house....... they
    3. on moving forward basis.........instead
    4. your role..... not my job
    5. help out...........do my work
    6. thought leader .... competitor ignorer
    7. in future... shut up
    8. VP... I know VPs
    9. really great to have you on board ... I was here first
    10. oh, no problem.... big problem

    I am tired of you already.
    ~~ Bunny Watson - student at large

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