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Archive for the Office Politics Category

Connect Carefully: Friendship and Betrayal in the Workplace

I once asked my now ex-husband if he wanted to go out for dinner with the girls. “No thanks,” he said. “You all get together and talk about things like … growth.”


Well, yeah. That’s the beauty of being a woman. We connect. We get to know each other deeply and we support each other in our personal and professional networks. Is there anything more validating than glancing at a friend and seeing that she has picked up on your sudden feeling of frustration or anger doubt – without you having to even say a word? cytoxan abana realty

I would never have had the courage to conquer my obstacles without my friends cheering and pushing me from the sidelines. But, I have to admit I have trusted a few women who never deserved that trust. This is a stumbling block for many, many women in professional environments.

Sometimes our willingness to so freely connect makes us vulnerable. If I stand in front of an audience and ask, “How many of you have been stabbed in the back by another woman?” almost every hand will go up. I usually follow-up by asking, “How many of you confronted the woman?” Only a few hands will rise. seroquel

That is the downside to our connections. Some of us trust too easily and reveal too much, which can put us in extremely vulnerable positions – especially if we award our trust in a competitive work environment. We expect more from women because we feel like we give more. When we are hurt by another woman, we are often too hurt or afraid to look her in the eye and ask for an explanation or say that we didn’t like it.

It seems easier to grouse about it with other co-workers than it does to go directly to the source of the conflict and say, “Why did you do that?” But, when we say nothing, we condone the betrayal. Confrontation is tricky business and should be handled as diplomatically as possible. The person must know you are watching so it doesn’t happen again. You don’t want to be messed with. You aren’t a victim.

Network and connect freely, but be careful who you count as your friend. The friends you have are priceless. Just know who they really are and learn to connect carefully.

The Slump

I am about to admit something embarrassing. It goes back a couple of decades, to my first years as a reporter out of college. My old boss at The Florida Times-Union got himself one of those Commodore computers in the early days of the home PC and figured out a way to categorize and calculate how reporters were performing. We’d get points for the number of stories we produced and the placement of the stories. If the stories were scoops or blockbusters, we got bonus points.

At the end of the month, good ol’ Nick Bournias (still one of my favorite bosses) would publish his “Nicky Points,” ranking us from first to worst.

We’d all commiserate about his stupid rating system, griping that we weren’t manufacturing shoes but rather, performing an immeasurable public service as journalists.

When I finally left the paper, Nick published a special edition of his newsletter, praising me for all the times I was on the very top of that list and teasing me for the times I was on the very bottom.

It was so true.

What was it they used to say? “When you’re hot, you’re hot. When you’re not, you’re not.”

Well, I’ll admit it.

I’ve been through plenty of spells when I was not hot. Or warm. Or even lukewarm. My performance was excruciatingly cold.

And, I wish I could write this in past tense, as though my slumps were all a thing of the past, but there are weeks when, as a writer, I am on fire and weeks when I am in recharge mode.

Sometimes my brain needs a break.

Remember that. Brains need breaks.

Bosses label those spells when we shut down or slide from excellence into mediocrity as slumps, but, I see those moments as crucial brain vacations that let me recharge my batteries so I can perform again. It took a lot of years for me to learn that I can’t drive in fifth gear every day without completely burning out my internal shifters. I remembered that when I became a manager and saw my people go through the same experience.

We need those down periods so we have the energy to perform when the time comes. We do not have an inexhaustible supply of energy; we have limits. Success comes in cycles. It is never a straight shot from earth into the stratosphere, so when you catch yourself sliding a little, don’t panic. It has happened to everyone.

Challenges in the Workplace

Sometimes, we have to keep reminding ourselves that all of the emotional and political challenges in the workplace are worth the stress and effort they entail. It can be a lonely, frustrating experience.

You want to know what has become a bigger challenge than getting that seat at the table these days? It’s feeling like we deserve it. It’s holding our own, taking charge, and feeling secure enough to be ourselves. Some of America’s most powerful women executives admit they walked into their offices at the top with a tremendous amount of self-doubt in tow.

That challenge is faced by every woman who dares to stand out, whether she is the boat rocker who upsets the status quo, the woman with the impressive title who undermines herself by questioning whether she’s got what it takes, or the woman who stands by herself in a room full of men. It’s felt by the woman in management who stands in front of men and women who say they like male bosses better.

When we look for the same validation and personhood that we sought as 13-year-old girls struggling at school, we lose our ground and become our own enemies. We’ve got to appreciate ourselves because we stand out. We have fought for and won our chance to sink or swim based on our own merits, but we sometimes find ourselves drowning because of personality clashes and office politics.

