Criticism, Intrusion or Help? Decoding Feedback.

Everyone has something they feel the need to tell us at work. And we’re prone to decoding 385688469_50fa8bc03b_mreciprocate.

They may comment on:

  • Our attire, haircut, and interactive style
  • Organizational changes and the risks to us
  • The last presentation we made, data set developed, or marketing idea we created
  • The likelihood of our getting promoted or even downsized

We tend, at first, to take these comments at face value, as part of the background noise of work, until they strike a nerve.

Decoding messages

Workplace savvy is a measure of our ability to correctly decode what we hear and see.

What our colleagues tell us is important. Behind every comment there’s either support, caution, implied criticism, or an offer of help.

We tend to weigh feedback based on who’s giving it: our boss, a coworker we like or one we don’t, the department manager, the HR rep, a customer, or a project team leader.

Consider the following statements as if you were either a hearing them or making them. Each has a positive element but two have a potentially negative undercurrent.

  • Mary, your proposal for using social media to attract younger customers to our new product is a good one. Do you also plan to include messages that will connect with our long-time customers?

          Criticism: If this is feedback from Mary’s boss, there’s a subtle criticism that her                proposal missed a key customer segment.

           Help: If it’s coming from a coworker, it could be considered helpful input to ensure            the proposal’s success.

  • Jacob, I’ve successfully put together Power Point presentations for the VP in the past. Let me finish the one you’re working on to announce the reorganization.

           Intrusion: This coworker is saying, “I know how to do this and you don’t. Give it to             me, so I can be the agent of its success.” I’d be wary of the coworker’s next  step             which may be taking the credit and demeaning Jacob.

  • Paul, the last time there was a safety drill, I had the lead like you do now. Unfortunately, our department didn’t do too well. I learned a lot in the process, so if you’d like to talk over your plan, I’d be happy to share what I learned.

         Help: Here the coworker is reaching out, offering to share her knowledge and           experience so Paul can incorporate it into his plan.

Good feedback is information that enriches our knowledge and perspectives, so we can do a better job.

Decoding intent

Who’s giving the feedback, why , and how determine the way we take it.

I was inspired to write this post while outside spraying herbicide on the grass creeping through the stones on my driveway.

It was another hot, humid day with a forecast of periods of rain.

As I was spraying, an older man in a mid-sized, green pick up stopped in the street across from me.

With a smile and a friendly voice, he said that there was no sense spraying those weeds Sprayer 007when more rain was just going to wash it off.

I’d never met this guy, although I’d been maintaining my farm property for over 25 years.

I told him that I’d had lots of experience killing weeds, the environmentally-friendly material I was using was commercial grade, and that the leaves would absorb it in about an hour. (My feedback to him.)

I too smiled and spoke in a friendly voice.

He smiled again, wished me a nice day, and drove off.

At first, I thought he was just trying to be helpful. Maybe he was.

Then I thought he was actually both critical (“How dumb is that woman using herbicide when it might rain?”) and intrusive (“I’d better stop her from wasting her time and money.”)

Anyway, I kept on spraying and the rain held off as I expected.

Stay savvy.

Things are rarely what they seem. Words have more layers than a chocolate torte. Making sure you understand what’s behind the feedback you receive and the feedback you give enhances your ability to navigate the challenging waters of your career.

Photo by bubbo-tubbo via Photoree


5 Steps to Survive Turmoil at Work | Dealing with Crisis

It’s unavoidable. In life and at work, big things will go wrong with us right in the middle: 

  • Systems fail
  • Employees rebel
  • Facilities get destroyed
  • Serious accidents happen
  • Stock prices plummet

The closer we are to the center of the crisis event, the more it throws our jobs into turmoil, turning our routines upside down and challenging us to act.

Stress levels rise 

Every crisis is stressful. Often we don’t recognize that stress and its compounding effect on us until we’ve been in the thick of things for a while.

