How Not To Be a Really Rotten Co-Worker

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You know them — really rotten co-workers. It’s unclear clear how they have developed into what they are, or progressed this far, but they are here. They could be the person who sits in the cubicle next to you. (Yes, that close.) They may serve on a team with you. Unfortunately, they just may be your boss. During the course of work and career, it’s likely you’ll meet more than one of these individuals — some of us sooner, rather than later. I’m sorry. They are out there.

They don’t fully cross the line professionally (or legally). But, they are awful…rotten to the core. You know this. Somehow they have managed to miss every message concerning a healthy culture and camaraderie. The worst part? They couldn’t care less. They are likely clueless to their egregious behavior. Getting ahead is all that matters.

I know — you sometimes fantasize about getting even. You might replace their Power Point presentation with something ridiculously embarrassing, or offer the wrong start time for an important meeting. But you know that deep in our heart, your daydreaming is just that…daydreaming.  Because, you are not that person. (Their comeuppance will arrive, rest assured.)

The best thing you can do is to inoculate yourself against “rotten” — and never, ever fall into that category.

Some ideas for that:

  • Lend a helping hand. Have you noticed that someone appears stressed or uncharacteristically frazzled? Step in and offer to help. We all have 5 minutes to help someone prepare for a presentation or sort through ideas. Step up. Rotten co-workers turn a blind eye to others in distress.
  • Be the link. We all want to be a success — but it’s not a “zero sum” game. Rotten co-workers wouldn’t think to help anyone, but themselves, to move forward. Do you know someone that would be a great link for one of your colleagues? Make that introduction. It’s fuel for the “workplace soul”.
  • Be transparent. We’ve all met that person who presents as one person — but is really another. Be upfront with your needs and motives. It just doesn’t pay in the longer term to be deceitful.
  • Don’t be that jerk. Leaders remain our co-workers. However, sometimes that undeniable fact is ignored. If you hold a leadership position, don’t “lord” position power or the hierarchy over others. If you land a great promotion, keep this in mind. It’s gross. Really.
  • Be someone’s champion. Changing attitudes and powering real change is difficult. If you see someone you really “has something”, join the crusade. Help them develop their idea and take it to the next level. Everyone wins.
  • Above all — value the contribution of others. You know that guy who changed your slide without telling you? He missed the orientation memo concerning respecting the work of others. That kind of behavior is a no – no, if you want to stay out of “rotten” territory.

Have a rotten co-worker? Share your story here.

Photo Credit: Dailymobile.net

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and workplace strategist . She also writes at Linkedin.

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10 Communication Hacks to Boost Your Effectiveness

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We all want to be heard. But do you have the skills to ensure that you are making an impact? Here’s a plan — learn how to communicate. Really communicate. Master the art of expressing an idea fully. Know your audience and how to receive the critical messages sent your way.

Here are 10 strategies that will help put you on the right road:

  • Curate. Yep, less is more. You are your own brand — and this extends to the content that you share with others. In our communication rich world, we are essentially vying for the attention of others. Are you worth their time? We communicate frequently, but with little forethought concerning purpose and outcome. Have a plan. Edit what you bring to the table.
  • Learn to handle difficult conversations. Let’s face it, the topic we’d most like to avoid, often has the potential to make the greatest impact. Research shows that we spend a significant amount of time handling conflict in our work lives (debate, disagreements, handling egos). So, learn how to openly address underlying tension before it affects your productivity.
  • Tell a great story. Great stories not only capture our attention — they help a message endure. The best thing? There are great tools to help you develop and explain the power behind your next great idea. Give RooJoom or Prezi a try. You can never have enough of an edge.
  • Get real. How are your communication skills playing out in real life? There is only one way to find out — see a video of yourself. Start with a short interview on Skype and work your way up to capturing an entire presentation. (There may be”cringe-worthy” moments. However, you cannot fix what you are not aware of.)
  • Study. Communication skills simply do not emerge spontaneously — as this is a skill set that requires focused practice to develop. Firstly, what are your “communication” strengths and weaknesses? Devote needed time and energy, by securing the training you need. By the way, you don’t have to wait for your organization to offer — check out some great ideas at Udemy. (I’d say it’s worth $49.00).
  • Create a “Vine”. A message is a message. A message that’s communicated powerfully and succinctly, can start a movement. Don’t rule out the newest methods to communicate. It’s always wise to fully stock your arsenal of techniques.
  • Study your own body. Sit in a lot of meetings? (I know that I do). What does your body language communicate? Boredom? Check yourself before you wreck yourself. Body language matters.
  • Create a powerful presentation deck. Want your next big idea implemented? There isn’t a more critical moment, than a start-up team in front of venture capitalists — so take a page out of their playbook. Can you communicate the strength of your next big project in 10 slides or less? I dare you to try.
  • Match it. Take the time to match the message with the communication vehicle. Will an e-mail suffice? Will your chosen method actually deliver your message effectively? The options should be weighed with the message in mind.
  • Meet face-to-face. The “mother lode” of communication tools is to meet in person, if at all possible. It’s the simplest and most brilliant “hack” of all — and of course, don’t forget to really listen.

