In the old days people used to say, “Protect your reputation, it’s all you really have.”  Today it’s, “Protect your brand,” which is cute but sometimes I think it belittles the importance of what we’re talking about.

It’s fun to talk about brand because it gives you the impression that you can change it.  Like Pepsi™ changing the look of its soda can.  But, in my experience, reputations aren’t like that.  You can’t just slip on a new reputation.  Although a brand is viewed through the prism of product quality and performance, a manufacturer can sometimes (at least temporarily) overcome a bad reputation by bringing the product out under another brand name and image.  The question arises, can you do that?  And even more interesting, what can you do if you’re performance has not changed but someone in your company damages your reputation – that is, changes your brand in spite of what you do?

Recently a gentleman who is a senior manager and who is a coaching client came to me with a story.  I have been coaching him for many years.  During his career path he rose from part time worker to Development Manager.  Working with him as closely as I did, I can assure you that his management style did not change significantly over his career.  In fact it was his management style that made him effective leading teams and contributed to his success. 

His immediate supervisors changed with some regularity as the company grew.  One day he inherited a boss who didn’t like the way he managed.  My client worked to accommodate her demands but it didn’t seem to matter.  The new boss didn’t like his style and became vocal about it.  She changed my client’s brand within the company by what she said and who she said it to.  THE BOSS, not my client, changed my client’s brand.

This led to a serious rough patch in my client’s career as he was put in a bind wherein he was ultimately forced to take a somewhat junior position to be able to remain employed.  As much as I would have supported him in his decision to leave the company and negotiate a proper departure, he chose to stay. 

Fast forward a few years and my client is in a meeting with his new boss (three bosses later) who is giving him a performance review.  The boss’ comments to him include things like this: “You’ve really changed your brand.  Yours is a story that we should be celebrating.  You’ve become a real star.  You’ve come a long way.” 

Now you can read this and say, well my client must have bucked up and changed the way he did things - except he didn’t.  He is now who he was then.  He works now as he worked then.  What happened to him was that a boss crossed his career path who disagreed with his management style and who proceeded to ruin his reputation.  No one in senior management chose to dig any deeper than to listen to what his previous boss had to say.   Only time and my client’s determination allowed the truth to finally emerge.  He was good then and he’s just as good now.  But the corporate collective memory never forgets the negative reputation that was infused into his work history by his former boss. 

So my client is now deemed to have risen above his prior failings.  The truth never  surfaced; that he was always this good but was severely misjudged by a former boss.  It’s hard for a company to admit a mistake.  It’s easier for them to work with a scenario that the employee simply “improved.”  Such a scenario justifies the human resource management systems the company has in place.  It’s also a story they can tell as an example to other “non-performers.”

What’s the lesson?  Your ability to change your brand, or your ability to protect your reputation is only as good as the company you work for.  If senior management can’t look past one manager’s opinion, and if your company has a collective memory that never forgets the negative, you may have an uphill battle if someone besmirches your reputation; especially if that someone is your boss or senior to you in the company hierarchy. 

My suggestion?  Be prepared to meet unfair criticism head on – with tact and diplomacy – always with the expressed willingness to improve your performance if it is finally determined that your performance is below par. 

However, caution is required.  It’s a shame that in many large organizations that your willingness to defend yourself is defined as “pushing back,” or “resistance,” or “resistance to change.”  In other words, you can be caught in a catch-22.  If you remain silent, you are assumed to have agreed with the criticism.  If you speak up to defend yourself, you are branded resistant, negative or push-back. 

When I see this I can’t help but feel sad.  These kinds of unjust attacks on employee’s reputations cause significant amounts of stress, lost productivity, lost company loyalty, lost income (for the employee and the company) and lost talent. 

Finding the diplomatic path that will allow you to defend your reputation while promoting yourself as a positive, move-forward person is tricky, but it can be done.  Just remember, in a corporate setting, changing your brand is no easier than rebuilding your reputation.

