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Verbal Dexterity: Talking the Talk » 2008 »

Archive for July, 2008

The Error Of Your Ways: Knowing How To Make A Good Mistake

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

We all screw up…and when we do, there is usually someone watching.

In addition, it frequently happens at work. Whether its forgetting to feed the Boss’ fish or providing the wrong data to a client…we have all done it.

My all-time favorite: The newly hired legal secretary who faxed 73 copies of the same contract to the firm’s client. After the client complained to her Boss, he asked her why did she fax so many copies. Her reply: “I didn’t think that the fax machine was working properly. Every time I put the contract in the feeder it still kept coming out the other end.” (She though the fax machine magically sent it through the air).

This was a “Careless Mistake.” That poor secretary didn’t know how the device functioned and, as a result, she made a ignorant, thoughtless, negligent (and humorous) error.

There is another kind of error:
Tony was about to pitch a prospective client on a new advertising campaign. He did the research and made a great presentation. Unfortunately, the client just saw a very similar presentation (from a competing agency) 45 minutes ago.

This was a “Thinking Mistake.”Tony was deliberative and thoughtful. He just happened to pick an approach that someone else already took. He wasn’t careless, just a little short of the mark.

His was a better kind of mistake.

Here’s how to make fewer and “better” mistakes:

  • Do your homework really well. Ignorance can be very dangerous.
  • Make sure that your ideas are reflected in an easy-to-read, easy-to-understand manner.
  • As soon as you get your assignment/project, brainstorm with others on multiple approaches.
  • Create a realistic but flexible timeline (speed tends to provoke errors).
  • If your Boss is OK with it: Take some chances. A good Supervisor will be much more appreciative of you “going for it” and missing than if you never “go for it” at all.
  • Observe others well. What works and what doesn’t? The more approaches that you can include in your arsenal, the better (Even Batman has a utility belt that he needs to go to from time to time!).
  • Listen well. Most mistakes derive from a basic misunderstanding of the assignment, the rules, the deadline and the obstacles. How can you come up with a solution when you don’t even understand the problem?
  • Always have a contingency plan. If you lost your notes or your materials, could you still go forward with your presentation? Have you built in extra time in your timeline to handle the unexpected curve ball?
  • Trust your teammates, but verify. In a team project, it’s always good to have “state of the state” meetings to see where everyone is in their respective assignments and responsibilities.
  • If you screw up, admit it and move on. Lame excuses (e.g. sunspot activity; dog ate my Excel spreadsheet; I forgot that today was Wednesday) are obvious to your Boss and make you look like a child (and children don’t get promotions or big raises).
  • Today’s Tip: NO MISTAKE ABOUT IT: The worst mistake that you can make is to make the “wrong” kind of mistake. Take a shot and go face this week’s challenge on your own: just be thoughtful, flexible and responsible. Remember, a baseball team can still win the game with a couple of errors.
    Just make the right kind of errors.

    Love On The Photocopier: The Office Romance

    Sunday, July 20th, 2008

    Romance is chemistry…and chemistry is really math.

    Unfortunately, the workplace math is a little scary. Once you subtract sleep time, chores and odds and ends from your day, it hits you: you spend more time at work with your colleagues than you do with anyone else.

    And so, the office romance was born.

    No. Not the “sweaty abs of manhood” and the “voluptuous fullness of her womanhood” chemistry that you find in a trashy romance novel. Rather it’s the “you are nice, I am nice, we spend a lot of time together, let’s get a beer” type of spark that can evolve into something more: relationship-wise and risk-wise.

    Before you move from mission statement to missionary position, here are some things to think about:

  • Put the chemistry on hold for one second. You need to find out what your company’s policy is on fraternization (some require a mutual written acknowledgment, to avoid a future harassment suit).
  • Intra-departmental relationships can be a problem. You work with the same people and you may be in competition with one another to get the next promotion. Could you live with it if they got it and you didn’t? How would they handle it if things were reversed?
  • Don’t kid yourself. Do you really think that no one else knows about your secret relationship? They do and have already set up the office betting pool.
  • If the relationship is between a supervisor and a direct report, you have a disaster in the making. Besides allegations of favoritism and rampant bad morale amongst other team members, the relationship is on a fast track to explode. One of you needs to change departments or leave the company.
  • Don’t be blatant about the relationship. Others will be jealous if you are flaunting your amorous association (”how did she get so many post-its?”).
  • Never show physical affection in the workplace. Sorry to sound like an old spinster, but I am looking out for you. Your Boss won’t appreciate walking in on your realistic re-enactment of a porno movie in the supply closet. In addition, French kissing is not the best way to start a meeting. After work, rent a room and have a blast.
  • If you break-up (and most office romances are as long-lasting as last year’s budget forecasts), be stoic and discreet. Bad-mouthing your “ex” just shows that you are not professional and/or cannot handle disappointments.
  • On a business trip, you may have more discretion, but be careful. You never know who you are going to bump into and, by the way, how do you explain the fact that only one of you paid for a room?