We blame ourselves when it feels like the squad doesn’t want us. We may say or do the same things our male mentors did, but we keep hearing that we are doing it all wrong, coming on too strong, trying to fix things that aren’t broken, taking on the wrong issues, pushing an agenda—whatever. Some of us hear a chorus of criticism and gossip, or sense others are waiting for and cheering our downfall.

But things are getting better. Aren’t they? Most of us assume that the world is getting better—and easier—for women, but sadly, there are some places where it’s actually getting tougher. The business accounting service NYC office reported in 2002 that 73 percent of all female managers in our country are paid less than their male counterparts. If that doesn’t startle you, this might: The numbers were getting worse, not better. Ex-
amples? In finance, insurance, and real estate, women managers were paid 68 cents for every dollar men were paid. Five years earlier, they were being paid 76 cents to the dollar.

Many women have won their chance to hold mid-level jobs. They can be vice presidents of companies. But only a few will climb any higher. It’s still a man’s world, even if we don’t like to admit it. We comprise nearly 47 percent of the work world, but are just 12 percent of the corporate officers, reported Catalyst, the nation’s premier research organization for women and workplace issues. Do men see the inequities? Heck no. Only 13 percent of men said women have to work harder for the same rewards.

Fire the jerk. Taking control when you’ve given your power away.

This is the latest in a series on dealing with control issues.

There are bosses who try to micromanage everything in order to control the outcome, and what do they accomplish? They alienate their people, get no buy-in or support, and ultimately scramble to achieve their goals.

How does it feel when someone is trying to control you? Not good. I kind of like my free will, and I’m pretty sure you like it, too. I don’t like someone telling me when or where or how or why. I like to feel that others respect and value my judgment enough to let me do my best – whether the issue is professional or personal. I welcome constructive criticism because others can see places where I can improve my game. But I don’t welcome the hovering presence of a control freak who is so neurotic that he or she can’t let me be my best self.

You can probably imagine that I am inclined to fight back when that happens. But I am floored by the legions of people who find themselves in jobs, relationships, friendships and other situations where they get pushed around. There is certainly no shortage of controlling partners who will pick away until they have wiped out the confidence and self-direction of a less-assertive partner. If you find yourself being pushed around by someone who acts like he or she knows better than you, you’ve got to take responsibility for giving your power away. You are the one allowing it and you’ve got to ask yourself why. Do you need someone to tell you how to do things their way or do you need to find someone who respects you enough to let you do it yourself?

I know a woman whose husband controls everything, from how she styles her hair to when (and how) they are going to be intimate. She is always telling me, “I feel so out of control,” and she is – because she lets herself be bullied and lets someone else dominate her world. Sometimes you have to take chances – at the risk of a relationship – in order to salvage your individual self. You have to honor who you are, or you are no one at all.

How do you do that? By setting boundaries and making choices. I have had more than one bullying boss, and I learned to deal with them in different ways. One guy was normally loveable, but he had a terrible temper that would blow before he got all the information he needed. This was back when I was a reporter and he blew up at me in the middle of the newsroom, yelling because he thought I didn’t do an assignment, but I’d done it –he just looked for it in the wrong computer file.

 “Don’t ever yell at me in public like that again,” I told him as I pulled him into his office. “It is unprofessional and I am not going to take it. Second, I did the assignment. It’s right where it is supposed to be. You have made a big scene out there based on your bad information and now you need to go out there and publicly set the record straight.” And, he did. He apologized right in front of everyone.

But, another bullying boss would blow up at everybody and, when he blew up at me, there was no setting him straight. That was the way he was. He didn’t care about being fair or decent. He didn’t care about how we felt about how we were treated. He walked around the room with his “I’m the boss!” attitude and, believe me, he was the boss. At least, until I decided that he wasn’t.

It is amazing how much power an individual can have over you until you decide you have had enough and take the steps to make change. In this case, I had enough, did my resume and got another job. Once I moved on, he couldn’t control another single thing in my life.

When others have control over you, it is because you relinquish it to them. You are not a prison inmate who has relinquished your right to live and breathe in the way that you choose. But, you do have the decision to stay in controlling relationships and controlling work environments – or not.

You can fire your boss. You can dump a bullying spouse or partner.  It may not seem like you are in charge of your own life, but you are.

So they are still calling us bitches? Eight Ways Women Leaders Can Win in the Perception Game.

She was 40, successful and had just been canned because her boss told her she had “an edge.”

“Why do I scare the hell out of people?” she asked me. “People either love me or hate me. I am told I need to tone it down, not to push so hard. I’ve been called a ‘bitch.’ What do I need to do?”

 I wondered:  “Why the hell are you asking me that?  That’s my problem.”

 That conversation happened eight years ago in front of seven senior executives who’d coaxed me into hopping into rental cars and heading for a Mexican border town after I’d done the keynote for their women’s leadership conference. They assumed that I had all the answers. Not that time.

