Feeling Left Out and Don’t Know Why? Turn Things Around. | Reaching Out

It can’t be avoided but we don’t want it to last.

It’s that feeling of being disconnected, conspicuous, and self-conscious whenever we’re plunked in workplace situations with people who don’t know us. It can happen when we:

  • join a new work group
  • participate in a cross-functional meeting
  • attend an industry conference
  • go to our first company party
  • become part of a new project team

The sooner we feel accepted the better. For some it’s easy but not for others. Feeling excluded  can drag us down and stall our careers.

The “why” of it

We can usually sense that we’re being left out by theses clues:

  • Blatant exclusion — being uninvited to meetings, ignored, ostracized, bypassed
  • Disregard– repeated rejection of input, unacknowledged communication, impolite treatment
  • Avoidance–unwillingness of colleagues to interact, collaborate, or talk with us

The reasons for being left out are many, so it helps to figure out enough so we can try to turn things around.

Generally, exclusion (temporary or permanent) may be the result of some discomfort  our colleagues feel because of our:

  • physical appearance (size, shape, gait, dress, race)
  • sound (accent, tone of voice, pace of speaking)
  • background (ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic group)
  • career specialty (techie, scientist, writer, hands-on worker)
  • reputation (climber, flirt, trouble-maker, boaster, truth-bender)

When  colleagues make us feel left out, their reasons are as much a commentary about them as us. The difference is that we’re the ones who feel the pain.

I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, especially at work, since company culture, work demands, and personalities create unique pressures.

Whether what others think about us is fair or correct isn’t the focus. It’s what we’re going to do to correct misconceptions and build positive perceptions that make us an accepted and valued part of the team.

What to do.

Once we have an inkling about the barriers to our being included, we need to shrink them.

It’s easy to be resentful and have a chip on your shoulder. When you do, it makes matters worse.

The reality is that we’re all capable of being excluders, even when while we’re being excluded.  It happens when:

  • We don’t know how to include someone we don’t know well; our tongues get tied and our feet stuck.
  • No one else in the work group has yet made a move, so the ice is not yet broken for us.
  • We’re uncertain about how connecting will affect us one-on-one and as part of the team.
  • There is a fear that our overture will be rejected, misread, or misused.

Inclusion at work is an investment in a relationship. When it’s positive, everyone wins; if not, then the price can be dear. That’s why coworkers are often careful or unwilling to step forward.

Take the pledge.

Healthy, productive organizations need everyone to feel valued. Anyone who feels left out is likely to perform below par, lack motivation to grow, and experience career disappointment.

Supervisors who fail to create inclusive work groups risk escalation of unwanted behaviors that slowly poison the operation.

Each of us is responsible for contributing to a fully inclusive work environment, even when we’re feeling excluded. That’s the big challenge.

We all need to pledge that we’ll extend a hand to a coworker who may feel left out. It’s about doing simple things:

  • Greet him warmly when your paths cross
  • Invite her to join in a discussion, meeting, or event
  • Talk with him about his work
  • Share news that she might have missed
  • Volunteer to work with him on an assignment
  • Commit to kindness

If you are feeling excluded now or if you have been excluded in the past, please pledge to take these small steps. They are a path to inclusion over time that will also benefit you.

Our career success is a product of what we do and how we do it. Remember those who reached out to you along the way and please pay it forward where you work.

5 Supervisor Mistakes That Can Breed Employee Backlash

Supervision is a game of chance. Winning or losing often depends on how you treat your employees. Are you:Back to the Drawing Board

  • Fair or double-dealing
  • Honest or hypocritical
  • Aware or clueless
  • Self-serving or an advocate

Attract too many negative labels and you may breed employee backlash–often the death knell of a supervisor’s career.

Emerging signs  

Managing the range of employee expectations is a daunting challenge. Supervisors who tune out employees will soon find themselves dealing with unwanted and unexpected behavior.

Suddenly, some or all employees:

  • Stop giving input at meetings
  • Grumble consistently about assignments
  • Become de-energized and less productive
  • Challenge policies
  • Complain to others about you
  • Resist your direction, overtly or covertly

You know the situation is serious when you observe these signs in your best employees.

Supervisors often unknowingly generate backlash when they see their management style through their lens only. A supervisor’s job is a juggling act. Upper management, customers, and suppliers often create an engulfing noise can make a supervisor deaf to the voices and needs of their employees.

Sadly, there are also many supervisors who, for some reason, are uneasy with their own employees. When that’s the case, they tend to go into hiding, in a sense.  They may stay in their offices, quote policy instead of owning their decisions, and/or take inflexible positions on the way work is done.