 
I was listening to a conversation between two thirty-something professional women.  Both looked and sounded like they were nicely employed somewhere.  One woman asked the other, “Why do you think my ideas are being rejected at work?”  It was difficult to hear everything they said but the gist of it was that this woman offered frequent suggestions in their team meetings and her ideas were simply ignored or passed over.  What was more insulting to her was not even getting the courtesy of a little recognition to indicate she’d even attempted to contribute anything at all.  You know, they didn’t even say something like, “I can see why you might suggest that Alice, but that won’t work because of regulation X385.”  Or something like that.  Nope, she got nothing.  Like she wasn’t even there.

Hearing this, a number of instances of frustrating team interaction went through my mind.  Upon reflection here are some thoughts in regard to this woman’s dilemma.

There are four key ingredients to having your ideas taken seriously – power, credibility, delivery and empathy. 

There was a television ad I saw some time back.  I think it was for a package mailing service like FedEx™.  In this ad a group of employees were sitting around a table with the boss at the head of the table.  They were coming up with ideas to save money.  A less than physically impressive employee sitting in the middle of the table suggests using FedEx™ to save money on shipping and everyone ignores him.  A second or two of silence passes and then the boss speaks up.  He suggests they use FedEx™ for shipping to save money.  Everyone smiles, applauds and compliments the boss on his wisdom.  The employee protests reminding everyone that he’d just said the same thing.  And they all continue to ignore him again.  This is the example of power.  If you have decision making power, you’ll be listened to.  It’s pretty much that simple.  This is also why bad decisions get enacted sometimes.  Because the person with the power made the decision and everyone goes along. 

So I might say to our thirty-something professional woman that she may have to wait to get all the attention she’s looking for until she gets promoted.  Not too satisfying I know. 

If you’re thirty-something you may not have acquired the power you need to command other’s attention.  This is where credibility comes in.  It requires you to build a reputation for making good decisions and taking appropriate actions that are successful.  Once you’ve piled enough of these together people are more prone to listen to what you have to say; to listen to your ideas.  Also, developing a deep expertise in a particular subject, perhaps a subject that others know nothing about, will cause people to listen to you when you speak about that subject.  However, even if you’re the most knowledgeable person in the room on a subject, if others don’t know this about you, you’ll still have to prove it over time in your actions and decision making.  People are rarely rewarded for taking people at face value. 

Then there’s your delivery.  How do you express your ideas?  As much as I hate to say it, some people have a way of expressing themselves that fails to put their thoughts in the best light.  If you express your idea in a questioning tone, as if you’re asking whether this is a good idea rather than stating you believe it’s a good idea, people will have a tendency to pass over it.  After all, if it’s your idea and you’re questioning it, why should I pay any attention to it – I’ve got my own idea I’m trying to push here. 

There is also your facial expression.  For some deep prehistoric biological reason, we take people less seriously who have what I will call an “open face.”  An open face would be an expression with eyebrows at rest or slightly raised and a look of contentment or a slight smile on their lips.  When a team of people are struggling with a thorny problem they are not encouraged when they look down the table and see Miss “I haven’t got a care in the world” staring back at them.  If everyone at the table has their brows furrowed and the corners of their mouth slightly turned down, adopt a similar facial expression if it’s not natural to you.  There is a power of simpatico in matching the facial expression and body language of those around you.  They have to feel you’re one of them before they’ll want to hear what you have to say.  In addition, if you match the demeanor of the others on the team, the team will assume you “get it;” that you understand the gravity of what they’re dealing with.  If my impression of you is that you are empathetic with our plight, then I’ll have the impression that what you are about to suggest is sincerely meant to help us.  In that case I’m more likely to listen.

If for some reason you are harboring a level of distain or disrespect for the other members of your team, they will sense it.  I’m not kidding.  People will get your vibe if you’re upset with them or look down on them.  This being the case, they’re less likely to want to take your ideas.  Lastly, if you are under the impression that the work the team is doing is beneath you and you are only participating because you have to, you will communicate this lack of empathy and the results will be what you might expect.  After all, why should we be interested in what you have to say if you’re not interested in what we’re trying to deal with.

