Archive for the ‘Workplace Dilemmas’ Category

Carolyn so many people can relate to your experience – in fact, I’ve been there myself.  What you understand is that payment for the work we do comes in two forms: psychic rewards and physical rewards.  Psychic rewards are the “feel good” experiences which feed the mental / spiritual side of us.  It’s the reward that comes from contributing our efforts and knowing we’ve made a difference.  Physical rewards on the other hand are the tangibles we receive – money, perq’s, benefits, etc.  Both are essential.   

Here are some options for you to consider:

  1. Find a way to boost your psychic income.  Volunteer.  Sponsor a cause. Start a positive movement. Do this in your spare time. What spare time? Cut out or cut down time spent watching TV, surfing the net, reading trash – you get the picture.  Eliminating just one hour per day, “finds” you the equivalent of nine 40 hr work weeks (Amazing isn’t it!). Hey, there’s a positive movement idea for you : )
  2. Reframe the way you think about your work, your job, your employer, your industry.  Find the good in it.  Stop telling yourself that you hate what you do.  Start telling yourself that what you do creates value for other people. Remember, what you focus on expands. 
  3. Do your job from your life purpose.  Huh? For example, if you know your purpose is to serve, then think about how what you do serves others.  Dig deep.  You’ll find it if you’re looking for it. Without question, someone is benefiting from what you do. Tap into that partnership feeling and feed it.
  4. Ask yourself if you are bored? Boredom is often the sign that you are ready to be promoted…or ready for a new challenge.  Ask to lead a new project. Do your research first, and present a well thought out idea. Where is there a service gap in your company or industry? How can you fill it?
  5. Think about what you would do if you could do, then take the first step towards that.  For example, if owning your own business is your dream, then draw it up.  What would it look like?  Who would you serve? What would you offer? How would you make money? Concretize it before you leap.
  6. Think about going back to school.  Start by investigating your options.  Where do you want to grow your knowledge? How could you make it work? Is part time continuing education an option?
  7. Think about reducing your work week or changing your work hours to give you more time/flexibility to pursue other options.  Many companies offer flex week programs.  Talk to your HR dept.
  8. Start a blog. Write about what you’re passionate about.  Contribute to the discussion. Create a following, and provide value. 
  9. Pursue your hobbies.. passionately. What interest could you expand into a passion?  Find classes and interest groups to support your growth.
  10. Be grateful for the success you have.  This is a biggie.  I’m not talking about cursory gratitude here, but the type of gratitude that feeds your soul.  Think about how brilliant it is that you are where you are…that you have achieved what you have achieved…and that somebody thinks you are valuable enough to pay you well.  That is a blessing!  Start and end everyday expressing gratitude for what you have. And then pat yourself on the back for creating these positive results for yourself!

Carolyn, I hope I’ve given you much to think about.  Thank you so much for asking!  To your continued success…Deb

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Often people think the rules are different for communicating with the boss.  The only difference is that the stakes are higher.  That means you must choose your words carefully.  But the truth is Bev, it is important to choose words with care with everyone to whom we speak. 

Most people who offend or bother us, do so unintentionally – including bosses.  Having worked with hundreds of  managers over the years, I can assure you that they are as concerned about the well being of their people, as they are about results.  

Bosses are human, they know they are imperfect, and like everyone else, they want to grow.  No matter how “difficult” you perceive your boss to be, I can assure you that if their words or actions are creating a negative environment, they would want to know.   

I still recommend using the formula for assertive communication from the previous blog post, and I will add one extra step.  It’s called the “benefit of the doubt” statement.  Here are the 4 steps:

  1. When you…or When people…
  2. I feel…. (because)
  3. I respect the fact that… (or I understand that…) This added step gives them the benefit of the doubt.
  4. State what you want.

Examples:  (use a super calm, neutral voice, neutral face)

“Name, When people yell at me, I feel upset.  I understand that you are angry, and I understand why.  But it’s not necessary to yell at me to get results.” 

“Name, when you tell me to put on “my big girl panties”, I feel offended.  To me that expression is derogatory.  I respect the fact that you meant no harm by it.  My request is that you don’t use that expression with me.”

“Name, may I speak frankly with you?  When you blackberry during our one-on-one’s, I feel bothered.  Because I know that I don’t have your full attention and it’s distracting.  I respect the fact that you are pulled in a million directions with so many priorities on your plate.  However during our one-on-one time, could you please not respond to your blackberry?”

“Name, when you use foul language, I feel bothered.  I am sure that you are not meaning to offend.  However since it does bother me, I am requesting that you refrain from swearing in my presence.”