    Today’s Tip: Let’s be careful out there. At the end of the day, co-workers should share a vision, not a bed. Don’t dip your pen where the Company keeps its ink. It’s messy, unpredictable and really hard to get out the stains.

  • If You Weren’t Paying Us I’d Kill You: How To Deal With The Pain-In-The-Ass Client

    Tuesday, July 8th, 2008

    Yes, what the say about assholes is true: Everybody has one.

    Unfortunately, all of us, at one point in our career, have had the unique thrill and challenge of dealing with an arrogant, ungrateful, egotistical, unappreciative, pig-headed, demanding, naive, offensive, short-sighted, unrealistic, boorish, schizophrenic, lost in the weeds, unreliable, two-faced, unpredictable, unlikable, incomprehensible, pain-in-the-ass (”P-I-T-A”) client.

    How do you deal with a P-I-T-A?

    I know. Your first instinct is to yell, bang your head and throw something. But that’s not realistic.

    Neither is homicide.

    So what can you do?

    Here are some tips:

  • Immediately do the math–do you need them more than they need you? If so, you have to find a way to keep them as a client. If not, Au Revoir/Sayonara/See Ya Later!
  • Exert the effort to find something (anything) that is redeeming or tolerable about them and make that a diversionary subject of conversation when you interact
  • Consistently send them confirming notes/memos so that you have some type of record when they pull a “Crazy Ivan” (Russian submarine captain’s unexpected u-turn) on you
  • Attempt to meet/speak with them with your colleagues present. It’s always good to have a witness to the madness
  • Always be more prepared for a meeting than they are. The more you can eliminate potential areas for criticism, the better
  • Always have a second approach (in your back pocket), ready to be shared
  • No matter how tempting, don’t become a “Yes Man.” In the long run, such butt-kissers are never valued or respected
  • Think of ways to appeal to their vanity
  • Try to figure out a way to make them look good
  • In the face of a success, always refer to your relationship as a “partnership” and a “team effort”
  • Take their venting and disgust with a smile (think “The Devil Wears Prada”)
  • Never yell, scream or accuse back. You will never win if they are paying you
  • Today”s Tip: You can’t turn an Asshole into a Princess…but you can avoid making things worse. Understand your P-I-T-A’s personality, hobbies, preferences and never let them see you sweat. In the long run, preparation, stoicism and successful execution can tame and impress that difficult client.

    “Speaking Upwards” (How To Pitch an Idea Or Initiative To Your Supervisor)

    Tuesday, July 1st, 2008

    Every once in a great while, good employees have great ideas.

    Unfortunately, in the real world of work, they don’t have the power to unilaterally implement them.
    Instead of immediate execution, they have to make it past the “gatekeeper”—their Boss.

    Sell the Boss and you are golden: you will be considered a “mover,” an “innovator,” and a big asset.

    Fail to convince your Boss and you will feel like a loser and 1/2 an asset (an a-s-s).

    Here’s how can you maximize your chances for “pitching” an idea to your Supervisor:

  • Know their agenda and what motivates them (e.g., approval, money, creativity).
  • Have a clever angle
  • Be motivated and excited about your own idea (if you deliver it in a monotone, why should they care?)
  • Make an appointment with them (discussing great ideas while you walk through the hallways, like a character out of The West Wing TV show, doesn’t really work)
  • Do the research, know the facts and permutations and be ready for all of their follow-up questions
  • Pre-calculate the costs, the savings and the ROI
  • Have supplemental materials ready and waiting
  • Share or contrast the experiences of others that tried to do something similar
  • Dress appropriately (remember that old ad, “would you buy a used car from this man?”)
  • Follow-up with additional relevant info, case studies and write it up in a thoughtful proposal/memo
  • Today’s Tip: Don’t just blurt out ideas to your Boss. Prepare and strategize. Treat it like a negotiation. Know their concerns and their next question…and be ready to persuade them. You have a great idea, so go for it and share it with your Supervisor. Clearly, you should Speak Up!