A crisis can overcome us with relentless problem-solving demands. We’re called upon to deal with what’s in front of us while trying to anticipate what’s coming.

If we can’t see or anticipate the end of the crisis, its weight gets heavier.

The disruption a crisis causes grabs hold of us when:

  • Work routines are thrown into chaos
  • Resources and facilities we rely on are unavailable or unreliable
  • Direction is slow in coming or non-existent as the leadership engages emergency plans (if they exist) or grapples with the unanticipated
  • Employees become upset, confused or unable to function effectively
  • People race to fix what they can, sometimes with direction and sometimes without.

Turmoil isn’t pretty, although many covet a good crisis every now and then to get their juices flowing. Truth is, the crisis we get may not be one we’re suited for. 

Crisis as teacher 

On October 29, 2011, an un-seasonal snowstorm dumped massive amounts of wet snow throughout the region where I live, including eleven inches at my farm. The trees were still leaf-covered, so the snow’s weight tore off limbs which dragged down power lines. I was out of power for five days—no water, no heat, and no cooking.

I work for myself. So no power meant the loss of my business infrastructure, particularly access to client information and the ability to create work product without internet access. (Fortunately, I still had phone service.) No power also meant I had to change my work routine and live uncomfortably.

This experience made it clear that, whether it’s a personal or workplace crisis, there are five basic steps for managing it:

  1. Take charge—There’s always something we need to do. We have work that’s ours, so we need to figure out a work-around, right away. (I needed water for myself and my animals, so I needed to haul it out of the creek.)
  2. Team up—Others will likely be affected by the crisis, so we need to connect with them pronto, figure out the resources and capabilities of each, and organize. (My neighbor had a big gas grill and I had defrosted meat. Voila, a hot meal.)
  3. Ask for/accept help—If people have help to give, let them. (I’m lousy at this, too stoic for my own good. Several friends got my attention on this, so I’ll try to do better. I eventually asked a friend with power if I could take a shower at her place. Heaven!)
  4. Reset expectations—A crisis puts us off our game, so we need to recalibrate what’s realistic for our performance and work accordingly. (I could still coach clients over the phone, but I couldn’t send email follow ups until the power came back. My work day was shortened because darkness and cold caused me to hunker down, so I caught up on my professional reading–by lantern light.)
  5. Be patient—Every crisis comes to an end eventually, although we may not know when or what our post-crisis life will be like. It’s important to take one day at a time and remember that the crisis, very likely, isn’t just about you. (I accepted new, necessary time-consuming routines like heating water over the fire pit, using creek water for flushing and washing, and taking advantage of daylight.)

 Be grateful 

A crisis is an experience that gives you a chance to step up. When the smoke clears, people will remember how you handled the situation. It’s important to express gratitude for what you were spared and for the opportunity to contribute to the recovery, no matter how large or small your contribution. Good luck!

Photo from Aleksi Aaltonen via Flickr



Did You Know? Career Skill-Building Begins at Home.

Got a life? Then you’ve got a gold mine. Why? Because your life is crammed with opportunities to build the skills you need for a successful career. 

Don’t believe me? 

Think of a “crazy time” in your life when you had to contend with challenging situations like starting college, moving into a house or apartment, getting a divorce or out of debt. 

Those situations require real management skills although that may not be what you’re thinking in the heat of the moment. 

Every life challenge teaches us something important about ourselves, other people, and the way the world works. When we don’t learn from our experiences, we squander an opportunity to expand the arsenal of skills and insights our career growth depends on. 

Life lessons build skills. 

In my late 20’s, I, a country-loving girl, convinced my then husband, a Brooklyn, New York native, to rent an old farmhouse which had been the family home of an elderly, reclusive woman, recently deceased.  Prior to being rented, this remote homestead on 15 acres had been cleaned and painted from top to bottom. 

We fell in love with the place immediately, committed to a one-year lease, and moved in with our two show dogs and a cat. 