Now, in the unlikely event the boss responds with a “you’re too sensitive” comment, respond politely with this:  “I don’t see this as an issue of sensitivity, I see this as an issue of respect.”  Then stop talking.  (Tone will be very important here)

So Bev, the key is to be diplomatic, honest, and respectful in all of your communications, and pick your battles wisely (ie don’t point out the boss’ missteps daily.)  Expect that your boss may be surprised, especially if he or she did not intend to offend.  Speak respectfully and the boss will respect what you have to say.  And if the boss has any measure of integrity and character, he or she will thank you for bringing it to their attention.   

Bev, thanks for asking about what so many struggle with.

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Love this question Carol!  So many of my workshop participants struggle with this same problem.  Often ,when someone’s behaviour offends us personally, we lose our composure, and sometimes our emotional control.  In those moments it’s really tough to be eloquent! 

Here’s my recommendation:  Memorize an intro line, that you can just whip out without struggling.  In fact, I strongly recommend you memorize this 3 step formula for asserting yourself on the spot…

  1. The first line – Memorize these 2 words:  “When you…or “When people…”(then describe what they’ve said or done)… 
  2. The second line – Memorize these 2 words:  “I feel…or “I think…”(then share 1 or 2 feelings words that describe the impact  their behaviour has on you)….You can also tag on an optional “Because” statement to explain your position.
  3. Then tell them what you want. “Please do not…”, or “Next time…”,  

I should clarify, that Step 2 – is all about your feeling response to their behaviour.  So the focus is you.  Don’t fall in the trap of saying something like “I feel you’re an idiot!’  or “I feel you don’t respect me.”  No.  This isn’t about them, this is about you.  Only describe your feelings.  And do not use more than 2 feeling words.

Strung together, the formula flows together quickly and easily.  Here are a few examples:

“When you call me that name, I feel offended.  Please do not call me by that name again.”

“When you are late for meetings, I feel annoyed.  Because it is disruptive.  I need you to be on time in future.”

“When you share inappropriate jokes, I feel embarrassed.  Please do not share jokes like this with me in the future.”

“When people speak about women in that way, I think it is disrespectful.  Please do not speak that way in my presence again.”

“When you speak to me in that manner, I feel angry and disrespected.  Please do not speak to me in that manner again.” 

“When you gossip about other people, I feel worried.  Because I wonder what you may be saying about me when I am not present.  Please don’t share this type of information with me again.”  

“When people talk about others behind their back, I worry.  Because I wonder what may be said about me when I am not present.  So I’ve made it my policy not to get involved in this type of discussion.  (same scenario, less direct)

“When you yell at me, I feel angry and defensive, and I stop listening.  Lower your volume, or I will exit the room.”

By the way, consider the “please” in these statements optional.  Omit it, and it will sound firmer.

Now, if you are thinking “this sounds harsh”, let me assure you that being direct is the most appropriate way to stand your ground and set boundaries or rules of conduct.  Assertive communication is direct.  It is firm.  And it is respectful.  And when compared to the alternatives (saying nothing, or exploding), it’s significantly more effective.

When you are speaking, make direct, but not glaring, eye contact.  Lower your tone of voice – a baby voice will weaken your message.  And watch your body language.  Don’t clench your teeth, or your fists, and don’t tense your neck.  These are hostile body movements and they will be perceived as aggressive.  

When you are done speaking – STOP!  Resist the urge to say anything else – it will weaken your message.  Stop and listen to their response if they have one.   If they apologize, accept it graciously – resist the urge to say “it’s OK”  Resist the urge to repeat yourself. 

Hope this helps Carol.

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Jan, let’s examine your guilt.  Have you done something inappropriate, offensive, illegal or immoral?  No.  So what is your guilt about?   Saying “no” to someone else’s priorities so that you can say “yes” to your own priorities?  Isn’t that a good thing?  

Now you may be thinking, “But I feel badly about disappointing them.” 

You’re a caring person, I get that.  As good as you are, you are not responsible for rescuing the world and fixing everyone’s problems.  Nor does anyone expect that of you.  “No’s” are a part of life.

Let me ask you this:

When you consistently say “no” to your priorities so that you can say “yes” to someone else’s priorities, do you feel good?

No.  You feel disappointed for not honouring yourself.   A lifetime of pleasing others means a lifetime of disappointing yourself.

Life is about choices.  The truth is, we have a finite amount of time, and only one life.  If you want a rewarding, fulfilling, authentic life, then you must live your life according to your values and priorities – based upon what will give you the highest emotional and financial rewards, in the time you have.  That means you must choose.

