Be careful what you say to people – they may just listen

So…it’s been awhile. I would like to say it was self-imposed cleansing from all things technological and social media related, but the truth is that I sat back and just didn’t have anything to say. I have been tired, lazy, and drained. But that’s changing.

I’m a firm believer in not talking just for the sake of talking, which is why you will not receive daily blog posts from me and also why I will probably not write that book that I sometimes think I can.

What’s new?

Well, as I’ve both alluded to and directly mentioned, I’ve started a new job with an new organization. It’s been nothing short of a culture shock and adjustment. Do not let anyone tell you that culture doesn’t exist in an organization or that it doesn’t matter. It matters. It matters so much that I left a job because of and for it.

I have been told that I’m a good listener, but the truth is that I listen to what people say and then I am thinking one of three things: 1) How can I make a witty retort? 2) Are they trying to tell me something? ; 3) I really wish they would stop talking.

Ok, I’m not quite that bad, but sometimes it feels that way.

I DO listen to what is being said and even more to what isn’t being said. Sometimes there are subtle messages that can make a big difference in how you will handle a situation or advise someone else to handle a situation. There are often undercurrents of fear, anger, or giddiness that change the meaning to the words that are actually being said.

And then there are messages like: “If they don’t like what we are doing, then they can go work somewhere else”.

On the subtley-meter, that one is pretty low…falling into the blatantly obvious category.

I really hate when people say it. I really hate when senior management says it. And I hate it even more when HR echoes.

What it means to me is: we don’t care about the reasons that are causing you to not like working here, and we do not want to put any effort into finding out if there is something we can do about it.

I know that there are exceptions to this. If the job requires you to work a set amount of hours or do a certain task and you don’t like those things…then maybe you need to find another job that better suits your needs. We wish you all the best in that.

However, if the organization decides to make changes to programs, structures, jobs, people, transparency, irrational decision-making whatever…and there are people that are having a hard time with this, well I am fairly certain that telling them to get on board or get off the bus is not the most motivating thing. Oh sure, you’ll keep people, but they aren’t going to be staying because they saw the light. They are staying because they need to stay employed as they look for a new job.

I mentioned that I hate when senior management pulls this line, and even worse, when HR stands behind it. Well, I was there. I actually said it. And I realized that the message was for me as much as any other employee.

The truth is that I couldn’t get on-board, so I got off the bus.

I was worried about putting this out there because it sounds like such a cop-out. Shouldn’t I have stayed and fought the fight on behalf of others? Shouldn’t I have stood up and said fuck that? Maybe I could have waited to see if things (management) would change and with it the messages and attitudes.

Trust me, I thought of all those things. It still wasn’t enough for me to get past the fact that the people empowered with authority appeared to believe that everyone there was utterly disposible. I don’t mean replaceable – we are all replaceable. I mean disposable in the sense that when they are done with you, there wouldn’t be a second thought (unless, of course, you sought legal counsel).

And I do admit, that it’s a contagious attitude because I sat talking with a colleague and we were going over a recent change, or a soon-to-be released communication and we were talking about the inevitable response and I said: “oh well, if they don’t like it – they can always leave”. And that comment sat with me for the rest of the day (and then beyond), because I had to ask myself whether I actually felt that way?

And the truth is that I DID feel that way, but not towards others, but rather about my own situation. I didn’t like it and I needed to remind myself that I could always leave.

So I did.

See, I do listen. And in this particular instance I selected Door #2: “Are they trying to tell me something?”

My To Do list

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Things that I need to do:

  1. Write on my blog
  2. Read other people’s blogs
  3. Catch up on Twitter
  4. Tweet
  5. Accept that I have moved on from my last job
  6. Embrace my new job
  7. Re-prioritize this list.

Okay, let’s start again…

  1. Read other people’s blogs so that I will be inspired to…
  2. Write on my own blog
  3. Then tweet about writing on my own blog
  4. Catch up on Twitter
  5. Embrace my new job
  6. Emerge from the shell-shock state induced by my last job
  7. Question my priorities again

One more time…

  1. Read other people’s blog to inspire and motivate me
  2. Actually take the time to comment on these blogs
  3. Don’t bother catching up on Twitter…you can’t…it’s over..move on
  4. Tweet something irreverent or edible
  5. Embrace my new job and the new team I get to work with
  6. Do not look back (“…it distracts from the now”)
  7. Write about my priorities on my blog

That’s it…that’s the one.