Let the adventure and skill-building lessons begin: 

Learned Lesson #1: Due diligence minimizes surprises. 

On moving day, I went into the basement and noticed that the concrete walls were almost completely black. So I looked closer and to my horror discovered that they were covered with tens of thousands of millipedes, little wormy creatures with lots of legs. Dial, Terminix, asap! So much for a pre-rental inspection. 

Next, during the early onset of winter, I noticed that there was scrap-able frost on the inside of the bathroom windows. Awaken one brutal awareness: There was no insulation anywhere in this house and no storm windows. Bad news! 

It’s important to check things out before sealing any deal! 

Learned Lesson #2: Risk management reduces calamity.

At one point, the realtor/superintendent sent his freelance, furnace serviceman to maintain the oil burner. This guy spent about a half-hour noodling around in the basement, pushing the reset button back and forth, and still the furnace wouldn’t start. So he touched a match to it and started an oil fire. 

He calmly asked, “Do you know the number of your fire company?” Answer, “No.” “Well, you should call them,” he replied. 

It took the fire company three hours to find the place. By then the house was filled with black smoke, but nothing worse. After several hours of huge fans sucking the smoke out, the calamity was over. 

Having people in the ready, who can bail you out of trouble, is smart business. 

Learned Lesson #3: Problem-solving requires initiative. 

As the winter wore on, so did the miseries of being cold while not wanting to go broke heating an un-insulated house. Something had to be done. 

We made a deal with the realtor/superintendent to share the cost of making operational a fireplace in the dining room where we would live for four months, sleeping in a trundle bed with our pets. Lovely, eh? 

It became my job to start the early morning fires in that freezing cold room. The fire wood, stored in the adjacent summer kitchen, was damp and hard to light. 

I was teaching high school at the time and a kid in my class worked at a bowling alley. When I explained my plight, he asked if I’d like him to bring me discarded bowling pins to use as kindling. You betcha! Compressed sawdust covered with lacquer starts in a flash. 

Engagement of resources and timely decision-making create good results 

And so it goes…. 

Our lives provide endless experiences that let us develop management skills away from the office’s watchful eyes. Through those life experiences, we build our skills, insights, resilience, tolerance for stress, and courage. Experiential learning bolsters our confidence and enhances our credibility. The skills you develop at home and bring to the job will enrich your career. Seize the day! 

Do you have a story to tell about skills you learned from your life experiences? Thanks.

A Must Do! Career Due Diligence |Your Life Is Your Business

We spend hours pouring over newspaper inserts to find the best clothing buys and grocery store coupons. We spend hours Googling information about vacation spots and fitness regimens. All, before we commit.

Shouldn’t we do this for our career choices too? 

Ask any high school student facing college what s/he plans to major in and you’ll hear: English, econ, accounting, pysch. 

Then ask, “Why?” Typical answers:

  • “It’s my favorite subject.”
  • “I get good grades in that subject.”
  • “I want to be an accountant [doctor, teacher, marketer]….”
  • “My parents said that would be a good major for me.”

The problem isn’t these answers: It’s the questions left unanswered like:

  • What careers paths/jobs will that major open for you?
  • Do those paths match what you want from your life? 

A college education today is still believed to be a “leg up” to better jobs, mainly  higher pay and promotions. It doesn’t necessarily mean better for your happiness, satisfaction, or health. So a lot is riding on your major and the jobs attached to it.

Why due diligence? Because it’s your life! 

Students pick majors with romanticized notions about the great jobs they’ll get by being accomplished students. They never talk to anyone currently doing those entry level or supervisory jobs to get a behind-the-scenes look.

I once coached a graduate from a prestigious university whose major was criminal justice. Just before graduation, she realized that starting jobs in her field meant street assignments. No way! So she stayed on, switching to journalism until she realized that starting reporter jobs meant evenings and weekends chasing stories. She switched again to English lit and graduated with no direction, huge tuition bills, and no viable career path.

