Prickly or Pleasant? What Style Gets You. | Simple Gifts

How you look at work is one thing. How you appear is quite another.

Almost on a daily basis you can find a TV program touting the latest fashions for men and women, some programs even  providing “make overs” for audience members.

The problem is: new clothes, hair styles, or accessories can’t remake the way you  come across to others. Looking nice isn’t the same as being nice.

Your interpersonal style, the way you interact with coworkers, contributes to how they approach working with you.

Style points

We generally prefer to work with people who lighten our load, physically and psychically. Just for fun, run through the names of the people you work with and describe their interpersonal styles in one word like:

  • Prickly or warm
  • Standoffish or engaging
  • Negative or positive
  • Supportive or critical

How would your coworkers describe you? If you don’t know, ask them. How would you describe yourself? Is there are difference?

 I’m not going to tell you that all the nice guys and gals are zooming to the top of the corporate ladder, because there are plenty of unpleasant people who get ahead. However, there is more to gain by being pleasant in the workplace than by being a prickly cactus.

Your boss, coworkers or direct reports are powerful word-of-mouth agents for your at-work brand. They’re the ones extolling your style and your effectiveness at building and sustaining relationships essential to getting  work done. You can be pleasant and still:

  • Be a demanding boss
  • Speak up for yourself
  • Present concerns about a project
  • Register a complaint

To be pleasant is to be agreeable but not necessarily agreeing. It means adopting a style that creates an environment where others feel respected, never shut down or out.

I can remember being at company meetings when there were hot issues being discussed. While there were caustic voices in the mix, it was those steady and pleasant-sounding ones that were generally heard and heeded by the majority.

Why? Pleasantness is an indicator of approachability, openness, inclusiveness, and warmth. It generally creates an environment where it’s easier for people to share what’s on their minds, even when it’s awkward or uncomfortable.

Pleasantness begets pleasantness. As our work places become more competitive and as technology changes the way we interact, it’s easy to forget the importance of treating each other with kindness and patience. When your prevailing style is to be pleasant, it:

  • Makes working with you easier and less stressful
  • Frees up the flow of new ideas
  • Creates a sense of team, mutual support, and respect
  • Makes it easier to accept disappointments

Pleasantness is a simple gift.

The art of pleasantries

We often forget the value of warmth and kindness when we’re being sucked into the vortex of deadlines, meetings, projects, and endless emails. Work can disconnect us from the people who are the hands performing the work.

Recently Tyler Perry, famed American actor, director, an screenwriter, perhaps best known for his in-drag movie role, Madea, was asked on Live with Kelly & Michael (12/09/2013) about the kinds of Christmas presents he gives to his dear friend, the famed Oprah Winfrey.

He answered: “We don’t exchange gifts. We exchange pleasantries.” Specifically, he gives personal letters, written in his own hand, and he likes to get them in return. It’s the human touch and the fact that letters can be saved and savored for years to come that means most to him.

We can exchange pleasantries at work every day, powerful gifts of our own making for our coworkers, in the form of:

  • A warm greeting at the beginning of each day
  • Expressed interest in their work, family, and/or hobbies
  • An acknowledgement (a nod or smile) at a meeting when they make a point
  • A written thank you note or email to express gratitude for their help

Our behavior is the mark of our interpersonal style. The more effectively we interact face-to-face, voice-to-voice, and heart-to-heart, the richer our relationships at work and the more value we bring to the job and to our careers.


Refocusing Your Know-how | From the Pick and Roll to the Prostate

 We get known for what we do and have always done. That’s how personal brands evolve.

It’s easy to ride out a positive brand. Just keep doin’ what you’ve been doin’ so you can keep earnin’ what you’ve been earnin’…and maybe a little more, if you’re lucky.

Tested know-how is a kind of career currency. You know when and how to use it successfully– a comfort to the people you work with.

When we add value and make a difference, our work satisfies us.

Then sometimes the ground shifts and we have to shift with it. Or we may see a unique opportunity and decide to push ourselves into new space.

