Category Archives: Career & Education

The Assistant (No More?)

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

For years I worked for an executive who was very high-powered and
driven. Over time he began to lose his ability to do his job well and
eventually sold the company to younger folks. Five years later they
have paid him off and bought him out and essentially retired him. But
because he doesn’t know how to do nothing he has come up with a
plan that he started out calling “middle class services,” a name I have
convinced him to abandon. His theory is that double-working
households need cheap labor to do all the errands and chores that
they don’t have time for during the week, so they can have some
quality time together. Great theory. But he wants to set up a college
dropout into business to provide the kind of services the kid provides
him to others. That means going head to head with established
concierge and care companies, of which I found several with excellent
reputations and lower prices than he is proposing, all in a two-minute
google search.

He wants me involved as the lemon-sucker and offering to pay for
my time. I think the kid is just nodding yes to the guy who pays him
now, and is too lazy to build a business upon. I don’t mind consulting,
but I do mind batting my head against a wall knowing it is going to
get bloody and bruised.

The Assistant (No More?)

 
Dear Assistant:

You can earn your keep as you did in the past: by being a truth-telling,
lemon-sucking consultant. Before anyone starts a business they need
several important thing. In rough order: an idea for a product or
service that people want; an idea that’s not already being sold by so
many people or so cheaply that there’s not room for more
competitors; enough capital to get the process going and to outlast the
start-up period; intelligent committed staff who are willing to work
extra hard without a guarantee of success; and sufficient
communication, bonding, and common vision among owners and
employees that the folks on the ground can tell the folks upstairs what
needs to change, and the folks with the money can decide how much
they want to commit.

 
In this case, either you or the proposed employee can research the
market and suss out who is already providing those services. The
would-be entrepreneur may falter at your news. If not, he should take
a couple pages out of the multi-level- marketing playbook. That means
identifying all possible people he could approach or the erstwhile
employee could approach in his name to say, Hi, so-and- so has been
employing me to so x, y, and z and thought you might want a personal
assistant too. If he can connect with enough folks who will pay for his
time to fill up the FTE he is willing to work, you’ll quickly be able to see
if he is cut out for marketing and working. But if he’s just looking for a
middle management paycheck, it’s a great time to learn that you don’t
get to the middle till you start at the bottom.

Starting Over

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

A month ago I applied for my dream job but I have heard zero. I am
adult who went back to college in my 30s and just finished my degree.
Even though I am not the typical hire, I think all my earlier work in
construction proves I am a great employee, not afraid of messes or
hard work. Now I have business degree to go along with hands-on
skill. How can I sell myself as worth at least as much as a 21-year old?

Starting Over

 
Dear Starting Over:

Check to posting agency to see what the status of the job is. If it is not
yet noted as “filled” you can call Human Resources and ask what the
status and timeline is for filling it. If you get a friendly sounding
person, say you applied and want to know if you are still among those
being considered. Stay casual and optimistic, even if you are told you
are not among those still in the running.

 
If/when you get a rejection, call and ask for an informational interview
with the HR manager. Explain you want to introduce yourself, and to
find out how to best present your skills. Use your mess/hard work line
when you are in the meeting. Dress professionally and be very clear
that you are an asset exactly because you have rebuilt yourself
professionally, and that you will bring particular skills of teamwork and
perspective to any job they’d hire you for. This doesn’t ensure you an
interview the next time. But it does guarantee they’ll remember you,
and perhaps pass you onto the specific department to meet.

Stretched Thin

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Help me out of a pickle. When I worked, which is until I retired a year
ago, I was the contracts manager for a small company. I worked
primarily with two people: the president (who is now a consultant to
the same company) and with a man who was like my twin brother. We
saved each other’s lives emotionally more often than I can count when
working with the president got rough. I just walked into two vmails:
one from former coworker who’s managing a contract with my ex-
boss, and one from the ex-boss. They disagree about how much
money he should get on a project and what he should do. Each is
calling on me for help but nobody’s paying me yet for my insight and
advice. My sympathies are with my co-worker, but there’s a lot of
complicated history, and my ex-boss hinted he would pay me to be his
negotiator. What should I do?

Stretched Thin

 
Dear Stretched Thin:

You have a variety of choices about how to respond to each. The
simplest is to politely return both phone calls and say, You know I’m
really enjoying being retired. You two are going to have to learn how
to talk to one another without me. Say what needs to be said, and
keep talking until you agree. Option two is to decide whom you
genuinely like better, and if you can afford to let go of the relationship
with the other. That changes what you say on the calls. If you have
any interest in working for your ex-boss again tell him you’re happy to
serve as his contracting agent but here’s your fee. Make it high
enough to compensate for hazard pay. If you prefer to help your friend
and say the hell with the money, then tell your ex-boss No thanks, and
tell your friend your opinion on how to manage the work and the ex-
boss.

 

Even if you help solve this contest, everyone needs to recognize this is
a one-time pass, and that in the future you will politely decline to be in
the middle of any such dramas. Your simplest answer both of them is
really this: You know working together was great but retirement is
even better. I’m sure you can work this out. Your voicemails reminded
me how much I prefer my watercolor class. Good luck!!

Off Duty Please

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Can you help me design a “staycation?” My husband has had a raft of
medical problems. Sadly they include orthopedic problems, which
means that our normal hobbies of hiking and mushroom picking are
completely off the table. I’m a teacher and have a few weekends left
and then a long summer. I’m not expecting a two-week period at
home where I have no responsibilities, but I would like to design a
plan where I can get several days in a row to indulge my desire to
write. I have an idea for a children’s book, actually a series of them,
and a good friend who is an artist who can collaborate. My husband is
retired, not to mention grumpy from months of medical aggravation.
So he is lonely and looking for company. I don’t want to be unfriendly,
but I’m stressed by his condition also, and need my summer to
recharge.

Off Duty Please

 
Dear Off Duty:

You need to balance out the mix of responsibility with creativity.
Anyone who works at home will confirm that simply walking into the
kitchen to get a cup of coffee can trigger many hours of
procrastination and distraction, especially if one’s creative work isn’t
flowing. So you will need to set clear boundaries about when you do
what, and get an agreement from your husband to help you reinforce
them, and to keep out of your way in your creative time zones.

 

You don’t want him to think that your time together is all about work.
Getting him engaged in household maintenance before you get your
creative staycations is a deal he will have to agree to. Put a carrot in
the stick and make plans for a big date at the end of each one. For
example, Monday and Tuesday are together days doing home care.
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday until 3:00 is your creativity zone.
Then weekend is playtime together. Part of your prep is to have your
“creativity bag” ready to go: a tote with a dedicated set of materials
including laptop, clipboard, drawing paper, dictation device, whatever
you need all packed and ready to grab. Then on Wednesday morning,
head out to a coffee shop and set up for creativity. In the house, have
a special flag or sign that says, “The Writer is Out” which hubby should
agree to respect, house fires or broken legs notwithstanding.

Shell Shocked

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I worked with an abusive boss for 26 years. I am finally free of
working directly with him, but we’re both employed by the same
company. People who do still work with him come to me to vent, and it
causes all the same responses it did when I suffered more directly.
Just thinking about him causes an anxiety spike. It’s a physical
reaction in my body: twisting in my gut, racing pulse, shallow
breathing. All the classic fight or flight responses. I’m not even
discussing my mood, which plummets. My wife encouraged me to
unplug from him, but I cannot afford to quit, and at 58 am unlikely to
find a job as good as this one. What’re some things I can do, other
than avoiding him and conversations that include his name? It’s a form
of PTSD I am eager to finish healing.

