This is part 2 of an interview with Elizabeth B. Brown, author of Working Successfully with Screwed-Up People. Today Elizabeth shares some short answers from questions relating to the book:
1. What is the trait most needed to handle difficulties at work?
How about the top three traits- perseverance, adaptability, and forgiveness! By perseverance the snail reached the ark. By adaptability chameleons stay alive in changing environments. By forgiveness one lives with peace in the present, not bound by the past.
2. I’ve stayed the course in a job I can’t stand with people who drive me crazy because I work with family. I am not a quitter. But, when is it time to bow out and move on with my life?
It sounds to me like you think holding on and hanging in there are signs of strength. But there are times it takes much more strength to know when to let go. And, even more to do it. Only you know the time. If the job has become work, you might think whether it is worth continuing on, even if you are in a family business!
3. What are the rules about office romances? A supervisor dating a subordinate is probably frowned upon, but what if they are in different departments? I have seen so many flings and outright flagrant affairs in our company. Sometimes it’s fine but other times everyone is abuzz about the situation.
There are no ‘rules’ unless you are in a company that has established them. Some offices discourage any kind of romantic involvement or family working within the same company because they are a distraction and make workers less efficient. If the romance is between a supervisor and a subordinate and it doesn’t work out, it opens the door to accusations of sexual harassment and potential lawsuits.
Many a lifetime of love has started in the office where workers get to know each other, first as friends and then move on to romance. Many more romances have died on the vine. So while the temptation may be there, what’s right most often is to avoid them and what is wrong is to get involved in what at the very least is risky business.
4. I work in a small office with a smelly co-worker. He literally stinks. I don’t want to hurt his feelings but it is hard to work beside him every day. Surely he wonders why people avoid him. Should I say something?
The best person to handle this type issue is a supervisor. He/she is responsible for handling problems that have the potential to fire up tension, as well as addressing issues that affect the work environment. The supervisor can do it discreetly, asking about health issues and cleanliness, and making suggestions that would be offensive coming from a co-worker. It is far more likely personal hygiene will be changed if a job is in jeopardy than if a cohort makes such a suggestion.
5. I work with someone I detest. I see this person quite often in social situations. I feel so uncomfortable trying to act like a friend. How should I handle the situation?
Smile. Greet your co-worker pleasantly. Move on to talking with another person in the room. Working with someone does not obligate you to be a best friend after work hours. Common decency, however, does demand courteous behavior. By the way, the more serious issue is that hanging on to loathing is like letting that person live rent-free in your head.
6. I feel like my boss is a hurricane when she gets in my face and starts a torrent of blame or criticism of my work. How do I handle a boss’ unreasonable criticism when I need the job?
Carefully. Figure this behavior is her tactic for getting you to do what she wants or part of her power game. Listen attentively. If the torrent is getting to you, picture her as a storm, blowing through. She blows, she leaves. Your skin is wash-and-wear so go on about your work if the comments are off-base. If, however, the comments, though poorly delivered, are valid, accept the criticism as instructive.
7. A co-worker is stealing from our company. She’s been employed here for years, but times are hard at home right now. She’s a decent person and I am sure as soon as things settle down in her life, she will try to pay back what she has taken. Should I tell my boss?
Your co-worker is stealing and you ask if you should tell? Embezzlement, theft- these are crimes and your knowledge makes you an accomplice. Immediately notify the proper authority at work. Let them make the call of whether she is a ‘decent’ person and intends to pay back what she has taken.
8. I feel invisible at work. No one even knows I am here. People pass and never say ‘hello.’ Do you have suggestions?
Absolutely. Say ‘hello’ first. Smile when you see someone. Wish them a good day! You may be sitting there feeling invisible as they pass; they, in turn, wonder if you know they are passing.
9. I am afraid of my co-worker. There is something wrong. Should I speak to someone about my fear?
Yes. Immediately. Tension, pressure, mental issues are creating unsafe issues in our workplaces. Your business is no more immune than any other. If you suspect something is wrong, speak to a person who has the power to check it out. If it proves to be an invalid feeling, you can relax. If the suspicion proves to be on target, you may have helped someone get the help they need.