So, without being at the woman’s side for a day or two to discover any other reasons why her ideas might be rejected (like maybe they’re just bad ideas), these are the thoughts that come to mind.

 
I think it’s helpful to think about employee recognition as being comprised of employee compensation and employee reward programs.  Don’t get me wrong, for accounting and tax purposes the monetary rewards that you give to an employee are all part of their “compensation.”  However, for our discussion I’d like to treat the two separately. 

Employee Compensation is everything that is market based like salary, health insurance benefits, contribution to 401k,  other pension contributions etc.  Compensation should relate to the position – the job description – and the employee’s performance within that framework.  For example, if an employee continues to do a “B” level job year after year, there will come a point when that employee has probably “capped out” their salary level according to market comparisons.  Regardless of how well you like the employee’s performance there may come a point when you don’t want to pay someone in that position more than the market will bear.

Employee Reward programs are unique in the sense that they depend on the employee’s, or the employees’, unique working behavior.  For instance, profit sharing is only paid when the employees’ combined efforts have resulted in a profit.  A “spotlight” award may be paid to an employee for a singular valuable effort or action.  These rewards may not be market based (although there is data to indicate what an average “spotlight” reward is), but are incentives to encourage more of a particularly desireable behavior.  The amount or kind of rewards given are directly related to management’s need to get employees to focus on specific things as opposed to management’s desire to stay competitive in the marketplace by paying comparable wages.

Whether you are launching a new employee reward program or re-tooling your program for better results, get your management team involved – from senior management to middle management.  And maybe some front line folks.  You will be better served to talk through the implications of the reward program you have in mind rather than dictate it from on high.  This is one of those times that your chances of success are better if you have more people involved on the front end.  If you are wedded to a particular program present it with the notion that you will listen to all legitimate criticism of it and change it if there is another program your management team is more willing to support.

If possible structure the overall recognition program to touch your employees on three levels

1.       Individual level: the employee should be able to receive recognition or reward for their personal efforts regardless of what else goes on in their department or in the company.

2.       Team Level: the specific team or department that the employee works with should be eligible for recognition regardless of what any one individual has done (or not done) or what the company has done.

3.       Company-wide level: Given a premise that your employees are doing the best they can with what they have, if the company succeeds as a whole then recognition should be shared with all.  The fact that an individual or a team failed to meet their goals does not eliminate the possibility that the individual or team may have contributed to the company success overall.  How so?  Perhaps by helping someone out on another team, thereby helping that team achieve their goals.  You’ll never really know all the possible contributions your people made.   

If you have been operating under a simple compensation program and are now considering an employee reward system to increase focus on catching your people doing something right, be sure to get your leadership team involved in the program from the very beginning, discussing the concept.  Each department manager should have an opportunity to voice the pros and cons of implementing a particular reward system because these managers may be responsible for tracking results, initiating the giving of the reward and living with the result afterward.  Let’s look at these one at a time:

1.       Any reward system has to be based on performance.  Even if employees are recognizing each other, the reason for the recognition must be defined, must be valid, and must coincide with the company’s greater goals.  For example: let’s say that an employee leaves their machine to assist another employee who is having difficulty.  Is it a good idea for an employee to leave a machine unattended?  Or is it better that the employee is willing to reach out another.  Tracking the results may require determining which behavior exhibited by an employee is the kind of behavior the company wants to reward.

2.       Giving the reward puts a burden somewhere within the organization.  If rewards are given co-worker to co-worker, the boss is not required to give the reward but may have to be sure the system is working – that the right rewards are being given co-worker to co-worker.  If the reward is to come from the boss, the boss has to track results and then make the time and effort to present the reward.  This may be anything from a written note to a plaque presented at the annual company dinner.  Either way it requires some effort.