Shell Shocked

 
Dear Shell Shocked:

What you are describing is indeed a form of PTSD. Also classic
Pavlovian conditioning. You need to switch off your responses to the
stimulus. Avoiding direct contact with his person and conversations
about him and his abusiveness is a great start. But better is to
cultivate relaxation responses, because you’re still in an orbit that
includes many old cues.

 

Start by identifying a code word for yourself that is your new
command to set the process in motion. Make it something silly and
unrelated to work: tofu, bozo, or papaya. The minute you start to feel
yourself respond in old ways, say the word and start imaging yourself
getting up from a chair at a table where he is sitting, walking out of
the room, and closing the door behind you. If you still hear his voice in
your head, image turning down the volume dial on a radio until it
fades to silence. See yourself walking into the sunlight and going to
meet your wife at your favorite restaurant at a vacation resort. See
yourself sitting at a table with her, looking at an incredible view, with a
plate of tasty tidbits and flight of beer or wine. If thoughts of him
reappear, start over: say your cue; close the door; turn down the
sound; and have another slosh of anesthetic. Do this often enough and
he will fade into your past.

 

PS if you start to develop a drinking problem, change the imagery and get
a therapist.

PC Too

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I work in a school in a poor rural district. Most of the teachers are
kind, caring, and dedicated professionals. The few that are not are
given a very wide berth by the rest of us, so it is very uncommon to
hear racial slurs or other forms of insensitivity. A colleague just placed
a problem in my lap involving two friends. One, A, my friend who
works in a different classroom reported that the other, B (one of my
best friends), said something close to the N-word and that she was
horrified and wanted to report her. A said that B said it in a joking,
almost friendly context, referring to her weekend as “I’m going to go
out in my yard and work like a field hand.” A is from South Africa of
mixed race and very sensitive. B has never, ever, ever exhibited any
racist tendencies. If anything she’s among most politically correct
people I know. But A was legitimately shocked and wants to make an
object lesson of B as a warning for the real racists. If she succeeds in
getting something put in B’s permanent file, B might never work again.
I think it was a very unfortunate slip of the tongue, and I don’t want to
see her chastised too harshly. What, if anything, can I do as an
intervention?

PC Too

 
Dear PC Too:

You can sit down with the two of them and hope that the conversation
works. The message you want to deliver is: You may have thought you
were joking to a friend, but you are not black and you cannot know the
impact of hearing a word that’s been used not just as a racial slur but
is also close to a word that’s been used as a form of violence and
intimidation for centuries. Please apologize now. Please promise you’ll
never do this again. Please ask A’s forgiveness. Then be quiet and let
B speak for herself. A is going to have to hear the sincerity in her
apology and a deep desire to participate in some form of remediation,
not just to A personally but as part of a social context.

 

The three of you might also go to the administrative powers that be
and ask that the whole school (teachers, staff, students) receive some
racial sensitivity training. You don’t have to go into the details of the
incident. Rather declare it a matter of common concern that you would
like to see addressed by the whole community. Ask for a special
assembly with invited speakers, and workshops where teachers and
students from mixed age groups can participate. Also ask that a
procedure be put in place where violators of the no-insults policy by
given a graduated series of warnings and censure. I doubt that B will
repeat the offense, but think a permanent mark on her record is too
great a price to pay for misspoken attempt at bad humor.

Moving On

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m in my late 40’s and about to reenter the workforce. I am
accomplished and intelligent. I think my skills are transferrable to a
wide variety of jobs, but on paper I look like someone who’s been in K-
12 education for most of the last twenty-five years. Do you have any
advice that will help me get in the door? I will consider anything from
an office job to retail, so long as I do not have to work 60-80 hours a
week without being treated with respect for trying hard to help kids.

Moving On

 
Dear Moving On:

Update your resume first, and not just the way you did it the last time.
Go online and find current protocol for resume formats. Don’t be
dissuaded from going onto a page 2; if you really have 30 years
experience it’s worth showing it off. Organize your professional history
by skill sets and job titles, as opposed to dates and employers. Re-
rank them based on the priorities of the jobs apply for. That’s step
one.

 
More importantly get used to adapting what you have done to what
people might pay you for now. Go online to every possible public entity
you might apply for a job. Research every posting that’s open,
whether you would apply for it or not, and make a list of all the
“supplemental questions.” The draft your answers to questions about
your experience with supervision, financial responsibility, diversity,
research and report writing, to name just a common few. These drafts
will give you a basis for your own answers when you actually apply for
jobs o land interviews. It really helps to have a few funny stories and
success stories for relevant topics. Practice saying them aloud,
succinctly and with confidence. Let your experience carry you.

Craving Space

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m a teacher who is returning to work this week. My husband is recently retired,
and suffering from the lack of social contact that he got from his colleagues. In
summer, when he had me around all day, we did a great many things together.
But when I would go off and visit my girlfriends or do volunteer work, I could tell
he was restless and overly needy when I got home. When I walk in the door after
teaching I need some time to decompress before I am ready to be social or to
take care of him. I simply cannot absorb or fulfill all his emotional needs. Ideas?

Craving Space

 
Dear Craving Space:

Your hubby needs something to occupy not just his time but his
mental energy so that he has something to share with you when you
are together, so he’s not so needy that he pounces on you the second
you walk in the door. Consider: projects like things to do around the
house, a new hobby, volunteer work of his own, or to enroll in classes.
I always suggest having a signal (beyond Hi honey I’m home.) as a
cue that you are ready to interact. Even 10 minutes to put down your
purse, check the mail, make a cup of tea, and exhale can be enough to
reset your mood.

 
I suggest a family planning council where you sit down and talk about
a typical week. Map it out on the calendar, where you block out all
your commitments and obligations, as well as the things you would
like to do in your leisure time, both with and without him. Then ask
him to do the same. Hopefully the yawning void will inspire him. If not,
talk about things he “has always wanted to do,” whether it is learning
a foreign language (perhaps in preparation for a future trip) or a new
skill. Perhaps his former profession is useful to some non-profit in a
volunteer capacity. Help him get excited about possibilities, and
remember there’s always going to the gym. That alone should make
him look for alternatives, lol.

Survival Tips

Survival Tips for the World of Work

Click on the topics below for Your Jewish Fairy Godmother’s advice on
situations we all face in our careers:

Resume Writing
Job Hunting
Long-distance Job Hunting
Interviewing
Your First Day At Work
Being A Good Gatekeeper
A Tough ^%^@ Boss
Email Etiquette
Public Speaking
Team Building
Demystifying Statistics
Goal Setting
Changing Jobs
Career Building
An Annual Mental Health Check
25 Summary Tips

25 Things You Should Have Learned Yesterday

Deja You:
25 Things You Should Have Learned Yesterday
and Should Practice Tomorrow
(and every day after…)

How many times have you muttered to yourself, Wish I’d known that
before?!!! The fact of the matter is this: if you take the
time now to harvest some important lessons, not just from last year
but from your whole working life, you can make this year and the next
ones much happier and more fulfilling. And yourself more successful in
the process.