Hard to believe she didn’t investigate  those job realities the second and third time? It just didn’t occur to her and she’s not alone.

I’ve also worked with many, career-weary adults who took a long time to admit that they had invested years in a career that never fit them. Each one had to either reinvent him/herself or start over. Even with their own experiences behind them, they don’t teach their children how to avoid the same mistakes. Why? Because no one showed them how.

Don’t get me wrong. Every career is an adventure. That’s good. What isn’t good is committing to a career path blindly. Due diligence helps minimize painful disappointment or reasons to start over. You can’t control for everything, but you can avoid lot of missteps.

You need to do this! 

Whether you are a student, an entry level or veteran employee, each time you say to yourself: “I want to be a [job title]:”

  • Write down the name(s) of 5 people in your family, community or among your friends, who are doing that job or one like it
  • Ask them to spend 15 minutes explaining to you what they do on a daily basis
  • Ask what they like best or least, what skills or education they needed, what it takes to get promoted, and who else you can talk to
  • See whether or not their work environment fits you
  • Ask yourself: Can I see myself in that line of work for a long time? 

(This is called information interviewing, a technique credited to Richard N. Bolles, who’s book, What Color Is Your Parachute?, gives the details. Find more on line. See, it’s all out there for the Googling!)

CBS contributor, Ben Stein, says, “The giants I have worked with in my life… found the thing that they were very, very good at, and did that with extraordinary focus.” Then he adds: “…harmonize your goals with your talents.”

That’s big! If your goals aren’t rooted in a realistic understanding of what the job market is all about, harmony is harder to come by. When you’re business fit, you’ve achieved the understanding and insights you need to build your best career. Let the explorations begin!

Have a story about a student who isn’t making the connection between his/her studies and the job market? Any ideas why students don’t explore the real story behind the kinds of jobs they’re after? Your insights can make a big difference!

Dullard or Dynamo? A Case for Change! | Your Life Is Your Business

“You just don’t get it.” Ouch! That’s a pretty damning phrase these days. It’s also a reminder that we need to keep up or be left behind with no one waiting for us to catch up.

The more you know the more options you have.

Do you know dull people? I do. Are you dull? I hope not. We’re all susceptible to becoming stuck in a rut or irrelevant if we aren’t careful. So ask yourself:

  • Do I hang around with the same people all the time?
  • Am I doing the same things in my free time?
  • Do I avoid new challenges at work?
  • Am I doing my work the same old way? 

If you answered “yes” or “unsure,” oops!  

When a company answers “yes” to those questions, it’s saying, we

  • Don’t want new employees or customers either
  • Don’t invest in performance improvements
  • Don’t take risks to become more competitive
  • Don’t adopt new industry best practices 

Would you buy stock in that company? Me neither! Would you buy stock in yourself? Hummmm!

You can’t go forward when you’re stopped or in reverse. 

Your life is your business and you’re the only one driving. You can either go forward, park, or back up.

Business survival depends on the ability to grow and remain relevant in the marketplace. That’s why companies engage in research and development, exploration of new work methods, and employee training.

You need to do that too…for yourself. If your life is one dimensional, you limit yourself. Too many people expect the company they work for to provide learning and growth opportunities instead of finding those outlets themselves. Hey, it’s your life. Learn what you need to learn. Accept experiences that will enrich you. Do it yourself!

A casual comment may be all you need. 

A friend of mine invited me to attend a local horseman’s expo that featured vendors who sold tack, clothing, supplies, and services for people like us who were into horses.

During our wanderings, we met a woman who was selling equine art, signed prints featuring everything from cowboys to race horses. We loved what we saw.

As we were leaving the venue, my friend asked, “Would you like to do that?”

“What?” I asked.

“Become an equine art dealer,” she replied.

That’s all it took.

Now you may be wondering why I’d want to take that on. After all, I was already a commercial horse breeder and had a major corporate job.