3.       The giving of any reward is done to influence future behavior as well as recognize a prior accomplishment.  Therefore, management must follow up to see if the granting of the reward or the giving of recognition had the desired effect.  Not all reward systems work the same way in every work environment.  You will literally have to use a significant amount of pre-launch discussion and post-implementation de-briefing to determine if the reward system provides the results expected.  In almost all cases, a degree of fine-tuning and clarification will be required to custom fit the people to the program.  Don’t be upset if you don’t always get the reaction you thought you’d get.  Recognize what took place, talk about it and decide whether to fix it or move on to another kind of program.

Don’t let a disappointing reward program deter you from coming up with another program.  The purpose of these efforts is to recognize valuable behavior.  You will hit on a program that both you and your people appreciate; one that makes them smile.

Monitor your expectations.  Be prepared to “experiment” with a reward program to see if it works.  I caution you about starting out with the idea that this reward program will work the first time for all time.  That’s a pretty high expectation. Sometimes it may be better to launch a recognition for a short period of time, see if it works, then make it a more permanent part of your company.

Reward programs that are around for a long time can sometimes get pretty boring and predictable.  A challenge of any reward program is maintaining its freshness, its sense of excitement.  So don’t get hitched to an idea for any longer than it works for you.  Monitor its effect on behavior.  Maintain it if it’s working, change it went it stops.

 
I think it’s helpful to think about employee recognition as being comprised of employee compensation and employee reward programs.  Don’t get me wrong, for accounting and tax purposes the monetary rewards that you give to an employee are all part of their “compensation.”  However, for our discussion I’d like to treat the two separately. 

Employee Compensation is everything that is market based like salary, health insurance benefits, contribution to 401k,  other pension contributions etc.  Compensation should relate to the position – the job description – and the employee’s performance within that framework.  For example, if an employee continues to do a “B” level job year after year, there will come a point when that employee has probably “capped out” their salary level according to market comparisons.  Regardless of how well you like the employee’s performance there may come a point when you don’t want to pay someone in that position more than the market will bear.

Employee Reward programs are unique in the sense that they depend on the employee’s, or the employees’, unique working behavior.  For instance, profit sharing is only paid when the employees’ combined efforts have resulted in a profit.  A “spotlight” award may be paid to an employee for a singular valuable effort or action.  These rewards may not be market based (although there is data to indicate what an average “spotlight” reward is), but are incentives to encourage more of a particularly desireable behavior.  The amount or kind of rewards given are directly related to management’s need to get employees to focus on specific things as opposed to management’s desire to stay competitive in the marketplace by paying comparable wages.

Whether you are launching a new employee reward program or re-tooling your program for better results, get your management team involved – from senior management to middle management.  And maybe some front line folks.  You will be better served to talk through the implications of the reward program you have in mind rather than dictate it from on high.  This is one of those times that your chances of success are better if you have more people involved on the front end.  If you are wedded to a particular program present it with the notion that you will listen to all legitimate criticism of it and change it if there is another program your management team is more willing to support.

If possible structure the overall recognition program to touch your employees on three levels

1.       Individual level: the employee should be able to receive recognition or reward for their personal efforts regardless of what else goes on in their department or in the company.

2.       Team Level: the specific team or department that the employee works with should be eligible for recognition regardless of what any one individual has done (or not done) or what the company has done.

3.       Company-wide level: Given a premise that your employees are doing the best they can with what they have, if the company succeeds as a whole then recognition should be shared with all.  The fact that an individual or a team failed to meet their goals does not eliminate the possibility that the individual or team may have contributed to the company success overall.  How so?  Perhaps by helping someone out on another team, thereby helping that team achieve their goals.  You’ll never really know all the possible contributions your people made.   