In both cases, your know-how comes with you, providing the foundation for your next move.

Be ready…and steady.

Think of your knowledge and skills like an investment account. The more equity you build, the more prepared you are for surprises.

Things have a habit of changing when you least expect them to:

  • The company reorganizes, merges, or gets bought.
  • You get reassigned (up or down), furloughed, or dismissed.
  • You become ill, disabled, or injured.
  • The product or service line changes and the processes you’ve mastered with it.

Suddenly, the once clear path to sustainable success becomes confusing, uncertain, and even frightening.

Take heart: Your rock is still there. It’s your know-how.

The transferable skills, knowledge, and experience that you’ve always relied on remain, ready to be tapped into anew.

The task at hand now is about focusing yourself on immediate problems and needs. Then putting your know-how to work to resolve them.

Digging in

Recognizing how your know-how can start to restore your sense of control is a crucial first step.

Jack McCallum, acclaimed writer for Sports Illustrated and author of nine books, most of them about great basketball teams and players, is a case in point.

He is an expert at the nuances of  basketball moves like the pick and roll. His sports and journalistic know-how are clear in his writing. In his early sixties, he was gradually throttling down his career.

Then he got prostate cancer.

So what did he do? He wrote about it. First in a  op ed piece in The Morning Call newspaper where he shared his personal logic for following the “watchful waiting”  protocol. He got lots and lots of emails from lots and lots of people–prostate cancer survivors, widows, and physicians.

This response spawned his decision to turn his journalistic skills for research, interviewing, and rational thinking to the challenge of prostate cancer decision-making. What he discovered informed his own treatment decision (which was ultimately to have his prostate removed) and to demystify, as much as that’s possible, the complex arena of prostate cancer treatment.

His first result was ending up cancer free with minimal side-effects.

prostate 819CxxluCaL__SL1500_-220x360The second was his book, The Prostate Monologues: What Every Man Can Learn from My Humbling, Confusing, and Sometimes Comical Battle with Prostate Cancer.

(Suggestion: If you are someone or know someone with prostate cancer, this book is an important read, actually more like a conversation with a good friend over coffee…lots of important factual information, anecdotes, cases, and a few laughs when needed.)

Build portable know-how.

Almost everything you know how to do at your job is a transferable skill.

Whether you need to rebound from a calamity or you want to explore a new direction, there are many ways to give your seasoned skills a new platform and focus.

Consider utilizing your:

  • Web design skills to format e-books for self-published writers
  • Financial skills to support a non-profit needing a comptroller
  • Public speaking skills for a cause that needs a strong voice
  • Fine arts skills to help traumatized children express themselves
  • Project management skills to aid a community group in chaos

Your know-how is exclusively yours. You developed it in ways that express who you are, and it has become integral to your brand. It’s there when you need it, so take good care of it. Then when you’re called upon, you’re ready to step up.

Ahead of the Curve or Behind the Eight Ball? | Averting Criticism

8-ball 3779658241_bc1e517a8c_mCriticism lies in wait for us at work. Sometimes we can anticipate it and sometimes not.

Most of us learn to live with a few doses of negative feedback, especially when we have the opportunity to rebound.

Averting criticism that has the potential to be truly damaging, though, takes savvy.

 Protect what matters.

We each have a personal, career brand to protect so we can keep moving forward. Our bosses have one too plus the reputation of their work groups. Leaders need to protect the brand integrity of their organizations to remain competitive and viable.

Unfair, relentless, and ruthless criticism can turn your good efforts into ashes.

Consider the potential criticism leveled at a supervisor who:

  • hires or promotes an employee who steals, bullies, or lies
  • decides to absorb another work group and then releases excess employees
  • makes downsizing decisions that  cause employees to lose their jobs
  • replace fully functional equipment or technology with new ones

Everyone affected by those changes, whether directly or indirectly, is a critic in waiting. If the move is successful, they will likely be quiet. If not, watch for incoming!