Every day is performance review day

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When I was a kid I remember asking my parents why, if there was a Mother’s Day and a Father’s Day, was there no Kid’s Day.  I’m sure you can all predict what there answer was…because it’s the same thing I said to my kids when they asked the same question: EVERY DAY is Kid’s Day.

I’m sure that answer was unsatisfying and ridiculous to my kids as it was to me.  I mean, what does that mean?!  Every day is kids’ day..whatever.

But I can see the wisdom in this answer because since then I’ve basically applied it to other areas – like Performance Reviews.  No wait, don’t bail on me now…keep reading.  I know that performance reviews  are pointless wastoids of our time. Sure they are unreliable, prescriptive and limiting.  I get it that they are insincere, guilt-inducing and just pieces of paper.

But think about why this is. Maybe it’s because they are only done once a year.

Kind of like that card you whipped up on lined writing paper using pencil crayons for your mom the night before Mother’s Day because you realized that,despite the fact that you didn’t want to buy into the commercialism of Mother’s Day brought to you by Hallmark, you couldn’t ignore it.  Guilt wins out and you go through the motions.

But what if you eschewed the one day “celebration” and made it a weekly habit? You know, called your mom, stopped rolling your eyes, and hung out with her.  Then maybe you wouldn’t feel obligated to compensate for a year’s worth of negligent behaviour on one defined day.

So it goes with performance reviews.  I mean, who told you that you could only do it on one day, the deadline for submitting review reports?  No one.  I dare you to find me an HR team or organization that has actually advised you to only review your employee once a year.  I double-dare you.

So stop bitching about the “process” and time-consuming “paperwork” that you have to fill out and commit to give feedback on performance all the time.

After all, EVERY DAY should be performance review day.

(Image:timemanagementninja.com)

Why dancing lessons might improve your performance at work

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The other day I was in the wine store trying to decide whether I was looking for a bottle of inspiration, relaxation, or something to go with chicken.  As I stood there contemplating my choices I realized that they were playing really good big band swing music.  You know the kind that leaves you physically incapable of not tapping your toes to the beat?

And so there I was, only half reading the labels because the other half of me was listening to the music and imaging myself dancing. I love swing music. I mean, I like music in general, but there is something about swing music that just makes me smile and wish that a younger Jon Favreau would ask me to dance.

I like to think that I have a have a decent sense of rhythm and I have no problem picking up the beat to a song and (some might say annoyingly) tap my feet, fingers, whatever in time to the song.

I digress.

Back to the store. I’m tapping away, feeling like I am in time with the music and getting closer to choosing my poison, when out of the corner of my eye I see someone standing further down the aisle.

I glanced over to see an older woman doing the same thing I was – yes, oddly enough she too was looking to buy wine in a wine store. Of course, I meant aside from that, she was also tapping her foot in time to the music, but what made me actually look at her was that not only was she tapping her foot, but she had a whole other rhythm going…she was subtlety bouncing up and down to a whole other beat AND tapping her foot to another.

If a dancing partner had appeared in that aisle – it wasn’t me he would be asking to join him!

So where could I possibly be heading with this?

I’m often asked by employees about what the difference between “meets expectations” (formerly known as “average”) and “exceeds expectations” (formerly know as “kicked ass”) when it comes to their performance.

The difference is not about putting in 60 hours versus the required 37.5 hours per week.  It’s not even about handing in a 15-page report, instead of the required 5 pages.  And I assure you that it’s not about laughing along with the Executive’s jokes when all you want to do is cringe.

If you go to work and do your job and do it well – that’s good.  If you provide exactly what is expected from you and you deliver consistent, quality work. Then you are meeting expectations because that’s exactly what you were hired to do.

However, if you do all that and you offer more in terms of information, analysis, recommendation and, above all, value. You find and offer something that others are missing, well then you are exceeding expectations.