Communicate without fear.

Supervisors make their own trouble with employees when they don’t communicate what they do and why.

Many feel that if they say the wrong thing, they’ll get themselves cornered with employees down the road. But saying nothing only plants the seed for future conflict and backlash.

Here are six typical mistakes that supervisors make and how to avoid them:

  1. Making a knee-jerk decision. Just because an employee wants an immediate decision doesn’t mean that you must give one, especially when you have several implications to consider. Instead, say that you want to give the request more thought with a decision forthcoming at a specific time. Then make sure you deliver it.
  2. Taking a defensive position when challenged. Employees who question your decisions give you an opportunity to educate them about the needs and direction of the business. Your logic and insights help to expand theirs. If their questions cause you to rethink your position, then they’ve done you a favor and have created a special professional bond.
  3. Being dismissive about employee input–Your employees are your team; they make or break your ability to succeed as a supervisor. Treating their input as insignificant builds a wall that can create animosity. Employee input is gold. It helps you understand expectations that you need to manage and can provide ideas that can lead to important improvements that everyone benefits from.
  4. Avoiding face-to-face conversation–There is nothing more alienating to employees than a supervisor who is invisible, distant, and unapproachable. When employees feel disconnected from their bosses, their loyalty bond is likely to be weak. Supervisors need to be real by being present, eyeball-to-eyeball–not text-to-text.
  5. Continuously quoting policies and procedures–Supervisors need to own their decisions to engender respect. Too many supervisors don’t want to make decisions that they may need to defend, so they quote a policy instead Policies and procedures set foundations and parameters but they aren’t recipes. Supervisors need to apply policies in ways that meet their intent. Employees expect you to take actions that deliver the right results in ways that support them..

Be there.

Being upfront puts supervisors in a position to create respect and confidence in employees. No employee believes that their boss will be right all the time. They just need to feel connected.

Supervisors who communicate with their employees, who are honest about what they do and don’t know, and who can be trusted to do what they say, will create the kind of relationship employees need–one that will hold up in good times and rough ones.

Photo from gever tulley via Flickr

Ingredients for Becoming the Complete Executive–Fold Together and Serve

It’s hard to resist the opportunity to sample secret sauce ingredients for executive success. So, when invited, I was happy to taste the morsels in Karen Wright’s new book, The Complete Executive: The 10-Step System for Great Leadership Performance, and share some of them here.

Everyone wants them–recipes for fixing things like:

  • Problem employees
  • Broken work methods
  • Complaining customers
  • Stalled careers

Recipes work when we’re cooking: The same combination of ingredients produces the same outcome each time. It’s different,though, when we’re trying to put together the right behaviors to produce career success.

Invest in good ingredients.

Careers grow when we combine the right ingredients in the right way at the right time, folding them together until they blend to meet expectations.

Our career goals may be either modest or bold. Achieving them means understanding the knowledge, skills, and experiences (the ingredients) required and then systematically assembling them.

In her new book, The Complete Executive: The 10-Step System for Great Leadership Performance, Karen Wright, career coach and founder of Parachute Executive Coaching, identifies 100 practices for successful executives.

These practices will help you succeed where you are right now and/or position you to move up, while maintaining a balanced, satisfying life.

Wright describes the foundation for achieving leadership completeness this way:

The individuals who consistently thrive in the face of the extraordinary expectations of high-level leadership are the ones who have found the optimal combination of habits, practices, and personal discipline that sustains and strengthens them across all dimensions of their lives.

Her 10-step system covers everything from health and fitness to business basics and fun. She makes this especially striking point about leaders:

Someone who fully engages in building positive relationships at work probably places similar value on them outside the office. Similarly, if an individual is difficult to get along with or get to know at work, she is likely the same in her personal relationships.

Who we are goes with us wherever we go. Everyone sees how we conduct ourselves and makes a judgment. When folded together, those judgments start to form our personal brand,  our career currency.

Relationships matter.

The complete executive, as Wright notes, needs to place high value on building and maintaining healthy and mutually satisfying relationships.

She explains that it starts with our primary relationships (i.e., life partner or single-hood), children, extended family, neighbors, friends, and community. Then it expands to our business competitors, peers, and direct reports. For leaders to be complete, Wright reminds us that they need to invest in relationships that represent all aspects of their lives.

We often think that networking is the best way to expand our relationships. Wright debunks that notion with this compelling perspective:

 ‘No executive at a high level does anything called networking.’ What they do is focus on building a valuable network. ‘It will grow through connections with the people you know through your kids, your parents, your siblings, and your other family members. You just never know when a connection in your network will lead you to another, helpful one, creating potential future business value.’