Whenever we say “yes” to something, we have to say “no” to something else and vice versa.  Consider this scenario: at the last minute your boss asks you to stay late because of an important deadline.  But you have promised your son you would watch his little league game.  If you say “yes” to your boss, you have to say “no” to your son.  If you say “yes” to your son, you have to say “no’ to your boss.   How will you choose? 

Your answer will depend upon many factors – most importantly, what will feel most congruent with your values and priorities.  Honour those above all. 

The good news is that people respect other people who uphold their personal values and live with integrity.  Even if it means hearing a “no”.  Will they be disappointed?  Perhaps.  Will they respect you?  Absolutely!

Now, saying “no” doesn’t mean you have to abruptly slam the proverbial door in someone’s face.  There is a gentle way to say no.  Here’s the formula that I use:

  1. Start with an understanding statement to acknowledge the reason for their request.  Could sound like: this sounds important…I see that you are stuck…I understand your situation….I’m complimented that you would ask…Thank you for considering me…
  2. Next, explain your situation.  “Unfortunately, I have other commitments…I’ve promised…I’m choosing…Here’s my situation…
  3. Consider alternatives you could offer this person.  “Can we try…What if….Could you ask…How ’bout I… Here’s what I can do…Are there other options…

This type of gentle, thoughtful “no” preserves relationships, reduces the chances of residual bad feelings, and shows that you still want to offer some level of support.  That’s a win-win! 

Now, to help ease your feelings of guilt, affirm your decision to yourself with this statement: “By saying no to this person, I am honouring myself and what I value most.  And that feels really good.  At the same time, I know and trust that this person is resourceful and will find a solution.”

I hope that helps you Jan. Great question.

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Well this certainly is a universal problem isn’t it Ron! OK, so I’m picturing a conversation where you are listening  politely to someone who is going on and on and on.  All because you made the mistake of asking them how they were.  And they thought you meant it!

The key Ron is to be direct but polite by using a graceful exit line.  Or, use avoidance strategies to prevent getting caught in a long winded conversation with someone you know is a “windbag”. 

Here are a few strategies for you to consider:

  1. Try non-verbal cues.  If you are in physical rapport with them (facing them with eye contact locked on), step out of rapport.  Reduce eye contact.  Change your body position – step back, turn so that you are standing sideways to them, or stand up if you are sitting.  Look at your watch repeatedly.
  2. With an employee, interrupt them when they take a breath and tell them directly “What you have to say is important, and you deserve my attention.  Right now I’m thinking about the priorities on my desk.  Can we continue this conversation later?” Or “Ron this sounds important, but right now I have a meeting to prepare for.  Let’s meet for coffee later.”  Or “Excuse me for interrupting you Ron, but I have an appointment in 10 minutes (or an important deadline to meet).  Let’s finish this at another time.” Or “I want to listen but this is not a good time for me.  Book 15 minutes with me this afternoon.”  Note that setting a time frame to the meeting is important.  And when the meeting starts, state, “OK we have just 15 minutes together, what can I help you with?”
  3. You can also use avoidance strategies when you see them coming.  Avoid eye contact, keep working, even if they start talking to you.  Respond minimally, if at all.  They should get the hint.  If they don’t, say something like “Sorry Ron, nothing personal, I’m trying to meet an important deadline here.” And keep working.
  4. Do not ask them any open ended questions.  Instead of “How was your vacation“, say something like “Glad you’re back Ron.  You look well rested.  I won’t keep you because I’m sure you have a pile to catch up on.”  And then walk away.
  5. Interrupt them the moment they start talking with the stop sign hand and say “Before we start talking, I should let you know that I only have four minutes before I have to head out.  We have to make this fast.”
  6. As much as possible, try to have meetings in their workspace versus yours.  It’s easier to get up and walk away then try to shuffle someone out of your space.
  7. If it’s a work related conversation, where someone is going on and on about a work problem, you could say “I think I see what you’re getting at, but summarize it for me in a few sentences.”  Or “Put this in writing to me so that I have time to review your recommendations.”
  8. Finally, let’s make sure that we’re not the windbag!  Pay attention to the body language clues of other people.  When they retreat, look at their watch, and disengage, we have a responsibility to set them free.

These strategies work Ron, the key is to know your audience, and to be prepared.  Good luck!

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Ouch.  Jamie I can see why you are angry about this.  You do need to take a stand with this person privately, and when your anger is in control (ie you have enough residual anger energy to provide you with the courage to have this conversation, but not so much anger that you’ll behave aggressively, which won’t be helpful).