If you have been operating under a simple compensation program and are now considering an employee reward system to increase focus on catching your people doing something right, be sure to get your leadership team involved in the program from the very beginning, discussing the concept.  Each department manager should have an opportunity to voice the pros and cons of implementing a particular reward system because these managers may be responsible for tracking results, initiating the giving of the reward and living with the result afterward.  Let’s look at these one at a time:

1.       Any reward system has to be based on performance.  Even if employees are recognizing each other, the reason for the recognition must be defined, must be valid, and must coincide with the company’s greater goals.  For example: let’s say that an employee leaves their machine to assist another employee who is having difficulty.  Is it a good idea for an employee to leave a machine unattended?  Or is it better that the employee is willing to reach out another.  Tracking the results may require determining which behavior exhibited by an employee is the kind of behavior the company wants to reward.

2.       Giving the reward puts a burden somewhere within the organization.  If rewards are given co-worker to co-worker, the boss is not required to give the reward but may have to be sure the system is working – that the right rewards are being given co-worker to co-worker.  If the reward is to come from the boss, the boss has to track results and then make the time and effort to present the reward.  This may be anything from a written note to a plaque presented at the annual company dinner.  Either way it requires some effort.

3.       The giving of any reward is done to influence future behavior as well as recognize a prior accomplishment.  Therefore, management must follow up to see if the granting of the reward or the giving of recognition had the desired effect.  Not all reward systems work the same way in every work environment.  You will literally have to use a significant amount of pre-launch discussion and post-implementation de-briefing to determine if the reward system provides the results expected.  In almost all cases, a degree of fine-tuning and clarification will be required to custom fit the people to the program.  Don’t be upset if you don’t always get the reaction you thought you’d get.  Recognize what took place, talk about it and decide whether to fix it or move on to another kind of program.

Don’t let a disappointing reward program deter you from coming up with another program.  The purpose of these efforts is to recognize valuable behavior.  You will hit on a program that both you and your people appreciate; one that makes them smile.

Monitor your expectations.  Be prepared to “experiment” with a reward program to see if it works.  I caution you about starting out with the idea that this reward program will work the first time for all time.  That’s a pretty high expectation. Sometimes it may be better to launch a recognition for a short period of time, see if it works, then make it a more permanent part of your company.

Reward programs that are around for a long time can sometimes get pretty boring and predictable.  A challenge of any reward program is maintaining its freshness, its sense of excitement.  So don’t get hitched to an idea for any longer than it works for you.  Monitor its effect on behavior.  Maintain it if it’s working, change it went it stops.

 

“Why did I work so hard to get promoted just to be told I have to set an example for my people?   Aren’t I supposed to be able to take it a little easier, come in a little later, leave a little earlier now that I’ve got some power – status – rank?”

Two words: not necessarily.  

You may have gotten some status, rank, power and more income with your promotion, but you were not relieved of the responsibility to set a good example for the people who work for you.  In fact: quite the contrary.  Now that you have status you are more exposed.  You are viewed continuously.  Your people work with one eye on you.  They know you set many if not all of the rules they live by during their work day.  They certainly know who approves or signs their paycheck.  You are the big dog who can steal their bone. 

You have an effect on your employees' behavior.  If you come in late they will want to do the same.  If you prevent them from coming in late, they will resent the fact that you come in late and they have to come in early.  Either way your behavior has an effect on their behavior.  

Whether you treat people well or poorly you impact your folks.  

Why am I belaboring this?  Because I have seen too many managers and company owners who have somehow convinced themselves that the things they do should have no effect on how their people work.  They assume that their people should go along doing excellent job while ignoring the boss.  This is pretty ridiculous.  

Know this.  Your people are smart.  They observe you.  They know who you are.  However, they may not – and probably will not – speak to you or act toward you in a way that will let you know that they know.  "Know what?!" you ask?  Know that you're coming in late, leaving early, not working as hard as they do and that you're taking advantage of your status to do less and get away with it. 

 For example, even if your employee thinks you're disrespectful to your employees he will still say, "Good morning" to you as you pass each other in the hall.  He knows he needs to be pleasant to you to maintain a good reputation with you and continue to get paid.  But when your employee’s friend asks if he should apply to your company for a position, what is the likelihood your employee will encourage him to to so?    