It’s all a matter of building on relationships that form naturally from your life and your work. To this Wright adds:

Contributing to your network is what makes it strong. If you only take from your network, it will be too weak to support you when you need it.

The book lists these relationship building sources that you can tap: alumni associations, lunches/casual meetings, club memberships, professional associations, and social media sites like LinkedIn.

Wright acknowledges that relationships ebb and flow. We learn along the way which ones are sincere and fruitful and which are not.

Intuition as ingredient

There’s a leader in all of us whether we’re atop the business organization chart or not. Reaching our full leadership capabilities is an ongoing process.

Wright’s practice #100 is intuition: An effective leader will state:

I recognize when my intuition is engaged, and I value and reflect upon the messages it sends me.

She finishes by  quoting Albert Einstein:

The intellect has little to do on the road to discovery. There comes a leap in consciousness, call it intuition or what you will, and the solution comes to you and you don’t know how or why.

We all need to give our intuition a chance to work its magic for us. Hey, if it worked for Einstein, who can argue!

Jobs with Baggage and What to Do About Them

Like it or not, we’re labeled by our jobs and the organizations that employ us. When we say what we do, people form an opinion based on job stereotypes. 

That can work in our favor when we have job titles like engineer, nurse, technology expert, or entrepreneur. More often than not, the marketplace buzz around those jobs casts them in a good light. 

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. 

Your baggage claim 

Some job titles and the industries that assign them come with a not-so-stellar history. The titles themselves can make a job seekers blood run cold like: 

  • Car salesman
  • Insurance agent
  • Call center rep
  • Retail clerk 

Today there’s also baggage around jobs in banking, investment services, government, law, and the media to name a few. How we regard certain jobs depends on our individual experiences, values, perspectives, and knowledge. 

It’s easy to generalize and presume that anyone or everyone who works in a certain field fits a negative stereotype. As a result we’re likely to steel ourselves for a bad experience, often adopting an attitude that will provoke it. 

Negative brands around jobs and industries are difficult to break, especially when they have taken deep hold of the marketplace psyche for many years. 

Break the mold 

At some point in our careers, we’ll likely have a job that isn’t held in high regard because of its title. Our challenge is to turn negative perceptions into positives through our actions.

Recently, after driving my car for 14 years, I decided to buy a new one. I don’t do this often because I dread the whole dealing-with-the-car-salesman thing. Here’s what I was expecting: 

  • Pressure to buy more car than I needed
  • Back and forth negotiating, made complicated by the trade and/or financing
  • Not really getting the best deal
  • Fast-talking plus bait and switch promises
  • Being left hanging when I had questions after the sale 

I brought this baggage to the experience, something, Jeff, my salesman, had to overcome. So here’s what he provided: 

  • Patient listening and attention to what I wanted
  • Information about the best-fit model for me and its features
  • A clear statement about the sticker price and discussion about what I wanted to pay
  • An upfront trade price so I could decided if wanted to sell my old car privately
  • A meeting on the features while sitting in the model, resulting in a chance to get to know each other
  • A sense of humor, respectfulness, and advocacy (I didn’t want to be “sold” any warranty and undercoating extras, so Jeff kept that from happening.)
  • Availability to answer questions anytime after I’d taken the car home 

My experience with Jeff was so good that I talked to him a bit about the negative label that comes with being a car salesman. I learned that prior to this job, he and his brother had owned a couple of fitness businesses where he had developed his customer service skills, practicing his philosophy about dealing fairly and ethically with people. 

His view was that, since he enjoyed people and selling cars, he would be the kind of car salesman that broke the negative mold. Clearly there are many Jeff’s out there, and each one will gradually lift the negative baggage off the car salesman title. 

Lesson learned: The positive behaviors that we demonstrate in our jobs re-brand them. 

The power of one 

Shunning a job because the title comes with baggage makes no sense, particularly if it provides opportunity and growth potential that helps you build a satisfying career. When it’s your job, you own it. That means you put your stamp on it, making it represent the values, standards, and ethics that brand it positively. 

Jobs are about productivity and relationships. By adding value and delivering high quality service, you’ll showcase what a job well done really means. Each one of us makes a difference and there’s true power in that. 

Photo from Carcomparing.eu via Flickr

Sizing Up Your Job—5 Signs It’s the Right Fit

A job is like any other relationship—it has its ups and downs. Some days we have nice things to say about it and on others we don’t.                       

Too often we’re likely to find ourselves among coworkers caught up in job frustration discussions. Most “I-hate-my-job” peer groups are eager to engage you as a new member. Every new complaint validates the old ones. 

Head for the hills! 