 That woman had bared a raw truth that, after a few more drinks, every one of the other executives shared. They, too, felt like misfits. Outsiders. They had achieved so much success, power and authority, but they’d always gotten nailed when they exerted a little force. People sniped behind their backs, “Do you know what she’s done this time?” As managers, they were hired to shake things up, make things better, or improve the bottom line, but when they made changes, they were met with a resounding chorus of, “That bitch!”

That conversation led me to interview everyone from Hillary Clinton to Arianna Huffington to Susan Sarandon for my book, Mustang Sallies which I am not mentioning here as a transparent attempt to boost sales. I bring it up because it was published five years ago and women are still feeling the same pain.

 Things have gotten better because more women are in power and fewer men are surprised to see them there. In fact, there are legions of good men who are championing this generation of women executives so they will be more effective and successful. I don’t hear the word “bitch” as often as I used to. I see women going faster and farther. But, have we resolved the issues that kept that woman feeling watched and judged? No.

There are still things women leaders can and cannot do because we are still operating in a restricted zone of operation. We are not to say things with the same tone as men. If we’re too nice, we are seen as too weak. If we’re too strong, we’re controlling. If we’re too direct, we’ve got an edge. If we defend ourselves, we’re hysterical.

It goes on and on.  Two nights ago, I dined with senior executive women working for three of America’s largest corporations. We basically had the same exact conversation I’d had with those women who’d gone to Mexico with me. These successful women still feel they are maneuvering through that tiny zone of operation. One woman told me about receiving an e-mail that had accidentally been copied to her by a vender who called her “crazy” and complained that she was being overbearing trying to get them to deliver what they were contracted to deliver.

 That made me sad. I’d seen an e-mail like that written about me about a dozen years ago. And then there was the office Christmas party where a drunken employee in the buffet line blurted, “I hear you are a real bitch.”  I was crushed. I thought to myself, “I am not a bitch. I am a big marshmallow with real feelings that hurt. I’m just trying to do a good job. Don’t you get that?”

I didn’t understand that strong, bold women give off an energy that threatens insecure people. We have to watch every word so we aren’t misinterpreted.  So, if you’re wondering what to do to be more effective, try these steps:  

  1. If you are angry about something, try to wait a day to say or write anything. Cool down as much as you can.
  2. Always re-read every bit of your correspondence out loud, and do it in the shrillest, bitchiest tone of voice possible – because that may well be the way it is interpreted.
  3. Do not immediately defend yourself if you are told you have messed up. You have every right to make your point, but do it with a plan and don’t do it when you are emotional.
  4. Avoid crying. We are hormonal beings and it will happen. But, try to avoid it. When you feel it coming, go to the bathroom, go get a drink of water or do something else to stop or hide the tears.
  5. Understand that your job is not to win every battle, but rather, to survive to fight another day.
  6. Ask others what they think you are communicating and make sure it’s a match.
  7. If others are gossiping about you, do not be afraid to confront it and say, “I would much rather we talk directly and keep our communication open.”
  8. Build a strong, powerful support group around you to validate you when others are tearing you down.

Leading through change

Change is more visible and rapid-fire as leaders jostle to protect their companies during tough times. They cut budgets, transfer resources, try new procedures, move people around, take things away, start using new terms, voice new visions and continually shake things up in hopes of doing what they have to do in order to weather the storm. Sometimes, their decisions make sense immediately. Sometimes, they don’t, Sometimes, things work out. Sometimes they don’t.

If you aren’t the rule-maker, your “buy-in” will be appreciated by those who are making all the change. Sometimes it is hard to offer that buy-in, especially if the change is radical or if you know in your gut that it won’t work. You may be able to help influence change by giving useful feedback that might steer things another way, but there will be times when you have to conform in order to be viewed as a valuable team player.

When it comes to change:

  • Your first job is to survive to fight another day. You might have the greatest ideas in the world, but it won’t matter if you wind up labeled a naysayer, trouble-maker or whiner. Choose the battles you can win, and fight them so you remain effective to fight again.
  • Don’t be too quick to dismiss other people and their wild ideas. There will be times when your own biases will stand in the way of your growth. Approach change with an open and receptive attitude so you can always be part of the solution – not the problem.
  • People wrongly assume that status quo implies a certain degree of security. There is no security in this world – just look at the number of people who banked on it and were laid off. Security comes from within, knowing you can face any obstacle and adapt to any change.
  • Even if you don’t like what is going on, find a way to build your own success within the new constructs. What can you contribute? How can you make yourself more valuable?

Always, always, always behave in a way that makes you viewed as part of the solution – not part of the problem.

