Archive | December 2014

Why wait?

This morning while I was driving to drop off my kids at school I noticed that my glasses were somewhat uncomfortable and poked on one side of my nose. One of the nose pads was gone. Or whatever these things are called.

I looked around. Nope. Not in the car… and then I immediately made a  plan on what to do next. I knew I had spare glasses at home and I knew I had already signed up for a yoga class. And I needed to get gas for the car, anyways. My eye doctor was right between the two, so I would just stop there on my way from yoga and would wear my spare glasses until then.

At home the grocery boxes did already arrive. I am not a big fan of grocery shopping, so I have my weekly essentials delivered. Saves me time.

Mind you. Today is my day off. The first day before the holiday break. And the only day I had available just for myself. A mental health day. I did not even tell my husband I was off.
My sole goal for today was relaxing and do nothing.

But what does nothing mean to me?

I immediately after getting home unpacked the groceries just to notice that the heavy cream was missing. Since I love heavy cream in my coffee this immediately put my relaxing afternoon coffee at risk. I was already out of cream and just not in to milk. So my plan formed up to stop at the store after yoga, before the eye doctor, and getting gas. And while I was at it I decided to stop at another store to buy some guinea pig food and visit the shelter cats. Looking and petting these cats always makes me happy. Going there just sounded good.

It is now 12:30pm and I am lying on the couch. I completed everything I planned. Am drinking the coffee, just had lunch, and the second load of laundry is already in the dryer. While I was changing for yoga I decided it would be a good idea to change the bed sheets and wash all my work clothes.

The 90min yoga class relaxed my body, the cats relaxed my mind, and my glasses are fixed. And I am not even really aware that I cleaned the kitchen after breakfast, and loaded and started the dishwasher.

I will go running later, but that is the last thing on my to do list.

See? I am essentially the opposite of a procrastinator.

I am one of the people who just does not postpone what can be done with minor effort. There are no lingering tasks on an ever growing list. I am accomplishing so many very small given things throughout the day, that in accumulation by the evening, I feel successful. There is no nagging kitchen to be cleaned, there is no missing grocery item preventing me from cooking what I want, and there is nothing that would prevent me from enjoying 1h of TV or more each night. And a glass of wine to go with it.

Getting the small things out of the way declutters the mind. So you can relax and enjoy “nothing to do”. Literally.

I am always amazed going to friends’ houses and some of the stress they are feeling. I have a friend who freaks out about every little thing to do, who cannot get laundry out of the way, who finds her house messy, and has always a long list of things to do. Yet, she is also the one who too often “does not feel like doing anything” and the list just grows.

In her house you find wrappers just lying on the table after the cereal bar was eaten. Or plates remain on the table until someone feels like doing the dishes. Just throw the wrapper away when you are done and do the dishes once you have eaten. Why wouldn’t you. Why would you expose yourself to the self inflicted guilt trip that occurs when you are lazy despite the messiness on your table. Just clean up first. Then relax. The overall sum of the time will remain the same, but you lose the nagging guilty feeling.

Again, a day with doing nothing to me means: only plan things that I enjoy, the rest will be handled as needed. Ensure you have time to play couch potato.

A day with doing nothing to me does never mean that I won’t do anything. Small successes and accomplishments just make me too happy.
I just get the tasks out of the way before I relax.

And this is how I also handle my work: get the little annoying and small things out of the way and just do not bother adding them to an official to do list. Just do them. Once they are out of the way, you can focus on the big stuff!

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How You Look…

There is no secret behind the fact that how you look affects how you are perceived. This has itself manifested in various way throughout my life. First starting with the random rule “Dress for the job you want and not for the job you have” to having attended several “Dress for Success” events.

Opinions on the appropriate business attire are multiple and typically the rules vary from company to company and sometimes even from department to department.

The more artistic the more freedom you have the more classical Finance the more restricted your choices are.

My company had just very recently changed the dress rules. Jeans are now permitted. Every day. Not just on Casual Friday. Thank goodness! I find nothing less appropriate to wear than khakis. Khakis are just not flattering on anyone. And men have way too many khakis in their wardrobe. This is probably my heritage. Jeans are a very appropriate wear in Germany — I remember many people wearing black jeans to weddings or replacing other formal dress pants frequently. This would have been unacceptable in the US.

It took everyone a while to get comfortable with the new way of dressing. At first only engineers dared to wear jeans on Friday. Now even the Finance folks are wearing jeans whenever they do not have a higher up meeting that day. Jeans are now established.

With the relaxed guidelines, unfortunately, also the odd dressers are coming out. People that do not know acceptable from risky. Worn out shoes, pants with holes, leggings… I have seen all here. And I wish I didn’t.

To me appropriate clothes for success are the ones that fit perfectly. Get them tailored if they do not. If you cannot tailor them, just do not buy them.

Shoes. Invest in reasonable and quality shoes. If you like to wear high heel, do so. Just make sure you can actually walk in them. I have a female colleague who insists on wearing the highest heels, but she just cannot seem to muster a fluent walk with them and looks like a stork with knee problems. Not a good look.

Also make sure your feet don’t hurt from the footwear you choose when you have to walk around a lot as part of your job. This is just common sense.

Occasionally, you may want to clean your shoes. Nothing screams “I do not care” as much as worn out shoes or dirty shoes. If you have to walk through mud and snow on your way to work, wear boots and change them inside. Do not, under no circumstances, wear snow boots at work. Unless it is a winter outing somewhere.

Invest in good sweaters, vests, or jackets. This can pull any outfit together. Remember — Casual attire does not mean sloppy attire. If you feel that you can go to bed in the outfit or cuddle under a blanket on the couch, you may want to reconsider what you are wearing.