Negative associations drag us down. They’re like trying to swim against a rip current with your business suit on. 

We’re all better off looking at our jobs through a wide-angle lens. Our careers are built by each succeeding job, so we need to adopt a big picture view of where our current jobs can lead us. 

Not every job is worth keeping and not every company the right place. So it’s important to assess your job objectively to understand its true career heft. 

Start by inventorying what’s good about your job and then weigh those factors against what’s frustrating you. When you put the positives and the negative on a scale, you can see which side carries the most weight. You might be surprised at the gram weight of the good stuff. 

5 Good Signs 

We need to pay attention to the positive signs that our jobs are a good fit for us. Here are five indicators that your job is giving you what you need:  

  1. Change energizes: When you’re in the right job, you see change as an opportunity. To you it means an exciting new problem to solve, obstacles to vault, creative solutions to discover, and growth opportunities to explore. (Think of Steve Jobs and his many Apple employees.)
  2. Coworkers inspire: The people you work with encourage, motivate, and inspire you. They bring a spirit, humor, and can-do eagerness that bring out your best. A company that attracts people that you enjoy working with may be just the place to build a career. (Think of the sentiments expressed by the casts, past and present, from Saturday Night Live.)
  3. Your ideas count: It’s enormously motivating to have your ideas heard, considered, and acted upon. Your boss may be a pain in some ways, but if s/he listens to you and is influenced by what you say, that means something. Jobs that allow for innovation can make a difference. So when you have one, there’s value in building on it. (Think of anyone you know who has a patent, a copyright, or program to boast.)
  4. Reward is meaningful: Your value needs to be recognized both in tangible and intangible ways. A good job includes positive feedback (given privately or publicly), growth opportunities, a motivating performance appraisal, and fair compensation, including raises. Incremental reward is a positive sign that you’re in a good place and positioned to increase it. (Think of your job and salary history.)
  5. There are places to go: Dead-end jobs are in many ways like broken promises. When you see that your job can become a springboard to different work you’d like to do, you have a sense of future. A satisfying career doesn’t just mean climbing the ladder; it also means successfully navigating the coastline. Meaningful work in good jobs with the support of good bosses can signal the right fit. (Think of Katie Couric, a one-time beat reporter, Today Show co-host, then a news anchor, and upcoming talk-show host.) 

Let the work guide you. 

Jobs are about work. If your work and the company don’t float your boat, your career will sink, go adrift, or take you so far out to sea you’ll feel lost. 

Chris Martin, lead singer for the British alternative, rock band, Cold Play, said about his job as a songwriter:”You have to work hard, but it’s not hard work.” When that’s our truth, we know we’re in a job that’s the right fit for us. 

Photo from omnos via Flickr

Superstar or Has Been? | Career Tips to Stay On Top

The rush is in the reaching. Ask any athlete whose career is on the rise. Every day is about putting it all out there for the team, the fans, and the games they love. Winning is the driver, the measure of their contribution and achievement.

Their personal value rises when they: 

  • win a championship
  • get selected for the All-Star Team
  • receive Most Valuable Player (MVP) honors 

There’s nothing quite like attaining superstar status, especially in our careers. It’s exciting, often representing the reward for years of struggle and hard work. 

The moment we’re tapped as “best” is when our career life changes. 

The meaning of the moment 

When we’re recognized, we’re elated. We bask in the: 

  • Public recognition of our value
  • Upcoming opportunities to showcase our talents
  • Access to company leaders
  • Deference and/or congratulations from our coworkers 

Our moment passes quickly, though, just like the All-Star Game or that “I’m going to Disney World” TV shot. What follows are new challenges. 

At work superstars are usually considered “comers“—high potential performers and/or  succession plan designees. They’re the company’s MVPs. 

Their status is generally achieved through performance results over time and the endorsement of the leadership, not necessarily in equal measure. 

The bottom line: Someone thinks you have “it” and the company wants to put “it” to the test and benefit from the outcome. 

Sustaining momentum 

Superstar status raises your bar. When a broader audience starts paying attention to you, there’s pressure to perform at a higher level.

 Superstar moments launch new expectations for more and better performance like: 

  • Delivering significant outcomes on more complex projects
  • Assuming greater levels of authority and responsibility
  • Demonstrating tolerance for stress and the ability to perform under fire
  • Engaging effectively with powerful influencers
  • Negotiating with high profile customers or political officials 

You know what happens in sports: Last year’s MVP needs to increase on-field performance or hear about how s/he has declined. This year’s baseball All Star better hit well during the second half of the season or be questioned. 

Once we’re designated as a high potential player at work, if we don’t live up to expectations, we can fall out of favor and see our careers go downhill.