 
Let’s get clear. The list could be much longer. But 25 is a great
number. This list is not ranked by importance, so don’t lose track of
either end of the list. If you want to be happy and successful you’ll
have to get better at multi-tasking all these diverse things.

 
1. Think strategically: No matter your age, think about your work
life as a story arc: starting out, getting experience, earning more,
having more authority, mentoring, eventual retirement. As you
progress along this paradigm, ask how each action serves your
higher goals.

 
2. Treat other people well: There’s no profession that doesn’t
involve others, whether you’re a doctor or a bus driver. The nicer
you are, the nicer you’ll feel. The kinder you are, the more others
will help you succeed. The more good-will you generate, the quicker
your working hours will go.

 
3. Do a + and – list annually: If you wake up dreading going to work
you probably already know the minuses outnumber the pluses. But
do a checklist of where your working world ranks on a scale of 1-
10. Think about everything from salary to commute time, chances
for learning and advancement to whether you love or loathe your
colleagues. Do this every year within a month of your birthday or
hire date.

 
4. Review your resume annually: It’s easy to forget how good you
are or that you might need to prove it to someone new later. Ditto
that you might be stuck and not changing in your current job. Keep
your resume up to date with newly acquired skill sets and
accomplishments. If you’re ever unemployed you’d need to update
it for real. This’ll give you perspective and a big leg up.

 
5. Keep your options open. Even if you like your job, keep your
eyes and ears open. Listen to how other people talk about their
days, their duties, and their bosses. Pay attention to what they say
about advancement and openings. Look at WW, the Sunday
classifieds, or job boards to see what’s out there, and to learn what
people will pay for what you do.

 
6. If you’re not happy, look around. Do everything above and
follow up with a resume. Be sure to say your search is confidential
in your cover letter. Whether or not your phone rings or email
chimes will help you litmus test your value and options, as well as
how you represent your experience.

 
7. Have private email. Best would be if to avoid anything except
work while at work. No forwarding cat videos or pictures of your
friends or weekends. Work time is for work. And be extra very
especially absolutely certain not to use your employer’s server to
look for another job. Nothing you do on their email is confidential.
8. Don’t gossip. None of us is immune to the lure of gossip. We all
enjoy the secret thrill of watching others go down in flames or be
exposed as adulterers or failures. But whatever you say about
others will fuel the flames when you commit some gross negligence
you cannot conceal. It happens to everyone. Be kind, and hope
others return the favor.

 
9. Don’t schtupp at work Don’t have affairs with bosses, colleagues,
or subordinates. Temptations may feel strong but NO reason is
good enough if you want to keep your job. ‘Nuff said.

 
10. Be careful what you post on social networking. Prospective
employers often google applicants. Unless you want them to see
you drunk and topless screaming Aaaarrrggghhhh!!!! in your
Pirate’s Day costume, keep those pics among you and your closest
friends. If you’ve been stupid in the past, scrub your image before
you ask someone new to pay you to be their new face.

 
11. Befriend all gatekeepers. Being able to get into the folks you
want to see can make or break you. In many organizations these
folks also monitor their bosses voice and email. If you want your
messages to get through be nice. Nothing smarmy but know their
names and make sure they like you.

 
12. Find good mentors. No one is successful on their own. Identify
folks higher on the food chain (one or two rungs) who seem
successful and to share your values. Meet with them to ask for
their help moving up. It may cost you some time helping on a pet
project, or a couple of beers, but could also pay off.

 
13. Don’t be a suck-up. Trust me, you’re a lot more transparent
than you think. No one likes a false flatterer, even the person
whose butt you are kissing. It’ll show and cost you more than
whatever benefits you hope to receive.

 
14. Be helpful. This doesn’t contradict the last one. You should be
available to lend a hand to help anyone out of a jam, friendly, and
courteous. Think Boy Scout instead of scam artist. You’ll need
folks to like you in order to succeed, and it’s hard to know what
you’ll need from whom when.

 
15. Don’t $&#% up!! No one is perfect but you can make
sure your work is spell-checked, proofed, cross-balanced, tallies,
and has the right dates, footers, phone numbers, footnotes, etc
whatever your field is. No one succeeds on their own. Having a
buddy to help with deadlines is important. Good people working
together make each other look better and your 8-5 more
tolerable.

 
16. Negotiate early and often. The best time to get a raise is before
you walk in the door. Once you have an offer, ask if there’s any
more they can give as base pay, or if you can be assured of a
raise after your probationary review. Yes it’s scary, but they’ve
just selected you. Cross your fingers, smile, and ask.

 
17. Keep asking questions. The more you know the better you’ll be
able to navigate office politics, stay ahead of possible lay-offs, or
get to the front of the line for upcoming promotions. Don’t act like
a spy, but an interested, gung-ho team player.

 
18. Learn new skills. Doing the same old same old too often will
make you dull. Be inquisitive about who’s doing what, and where
there’s room for you to do something new, learn a new technique,
or otherwise expand your skill set. You’ll look better to your
bosses and to future employers.

 
19. Casual doesn’t mean stained. Take a weekend to inventory
your work wardrobe. If things are spotted or ill-fitting, toss them
and buy something new (or used but clean). Even if you repeat
wearing the same clothes, you’ll look better than looking like you
don’t care about the impression you give others. Remember, no
matter your job description, you’re always selling yourself.

 
20. Make sure people see your extra effort. No one likes a
braggart. But if you go the extra distance and put in the extra
time, make sure the right folks know it. Send an important email
after hours; volunteer for the crunch deadline; become the person
people know they can rely on for that extra time and input. It’ll
pay off later.

 
21. Use charm and chutzpah. People like being around people who
make them feel good. Don’t become known as the class clown,
but be the one who people smile at sincerely when you walk into a
meeting. Be brave enough to tell the truth when it is called for,
and nice enough in how you deliver it.

 
22. Stay healthy. That’s everything from avoiding junk food in
vending machines to walking at lunch time. Take stairs instead of
elevators and short breaks regularly to drink water. Even if that
means walking in the rain or around the lobby of a building, get
your brain the oxygen it needs to keep your grey matter moving.

 

23. Don’t be a 2/47 slave. It’s fine to keep your smart phone
handy. But employers are hard to retrain. If they think you’ll
answer nights and weekends they will come to expect it. Make
sure you get regular detoxifying breaks from work. Everyone
needs time to get refreshed even if it’s a stay-cation of yard work
and movies. All work and no play will make you dull as an old
kitchen knife, and just as useful.

 
24. Choose to be happy. Even a bad job pays the rent. If you aren’t
wealthy and cannot afford to wait for your dream job, take
whatever’s closest to it. Look for the best you can in your current
circumstances, even if you need to give yourself a pep talk every
morning. Set goals about how to optimize your reality.

 
25. Make your own good luck. Just like the essential truth about
losing weight always comes down to eating less and moving more,
the essential truth about work is that you’re the person who has
to look out for yourself. That means knowing when to stay and
when to look for something better, when to ask for a raise and
when to wait, and choosing whom to trust.

 

 

These commandments are designed to help you jumpstart a good look
at your working world. Read them a couple of times and think about
which ones you think you need to act on. Ultimately, the most
important thing you can do is to ask yourself regularly Can I do better?
If the answer’s yes, then start doing.