There’s no reason to be a sitting duck when the potential for criticism is in your path. Going on the offensive, most often, is your best strategy.

You don’t make decisions in a vacuum. There are good reasons to act and risks too. You are ahead of the curve when you anticipate criticism and behind the eight ball if you don’t.

Keep your head out of the sand.

I recently facilitated the annual board retreat of a small non-profit facing the stepping down of four board members, including the president and vice president, both of whom were founders.

These officers were beloved, dedicated, and capable, having led the organization with warmth and strength for eight years. They were to remain as committee volunteers but it was time for new leadership.

The original board of ten would now be down to six, with two becoming new leaders. This was an unsettling time, focused mostly on internal matters. But what about the critics.

The board needed to consider what their constituencies would think and say about this major shift. How would it impact membership, sponsors, donors, partnerships with other organizations, and confidence in their sustainability? These are the questions that once answered and acted on would avert, though not eliminate, significant criticism.

The board decided on some key actions:

  • put together the messaging around these changes
  • prepare the slate of nominees for election at the upcoming annual meeting; arrange for mentoring by the exiting officers
  • develop a Power Point presentation for the annual meeting outlining past achievements, ongoing and new projects
  • write a press release for the announcements
  • arrange to meet with key allies to answer questions and strengthen relationships

Not only will this work strengthen their brand in the marketplace, it will raise the confidence of the board members and provide the messaging needed to expand its membership.

 Averting criticism

You avert criticism by defusing the arguments of your critics:

  • Provide the details of your story (transparency) before misconceptions are devised
  • Talk about your good work and successes as a foundation for your decisions
  • Anticipate and address potentially damaging issues when you see them
  • Address legitimate concerns; reinforce your intentions, purpose, mission, objectives, and positive actions
  • Be upfront and out-front, affirming the standards and values that support your position
  • Build a coalition of supporters who have your back and are willing to say so

By getting ahead of an issue, you empower yourself.

These steps also help if you’ve:

  • experienced a decline in your performance
  • violated a company rule or policy
  • mishandled a customer or vendor problem
  • damaged company equipment or software

Whether you’re an employee, supervisor, manager, or executive, managing your career progress means anticipating criticism, whether deserved or not, and then averting it.

So do you best to get ahead of the curve and watch your value rise.

Photo by lel4nd via Photoree





Still Searching for Self-Confidence? Try Looking Outward.

Self-confidence is both deal-maker and deal-breaker. Just look around. You’ll see:

  • Enormously talented people with low self-confidence who never made it
  • Bumblers with over-flowing self-confidence who succeed beyond belief

When we doubt, question, and criticize our abilities, we self-sabotage. The more negative feedback we give ourselves, the more we believe it must be true.

We says things like:

  • “Since I don’t have an MBA, my ideas will never be heard.”
  • “I couldn’t possibly be considered for a supervisory job without formal training.”
  • “No one will hire me since I’ve been out of work so long.”
  • “Introverts like me can’t become successful speakers.”

It’s time to reboot.

Reprogram your head.

Low self-confidence can be physically painful. When those feelings start to set in, they disturb the way we feel and how we behave.

That means we need to take steps to minimize the chance that our shaky self-confidence will rear its ugly head.

Although it’s never too late, it’s helpful when we learn how to do this when we’re young.

Meet Sophia Grace (now age 9) and  Rosie (6). They are cousins from England who were discovered by Ellen DeGeneres who saw their YouTube video singing rapper Nicki Minaj’s song, Super Bass.

The two girls have become an international sensation because of their repeated appearances on the Ellen show, their captivating personalities (Sophia Grace’s singing talent and exuberance; Rosie’s adorable look and understated manner), their love of pink tutus, and their wide-eyed innocence.

The Super Bass lyrics (which, fortunately, they admit they don’t understand) are enormously complicated but took them only two days to learn. Sophia Grace does the singing and Rosie mostly mouths the words.

During one of their interviews with Ellen, the outgoing Sophia Grace was asked about her relationship on stage with Rosie. She answered:

“Rosie makes me feel more confident.”