Your behavior has an impact.  Setting a good example is a key managerial responsibility.   
 

 
What do you do when you have a  boss who forgets what you and he, or what he and the team, agreed to do?  I don't mean every once in a while, because we all forget now and then, I'm talking about the "chronic forgetter."  

The first thing that comes to mind in this situation is to “document it.”  Simply, it works like this.  When the Boss suggests a method or action in a personal meeting or in a team meeting, follow up by sending him (and others effected) an email.  You might say, “Just to follow up on our discussion in the cafeteria yesterday, we will be using your suggestion to run an ROI analysis at the conclusion of each project.  Once it is complete, we will send you a copy.”

Or, include his instructions in the minutes of your meeting.  This is why keeping and sharing even a brief bullet point list of decisions and actions agreed upon in a meeting will save you from endless “he said – she said” arguments.  Written evidence can be your friend.    

Receiving the email or a copy of the minutes should prompt a manager to ask him/herself, “Did I suggest that?”  If he doesn't remember agreeing to what you've written he'll get in touch with you. You will now know a lot earlier than you would have before if he's going to change his mind. By sending the follow up email or meeting minutes, clarification is achieved. Isn't that all we really want?  

When you follow up like this at least you are letting the boss know that “you know” what's going on.  It will make it tougher to contradict you in the future and your credibility should increase because you have the evidence that proves you're right.  Remember, this process is a tool to improve the way you work together, not a hammer to beat the boss with.

But let’s say you have a boss who is not only forgetful, but a real pain-in-the-neck.  He/she may be a boss who really doesn’t think through the impact of their requests/demands and they don't really care.  Instead, they change their mind on a whim and expect you to deal with it.  In this case you have two choices – live with it or move on to a new position.

Other ideas are:

-          Band together – all you employees – the next time a discrepancy comes up.   Approach the boss together.  Do this with tact in a low key manner so that your manager realizes you’re simply looking for clarification, not to punish, and you would like to avoid miscommunication in the future.  

-          Go to the manager’s boss as a group and describe the situation accurately, dispassionately and supported by facts.  Some senior managers are good at handling situations like this, some aren’t.  You may not get the support you want, so be prepared to fall  back on the methods discussed above.  Plus, if you have a real Atilla-the-Hun for a boss, he/she may attempt to seek retribution against you for going over his head.  So hold this tactic as a last resort.

 
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I just received a question asking what to do when you feel your team - your people - are talking behind your back because of a decision you made.  

First and foremost work from the facts.  If you’re a manager, people are always talking behind your back.  People always talk about the boss.  Get used to it.  If you hear exactly what they’re saying about you, you have facts to work with.  Without those facts you only have what’s going on in your imagination.  Don’t go there.  You’ll only frustrate yourself because as the old saying goes, “92% of what you worry about never comes to pass.” 

Find out how unhappy the team is with your decision.  Get facts.  Either meet with several team members individually to ask them how they are dealing with your decision or, bring the team together at another meeting and ask them as a group.  In either case you must be prepared to listen attentively to what they have to say without judgment.  Once you’ve heard them out, and have proven that you have a grasp of their concerns (see “Repeat Back” in The People Manager’s Survival Guide) you can state your position regarding why your decision is necessary.  Or, you can take this opportunity to modify your decision.  Your goal is to achieve a level of understanding, if not accommodation, so that you can all move forward – willingly – in the same direction.

There may be several reasons why a team resists or hesitates about a decision that was thrust on them.  It may be the mere fact that the decision was thrust on them – without their input.  Forcing a decision on a team often shows a lack of respect for the knowledge the team members have.  It may be that the team thinks this is a big change and they need time to reflect on how they are going to implement the change.  It may be because the decision is just wrong and they are wondering if the boss knows what he’s doing.  It may be that they don’t have enough background information to understand why the decision is necessary.  And the last thing that comes to mind is that the team will resist if they are heavily worked and you’ve just added more work to their plate with the decision that you’ve made.