The answer: “Because I knew nothing about retailing. I’d never been a waitress or a clerk. Never took money—cash, check, or credit cards—from anyone. I knew nothing about inventory management or sales for that matter.

Here was a chance for me to learn how all this works with products that I was passionate about and for customers who were horse enthusiasts like I was.

The business involved contracting with equine artists willing to provide copies of their work, prints and originals, on consignment. We would sell their art at major horse shows in PA and NJ where we set up as vendors. We also sold art on line.

I did this for 10 years. Here’s a partial list of what I learned how to do:

  • Procure and merchandize products
  • Market through cooperative advertising
  • Attract and retain customers
  • Manage inventory, pricing, and on-line sales
  • Package, transport, and ship
  • Manage the legal and accounting aspect of a partnership 

This wasn’t a very profitable business but it was a highly enriching experience.  

Nothing beats an ace-in-the-hole. 

We all sleep better at night when we have the right skills and experiences to maximize our career and job options. It’s like having a business fitness 401K. So fight the good fight against dullness and irrelevance by taking advantage of opportunities to learn and do. It’s all money in the bank.

Care to share an experience where you tried something new? What did you learn and how did it feel? Your story may spark a change!


Adversity as Steppingstone | Your Life Is Your Business

I’ve been broke. Actually twice. The second time was scarier.

When we least expect it, life throws us a curve ball. After all, our life is our business, so adversity comes with the territory.

Pay attention. What you see can fool you.

When the people and conditions in our lives are in synch, things run smoothly. But what happens when:

  • Disagreements drive a wedge between you and a friend
  • New people that you don’t like are accepted into your circle
  • Your debts have gotten out of hand
  • The raise or promotion you counted didn’t happen 

Events like these can change everything.

If you don’t own the problem, it won’t get fixed. 

First, you need to ask yourself, “What’s the real problem?”

Then ask, “How am I in the way of the fix?”

Usually, that answer is fear, uncertainty, low self-confidence, confusion, lack of skills, or an unwillingness to reach out.

We own our adversity. No blaming. No excuses. No hiding. Even when our problems are touched off by other people or situations, it’s still up to us to fix them. Our life is our business and a failed life is unacceptable.

Here’s my story.

Sometimes there are relationship situations that can’t be fixed or negotiated, so you need to make decisions that “stop the bleeding.” I did.

Here I was again, on my own, starting over with a mountain of debt. I owned a highly mortgaged house, ten pieces of furniture, a car, and two dogs.

Luckily, though, I had a low level management job with career growth potential somewhere down the road.

For me, asking for and accepting help from others doesn’t come easily. I believed, then, that I was supposed to solve my own problems. After all I’d gotten myself into this mess.

But this time, the circumstances were dire. Painfully, I borrowed hefty sums from two family members to avoid losing everything I had left.

When adversity comes, it expects your complete attention. So my septic system erupted. Yes, sewage soaked the lawn. I called the plumber whose quote was $2,400. I started to cry. The plumber said, “You can pay me $25 a month. Is that okay?” I cried harder for his kindness.

There was only enough money each month to pay fixed expenses. Food is a variable expense. Canned spaghetti or stew with rye bread was a staple. Every Sunday, my neighbor sent over a plate, a real home cooked meal.  I learned to accept help from everyone. They gave it warmly.

Opportunity is always knocking. So open the door! 

Until I could earn more, I would have to live this way. Up until then, I had always been an employee, used to getting a paycheck. I’d never made a dime otherwise.

One morning my phone rang. I heard a man say, “This is your veterinarian.”

“Okay,” I think. “Why is he calling me?”

He says, “My Office Manager just quit. I remembered that you were a manager. Since you know my practice, I thought maybe you’d have some advice.”

I was so caught off guard that I said, “You should call someone who does practice management consulting and have them look at things for you.”

He says, “Can you do that?”