When the girls were treated on Ellen to a surprise meeting with their idol Nicki Minaj, Nicki lauded Sophia Grace’s singing and praised Rosie as being her “hype” girl.

Together Sophia Grace and Rosie are a true team.

The formula

The foundation for self-confidence starts with:

  • Loving what you do and then doing it with great energy, enthusiasm, and commitment whether you are great at it or not. (Greatness will come eventually if you want it enough.)
  • Feeling inspired to press on to keep getting better
  • Support from others–friends, family, mentors, bosses, anyone
  • Courage to take chances, reach out, and ask for the support you need

Here’s how the steps in the formula worked for the little girls in pink:

  • Sophia Grace and Rosie started with the joy of singing together.
  • They were inspired by their singing idol and learned that complex song.
  • They had supportive parents who made and posted the YouTube video and they had each other.
  • They took advantage of the chance to go to the Ellen show and all the experiences that followed.

There are examples like this everywhere. Listen to those contestants on the TV show, The Voice, who, when asked by judges like Cee Lo Green, what kind of help they’re looking for from a coach, the answer from many is: “My self-confidence isn’t the best.”

Listen to interviews with athletes who struggle to break through to the next level, and they will talk about “not believing” in themselves and “struggling with self-confidence” in the big matches or games.

Take charge

It doesn’t matter how accomplished we are, self-confidence is always the deal-maker or deal- breaker going forward.

So what are you going to do to break through the barriers of your own self-confidence to:

  • Perform better
  • Expand your capabilities
  • Build a stronger personal brand
  • Achieve that promotion or new job

You need to surround yourself with the right people who will provide the encouragement, insights, knowledge, and feedback you need to sustain positive self-confidence along the way. Then you need to keep working and striving.

We’re not expected to succeed alone. Actually, I don’t think we can.  It’s essential to reach out.

Photo from Ariana fan via Flickr

3 Problems Solved with a Little Respect | Managing Relationships

Pro athletes are famous for grumbling to the media about players or teams saying, “They don’t respect us.” The words become a kind of call to arms. Sports commentators run the clips repeatedly to stoke what promises to be pending conflict. Then we tune in. 

Disrespect happens to us too. We all bring our dignity to work and expect to be treated respectfully. When we aren’t, we get our backs up. 

Self-esteem sensitivity 

Feeling disrespected is about hurt self-esteem, affronts to self-worth, and lack of deference. It’s personal and can be deep. 

If your response is, “Oh, come on, now,” think of situations where you’ve been offended, intentionally or not, by someone at work. 

Your reaction will likely be more intense if the person who disrespected you: 

  • Had done it repeatedly
  • Was someone you trusted/confided in
  • Was your boss or higher
  • Should have known better
  • Was trying to undercut you

Our challenge is to defuse disrespect toward us while also avoiding disrespectful behaviors of our own. 

Respect disarms perceptions of disrespect 

Sometimes we find ourselves branded as disrespectful and need to use a little respect to solve the problem. Here are a few to consider: 

1. Your boss is insulted by your apparent disinterest in his/her project. 

Start showing respect by arriving early for project meetings, paying serious attention during discussions (which means staying off your mobile device and/or laptop), asking pertinent questions, and responding to requests. 

2. Your coworkers are frustrated because you routinely interrupt them. 

Not letting others speak may seem like you’re demeaning their ideas and considering yourself superior. Launch dialogue with your coworkers by asking questions. Validate what’s said and then add your ideas to the mix. Continue to engage everyone until a consensus is reached. 

3. Coworkers think you don’t like them. 

If you use a dismissive tone of voice, fail to acknowledge others, ignore their overtures, speak impolitely, or criticize openly, your coworkers will feel disrespected. Offering a greeting, engaging in casual conversation, being courteous, and recognizing achievement are ways to show your respect that build positive relationships. 

No respect…No progress 

Lack of respect is no trivial matter. Showing it establishes us as being both professional and desirable as a colleague. 