10. My co-workers are so competitive that it drives me bonkers. It seems a lot of jobs are that way. Have you a suggestion of a career where the workers will not be constantly vying to be top dog?
Have you ever been to the supermarket when the cashier opens another check-out line? Competition begins at birth and ends at death. Eventually most people learn to temper their need to be the line leader- but it is usually a slow process. You could lead the way by being more laid-back, less reactive, opening the door for others. But, as for suggesting another job- I doubt you will find the people in another job different from the co-workers with whom you work currently.
11. I work in a job I don’t particularly enjoy, especially when I have to deal with some of the crazies at work. Any suggestions?
Yes! Try imagining yourself without a job- and, absolutely no hope of finding one!
12. One of my co-workers tells everything about her personal life, including the secrets of her bedroom forays. It is incredibly disturbing. Am I being too secretive to want to keep my personal life to myself?
Secretive, no! Smart, yes! Personal issues can negatively affect your job and career. Sharing escapades, either face-to-face or on Facebook, has become a No-No to people seeking employment or wanting to hold onto their job. Why allow negative thoughts about your personal choices affect the way your co-workers appraise your work?
13. I’m a clutter buff. I like my stuff around me but the office rules don’t allow it! This is my space. Should I revolt against such nonsense rigidity?
Follow the rules if you signed onto the job. Why allow such a little concern become a major, disruptive issue? Consider the work problems that abound. You may be swatting at a gnat with a rampaging elephant romping somewhere in your office.
14. Everyone tells me my job will get easier as I get into it. But right now it’s the pits. I’m ready to try something else. Is quitting wrong?
Quitting is not wrong; in fact, sometimes it is the right thing to do. But, it if you are quitting because the job requires hard work, you might want to consider that diamonds are nothing more than chunks of coal that stuck to their jobs.
15. I feel like such a failure. I wanted to be something I couldn’t be job-wise. Why can’t I be happy with the job I have?
Sometimes not getting the job you want turns out to be a wonderful stroke of luck. It may seem dark where you are because you have not lit your candle. There isn’t enough darkness in the world to keep a lit candle from lighting a room. Try shining where you are and see if you feel different about your job. You may just be in the very place that you can make a difference.
16. I consider my faith very important. Is it wrong to share my religious views in the work place?
The best way to share your faith at work is to live out your faith. It speaks louder than words. No one wants to work with someone who is preaching, but it’s a rare bird who doesn’t appreciate someone who is slow to anger, caring, appreciative, responsible, forgiving and believes there is good in everyone.
17. I had an emergency this morning at home so I was late to work. The supervisor was angry I had not called so she could make arrangements for someone to take care of my duties. I knew I could handle things when I got to work so why was she upset?
Because you were discourteous! A simple call would have alerted her of your problem and when to expect your arrival. Not knowing, she did not want to call in extra help, nor did she want to pick up the pieces or dampen the chaos from not having someone at your station. Like it or not, at work you are part of a team. A team is a lot like a hand, if the thumb doesn’t co-operate, the fingers struggle.
18. My days at work drag by. I count the minutes until Friday at 5:00. How can I make the days less tedious?
Find a job you like with people you enjoy and you add five wonderful days to every week.
19. I have a great education, a gifted mind, and lots of ability. I don’t understand why I am in a lackey position when I have so much more ability to do more challenging tasks.
The only job where you start at the top is digging a hole.
20. I finally figured out that working for somebody will make me feel like life is long, even if I die young. The problem is I don’t have the foggiest idea how to start. Do you have a suggestion?
There’s no scarcity of opportunity to make a living at what you love. There is only a scarcity of resolve to make it happen. Ask yourself: What would I be happy doing even if I were not paid for it? That’s where you start. Planning becomes exciting. You want others to enjoy what you make, the talent you share, or the help you offer. The people you employ or serve will be friends because they share your vision. Nothing offers more potential for success than doing something that you enjoy so much you almost feel guilty getting a paycheck.
