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.

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

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