Signs of respect are in simple things like coming to work dressed appropriately, using polite speech, and showing regard for the leadership whether you agree with all their decisions or not. 

I remember being horrified when, at the senior VP’s staff meeting, one of his vice presidents assaulted him with searing language (including a string of ef-bombs) about a decision he’d made. The senior VP just sat there and took it, not succumbing to the provocation, but red-faced nonetheless. 

Even though the majority of the staff was also against the senior VP’s decision, that display of disrespect was so appalling that it shut down all discussion. 

That’s the consequence of disrespect. It becomes a barrier to progress. When we feel disrespected by someone, we can’t hear what they have to say. So we set up emotional roadblocks that are impenetrable. 

Win with respect 

Feeling respected as a human being, an employee, and a coworker can have a powerful positive effect on any relationship. Showing respect even when at odds keeps the door open and the opportunities for collaboration alive.

Respect doesn’t cost us anything. Actually, showing respect for others demonstrates the respect we have for ourselves. 

Acting respectfully is a behavior we control. It’s an asset to our personal brand and to our careers. It’s another winning career behavior. Try it. You’ll like it. :-)

Photo from Dyanna via Flickr

How Bosses Undermine Themselves | Playing Hashtag With Jimmy Fallon

The game changes when we become the boss. Whether we know it or not, our employees are always watching and judging. Too often we’re unaware of how we come across to them and how they brand us. 

Bosses create the culture of the workplace. Their behavior influences the behavior of others positively or negatively. 

It’s human nature for employees to draw conclusions about who they think their bosses really are by assessing their quirks, idiosyncrasies, and behavior patterns— the windows into the person behind the title.  

The hashtag game 

Comedian Jimmy Fallon, former Saturday Night Live writer and performer, is the host of the talk show, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Each week he invites his viewers to play the hashtag game. This week he announced it on his show and then tweeted: 

@jimmyfallon Let’s play the hashtag game! Tweet out something weird about your current or former boss & tag with #mybossisweird. Could be on our show! 

Not every boss is weird but each of them (us) is likely to have behaviors that might annoy, shock, or disturb employees. Prevailing peculiarities start to become part of our brands until they become perceptions we can’t shake. When that happens, our career trajectory can be affected. 

Here are a few of the #mybossisweird tweets from Jimmy Fallon’s game. Each reveals deeper career implications, as I see them.  Please add yours.  

@potatobi #mybossisweird my boss has no idea what twitter is but he found out his competitors had it so I had to make a fake account and follow them 

This boss looks to be out-of-touch, disinterested in new technology, prone to shortcuts, and more interested in appearance than substance. If this is his/her approach to every new innovation in the marketplace, s/he’s in trouble. 

@loolyloo77 #mybossisweird calling me on my annual leave because she wants some info for the urgent report she forgot to submit weeks ago!

@JessicaJourney A former boss once sought me out in the restroom to ask me about progress on a work project. #mybossisweird 

Both of these bosses seem to suffer from panic, that feeling that s/he has to have access to information immediately, a sign of poor planning or no backup when employees are unavailable. Worse though is the lack of regard for each employee’s personal and private time. These are “the world revolves around me and my needs” bosses. In short order that gets old, employees get the word out, and in time the boss’s effectiveness erodes. 

 @MeetingBoy: #mybossisweird When he gets nervous, he insists on DAILY STATUS MEETINGS, then complains: not much gets done between meetings 

Over-controlling, unable to delegate, micro-managing, and ineffective describe this boss. S/he is likely insecure as a boss and the employees know it. That will get around along with the indicators of stalled productivity. 

@NicLuna  When my boss is asked a question he stays quiet and stares at the person blankly until they repeat the question #mybossisweird 

This boss comes across as playing some kind of “gotcha” game that will ultimately alienate employees and seriously limit two-way communication with him/her. Eventually, this “tick” will become fuel for the “comics” in the company who will imbed it into the boss’s brand.   