Demystifying Statistics

Demystifying Statistics

Your Jewish Fairy Godmother’s 10 Commandments
for Coping with Esoteric Math and Strange Greek Symbols

 

We’ve all had that moment when we look like deer in the headlights: someone’s
making a presentation and using all sorts of mystical jargon and strange
symbols. They survey the room and seem to look straight at you, arched
eyebrow implying, You get it, don’t you? You can either fake it and nod, or admit
you have no idea what the person is talking about. You won’t actually be the only
clueless one in the room, but everyone else will be staring intently at you, eyes
carefully averted from the speaker.

 
The commandments below won’t substitute for a full-bore statistics class. But
they should be enough to get you out of the room with your ego and job intact.
Grab a pencil and paper, take them step by step, remember to breathe, and
you’ll see it’s not as tough as its reputation.

 
Commandment Number 1: Know your odds.

Everything in life is measured in odds. A sure thing has a 100% chance of
happening. It’s guaranteed, or, in statistical terms, an event with a 100%
probability. Events are how statisticians talk about things that happen. Probability
is a fancy way of saying odds. If you go to sleep tonight in your own bed, there’s
a 99.99% chance that’s where you’ll wake up in the morning. The world could
end in-between, or you could roll out, but we tend to assume life is more
predictable. Something that’s highly unlikely to occur, say that you’ll wake up an
amnesiac or in China, has a probability .00001, or that approaches 0%. Anything
you can describe or measure has a probability that ranges between 0 and 100%.
(See, this is e.a.s.y…). Just to be safe, statisticians rarely use the 0 or the 100.
They say, approaches 0, or approaches 100 (percent implied).

 
Commandment Number 2: Identify your population.

No matter what you want to measure, you have to define it. You might care about
the height of NBA players or the age of employees. The life expectancy of people
or lightbulbs. You need to set parameters, which is statisto-speak for criteria that
identify who or what you’re going to study and measure. If you need to know the
height of NBA players, the height of college players isn’t relevant. If someone
talks about “the height of basketball players” you have the right to ask if they
mean K-12, college, pros, or the kids playing in the neighborhood park. Your
studyvariable is however you define it. But once you say what it is, that’s the
definition you stick with.

 
Commandment Number 3: Know n from N.

Big N means every event you could possibly measure. Every NBA player. Every
light bulb manufactured. Every employee who works for your company. However
you define your population, that’s N. Little n is a sample of N. It represents the
data events that you’re going to do statistics on. If you tested every light bulb,
you’d have none left and would sit in the dark. So you use a sample, a
representative subset of N. There’re many possible n’s in N. Trust me on this, but
any group of 30 or more is considered a good size no matter how big N is.
Amazing but true. The goal is to find an n that is truly representative of N.
Generally randomness is considered a good way to eliminate bias. For example,
if you do a survey but ask only the opinions of your friends, that’s a biased
sample. Better to assign everyone in N a random number, put the numbers in a
hat, and have some stranger on the street draw out 30 of them. Then you have a
legitimate random sample size n = 30.

 
Commandment Number 4: Show off what you found out.

Even without measuring anything else, you’re already doing descriptive statistics!
The next step is to make them visual. In elementary school you learned about
Pie Charts: a circle broken into different size slices, each slice representing a
percent of the whole. Also, Bar Charts: the height of each bar shows how many
people are in a given category. There’s lots of other, fancier techniques. But for
almost all of them you’re limited to the two-dimensions of a piece of paper. In
computer programs you can make graphs look three-dimensional, but you need
to think about what you’re really trying to show. Generally speaking, in addition to
whatever you measured (in units of however you measured it), you have to
convey how many events got what score, the time period things change over,
perhaps contrasts between different groups (e.g. men and women, or salary vs
hourly, or technical vs sales). You can use different colors, footnotes, and other
tools. Your goal is to be able to show your chart to someone else and have them
understand it.

 
Commandment Number 5: Look at the shape of the distribution.

You’ve got your sample and measured whatever variable you‘re studying. Now
you want to understand what the results are telling you. The simplest way is to
rank the scores from biggest to smallest. Inferential statistics (ways to describe
the population N based on what you observed in your sample n), are usually
graphed in a curvy line on a grid with a horizontal and vertical axis. (Soon you’ll
understand the bell curve.) Imagine a horizontal line from left to right (the x axis),
and vertical one (the y axis) where the crossing point is zero. Mark the x axis with
key intervals (for example 5’-5’6”, 5’7”-5’,11”, etc). On the y axis you measure
count how many events/people/etc fall into a given category, Then connect the
tops of each category. If everyone scored the same, you’d have only a tall mark
in that category. If everyone was spread equally across categories, you’d see a
straight line across them. For most things you measure, there will be groupings,
tall categories with more observations and flatter ones with fewer. Look at the
picture and see what it tells you.

 
Commandment Number 6: Know one average from another.

Averages tell about the middle of your sample. There are three kinds of
averages. Each one tells you something different. If everyone scored exactly the
same, you could stop counting now. If you looked at all the observations in a
ranked list, the median is the number in the middle. For example, if you look at
the salaries of 101 employees, and rank them from lowest to highest, the median
is the salary of the 51 st person. The mode goes back to the shape of the
distribution. It’s the category with the most observations in it. For example, if
you’re looking at how long people stay with your company, and more of your
employees are in 3-6 years than any other group, the mode is 4.5 (the middle of
the biggest group, even if no single person has worked there 4.5 years). The
mean is the number you get if you share equally. It’s as if you added up all the
scores and divided them by how many people you measured. For example, if you
took the heights of all the players in the NBA divided by the number of players,
the mean height might be 6’3”, even though there are some short guys and some
giants. BTW, whenever someone says “average,” try to know which average
they’re using. In a perfect bell-shaped distribution, all three averages are at the
top of the bell.

 
Commandment Number 7: Know how different your group is from itself.

The fancy statistical name for this concept is standard deviation. It has to do with
how unalike the members of your sample n (and implicitly N) are from one
another. Imagine a startup firm, where everyone has worked there a very short
time. If you are measuring length of service among employees, there’d be a very
small standard deviation. If you look instead at a place like the US military, you
might find career soldiers in the same sample as new recruits. The standard
deviation would be much larger. For a different visual, imagine an NBA team
where everyone is between 6’1-6’5 (a small standard deviation), compared to
one with a guy 5’5 and another 7’2. the two teams might have the same
“average” height, but they’d look very different when they lined up for the pledge
of allegiance. Note: There’s math to calculate a standard deviation, but most
calculators will do it for you.

 
Commandment Number 8: Understand for whom the bell tolls.

The infamous bell curve (as in “Do you grade on a curve?) is a distribution
shaped like a bell, drawn from knowing only two numbers, the mean and the
standard deviation. (This is where it gets very cool.) You’ve been doing this
intuitively for years, as in: It takes me 30 minutes to get to work, give or take five.
That means, most of the time, you will get to work in 25-25 minutes. Less often
it’ll take 20-25 minute or 35-40 minutes. Rarely you’ll get there in less than 20 or
more than 40. By knowing only two numbers, the mean and standard deviation,
you can get a very good and surprisingly accurate picture of your population.
Generally speaking, for normally distributed variables, which is a lot of what we
measure, 68% of the population will fall within one standard deviation of the
mean (mean +/- 1 sd), 95% within mean +/-2 sd, and 99% between mean +/- 3
sd. Just from knowing two numbers, you can make a bell curve and get a pretty good picture of what’s going on in the world, all from measuring a random
sample of 30 or more. Amazing but true.