Have another suggestion? Share it here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She also writes at LinkedIn. You can also find her on Twitter.

The Poor Fit: 6 Signs That Your Job is Absolutely the Wrong One

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Please note: We are all aware of the personal/financial ramifications when we consider a job change. Take this post in the spirit in which it was written: to be helpful.

Many of us have experienced the wrong job. Fault is difficult to assign. However, it may be dawning on you that your work life is dangerously out of alignment. Nothing is worse than throwing yourself into work —  yet things seem to continue to go very, very wrong.

The trick here? Identifying the problem for what it is (in very short shrift) and acting to make meaningful changes. Poor matches do happen. So, let yourself off the hook and avoid a longer-term soul sucking experience.

Remember that “withering on the vine” is not a viable career strategy.

Here are 6 signs that you should be paying attention to:

  • You feel lost. Have you experienced the classic nightmare that you arrive at class, only to find that you’ve not read a single page of the textbook and it is final exam day? This should not be your experience with work during waking hours. If every task or project leaves you feeling unprepared, take note: selection errors do occur. Sometimes that “next step” in your career, has been the wrong step.
  • You are in avoidance mode. Be honest with yourself — the process of going to work is absolutely excruciating. If you had your druthers, you would never set foot in the office again. If you’ve tried to make things work and you still can’t envision a future for yourself in your current role, you have a serious problem.
  • Your strengths aren’t being utilized. Ultimately our work should align with our strengths. If this is not the case, it’s time to start exploring other options. If you feel that your weaknesses have taken center stage, it’s unlikely you’ll stay energized for the long haul. Have a conversation with your supervisor now — and don’t wait.
  • You feel disconnected. Does it feel as if everyone else is on one page and you are on another? Whether you work in customer service, sales or consulting — if it feels as if you are not aligning with the vision of the organization, the person-job match may be off. If you see yourself as a lonely island (and everyone is speaking an entirely different “language”), it may be time to explore moving on.
  • You can’t seem to complete anything. Everything seems pointless and your level of motivation is at an all-time low. Are you dealing with looming deadlines with a blank screen continually staring back at you? Have you simply stopped caring? These are telling signs.
  • You are entering self-blame mode. You certainly can own the part of the problem that you’ve controlled (you’ve ignored your “inner voice”, for example). However, I guarantee there were plenty of other factors in play. The bottom line is this: You are not happy and it’s time to act. Blame doesn’t help things resolve — only a plan to move forward will.

Of course — please pay attention to physical signs of stress. If you are not sleeping or eating take heed. Feeling depressed or anxious is a clear indicator that something is off. Time to take the issue to your supervisor, a trusted mentor of career professional.

Has this ever been your experience? Share the story with us.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She also writes at LinkedIn. You can also find her on Twitter.

Learning to Say “No”

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We’ve all made our share of solid career moves. But, as far as time management goes — many if us freely admit our struggles. Last year I published The Ugly Truth About Time Management, partially based on my own flawed relationship with time. (Interestingly, it has been a very well read here at The Office Blend). We all grapple with decisions concerning time. Ultimately, time — and our relationship with it — is critical.

I thought we could probe the topic a little further. Possibly scratch a bit further beneath the surface. (Examine the underbelly of time management and see what is lurking there). Which leads me to an important time management issue: Learning to say “no”.

I find this difficult at times, as most of us do — even though I’ve had years of practice. Many of us feel a deep sense of anxiety with the prospect of saying “no”, for various reasons. But, saying “no” is quite vital to our long-term success. If we don’t treat our own time as a precious resource, we can find ourselves without adequate “bandwidth” when we need it most. This sets the stage for a myriad of work life problems.