Avoiding “has been-ship” 

It’s difficult to get recognized as a top performer and even harder to sustain it.

In our jobs, success measures combine the objective and the subjective, the concrete and the abstract. But they count just as much as batting averages or yards per carry. 

To keep your superstar status up, these actions are essential: 

Remain relevant—Keep your knowledge, skills, and experiences ahead of the curve by staying up on innovation, politics, economic issues, and industry challenges; Be the voice of “what’s coming”

Maintain strong connections—Leverage is essential; Build, tighten, and expand your relationships in every direction, both inside and outside your company; Create allies and be one

Over-deliver—Make sure the results you and/or your department produce exceed expectations without exceeding costs, always improving the process

Engage employees—The ability to build and sustain a positive, can-do group of employees, engaged in their work, performing professionally, with little drama, and without giving away the store cements your value

Stay in the mix—Be there. Make sure you have a seat at the table. It helps to be likeable, a source of proper levity, and a voice of reason. When decisions don’t feel right to others unless you’ve been consulted, that’s a plus.

 Keep a clear head

 The rarefied air of superstardom at work can muddle our thinking unless we’re careful. Being recognized is important and when we get it, we should enjoy and value it. Our next moves, though, need to be informed and steady. Getting to the top is only the first step. Staying there is often the bigger one. Go for it! 

Photo of Phillies 2011 All-Star pitcher, Cliff Lee, from Matthew Straubmuller via Flickr

The Impersonal Workplace Is About You | Making It Different

It’s no secret: The business world can be cold. The greater the competition, the higher the stress, and the tighter the budgets, the more we feel it. Job demands expand, the pace increases, and the time for building relationships shrinks. At least, that’s how it seems.

How much do you care?  

High workloads get us to hunker down, tune out distractions, and grind out our work. The job gets to be all about us when the pressure’s on. We tend to block out our coworkers, customers, and sometimes even the boss when the heat’s on.

Work can either separate us or bring us together. It’s our choice.

A lot of negative things can happen when we let the work consume us. We often:

  • Find fault with coworkers and criticize their contributions
  • Dismiss questions and keep people at arm’s length
  • Become impatient with indecision by the boss, coworkers, and customers
  • Treat complaints as interruptions rather than insights
  • Act rudely or miss opportunities to provide great service
  • Neglect the needs of others who rely on us 

There are plenty of companies with policies and practices that don’t make their employees feel valued. But that isn’t the majority.

We’re the ones who humanize our workplace. The way we treat the people in our paths every day creates the work environment.

I know that you’ve met people at work who always:

  • Have a smile
  • Find something upbeat to say
  • Perform an unexpected act of kindness
  • Pitch in when you’re struggling
  • Laugh at their own mistakes 

They act this way with everyone. You and I can and should do this too. Think of the difference that we’d make. Then imagine how it would be if everyone around us did that too!

So, what about our coworkers? 

Most everyone we work with lives a life with burdens. Few of us are immune. Some bear heavier challenges than we do; some less. Some carry their burdens more easily than others. But all of us, at some time, need a lift!

That means we are never without an opportunity to lighten someone’s load. I don’t mean engaging in protracted conversations or becoming a confidant. That’s not appropriate at work.

Instead, it’s about taking a moment to acknowledge a need or to express support. Most of the time, all we need is to be noticed, valued, and validated. It’s simply about kindness!

A lot of good feeling came my way when I:

  • Engaged in grateful conversation with a new customer who, I learned, had just returned from Ground Zero a month after 9/11 where he’d volunteered his time as a forensic dentist identifying victims 
  • Took a little time to talk to a disheveled customer whom others shunned because of his appearance and awkward manner 
  • Praised the work of my support staff, encouraging their interest in learning new skills and helping them feel positive about themselves 
  • Showed patience with employees when things went awry, said funny things to break tension, always looked for the upside, and helped keep things in perspective 

These actions don’t compromise productivity, even when it’s crunch time. They are simply small gestures of humanity and kindness that ultimately energize people, creating a climate conducive to getting more work done right.

The concept of “paying it forward” applies to the way we treat others. We need to remember how it felt when someone was kind to us and give that gift to someone else. 

We make the difference! 

Leading by example includes the way we interact with the people around us.  Anyone of us can brighten a dark climate at work. We just have to want to. No one can stop us from being kind, warm, optimistic, and caring. Our business fitness reflects our ability to bring a genuine regard for others to the workplace. Spreading a spirit of kindness creates a powerful legacy! Please let that be yours.

Do you have a story where an act of kindness at work made a difference? What more can we do to humanize the workplace? Thanks.