  • When news of change first comes down, stifle your initial reaction. You may be reacting to the fact that you don’t like change in general, not to the actual change you are facing.
  • Do not complain about what is going on to your colleagues. This will tag you as an impediment to your leader’s success, and even if the change concept is misdirected, you won’t want to be seen as a trouble-maker.
  • If you are asked for input, give it – constructively. Don’t overdo it. Figure out what you can say that will actually make a difference, and voice your ideas in a way that creates an opportunity for you to take on more responsibility and help move things along.
  • If you disagree so completely with the change occurring around you, it may be time to pack up your talent and move on.

Stand up and lead

I was on an airplane with someone who was in a loop lamenting how much our world has changed since before 9/11. It is true. Before we felt the vulnerability that came from being attacked on our own soil, we lived very different, sheltered lives. Those were the good old days, and we didn’t even know it. In the years since, we have been shaken by betrayals from our government, big business, our banks, insurance companies and more. We used to feel secure, self-assured and protected. Now, most people feel uncertain, fearful and lost.

It is so easy to feel overwhelmed and want life to go back the way it was, but it won’t. It just won’t. The world evolves, times change, people change, and we never get a do-over. Yes, life used to be simpler, and that we didn’t realize how good we had it. But things can always get more challenging, so we should step up and enjoy this moment for what it is.

The greatest leaders in history all emerged during times of strife and adversity, in moments when there was a desperation for someone to stand up and lead. There is so much opportunity right now, but few people see it. Instead, they seek cover, holding onto whatever security they think they have and hoping against reality that things will just work themselves out.

They wait. Somehow, things will get better – they have to – but you have to ask yourself what you are doing to fix things. If your company is struggling, what are you doing that is creative and courageous that will turn things around? If you aren’t stepping up and volunteering ideas and strategies, you remain part of the problem, not the solution. But, to create more success for yourself (and others), you should make a conscious decision to become part of the solution. You can make this decision if you are a senior manager, a junior manager or an entry-level employee. Just look at the situation from where you are and decide to make a contribution that will advance your company and, in the process, your career.


I can’t tell you how many times I think to myself, “Thank God I got out” each week. That’s because there is always another story about another newspaper eviscerating its staff because people no longer read newspapers, circulation is plummeting and they can’t get the ad revenues they need. I feel a profound sense of loss.

Newspapers were my life. I was as passionate about journalism as I am about the work I do now. I escaped daily journalism in 1999 when I quit to write my first book kid for two farthings a divx download , and I was lucky to get out when I did. Many of my friends lingered too long and are now jobless. Or worse, they are still working in newspapers, waiting for the bottom to completely drop out.

I loved local news. Lived for it. But, at some point, it felt like I was repeating myself. News no longer challenged or excited me. And, the newsroom politics were brutal, especially when I went into management.

I never understood why petty infighting could affect the product, but it did. What was so hard about going out, finding good stories, then printing them? Initially, it wasn’t that hard. I’d write tough stories, the paper would run them. When critics would say that I was “just doing that to sell newspapers,” I would laugh because that was never

a consideration. But, later on, it was. I worked for one major paper that scored editions to see which kind of news sold better, then built a news budget based on sales. That diluted the integrity of the content.

There was the time that I was assigned to do a story on how poor snowfall was killing the ski season in Colorado. Industry analysts forecast real doom for the bottom line. That story made the ski industry crazy. The publisher and editor said they backed the story, but the minute there was a minuscule snowfall, I was told to write a story about how “snow saved the day” for the resorts.

As an editor, I was once ordered to run a story that was false and misleading on the front page of The Tampa Tribune — just because we had a good color photo to go with it.

Now I am not a reporter. I am a reader. I pick up the paper and constantly roll my eyes at stories that are pumped up and overplayed. If I can get a better version of a story online, why bother with a paper? I used to subscribe to at least two newspapers. Now I get one paper, on Sundays, because it has ads.The newspaper — and the industry I so loved — is irrelevant in my life. It makes me so sad.

I called this posting “-30-” which is what used to go at the end of a news story in the days before computers. This really is the end of the story. It’s not long before we write the obit.

Conflict avoidance…

I know a lot of us have a problem confronting those who undermine us or flat-out knife us in the back. We’re afraid that, if we say something, our words will be distorted, spread around and used to hurt us even more. So, we remain silent.

Silence, of course, suggests you condone what happened.

If you are afraid to directly spell out the crime, you can always resort to my secret method of confrontation. Once something has happened, just go up to the person who did it and say, “I know what you did.”

The person gets all out-of-sorts and starts demanding details. “What? What did I do? What are you saying?”

You respond, “I know what you did. I am not going to engage further, but I want you to know you did not get away with it.”

Then, walk away. It is so beautifully effective and absolutely simple.

Is it as good as a direct confrontation where you spell things out and put everything in the open? Generally not. But sometimes, you end up in conflicts with gossippy people who will continue to damage you if you engage. Just know that it is an option.

Regarding Woman v. Woman conflict…

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