We’d all like to think that “all in” when it comes to helping others — and developing healthy workplace relationships should be a priority. However you’ll find the need to draw the line in some situations. Setting boundaries is simply required, setting the stage for healthy “Give and take”.

The truth is, learning to say “no” does become easier with practice. (You can rehearse a set of diplomatic responses, so they become second nature.) The trick is recognizing the situations that clearly deserve that response. So, let’s start the “No” motor going, and discuss the biases we bring to the table and the types of individuals we might come across.

You’ll likely recognize some of these:

The Preconceptions:

  • The “Angel” Trap. I get it, you want to be nice. Nice people are…well nice. People who say no, not so nice. The flaw here? It’s just not true. Savvy business people say no quite a bit, and many of them are great people. Why? They want to stay in business. You are the only one who suffers, if you don’t make it clear that your time is valuable. You have to get over this.
  • Every “yes” is equal. Nope. Not even close. You have to really consider what the “yes” implies. Is your “yes” a quick “here you go” or more likened to a life-long commitment. Think on this.
  • The “I’m missing out” Trap. It can be in our best interest to say “yes” to opportunities — however, you’ll need to weight the time investment against the potential outcomes. If you never say no, you’ll likely become over-committed in a hurry. That is a serious problem.
  • The “Bad things will happen if” trap. Many of us live in fear that if we say “no” our careers will suffer. The wrong person might be angered,and this may lead to dire consequences. But, in some cases we can say “no”, we just have not explored the option. Obviously, consider who is doing the asking, but don’t say “yes”, instinctively. If you do comply to a request from a superior, that you really cannot deliver — a whole new set of problems can arise.

The “Time Offenders”:

  • The Greedy. You know this individual. They only contact you when they want a favor, and the relationship is not even close to being considered reciprocal. Enough said. This one should be easy. Run the other way.
  • The Narcissists. Wow, they are “so, so busy” — so could you complete this entirely worthless task for them? Ok, offer a little rope. Offer your help as long as you feel comfortable, then see if the favor can be returned in some small way. If they don’t ever give back, you’ll feel justified to saying “no” the next time around.
  • The Pilferers. They’ll steal you blind time-wise, if you let them. They’d like to “pick your brain” and hear your best thoughts on a topic or challenge. The problem is this: as soon as they accomplish this they are gone. It’s shocking. Be mindful. These individuals are both smooth and savvy.
  • The Thankless. The group comprises the absolute worst of the worst. They will ask for your valuable time (which you freely give), and never, ever says “thanks”. It hurts doesn’t it? Remember this the next time around.

When all is said and done, if you would like to help someone and are offered a sincere “Thank you” — don’t say “You’re welcome” in response. Take the advice offered here and respond with the following,

“I know you would do the same for me.”

Anything to add to the conversation? Share your thoughts.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She also writes at LinkedIn.

15 Quotes to Get Your Head in the Right Place at Work

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Not every day at work can be met with unbridled enthusiasm. We all have days when our mental status is just not in the “right place” as we enter the office. Personally, I’m never sure about the root cause of my malaise. It could be anything — an annoying interaction that has lingered, a bad dream or the cheesecake I had last night for dessert. However, it spells serious trouble for my day.

Changing the dynamic, pronto, becomes the first order of business.

Sometimes, I opt to read New Yorker cartoons.  Sometimes I call a trusted colleague or friend. If all else fails, I re-read my all-time favorite quotes about work, career and inspiration.

Here are some of my favorite “mood changing” quotes. I hope they offer you what you might need to impact your day for the better.

  1. Choose a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life. – Confucius
  2. It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it. – Lou Holtz
  3. Do your work with your whole heart and you will succeed – there is so little competition. – Elbert Hubbard
  4. All things are difficult before they are easy. – Thomas Fuller
  5. The harder I work, the luckier I get – Samuel Goldwyn
  6. Opportunities are usually disguised as hard work, so most people don’t recognize them. – Ann Landers
  7. The secret of getting ahead, is getting started. – Mark Twain
  8. It is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves. – William Shakespeare
  9. When we no longer can change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. – Viktor E. Frankl
  10. There are two kinds of people, those who do the work and those who take the credit. Try to be in the first group; there is less competition there. – Indira Gandhi
  11. Study the past, if you would divine the future. – Confucius
  12. A career is wonderful, but you can’t curl up with it on a cold night. – Marilyn Monroe
  13. Food, love, career and mothers, the four major guilt groups. – Cathy Guisewite
  14. Believe you can and you are halfway there. – Theodore Roosevelt
  15. Change your thoughts and you change your world. – Norman Vincent Peale

Share your favorites in the comments section. I am sure I have missed more than a few classics.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and coach.  Read more of her posts at LinkedIn.