 
Commandment Number 9: Know what’s significant

This is probably the simplest and most sophisticated concept in statistics. Once
you have a mean and a standard deviation, you can do what are called tests.
Test are a fancy way of asking, if the truth is “this,” and in our sample we found
“that,” then what’re the chances that that by sheer dumb luck we’d have stumbled
onto a sample that would be very far away, improbably away, from “this?” It’d be
like concluding the average height of NBA players is 5’9”, just because we
happened to pick a sample that included a lot of the shorter guys. When people
say “our results are statistically significant,” what they’re really saying is, there’s
only a very small chance, say 1%, or 5%, that we’re wrong when we say the
mean is “that” (and it’s really “this’). One important note: the person doing the
stats decides how sure they want or have to be. If you’re testing an experimental
drug that has a side effect of death, you’d probably want to take a smaller chance
of thinking you’re right when you’re wrong than if you’re asking people which cola
they prefer.

 
Commandment Number 10: Get out your crystal ball.

There are many more complicated statistical techniques that try and predict
things. For those you generally need to look at more than one variable at a time.
For example , if you’re trying to figure out what you’d pay for a new pickup, you’d
want to know lots of things like: year, mileage, brand (yes, there are ways to
measure things that are names and not numbers), automatic vs 5-speed,
options, what part of the country you’re buying in, accident history, etc etc etc all
the way down to whether or not it has genuine leopard skin seats. If you have
enough info, you can predict what it should cost. That’s how the Kelly Blue book
works. These techniques are interesting, though complex, and you’ll need a more
advanced guide.

 
Try to think about statistics as looking like algebra but really being geometry.
You’re trying to draw a picture that shows someone what you think is true about
everyone you haven’t measured, based on the people you did measure. If you’re
interested, think about taking a class. If you can master this kind of thinking, it’s a
fast track to advancement.

10 Commandments for Email Etiquette and Sanity

Ready, Set, Send:

Your Jewish Fairy Godmother’s 10 Commandments for Email Etiquette and Sanity

 

We all depend on and enjoy email. But there are better and worse ways to use it. The
good ones make you look smart, help share ideas (also good jokes and weblinks), and
generally promote marketing and enhance your institutional standing. Bad email
etiquette can damage relationships and your reputation, and even cost you clients or
your job. Emailing looks simple but is a bad place to screw up.

 

Commandment Number 1: Know the rules.

Assume your company has a stated or implicit policy similar to this one: “Because of maintenance and other processes, non-work related email cannot be accorded
confidentiality. Non-work material of an obviously offensive nature should never be
stored or transmitted using company hardware or software.” Think about the last
hundred emails you sent or received. If the first word in your mind is unprintable
(“obviously offensive”) you need to read these commandments carefully and start
changing your work habits.

 

Commandment Number 2: Email knows no boundaries.

Anything you email can end up in the mailbox of anyone on the planet with internet
access at any time. (If you missed the infinite possibilities, read that again.) Even with
an explicit disclaimer on your emails (a good idea), they can be forwarded without your
knowledge. On a day you’re angry about a departmental decision, ready to verbally
throttle a co-worker or client, or tempted to call your supervisor a jerk, imagine the
expression on that person’s face when your nemesis forwards your email as part of
some “helpful” suggestion about changing office policy. You might never know. And
worse, if choice words get changed in your message along the way, your career could
take a left turn without a word being spoken. You can’t protect yourself from everything,
but before you send emails, try to remember you have absolutely no control of where
the message might go after it leaves your computer.

 

Commandment Number 3: Monitor email early and often.

Check your email first and last whenever you’re logged on. If you can monitor your work account from home, consider checking out what’s happening when you’re not in the office. You might not want work to intrude on your “real life,” but even an occasional answer or forward to your boss when you’re officially off the clock can create the illusion that you’re more diligent, 24/7, than you really are, though there is the danger of raising expectations. You don’t have to approach e-junkie status (one definition: if you can go as long between checking email as you can between meals, you’re on the safe side of the line.). Set your email to notify you when you get incoming mail. Staying in touch counts, and will be noticed.

 

Commandment Number 4: Know your place in the pecking order.

Check to whom the email has been sent. Distinguish between yourself as addressee
(the person who’s supposed to act and respond) and as cc (someone who’s supposed
to know what’s going on or to chime in, but not take over the conversation). CC, by the
way, comes from carbon copy, an ancient 19th century method of duplicating messages
on a typewriter. BCC means the sender doesn’t want other people to know you are in
the loop. If you have been bcc’d (“blind” cc) be especially careful about displaying too
much knowledge about what’s going on, either around the office or by inserting yourself
into the e-dialogue. Be especially careful to distinguish between replies meant only for
internal consumption and those you wouldn’t mind if a customer read. Be very careful
not to “reply to all” if there are clients on the list, unless you’re explicitly the person
designated to respond.

 

Commandment Number 5: Spam 101 – Nothing’s free in cyberspace.

Your email address can be harvested from various places, including virtually every URL
you visit. Every time you sign up for something “free,” you are inviting future truckloads of unsolicited spam. Your email address might be sold and resold, legally, or illegally even if you decline the free “future updates.” Assume everyone who buys your address will want to do one or more of the following: sell you something, improve your sex life, show you theirs, decrease your mortgage rate, offer you a chance to earn thousands of dollars weekly, or invite you to participate in international money laundering, all for a modest investment of your cash or credit card up front. Ask your computer tech to create some filters and rules to send the incoming spam immediately to your trash bin.
(Note: If you secretly want to read these messages, you can sneak off to the deleted
files and browse.) If you don’t have a way to deflect these messages, they’ll drown out
your real work.

 

Commandment Number 6: Be careful what you open.

There’s an old rule of teen dating: If it’s not yours, don’t touch it. That may be too extreme for adult email, but with chronic and imminent threats from viruses of all varieties, you should be almost that careful when you handle enclosures. Messages that come with attachments ending in .exe can wreak havoc by “exe”cuting programming that might literally take over your computer’s operating system. Those with .scr, .gif, and .zip are almost as dangerous. Update your virus protection regularly. Be very very careful about opening any attachments, even when you know the sender, because s/he may have already been virused and be looking for new hosts. . Set your own machine for partial downloads (this protects against incoming spam too) and advise others to do so. It may sound paranoid, but ask around. When you hear the horror stories of folks who’ve lost half the files on their hard-drive or weeks of valuable work to a virus, you’ll quickly become a believer.

 

Commandment Number 7: Spam 102 – Don’t spam others.

Email is a quick high. Everyone likes a good joke, wants to know the latest news, and
enjoys a pick-me- up on a dull day. But because you know what’s going on when you
send the email, it’s easy to assume that life on the other end is in real time, to believe
the recipient will be in the mood and have time for what you want to send. How do you
feel when you’re on deadline or running late, and open an email to find an out-of- date
urban legend, a giant .jpg of someone else’s vacation, child, or pet, or a bad-luck-
unless-you- forward-this- right-now chain letter? Don’t get a reputation as the office
spammer, the person whose emails get trashed because people see you more as a
source of junkmail than content. Have “personal” group of people you trust and whose
values are similar to your own. Especially with emails related to sex, politics, or intimate
aspects of your private life, be careful what you send where. (Remember Commandment Number 2: email knows no boundaries.)