If you have to wear sensible shoes for orthotics or other health issues, invest in a good and stylish pair. I know this is hard and expensive, but well worth it. Not everyone seeing you walk around in your New Balance shoes understands why. Judgment too often will not be made in your favor.

Do not wear leggings or flipflops ever.

Unless it is part of your company’s culture. And even then — avoid as much as possible. Please. There is just hardly any person who can look both professional and reasonable in that outfit. Maybe leggings with a dress-like top can work, but if not, there is noone that should be able to see the outline of your butt that closely or even care to see it.

Setting trends is not always easy. Too often you will unintendedly violate a departmental or cultural dress code. Be subtle with what you introduce. I for example have successfully culturalized scarves in my department. I wear neckerchiefs and long scarfs with nearly every outfit. It is my final touch of style or color. And I now see people copying me.

Another trick I learned from another female manager was that before open toed shoes were allowed, they one hot summer day sat together as a group of women and decided to all wear peep toed shoes the next day. When all over sudden 10 people wear the same type of shoes, it appears a lot less revolutionary. And slowly over time this footwear became acceptable.

It is important to invest in how you look, even if you think you do not care. Others do and they will judge.

How To Read Minds

Have you ever encountered people that upon first introduction need to tell you the personality traits and characteristics on how they want you to perceive them? And then have to reconfirm the point on a fairly regular basis?

For example a prior supervisor used to say “I am such an easy going guy” on a very frequent basis. Unfortunately, he was the exact opposite. Very uptight. His jokes always appeared forced and generally he was one of the most OCD guys I have ever encountered. He would micromanage me to a point where he checked on my whereabouts every 30min and followed up on every single task he gave me in 15min intervals. It became unbearable to work for him.

Another example is from a female manager that I am currently working with. She is a person that very frequently has to reaffirm how important collaboration is for her and how she is always so negatively surprised by how little others play in a team. The unfortunate truth for her is that she is very self centered, does not listen to others well, comes off very harsh and offensive at times, and approaches others who disagree with her very often somewhat bullying to a point where people simple get tired of her arguing, personal attacks, and cave in. Nobody voluntarily invites her to meetings for collaboration as it is so difficult to collaborate with her, because she is only out to win the arguments no matter the cost.

A third example is of a co-worker I am working with who always states “I really hate this person and that is surprising, because I get along so well with everyone.” To some extent this is true. He is very likable and gets along well with others. Most others. But not all. At every single point in time he finds an “enemy”. There is always this one person he just cannot get along with. To a point where it is not just a simple disliking between the two of them, but pure hate and war with more passion than I have seen other people handle their not so favorable work relationships.

And I also have a fourth example of a manager who always claims that the communication is just not handled effectively. I used to respond with setting up daily meetings to improve communication of topics, changes, and daily concerns, but her complaints just would not stop. It took me several months to realize that she just did not like what she was hearing. It had nothing to do with the communication, it was just her way of getting what she wanted by complaining to the authorities about lack of communication until the content of the communication changed to what she was willing to hear. This was a form of selective information seeking not miscommunication.

Apparently, most people have a tendency to highlight the topics they are most insecure or frustrated about in conversations by overcompensating for their weak points or throwing fog bombs to avoid addressing the real issue.

Often this is also used as a tactic to defer perspective and blame or make a misconception your problem instead of theirs. “If you think I am an uptight guy, you are wrong, I just told you I am a very easy going person.” Or it is a deflection to avoid addressing their own personal problems: “I do not need to change my behavior, it is their fault for not seeing me for the great person I am.”

I used to fall into the trap of making it my problem when someone threw a fog bomb to distract from their character weakness. I used to feel guilty for thinking negatively about a person who “was just such a great guy”. However, over the years I learned to see behind the masks. I learned to trust my instincts and to believe in my people reading abilities. And with these abilities I have been able to navigate my work place more effectively.

If someone tells me that collaboration is so important to them, I believe that this is what they think.

If someone is claiming the communication is just not working, it can mean they have fundamental issues with what is being said.

Since I noticed these patterns I am more actively trying to understand the other persons point of view. I am not trying to win an argument, anymore, and thus create conflicts, as a person that handles interpersonal situations with subconscious manipulative behavior is probably more skilled to use your confrontation or stubbornness against you. There is just no winning with people that cannot or have not practiced self evaluation well enough.

So, I am trying to beat them at their own game. I am asking questions. I openly seek their advice and help and often I ask them to be part of the solution and the deliverables at hand. Valid questions are: “How do you think we need to handle communication? Would it help if we sat together weekly to go through the list of changes before sharing with the group?” Or if I am very courageous: “Would you mind typing up a proposal on how you would implement this new process? We can discuss your thoughts next week.”

And in more difficult situations for example with the not-so-easy-going supervisor of mine. Just do not step on their toes. Do not provoke them. Just let them be. And get out of their way fast. Seek allies. I collected all nasty emails he wrote me over time to have backup. Some people are toxic and if you stay professional, there is no need to get down to their own level. I was lucky that his behavior was noticed and he essentially was demoted. Others are not as lucky. He is still bitter about it and writes nasty Emails to me and my team on a very frequent basis. I just ignore those these days.

So, here is the tip of the day. Learn how to read people. Do not take what they say for granted. And always try to understand the incentives behind everyone’s behavior. Most people are trying to do a great job and like good collaboration, however, not everyone has the natural personality traits and skills to make this happen easily. Sometimes you are most successful by being the guide and the support these people need to develop their own skills. Always keep in mind: you yourself can only be successful if you are able to work with difficult people effectively and if your projects and assignments get delivered. Learn how to be good with people to accomplish your goals.

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