A Little Laughter Doesn’t Hurt: The Most Read Posts of 2013

Happy New Year

The close of another year always brings a moment of reflection. So many things come to mind — the challenge of workplace engagement, the need for truly inspiring managers, how loving our work drives us forward. This year there was a good deal of attention focused upon accepting ourselves for who we really are, and learning to transact those strengths into fulfillment at work. I feel hopeful that we have reached an inflection point — where individual differences will be embraced and valued. When we have the opportunity to share the best of ourselves at work, great things can happen. Engagement can soar and we feel a much needed sense of connection.

Transparency continued to be a guiding theme. Whether we were considering how we manage our time or developing our own personal brand, honesty seems to be the policy of choice. As such, we should feel free to not only embrace who we really are —  but our mistakes, as well.  On a final note, humor is still, and should always remain a priority —  as #5  illustrates. It seems that the option for a good laugh, is still a very handy workplace tool.

Below are the 5 posts that received the most activity (views + shares) at The Office Blend during 2013.  I’ve also included a second “Top 5” list — my favorite posts from around the web.

I’d like to thank all of you for supporting The Office Blend, with your time (and shares) in 2013. Happy New Year to you and yours!

Top 5 posts:

  1. How Not to Manage an Introvert
  2. Brand Yourself as a High Potential
  3. The Ugly Truth About Time Management
  4. Why We Should Still Practice the “70-20-10” Rule
  5. 5 of the Funniest Workplace Commercials of All Time

Some remarkable posts from around the web:

  1. Three Tips for Overcoming Your Blind Spots, John Dame and Jeffrey Gedmin, HBR.
  2. What Losing My Job Taught Me About Leading, Douglas Conant, HBR
  3. Google’s Quest to Build a Better Boss, Adam Bryant, The New York Times
  4. How to Sell Ideas Like Gladwell, Jonah Berger, LinkedIn.
  5. Always, Always, Always Show Up, Whitney Johnson, HBR.

What are you striving for at work in 2014? Share your hopes and goals.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and coach.  Read more of her posts at LinkedIn.

The Gift of Focus

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I’ve been stuck on the word “focus” for the past couple of weeks. Focus — or rather the lack of it — appears to be a growing problem in our work lives. At work, our attention has become infinitely divided; calls, e-mails, meetings, devices. We all need become acutely aware of the need for focus or I fear the quality of our work will slowly diminish.

The reasons to allow time for focus are many. However the core justification really rests deep within our brains.

While we possess the ability to switch between tasks — but we simply do not have the ability to attend to all of them effectively. (Research at Stanford has shown that heavy multitaskers have trouble mastering even the simplest of tasks.) So, I’d like to pose the question: How are you doing focus-wise? Are you taking control of the issue?

Here are a few practical suggestions to help you bring more focus into your work life. It all starts with one small step.

Strategies to consider:

  • Tame those e-mails. Seriously, e-mails are going to be the death of us — as they insidiously  rob us of focus each and every day. (Do you feel like you are falling down the rabbit hole?) Forward thinking organizations are beginning to ban e-mails during designated time periods or specific days, to allow employees the opportunity to focus on their work. First rule to tame this problem (courtesy of LinkedIn CEO, Jeff Wiener) — if you want fewer e-mails, send less of them!
  • Segment meetings. Many meetings lack direction and become the antithesis of focus. One method to solve this, is to use a targeted agenda to thoughtfully segment the time spent in the meeting. For example, if you plan to meet for 60 minutes, segment time to allow for no more than 2-3 topics. Devote 20 minutes to each — enough time to review information, discuss and gain some closure. Identify a “time-keeper” to keep things on track and record topics to be addressed later.
  • Control your calendar. Only you can take the steps to make your spent time count. Review your schedule for the past week and ask yourself the following question: What you can eliminate to make room to focus on the tasks that matter? Then offer that gift to yourself.
  • Look around you. If your work environment doesn’t allow time (or a bona fide quiet space), to really focus — start making waves, While offices are designed for efficiency, open floor plans can become an enemy of focus (How about a few well placed walls?) Discuss options with your manager to provide an appropriate space to collect your thoughts.
  • Set a routine that works for you. Be sure set the right scenario to allow for focus. Consider elements such as the time of day that you seem sharpest, and the physical elements most conducive for you to think deeply (Personally, I require music). Aim for a 30-minutes of focus each day, to start. Of course, remember to build in breaks — as this allows your thoughts to coalesce.