 

Commandment Number 8: Start filing now.

If you don’t start soon you will be sorry. Email is like yeast. It expands while you’re not
looking. Create whatever filing system works for you. Assign folder names by project,
administrative, marketing, and technical matters, or by person, organization, topic, or
hobby. There are no rules. Practice good work habits. File your emails right after you
read them. If you’re not careful, or fall very far behind, you can easily end up with
thousands of emails clogging your system. It’ll feel like a gut full of too much pizza and
beer. Keep your system moving, even if it means an occasional cyber-flush to file and
delete, whether its daily, weekly, or monthly. Reward yourself when you’re done, but
pay attention lest you dump the wrong messages out of sheer tedium.

 

Commandment Number 9: Be worth including in the conversation.

Start dialogues that have value. When you see a problem that needs some attention,
use email to get the word out. Be sure what you have to say is worthwhile, but get on
record as being the one to say it. You don’t have to have all the answers, but asking
good questions will also get you noticed by readers who count. Include both co-workers
and supervisors in the e-conversation. Note: If you will be gone for more than a day,
arrange to have someone you trust monitor your email or use an auto-responder.
Knowing when you’ll read and reply matters to most people, especially if your input is
valued or impacts the next step they’ll take on a project.

 

Commandment Number 10: Send “later.”

Virtually all of us have had that horrific sinking feeling of having sent an email to the
wrong person. Of having said exactly the wrong thing to the wrong person. Avoid fear,
humiliation, and bad client relations. Know where the “stop sending”: button is, though
you have to be really fast to beat the computer. In extreme cases, you can simply yank
the plug from the wall (it”s cheaper to crash your computer than to look for a new job).
But get in the habit of saving to a draft folder, re-reading, and hitting the send button
only when you’ve double-checked what you’re saying to whom.

 

Does it sound like a lot to remember? It is. No one follows all the rules all the time.
Strive to create work habits that’ll serve as safety nets. They’ll insulate you from the
worst of your blunders or impulses. Follow these commandments and you’ll stand a
better chance of staying aloft in cyberspace.

10 Commandments for the Care and Feeding of Executives

Knock Knock: Who’s There?

Your Jewish Fairy Godmother’s 10 Commandments for the Care and Feeding of Executives

Executive Assistant, Personal Assistant, Executive Secretary, and Gatekeeper
are all names for the person who is closest to the boss, whether s/he’s the
manager of a department, a division, or the whole company. It’s among the most
interesting, edgy, and complex jobs in any organization.

 
Among the perks are access to confidential information, advance notice of what’s
blowing in the corporate wind, and witnessing firsthand the personality quirks of
organizational leaders. You’re the fly on the wall when big decisions are
discussed. Line staff and even managers are nice to you, because they want to
know what you know or because they think you can help them get something
they want. All of this can blow up in your face, of course, if you abuse insider info
or try to influence the powerbrokers when they’re not ready to listen.
Follow these commandments if you want to become, and stay, invaluable:

 
Commandment Number 1: Be loyal.

All roads will lead back to this commandment. If you’re motivated by self-interest,
remember that Mr/Ms/Mrs. Big is the person who’ll one day determine the size of
your bonus or the timing of your promotion, write your letter of reference, and
generally control your personnel file. What’s true of any supervisor is written in
capital letters for this relationship: what goes around, comes around. Take good
care of your MB. And if you’re not prepared to look at the world from your MB’s
point of view, this isn’t the job for you.

 
Commandment Number 2: Keep the gate closed.

Your MB is the person everyone wants a piece of. That goes for other
organizational muckety-mucks wanting to test the political waters to cold-call
marketeers who want a piece of MB’s wallet. This list includes people who have a
legitimate call on MB’s time: people who are supposed to deliver projects and
reports, people with financial information, and employees with gripes or personal
problems. Be sympathetic, and listen carefully to all of their entreaties. Then ask
your boss which ones should get through the gate.

 
Commandment Number 3: Save your Mr/Ms/Mrs. Big time.

Don’t screw up the schedules. Don’t forget to make and re-check travel logistics
like flight times and rental cars, meeting times and locations, attendees, or
anything that can cost your boss time or money. Create efficient systems for
setting and confirming appointments, everything from business meetings to
haircuts, and for making sure s/he remembers them. If your MB is standing at
baggage claim when s/he’s supposed to be at a meeting or on a conference call,
the head that’s going to roll is yours.

 
Commandment Number 4: Develop functional systems.

You’re probably the only person in your MB’s life, other than a spouse, who gets
the big picture, who knows all the stresses and deadlines that s/he is under.
Create and implement systems that help you bring urgent matters to the
foreground, before they explode. Prevent littler matters from festering in cracks
that will later undermine your collective future. Whether it’s a “Read Me Tonight!!”
pile, red folders on the executive chair, or a five-minute daily morning check-in,
come up with systems to suit your MB’s work habits that’ll keep you both on
track.

 
Commandment Number 5: Represent your MB appropriately.

If you have a potty mouth with friends, that reflects on you. But one badly timed
#&*@!! to a client, employee, or other manager can damage your MB’s
reputation. So can an overly familiar attitude or smug arrogance that implies you
know something that you’re not supposed to. Even your presence and
participation in meetings counts. Get guidance about the tone and style your MB
wants you to cultivate, and stick to it. If something you do angers or reflects badly
on your MB, you won’t be a gatekeeper much longer.

 
Commandment Number 6: Listen more than you speak.

Everyone will want to pick your brain about your MB’s opinions and plans, or to
litmus test their ideas on you to see how you think your MB will respond. Here’s
the truth: you don’t know, so don’t pretend you do. Button up your lips. If you
mislead someone with false hopes or betray insider information, the person
you’re setting up for a fall is not the listener but yourself. Collect opinions,
feedback, and even gossip from and about everyone. Be like a little packrat, so
you always have something bright and shiny to offer up to your MB if you need
to. But don’t betray the boss who feeds you.

 
Commandment Number 7: Tell your MB the truth.

No matter what’s going on, you have to tell all. If you get caught in a lie, even a
white one, you’re doomed. There has to be absolute trust between you and your
MB. You have to be the source of information that’s accurate, and you have to be
willing to give your opinions. That’s how you become a safety zone, and an
invaluable ally. This trust takes time to develop, and must be nurtured with
appropriate helpings of deference and wit, spontaneity and elbow grease, and
some creative private metaphors that are your codewords for communicating.
Once you’re in the inner circle, you can stay there by being a trustworthy and
reliable source of input.

 
Commandment Number 8: Work for someone you like.

Being an executive assistant will mean doing things for your MB that you don’t
even like doing for yourself (think filling out insurance forms or acres of tedious
filing). You might be asked to pick out a spouse’s gift or cope with a child’s or
pet’s crisis. You have to be able, ready, and willing.. If you don’t like the person
who’s asking you do these things, especially things that seem to have nothing to
do with business, it’s going to show. If working with your MB turns into a mere job
(instead of a fun and unpredictable game), you might as well find another way to
pay the rent.