You see, we are all hired to tap our toes to that main beat – it’s those that hear and understand the other rhythms that get more out of and more for the experience.

Parting ways

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I remember reading a list of things that Audrey Hepburn put together about beauty tips.  There was one point that struck me, not necessarily because I thought it was accurate, but because I thought…how can I do that?

“People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed and redeemed; never throw out anybody.”

In principle I agree with this.  In practice…well, not so much.

I won’t go as far as saying that I’ve thrown people out, but I have walked away, distanced myself, parted ways, drifted apart, and unFriend-ed (oh yes, I went there) a whole lot of people throughout my life.

I don’t feel bad about this because I have limited space and time in my life for people who are no longer part of my life.  There are friends and acquaintances for moments (that 3-day seminar you are taking), seasons (the fellow student who you partnered with in Intro to Philosophy in first term), and for years (your best friend forever in high school..that you have not had contact with since graduation).

I was friends with this one girl and she was fun.  She helped me get out of my comfort zone, introduced me to new people, and helped me find my backbone.  Unfortunately, by doing all this, the dynamics of our relationship changed – I was far from the DUFF, but my role was definitely meant to be supportive and of the sidekick variety.  When I finally came to realize this and, more importantly, realize I was not okay with this – things changed and we drifted apart.

And this idea works for the relationship you have with your employer.

There are positions and jobs that are meant to teach you something – good or bad – before you move on.  You will always remember it, the people you work with, and the lessons that you learned, but you do not need to re-connect with them weekly or creep their Facebook page.  You just need to move on.

So this is where I am now.  Moving on.

I came to my current employer broken.  I didn’t realize the extent of this  until I was here a few weeks and noticed that my neck no longer ached, that my eye no longer twitched, that I hadn’t had a migraine, and that I was laughing.  Actually laughing.  My friends and former colleagues saw an almost immediate positive change.

I had gone through an experience that was not a good fit for me and I paid the price for it. Word to the wise – do NOT ignore the warning signs during your interview.  You will regret it.

My current role has let me rebuild my confidence, allowed me to find my voice again, and given me hope that despite all the bullshit that HR can encompass, there are people who truly do want to make a difference.  I have been working with people who have been supportive, who have challenged me, and who have accepted and liked me for me.

So, it seems strange that I would say all this and then announce that I’m leaving.  However, like those other moments in my life when I’ve parted ways with people, there is a reason.  Staying will not improve or strengthen my relationship – in fact, it puts it at risk. I would not want to go from appreciating to resenting someone, because of my own personal changes.

I’m also at a point in my life and career when I can step forward and do things for me without worrying about how it might be taking away or impacting others.  Ah yes, the familiar parental dilemma (and yes, I did say “parental” and not women, because it’s friggin’ 2015 and if you think that some fathers don’t feel this way then go back to thinking Mad Men is a reality show).

So now, just like that high school friend,  I’m faced with the fact that my supportive and somewhat of a sidekick role needs to evolve and because of this – I have decide to make a change.

I always stayed on good terms with that girl – when I saw her from time to time over the years I was happy to say hello and find out what was new in her world.

Sometimes that is the best that I can do in terms of not “throwing people away” – it’s not up to me to “restore, renew, revive, reclaim and redeem” them, but I can accept who I have become and what they have become in my life and move forward from there.

Photo: www.flickr.com

Atoning for my sense of humour

I have often thought that one of the reasons that I have been successful in developing relationships in HR is my ability to look at situations through the lens of other people, whether that’s the manager or the employee.  Of course, it might also be my amazing personality and sense of humour.

After all, it’s this same self-decribed amazing sense of humour that helps put people at ease during interviews, helps diffuse tense moments in meetings, put a smile on people’s face when they are feeling a little stressed, and contributes to witty banter with colleagues.

And it’s this witty banter that helps break down the preconceived notion of stuffiness that precedes HR.  It has let me playfully chide managers with extreme ideas, jokingly hint at truths, and laugh (rather than cry) about the challenges we all face.