You have two ways you could approach this.  Both require brutal honesty.  One is giving some benefit of the doubt.  It could sound like this:

“Yesterday at our team meeting when you tabled the idea about ….. I was stunned.   This is the same idea that I shared with you over lunch on Tuesday.  I trusted you with my idea and I feel angry that you broke that trust.  Help me to understand this from your point of view (or What happened?).”  And then listen openly for their response. 

If they apologize, accept it graciously (resist all temptation to say that it was OK), and ask them for their ideas on how they will fix this misrepresentation.  If they deny and get defensive and angry then continue to calmly and directly assert your position,eg “Clearly we do not see this from the same point of view.  And I do not accept your explanation (or your choice of conduct).  I have learned that I can no longer trust you with this kind of information in the future.” 

Option two is to speak assertively about their behaviour, without asking for their point of view to send a clear message that it won’t be tolerated.  This option is appropriate if there is history of this type of sabotage behaviour with this person and/or no doubt that it was a blatant and purposeful act.  It could sound like this (calm assertive tone):

“Yesterday at our team meeting, you took credit for an idea that I came up with.  I feel angry and betrayed.  I shared my ideas with you in confidence and you broke that trust.  You need to know that I will no longer trust you with this kind of information in the future.”  (then walk away)

Jamie, this may seem harsh, especially if you are not used to speaking assertively.  However there is nothing inappropriate about firmly and directly confronting inappropriate behaviour.  Unless you take a stand, you will send the message that people can walk all over you.  And in the long run, it will be your credibility that suffers.  (People don’t promote doormats).

Make sure that you do not speak angrily, and certainly do not use derogatory language or name calling, or assign negative intentions (ie “you did that to sabotage me“).  Don’t go there.  Your job is to speak factually about the behaviour that was inappropriate and the effect it had on you.  That’s it.  Use a firm tone and make direct eye contact, with no fidgeting and no aggressive body gestures (like pointing or clenching your fist).  Your body language needs to support your message.  

Jamie, what you haven’t asked about, but I suspect you’re wondering, is how can you get credit for this idea after the fact without looking like the school yard tattle-tale.  This is delicate but can be done.  Privately to your boss (or to whomever it is that you need to set the record straight):  

“Yesterday when (name) tabled the idea about ….I am concerned that she/he missed some key information.  You should know that I have researched the feasibility of this idea and shared the highlights with (name) before our meeting, with the intention of tabling it myself.  Unfortunately that didn’t happen as planned, but I’d like the opportunity to share my full findings with you now.  My intention is not to create waves, or to get credit here.  I simply want to present the idea fully.”  (and then proceed to share the full merits of your idea)

I hope that helps you Jamie…Deb

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Joan, you are right to be concerned. Communication skills are the most highly leveraged skills in business and in life. While technical competency, credentials, or know-how get us in the door, it’s our ability to influence that determines longer term success.


The fact that the two of you are colleagues should not deter you from offering insight and information that could benefit her.  The truth is, we all need feedback to grow.  And I can’t think of a better source of feedback then from a close and trusted colleague.  In fact, use this intention as your opening line:


“Name, I have an observation for you that I think will help you.  May I share it?”


Next you will give her very specific feedback that you observed (use a caring tone).  Here is the formula that I use:

  1. state your observations
  2. answer the “so what” question
  3. offer praise and/or empathy
  4. make a suggestion

For example: 

  1.  “Yesterday at our meeting, when your idea was challenged, I noticed your confidence erode.  I saw it in your face and your body language, and even in the sound of your voice.
  2.  It’s a pattern I’ve noticed previously which is why I’m bringing this to your attention (or,  I recognized it because this is something that I’ve struggled with myself). 
  3. I know it can be difficult to stand strong in the face of opposition, even as a bright and competent professional, which you are. 
  4. Have you considered taking assertive communication training, or hiring a coach to work with you in this area?”  or “Here are the resources that I used to help me in this area…”

 Joan, I am willing to bet that she will respond with acknowledgement and appreciation.  People know when their confidence is low.  They struggle with it internally and silently.  Putting it on the table, without judgment, and offering suggestions is a kind and supportive act.


In the rare event that she responds defensively, simply drop it.  Your objective is not to demand improvement, or to be “right”.  Back out gracefully with something like: “I see that I have offended you and that was not my intention.  My intention was to offer support.  I apologize if I overstepped my bounds.” 


Thank you for your question. ..Deb

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