 
Commandment Number 9: Befriend the family.

If your MB is like most other execs, family life is going to take a back seat to
work. That means being late for children’s plays and games, forgetting
anniversaries, too many meetings and too much travel, lots of reasons for
families to resent work. Become their confidante as well as your MB’s, someone
who dispenses good advice, solves problems so they don’t have to interrupt, and
a willing, always available, ear. There’s always some risk of jealousy, but if you
walk this tightrope well, it could be a good insurance policy; become someone
your MB would look like a big louse to fire.

 
Commandment Number 10: Master this: “Please make it so.”

You’re the person your MB will turn to with impossible needs and ridiculous
timelines. You’re the place the buck stops. You’re expected to work scheduling
miracles on a daily basis (like rearranging meetings for twelve other busy MB’s
with only two hours notice). You’re the safety net; you’re what keeps anything
and everything from hitting the floor with a nasty noise. Whatever you’re asked to
do, it’s in the job description, the last line of which reads: Please make it so. If
you master this commandment, you’ll become your MB’s secret hero. It’ll pay off
in the long run.

 
Punchline: To be a good gatekeeper you need a special personality: a unique
blend of helpfulness and assertiveness, patience and energy, dogged
persistence and infinite creativity. If you can find the right fit, it’s as satisfying as a
great romantic relationship. And it pays off with income, security, and
professional self-esteem.

10 Commandments for Team Building through Meetings

 

Go, Team, Go!

Your Jewish Fairy Godmother’s 10 Commandments for Team Building through Meetings

 

Most people hate meetings. Everyone with too much real work to do that is. So how can you use the time when your crew is gathered to solve problems, create and enhance a sense of group identity, and make your meeting time more productive? Regardless of the specific focus, every agenda should have the same flow and subtext: Goals, Deliverables, Ideas, Resources, Constraints, Solutions. Focus the attendees’ time and energy using these 10 commandments:

 

Commandment Number 1: Understand your authority.

Are you in charge because someone appointed you, because you’re the supervisor, because of seniority, relevant experience, academic degree, job title, the boss’s favor, because you asked for it or got stuck with it? Why should these people follow your lead? What’s in it for them? Your twin challenges are to earn their respect and solve a problem for the organization. If there’s a sense of rivalry (a spoken or subliminal version of, if s/he fails I can show how much better I could do) you’ll need to transmute that energy into something less volatile and more productive.

 

Commandment Number 2: Create a team identity.

A shared sense of mission binds people to a common cause. Sometimes it’s pride in being thought of as the best (think Marine Corps ads). Sometimes it’s based on a prize (goal: we get a bonus for accomplishing X). In the best of worlds it’s based on a mutual sense of being able to produce or accomplish something (be it an ad campaign, fixing the broken scheduling system, or any other institutional challenge) because folks really like doing their jobs. Your task is to get people to see the goal as worth more than their individual egos. They should become proud to work together.

 

Commandment Number 3: Identify the short- and long-run goals.

Everyone should know why they’re in the room. Clarify up-front the timelines, the problems you need to solve, the products you need to create, and the process you’ll use to do it. Set a context for why you’re taking everyone’s time away from what they’d rather be doing, whether that’s actual work, or surfing the internet and making personal calls on company time. Keep a list of deliverables and deadlines posted prominently. Make sure you have time at each meeting for identifying problems, suggesting possible solutions, and building consensus around what to do next.

 

Commandment Number 4: Get everyone involved.

Trust the way leadership works. Think democracy, not dictatorship. By the time you leave the room, you want everyone invested in the outcome. To get there, they’ve got to be part of the process. Give them all a chance to talk. If you’re staring at sullen silence and folded arms, something’s very wrong. When hands are waving and folks are so excited they interrupt one another to talk, a meeting’s really cooking. Harvest every scrap of an idea on a whiteboard or big sheets of paper. Keep them legibly and visibly in everyone’s field of vision. Help every person in the room feel like a smart contributor. Give appreciation for their input, even if you think it’s stupid or off the mark.

 

Commandment Number 5: Balance control and independence.

You want abundant creativity, without wasting too much energy on schemes that are fiscally or politically out of orbit. But don’t squelch any ideas too soon. Something that first sounds impossible could convert into a creative solution later. Practice asking: “What’s good about that insight, and what’s not? How do we fix the not and keep the good?” As you identify problems, go back to the team for solutions. For any “it” that’s particularly tough, keep asking: “How can we fix that?” Early in the discussion, keep all the ideas flowing. With luck the team will identify solutions during the meeting. If not, there’s homework ahead.

 

Commandment Number 6: Mind the clock.

Announce the duration of each meeting and a limit for each speaker’s input. You can operate via recognition by a moderator, an open-mike free-for-all, or passing a baton, coffee mug, or silly hat. But you should appoint a clock monitor to cut off self-appointed geniuses and long-winded drones. First get all whining out of the way: what’s wrong, why we’re stuck, what’ll never change, blah blah blah. Then invite suggestions of alternative solutions. This is the part of a meeting that gives brain-storming its name. Try to identify the universe of possibilities, anything they’d like to see as part of the final answer. Save enough time to evaluate options and agree on what happens next.

 

Commandment Number 7: Use carrots and sticks as needed

You’re bound to have a mix of recalcitrant donkeys and over-eager beavers, each uniquely problematic. Promises of rewards or future success are good inducements to participate. Praise and recognition go a long way too, as do one-on-one meetings with each participant in which you say (even if you need to wash your mouth out later) “We’re sure lucky you’re on our team.” But you’ll have to make them personal, in case folks compare notes about your pep talks. Be sure to diffuse troublemakers early. They may hate meetings, or simply not like you. But quickly let them quickly know the downsides of impeding the group’s progress.

 

Commandment Number 8: A little nosh never hurts.

Food has an intrinsic appeal and helps draw folks into the room. The endorphins that a little sugar and fat produce, the insights that caffeine will stimulate, and the general sense of goodwill that an eating break engenders can all be your allies. You don’t want your meetings to degenerate to a coffee klatch. But it’s better to have folks feeling sated and comfortable than waiting like nervous recruits for the drill sergeant to bark at them before breakfast. Create an atmosphere of collegiality and see how your team responds.

 

Commandment Number 9: Assign homework as you need to.

Create task teams to pursue different alternatives. Acknowledge the costs and benefits of proposed solutions. Assign the biggest whiners to help resolve pet peeves (though only one per working group or you risk mutiny). Be clear about the specific mission of each subgroup, and how much time they should spend. Have each team email the whole committee 48 hours before the next group meeting, and detail their progress. Their homework should explain the problem they were assigned to examine, summarize the steps they took to resolve it, identify their preferred solution, and the advantages and constraints of their recommendations. This all feeds the next agenda. Note: It helps if people read these emails before they walk into the room.

 

Commandment Number 10: Create consensus.

Your goal is to get everyone to buy into a final solution. They should leave every meeting with a how-can-we-do-it attitude (emphasis on the we), and with enough momentum to get them to do whatever it is you’ve agreed upon. Some philosophers say, whatever the boss says goes. Others believe that if even one person disagrees, the group should not proceed. Opt for a more moderate mandate, a blend of common sense and necessity that’s likely to generate respect and energy, and that passes the red face test (you’re able to announce your recommendations without blushing). Get every attendee to agree, before they leave the room, that they’ll work towards the proposed solution, even if it’s not perfect, because it offers a better future than their current reality.