21. I want to retire early. I have the money, why not?
You may want to reconsider when you read the statistics on death following early retirement. If you plan to retire before 65, do so with a plan in hand, something to fill the time and give meaning to your life, in addition to golf or tennis. For many people a job is more than an income - it's an important part of who we are. So a career transition of any sort is one of the most unsettling experiences you can face in your life. Don’t retire thinking you will have plenty to do. Retire with goals in mind and a road map for the next years of your life. Being able to retire from one job gives you the opportunity to try something new, grow in another area. The key to successful retirement is thinking of it as a shift in your lifetime of careers. Go at your new career with gusto and you will live to a ripe old age. Sit down in the rocking chair and you will be fodder for growing daisies at far too young an age.
22. I’m no spring chicken. How am I supposed to handle a difficult boss who is younger than me?
Just like you would a difficult child. Praise his achievements, ignore his tantrums and resist the urge to sit him down and explain to him how his brain is not fully developed.
23. I’m afraid if I try something new I will be criticized, so I stay in my ‘safe zone’ and miss opportunities to advance. Why am I so afraid I will trip as I try to make it up the ladder of success?
Maybe you feel like an advancement is a huge mountain to climb and you will slip, affirming to your co-workers that you weren’t up to the grade. Perhaps it will help you to know that nobody trips over mountains. It is the small pebble that causes you to stumble. Success builds upon itself so that the skills you need for the next part of your journey are being fine tuned in this part of your job. I never heard of anyone stumbling on something while sitting down, but neither do they experience the exhilaration of new experiences and new vistas.
24. My co-workers keep food at their workstations. It’s like a feeding trough around me. I can’t stop thinking how unhealthy the snacks are, how difficult it is to lose weight once it becomes layered, and how unprofessional it makes our office. Have you advice as to how to talk to the snack-food crowd about this?
Yes. My advice is to stay out of this snake pit. No snake has more venom than one protecting its food source. Your office manager is the one to address the issues of the environment. Most companies have a policy of No Food Outside the Staff Dining Area. You might suggest a dining area to your office manager if there is not one. Maybe, if your office manager is content with the situation, your example of a clean area and healthy eating habits will encourage some of your team members to follow suit.
25. I blew it! My steam was spewing and my words volcanoed at one of my co-workers. The creep copied my work and passed it off as his own. He was wrong but I shot off a vocabulary that even shocked me in front of the whole staff. I feel like crawling under a rock. What should I do?
Grow up! You blew it. Pull yourself together. Say you are sorry. Admit you were shocked by your own words. Everyone knows why you lost control so don’t try to justify it. More likely than not, an employee who accepts responsibility for his actions is let off the clothesline where he dangles if he excuses his behavior. Handle the repercussions as lessons and move on.
26. I always dreamed of working in a job where everyone gets along and works to make a difference in the world. Yuck. My dreams have turned to dust. I’m so discouraged! How do I turn my enthusiasm back on?
If your dreams have turned to dust, vacuum. Reality is far more exciting than dreams. It seems your job is filled with screwed-up people that give you a great opportunity. Be sunshine. Be light. Be enthusiasm. Nothing is more contagious. You may infect your whole work world with a new zest just by refusing to be dragged down by someone else’s lack-of! Hang in there!
27. Can you say No! when offered a new position or move by the company?
The word from those who know is ‘No!’ That can be tough. The issue is priorities when faced with a critical decision that will affect your life and those in your family. ‘No!’ may be what you determine is best for your life. Negotiate, state clearly why you are not willing to accept the offer, and be willing to accept the consequences. Who knows? You may be respected for your position- or not! Sometimes only time will tell.
28. Ouch! Another job downsized. I’m about to give up. Help!
Get up and get going. Life is not about how fast you run or how high you climb but how well you bounce.
Jill Harris with Book Review Travels: Well, readers, I hope you feel as blessed as I do to take in these valuable insights from Elizabeth B. Brown on how to cope better in our work world. It sure was a treat to have Elizabeth stop by to chat with us. Please get your hands on a copy of Working Successfully with Screwed-Up People for much more inspiration on handling difficult co-workers and other people that are placed into our lives at our workplaces. My book review of Working Successfully with Screwed-Up People is to follow later this week...