I say, “Yes,” to my own surprise. We were both desperate.

I made it clear that his would be the first practice I ever consulted for, so the fee would reflect that.

He was my client for three years. Through him I ended up with clients in three states, using my vacation days to work with them.

In less than three years, my debts were gone, my career was growing, and I felt in charge of my life.

“Yes” can power your future. 

Adversity is often a steppingstone. Use business fitness to develop the strength you need to overcome adversity and achieve success in life—your way. It isn’t magic and it isn’t difficult. Ready…set…go!

Do you have a tale of adversity that enlightened you and brought you to a better place? What was your “ah ha” moment? Our shared struggles are our bond.


Money Talks. Are You Listening? | Your Life Is Your Business

Money is work. Given the chance, it will manipulate our decision-making. The question is: Who’s supposed to control the behavior of money? That would be us

When we have too little money to get what we want, we borrow and pay interest. When we have extra money, we invest and hope for gain. Too much borrowing and interest eats up what we earn. Poor investing means loss. There’s a lot of “woe is me” around money. 

When you control the money, it can’t control you.

 We all need money to live. That’s why we work. We need certain basics: a means of transportation, place to live, furnishings, food, and clothing. We also need to embrace life, advancing our interests and talents. There’s a cost to that. 

When it comes to spending money, the big issues are speed and magnitude. How fast must we have the things we want and need? And how grand is our thirst?

Early on, most of us don’t really know what kind of life we want to live. There’s just so much out there to figure out. We often make decisions about cars, houses, clothes, vacations, and all manner of stuff based on what others own or what people say we should have. So we just follow the pack, spending away. 

The problem: Once money is spent it’s gone. That means you need to replace it. So, you keep reporting to work each day, volunteer for some overtime, hope for a raise or promotion, or look for a new job. Maybe you even add a sideline to raise some extra cash. The cycle keeps spinning. 

We control the money by controlling our spending. Pretty complicated, eh? 

The snafu here is that spending is about behavior—ours! We spend money for lots of reasons, not all of them too admirable. Here are some typical lines: 

  • I deserve to treat myself. I work really hard.
  • My job is so boring. I’ll feel better if I go shopping.
  • Life is short. I need to enjoy these things while I’m young.
  • Everyone else has these things. I can’t look like I’m a loser.
  • If I don’t stay in style, I’ll be left out. 

Controlling spending gets easier when you know what it is that you’re working toward. 

We all make bad purchasing decisions. Each one is a lesson.

When we spend our money on dumb stuff, we need to revisit the “why” of our buying decisions.  I’ve made a few  bad purchases myself.

1. I was once obsessed with Longaberger baskets. I bought scads of them, especially the ones with the plates. I used some, decorated with others, and kept some in the boxes. I convinced myself that they were “investments” that would eventually turn a profit. Nada! (Lesson: Unless you have a market in-hand, don’t borrow to buy and resell.) 

2. I’d always wanted a baby grand piano but couldn’t afford one. I knew an antique refinisher who was restoring a baby grand that I could have for under $2,000. I was blind over it and forgot about the “if it’s too good to be true” warning. The piano became unplayable in short order. I felt like an idiot. (Lesson: Don’t let your heart rule your head and then squander your money.) 

3. As a horse breeder, I was approached about investing with a partner in a well-bred  stallion from Florida. There was a string of “experts” attesting to the quality of this horse. The price was right but not a bargain. To make a long story short, soon after we bought him, his underlying health issues surfaced and he was dead of natural causes in 6 months. (Lesson: Always do your own due diligence on any major purchase.)

 It’s your money. Treat it like it matters. 

Your life is your business. Your money makes up your budget, your investment portfolio, and your solvency. Be mindful of the life you are trying to build for yourself over the long term. Remember: business fitness is about being prepared and ready to move your life forward. You money is your wheels! 

Have you had any money “experiences” that have been eye-openers for you? What are important lessons you’ve learned?