I often find that managers who are moved into a new responsibility don’t know exactly how the people in their new department actually do what they do – or why.  Oftentimes a team will develop methods over years and will have found what works.  Managers are prone to want to institute their own processes without considering why the team has settled on the methods they use.  Make sure you understand how your decision will impact the way your team does their work.  Not knowing this information may cause your decision to create undesirable, unintended consequences.


 
Conference call conversations comprised of team members in a conference room and one or two team members on the phone (speaker phone – “polycom”) can present interesting communication issues. 

 If your communication set-up does not include cameras so the participants can see each other, there are few cues to let people on the phone know when it’s appropriate to jump into the conversation.  Therefore, when someone is speaking in the room and pauses to take a breath or think to pull up a mental fact, the people in the room can see that he/she is intending to continue speaking – so the people in the room don’t say anything.  But people on the phone can’t see the expression on the speaker’s face so they may interpret the silence as an opportunity to jump into the conversation.

What to do?  The moderator/facilitator must assume the responsibility of saying, “Hold on a minute…” when the person on the phone is interjecting at the wrong time.  And, the facilitator must remember to return to the person on the phone to invite them into the conversation at the right time.  A strong facilitator, like a good traffic cop, will build trust in the participants allowing them to relax knowing that their time to speak will come.    

In addition, the team should hold a short conversation to set up a few rules regarding how to manage a good conversation using conference call technology.  In this conversation the difficulty of phone-participants knowing what’s going on in the conference room should be discussed so that everyone understands that inappropriate interjections are sometimes unavoidable.

After working through all this, if the phone participant still continues to force themselves into the conversation at inappropriate times, a conversation between the employee and their boss is in order – in private.

If you’re on the phone and cannot see the other participants, remember that you can always ask, “Is it OK for me to comment now?”  This little phrase won’t take long and it will cause things to go smoother.  It may also be appropriate to ask, “What’s the mood in the room right now?  It’s tough out here not being able to see everyone’s expression.”

The facilitator can also help this process by telling the person on the phone what’s going on in the room or allow others to express this.  For instance, “Mary, you might want to know that there are frowns all around the room.  I don’t think anyone is happy with this change we have to make.”  Or, “we have a mixed reaction to what was just said,” or, “This one looks like a winner, Mary, everyone is smiling.”

Remember that 65% of all communication is body language (expressions, gestures) so the person on the phone is only getting 35% of the total message.  Help them out.  

 
A manager told me that she was frustrated with her place of employment because a new manager had been promoted to the position superior to hers.  He was making changes that she was uncomfortable with and was considering leaving the company.  Now I'm totally in favor of changing jobs to enhance your career or your pocketbook, but here's some of the thought process I'd go through before jumping ship.
First, be clear about what is motivating you.  Is it the desire to “get away” from where you are or the desire to “move toward” a better opportunity?  You can answer, “both,” but if you reflect deeply, it’s usually a little more one than the other.

Moving to a new place of employment doesn’t necessarily guarantee “getting away” from organizational change or a heavy workload imposed by upper management.  When you’ve worked at one place for a long period of time, you may have the tendency to assume that things must be better elsewhere.  It’s my opinion that this perspective arises as the result of your intimate knowledge of the problems in your current position versus the lack of knowledge about the problems at any new organization.  Change occurs everywhere and it most often comes without warning.  Expect it where you are now or at the organization you move to. 

If you are trying to get away from your current workload, and this is enough to cause you to seek other employment, make sure you understand the true challenges and issues that will face you in your new position.  Ask probing questions.  Know what you’re getting into.  Starting over with a new organization may be more taxing on you then dealing with the situation you’re already familiar with.

Now let’s look at it from the other perspective.  Moving toward a new position may give you the opportunity to freshen your outlook on your career (re-invigorate you) and allow you to make your next promotion.  Let's assume you want to become a Director in your current organization but that position is blocked.  If you feel you are qualified for the position of Director in your current organization you may be qualified to be a Director at similar organization - right now.  