How do you build focus into your day? Share your strategies here.

Additional reading:

Tame the E-mail Beast, Entrepreneur.com
Make Time for the Work That Matters, Julian Birkinshaw and Jordan Cohen, Harvard Business Review
Control Your Workday, Gina Trapani, Geek to Live

How Not to Manage an Introvert

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Do you supervise individuals who would describe themselves as an introvert? If the answer is yes — you may want to take a moment to examine how you manage them. In many cases, we hold misconceptions about introversion which can lead to ill-fated supervisory decisions. I’d like to help.

While many people confuse being introverted with shyness — introversion is in fact, about how an individual handles stimulation and processes information. Those on the introverted end of the introversion/extroversion continuum, require a different set of workplace conditions to excel — and we need to become sensitive to their needs.

Small changes in management and workplace elements, can transact into a more comfortable environment which is conducive to success.

A few things to rethink:

  • Putting them on the spot. It would be misguided to expect an opinion from an introvert at the “drop of the hat”. One hallmark of introversion is the need to sit with one’s thoughts and process information  — often far from the “madding crowd”. If  you offer an introvert a period of time to process, you’ll likely take full advantage of their skills.
  • Publicly recognizing them. Stop yourself. Really. Many introverts would rather jump off a cliff than have attention shifted in their direction without notice. If they are about to receive an award or accolade, let them know what you are planning ahead of time. They’ll appreciate the gesture and have time to prepare.
  • Teaming. It’s not that introverts are against teaming —  they would just rather contribute on their own terms. This means time to ruminate over issues on the table and offering a bit of a lull before they will jump into the conversation. To an introvert, teaming can become a bit of a workplace nightmare, in direct opposition to how they would normally approach their work.  So, be sure to offer opportunities for introverts to start the idea generation process before team meetings and allow points in the conversation where they can jump in. (Try pausing 8-seconds before moving to the next topic.)
  • The power of a quiet space. You don’t have to be an introvert to appreciate a calm environment in which to process information. Incorporating spaces within your office design that allow for both peace and privacy, is always wise. (Read more about that here.) Someone leaning toward the introverted side of the continuum, will be forever grateful.
  • They have nothing to communicate. By nature, introverts can be less likely to share their thoughts — which makes it even more important to check in with them regularly. Send them an e-mail, asking how their projects are progressing. They can reflect and respond on their own terms.
  • Introverts cannot lead. Truth be told — you are dead wrong here. Recent research has shown that those on the introverted side of the continuum are more open to a differences in opinion than their extroverted colleagues. As a result, they are more likely to make more informed decisions. In fact, it has been shown their hesitancy to monopolize the conversation, can actually make them powerful team members. Sounds like leadership material to me.

Are you an introvert? What workplace conditions help you excel?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. She also writes for Linkedin and formerly at US News & World Report.

Music = Inspiration

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From time to time, we all experience our own form of “writers block”. The words (and work) stop flowing, as we find ourselves faced with that invisible, impervious “wall”. We might be working too hard or lingered too long solving a specific problem. Whatever the scenario — inspiration is absent.

As we know, changing gears completely can lead to a breakthrough (Read more about the Eureka Phenonmena here.) Listening to a great piece of music, can affect this gridlock — setting our minds in motion, in an entirely different direction.

Here are six pieces of music that might take you away from the pressure, and lead your mind toward a more productive, fluid space. I happen to find these selections helpful. However, I would love to know what you queue up when energy is running low. Share them with us here.

A little extra inspiration never hurt.

Bittersweet Symphony by The Verve:

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What A Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong:

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Clocks by Coldplay:

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The Best is Yet to Come by Frank Sinatra:

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Nessun Dorma by The 3 Tenors:

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Sweet Disposition by The Temper Trap:

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Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She also writes for Linkedin and US News & World Report.