 

Be sure you to take a minute to summarize how the time was spent, giving credit to folks for their enthusiasm, contributions, willingness to do more, or other aspects of participation. Like an series of inoculations, it may take several rounds to be successful. But if you can get your crew in harness, used to the meeting process, and genuinely aimed in the right direction, you’ll find that both your authority and your team’s productivity will bring many new future rewards. Plus you get coffee and a bagel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Commandments for Long Distance Communication

 

Help Wanted: Must Give Good Phone

Your Jewish Fairy Godmother’s 10 Commandments for
Long Distance Communication

 

Most of us don’t have a lot of face-to-face contact with the people we do business with. There’s the usual cast of characters you meet at the water cooler or bump into “down the hall.” People you communicate with through email and via text messaging. These are related but different art forms. But a primary form of communication that’s unlikely to vanish for at least a few decades is the hone, and its kissing cousin voicemail. With some skills and confidence you can make these among the most effective tools in your professional quiver.

 

There’s lots of reasons you dial people: to sell them something; to get information so you can customize a bid or proposal; to get them to read whatever you want to send them. Not every commandment is relevant in every situation. But understanding how they work will get you a reputation that’ll serve you well with colleagues and clients at home and away. The rules below focus on outgoing calls, but also work for incoming. Think relationship building as you read. Remember: Any or all of these folks might do your career some good or ill. And you might never know how or when.

 

Commandment Number 1: Aim for human contact.

Let’s face it, getting through to the person you want to talk to isn’t as easy as it was in the old days. Then most people picked up every call, themselves! Now, caller ID announces to everyone who you are and what company you’re with. In addition, instead of connecting directly with your target, you may encounter a gatekeeper, someone whose job is to prevent you from speaking to the person you want to find. Better than voicemail, but also trickier. The commandments below will work for both quarry and guard. But you may need to be persistent in your dialing, masking your name or revealing it in alternating tries, in order to actually reach a live person or get them to return your call.

 

Commandment Number 2: Be polite.

No matter what voice appears on the other end of the line, you want to be perceived as professional. Starting with “Hey” is the fast track to a click and a dial tone. Introduce yourself quickly with “Hello I’m [name] with [org]l and I’d like to speak with X about Y” or some other short declarative, informative sentence. Then ask their name, even if you were told it by the company operator. Your goal is to get the person on the other end both listening and speaking, not figuring out how to get rid of you. Once they’ve said hello they’re less likely give you an immediate rejection. Having established contact, ask for one minute of their time. No matter how busy a person is, they have one minute to share, if they want to share it. And make sure to ask some questions, so the other person gets actively engaged.

 

Commandment Number 3: Be professional.

When you give your pitch, be short, sweet, and invitational. Sound like someone they want to talk to, someone offering something they’ll value, not wanting to take something from them, especially a lot of time. If you need information, sound plausible, not shady. Speak clearly and steadily, with few pauses. Pauses allow people to say no thanks or good bye or some other conversation-ending word. Give enough information for them to see your usefulness. Do it in a way that’s not a hard sell (even if you’re selling) but that suggests there’s more and better soon if they’ll give you a little more time. Key words like resource, value-added, and other language that implies they’ll benefit from the relationship are good vocabulary to master. So is a sincere tone.

 

Commandment Number 4: Be personal, within reason.

Everyone wants to be recognized. They want to feel welcome and liked. If you can engage them briefly on something not related to work, even for an instant (the weather or their local team’s latest achievement, for example) you’ll have broken through the hardest barrier: becoming real to them. If you speak to them often keep track of their vacations, children, even pets. A contact file is a useful tool; you can use software or 3×5 cards, whatever helps you tell Joe from John from Joan. Important: Know your boundaries. Don’t ask about sex, religion, or politics, even with someone whom you think you know well. People are rarely fully honest on these issues and you’re more likely to hurt than help yourself.

 

Commandment Number 5: Control content and contact flow.

Give what you want; get what you need. That’s true for voice-to-voice or voice-to-machine. It includes all the befriending tips above, revealing enough but not all of why you want to connect until you get to where you want to go. At a minimum, get the name and number of another person to talk to, and start the wooing again. Always say goodbye in a way that implies you’ll make the next move, even if the listener does nothing between now and then. It’s very important to keep that right for yourself, whether that’s calling again (If you didn’t get to your true target or accomplish your mission), sending an email (you can include more content), or speaking to another person in the organization.

 

Commandment Number 6: Leave good messages.

You may make it through a gatekeeper but then get shunted to voicemail. Rather than fumbling for words, have your message ready, sounding competent but automated. State your phone number early, slowly, and carefully, and repeat it again, slowly, last. You should sound crisp and professional, efficient and businesslike. Ideally they will listen to your message themselves rather than have an assistant monitoring the line. But in either case you want to leave your contact info, refer them to your website, or give other content that makes them interested enough to either take some/any step in your direction or think well enough of you that they’ll respond to your follow-up.

 

Commandment Number 7: Wear a headset.

This commandment is especially true if your primary job is cold-calling others. But it’s useful for all conversations, even in-house ones. Headsets are more than ergonomic. They’re a way to get comfy enough to communicate freely. If you’re comfortable you’ll sound more relaxed. When you’re more relaxed you’ll sound more personal. Listen for the difference between a speakerphone call and a headset one. You’ll easily discern that the person who sounds comfortable also sounds more confident. Also, headsets will keep your volume and content from being overheard by curious eavesdroppers. Never, ever, communicate confidential information via speakerphone.

 

Commandment Number 8: Know your buttons.

Everyone hates being on hold. What they hate more is being disconnected. And if you’ve finally gotten though to your target, the last thing you want to do is accidentally lose them. Master all the details of your phone system: how to put folks on hold, three-way the call to add a colleague, transfer to other folks, or record the conversation. A modern phone is as sophisticated as a computer. Take the time, tedious as it may seem, to know what tools are available to you and how to use them. And keep the list of relevant extensions right by your phone.

 

Commandment Number 9: Be careful how you multitask.

No one likes hearing someone chew lunch in their ear. If the listener hears the sounds of your keyboard tapping in the background of a call, they may not know if you’re taking notes on the conversation or working on an email to your boyfriend. Ditto for opening or wrapping packages, blowing your nose, slurping coffee, sorting through mail or recycling, and horror of horrors, flushing. If you get a call-interrupt, make the split-second judgment about who is most important. If you must, and I mean emergency must, put someone on hold, ask for their permission and wait to hear “sure, “ knowing you might still lose them. Give the subject of your call the most focused attention that you can.

 

Commandment Number 10: Say thanks.

Everyone works too hard. They want to feel that you’ve appreciated the time they’ve spent with you. Even if you got shut down hard at the door, say a thank you that sounds sincere. You may need to call back in the future and you want the call answered. If you got what you needed, be especially sure to ask if there’s any way you can be of more help. Keep reminding yourself: you may never meet this person one-on-one in person. How you phone is how they will remember you.

 

You want people to like you enough to tell the truth, give you information, and be willing to talk to you again if you need to call back. The most important thing is to make them feel that the time with you  was not wasted. Work to keep the doors of access open, for yourself and any colleague who might need to dial the same number.