Making a career move like this from your current position will require tact, diplomacy and some stealth to investigate this move without revealing your plan to your current employer.  After all, you may find that you are in the best place after all.  So be careful not to indicate to your current employer that you’re ready to leave. 

Looking for that next position is good for you and the economy.  Knowing what opportunities are out there (or not out there) can spur you on to better things or give you a sense of satisfaction knowing you are in the best position.  Knowledgeable employees keep employers on their toes which makes the economy as a whole stronger and more competitive.  Keep in mind, this search will become something akin to a part time job, but if you want to make a solid career move, it is necessary. 

Having said all that, I know job candidates who have been offered a desirable opportunity within their current company simply by saying something like this to the right person at the right time, “You know, I think I’m looking for a new challenge.  Are there other opportunities available now or are their new positions on the horizon that I might apply for?”
If you're asking yourself whether it’s time to leave take another moment to look closely at your current situation.  Take time to really understand the source of your discontent.  Write down you’re ideal working situation.  How does it match where you are now?  Make a list of what you like and dislike about your current position.  Sometimes you may find that you’re able to be happier where you are if you can make a few minor changes in your responsibilities, compensation or status.  Otherwise it can become clear that only a change to another organization will satisfy you.  Either way, your mood will improve when you begin to take action on your plan.

 
Recently I had a manager ask what they should do about a boss who talks through the entire staff meeting and doesn’t let anyone else express their opinions or concerns.  This is the kind of boss that takes 20 minutes to tell you that he wants ideas and suggestions.  That he wants to hear from everyone.  And then you realize it is only a 30 minute meeting. 

Quite some time ago, I read an article about the characteristics of a leader.  One of the several listed was loquaciousness  – “the quality of being wordy and talkative.”  For many managers, talking a lot and talking over their subordinates comes naturally.  Not only that, but because many managers feel they need to have all the answers any problem you bring up is often just an opportunity for your boss to tell you how to fix it, now to listen to how you were going to suggest it be fixed. 

So how do you get your concerns expressed to a boss who monopolizes the conversation?

1.     When you do get a word in, match the manager’s speaking pace when you talk.  If he/she speaks quickly and their sentences are always cut-to-the-chase, do similarly without being obvious about it.  You’re not mimicking, you’re pacing.  To hold his attention, match his pace. 

2.     During the meeting if you have more to say, it is reasonable to politely say, “John, there’s something else I’d like to add…”  I’ve rarely seen a manager cut off a polite request to add something to the conversation.  Generally this is because the manager may not realize he’s talking over everyone.  He might actually be relieved that someone else has something to add.  I have a sneaking suspicion that managers that talk a lot just aren’t comfortable with silence, especially in a group.

3.     “The hand slightly raised with elbow still on the table index finger pointing slightly to the ceiling” signal often works.  This is the classroom “raise your hand to ask a question” but with a more professional air about it.  This gentle signal will often require the boss to turn to you and ask, “What is it?”  That’s your opening to make your point. 

4.     Drop by the boss’s office after the meeting or send an email.  Say (or type), “you know, John, I had a thought during our meeting today, do you think we could try (fill in your point here)?”   This is always a good solution whether your boss doesn’t allow people to speak or if the meeting never got around to your topic.  Don’t let good ideas drift away.  Capture them later.

The worst thing to do is to do nothing.  Doing nothing builds resentment in you and may cause you to “blow” inappropriately over something inconsequential at a later time.   

Boss: Gee, Mary!  I never hear any ideas from you.  Why are you so quiet in our staff meetings?

Mary: Well if you’d stop talking once in a while maybe I could get an idea expressed!

No, maybe not. 

The more a manager learns that his/her people have good ideas and concerns the more they will slow down to hear them.  The first challenge is to get your ideas and concerns expressed.  If you can’t get them in during the meeting, express them outside the meeting.  That may train your boss that you have ideas worth listening to and you might encourage him to be a little more