This sense of humour has opened doors for me and allowed me to sit among colleagues that might have otherwise not been comfortable to have me there.  Specifically, I’m talking about my male colleagues – both before I was in HR and afterwards.

My passcard has been my ability and willingness to laugh about myself, laugh about situations, and laugh about people’s behaviours. This means that at some point and time, I’ve laughed about women and the messed up things we often do.

Please take note that I have said laugh “about” and not “at”.  

This is an important distinction to me.  The problem is that it’s not a distinction that is obvious from the outside and because of that, I have been called out on this…rightly so…and I have had to apologize.

Over the past few weeks there have been more than a few comments made that I laughed along with.  They were jokes and I fully recognize that. They were just comments and don’t necessarily reflect what those people actually think.  I get that.  And I don’t want to be that stoney-faced “HR” that doesn’t have a sense of humour.

Or worse, be called a feminist.  

My sense of humour is a source of pride to me.  I see the humourous side to most situations, I like to laugh and I like to make others laugh. However, this pride in my sense of humour  should not overshadow my pride in being a women.  

My desire to be accepted into the chats with my colleagues should not be stronger than my desire to to be accepted as an intelligent and confident person and a feminist, because it is NOT a bad word.

The reality is that no matter how jokingly it was said:

  • sexual harassment is not funny
  • calling a strong female a bitch is not funny
  • referring to someone a dumb blonde is not funny
  • joking that a male candidate could take advantage of an opportunity to get a mistress is not funny

And so I’m calling myself out.  

Even though I knew what my opinions were on these comments,  I am irritated with what I actually did on the outside and worse, the feelings that I ignored.

Maybe it’s having a daughter who is now a young woman or maybe I’ve finally reached a point where I truly don’t care whether people think I’m being “too sensitive”.

Because when I look at these recent events through the lens of my daughter and of other women, I see that there was humour in these situations, but it was not to laugh about what was being said, but to laugh at the idea that it was okay to say shit like that and get away with it.

No more. I feel like I need to atone for biting my tongue and laughing along when I really should have used my biting humour to make a point.

Happy International Women’s Day.

Faking it

I once had a job where I was “spoken to” because I was too calm.

A VP came up to my desk and proceeded to detail the latest crisis. This was punctuated with gestures and more than a few f-bombs. I listened to him, took notes, and then said something along the line of: “Okay, I’ll take care of that.” He looked at me and walked off.

A few days later a manager took me aside and sheepishly admitted that he was asked to speak to me.  The VP was not happy with how I handled the situation.  I was confused.  Had I not done what was required? Was the outcome not good? Were all parties concerned not satisfied.

Well yes, but apparently I was too calm. And yes, I had done everything…except freak out.

Now, I was really confused.

I was a 20-something when I was in this job, so that will partly explain why my response was something in the ballpark of: “so you are telling me he wants me to “fake it” for him?”

One word: yes.

I worked in many jobs since that one and faced many “crisis situations” and I have learned the value of why my outwardly calm demeanour might have given the VP the wrong impression…even though my actions in getting the job done said otherwise. I can appreciate that people want to know that they are not only being heard, but also that they are being understood.

What I learned throughout these experience was the value of empathy.

Empathy is a big deal.  Empathy is the missing piece in many unfinished puzzles left lying around on the conference and lunchroom tables in the workplace.

However, there is a fine and precarious line between being empathetic and faking it.  And there is any equally subtle difference between wanting people to care and wanting people to be a mirror to your emotions.

What I experienced back in the example that I opened with was not a situation that called for empathy.  You see, you can waste time trying to understand and walk a mile in the shoes of someone who has no use for your soft skills crap – what they want is for you to “get” that they are a big deal and that you need to act accordingly by making an equally big deal.  And they are not bothered in the least whether you are faking it for them…it’s all about the show.

However, in my experience, most people are looking for the real thing – that want to know that you have heard what they are saying, that you understand and that you are demonstrating this in some way. And this doesn’t necessarily mean that you have the same emotional response that they are having to actually connect with them.

Empathy skills can be learned, but more importantly they need to be practiced in order for them to be genuine.  Oh sure, you can always fake it, but you would be doing both the other person and yourself a disservice.