@TheREALMsWright #mybossisweird b/c when people approach her desk, she says: “What’s the deal?” instead of “How can I help you?” It’s a professional office. 

Professional behavior by the boss is important to employees. It verifies company standards and contributes to a sense of pride in their work. When the boss uses language that is incorrect, inappropriate, or inconsistent with expectations, it reflects on the boss’s values and attitudes. 


One person’s weird is another’s unprofessional. The challenge to every boss is to understand how their behavior comes across to employees. 

Our job is to create a positive climate that enables each employee to perform his/her work with minimal distraction and maximum confidence.

What our employees think and say about us have a powerful cumulative effect on our careers and our brands. Although it probably won’t be funny, we should try to stand out  in a  #mybossiswonderful hashtag game.   

Photo from The_WB via Flickr

Career Alert: “Your Employer Brands You. Take It or Leave It.”

Companies are credentials. Who we work for says a lot about us. Just ask any resume screener or hiring manager. 

This reality adds to the job search and career building pressures that are already intense enough. No one ever said this career success thing was going to be easy. 

What’s in a name? 

Here’s how it happens: Organizations have their own identities. They are defined by the mission, decisions, and performance of the leadership. 

The marketplace sees organizations as though they are people, judging them based on their conduct. 

When an insurance company is notoriously slow paying its claims, they may be branded as insensitive, unreliable, or ineffective. That can stick to us. 

When a manufacturing company is known to donate money and free up employees to volunteer for community service, we’re part of that brand whether we volunteer or not. 

The old adage even applies when it comes to your employer: “You’re judged by the company you keep.” 

The choice is yours. 

We can choose to work for well-regarded companies or questionable ones. I know these are desperate times and finding a job is difficult. 

But, each time we say, “yes” to an employer, we’re entering into a unique relationship. We agree to perform the work they want in exchange for the salary and benefits they pay. 

Every company operates based on its values. That’s what drives its decision-making. Values attract certain kinds of customers and investors, suppliers and employees. 

Values are words like: quality, reliability, accountability, cooperation, integrity, service, innovation, and safety. 

When organizations deliver on their values, they are held in high regard. (It doesn’t matter how large or small they are.) When they don’t, they get a black eye and share it with you, their employee. 

It’s easy to tell ourselves that we’ll just keep our heads down, do our work, and go home, so we don’t get tangled up in all this. But at some point, we know whether or not what’s going on around us is compatible with the person we are. Protecting our personal/professional brand is essential to our successful career. 

Sit on the right shoulders

There is enormous benefit to your brand when you work for a well-respected organization, large or small. Here are a few: 

No apologies required: When asked where you work, your answer is met with positive reactions to what the organization does and your part in its success.

Requests for information: People consider you a credible voice who can help them connect with the right resources and/or put their concerns or questions in perspective.

Access to influencers: Simply being employed by well-respected companies makes it easier to be heard at community meetings, gain access to politicians, and  meet with other business leaders.

Invitations to represent: Good companies are sought after and need employee representatives, like you, to serve on non-profit boards, to attend local fund-raisers, and to speak to community groups.

Opportunities to grow: Everyone loves a winner. When you work for a successful company, their success rubs off on you, expanding your credentials by proximity. As more doors open to you, your brand expands. So you may find yourself asked to attend a special meeting for an executive, participate on an industry research project, or write and publish a paper. 

When I asked Nichola D. Gutgold, PhD, associate professor of communications arts and sciences atPenn State University, about how she was able to gain access to so many powerful women in government, media, and the Supreme Court for her books, she told me: 

“To have Penn State Universityas my employer is a huge asset. In many ways, I stand on PSU’s shoulders and that opens doors. My academic credentials also have weight.” 

Give credit 

The resources and the reach of our companies propel their brands. We draw on both to expand our own brands. 

Our organizations aren’t perfect and neither are we, but together we can help each other to be better. 

You know when you’re working for the right organization. Its shoulders give you the lift you need to reach great heights. Steady now! 

Phote from nedrichards via Flickr