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Career Management Archive

Repair Your Professional Reputation – It’s Not Too Late

Changing a damaged reputation is challenging. My number one piece of advice: Be very overt about the changes you’re making.

Here are eight steps to discover and repair your professional reputation:

Step one to repair your professional reputation: Make a list of people who observe your performance and who can impact your career. If you’re not sure who these people are, ask your boss and peers. They know.

Step two to repair your professional reputation: Ask for specific, candid feedback at least twice a year, and tell people why you’re asking for the information.

Asking, “How am I doing?” is not specific. Instead, say something like, “I want to learn more about my reputation in the office and want to eliminate my blind spots. I’d be grateful for any input you can provide on my reputation and what people say about me when I’m not there.” Then schedule a specific time in the near future to discuss the feedback, so you don’t catch people off guard. You’ll get better feedback when people have had a chance to observe your behavior and think about what they’d like to say.

Step three to repair your professional reputation: Listen to the feedback and no matter how hard the feedback is to hear, say, “Thank you for telling me that.” Don’t defend yourself. Instead, leave the conversation, think about what the person has said, and then go back to him a few days later with questions, if you need to.

Step four to repair your professional reputation: If the feedback you receive doesn’t feel accurate, tell others who you trust about the feedback and ask them to provide input.

Step five to repair your professional reputation: Sit with the feedback before taking action. Let yourself be emotional. You might feel angry, sad, or betrayed. All of those are normal responses to feedback.

Step six to repair your professional reputation: Take action. Make changes that feedback providers suggested.

Step seven to repair your professional reputation: Tell people who provided input and who are impacted by your behavior about the changes you’ve made. You could say, “I recently received feedback that I’m not careful enough and that my work often has errors. I’m really working on this. Will you pay attention to the accuracy of what you receive from me and let me know if you see changes? I’d really appreciate your input.”

Step seven is very important and something people rarely do. Don’t assume people will notice the changes you’ve made. Instead, assume they won’t. Without being told what to look for, the decisions people have already made about you will supersede changes you’ve made. It takes a lot of effort to see people differently. Validating what we already know and think about someone is much easier and more likely than noticing changes.

Step eight to repair your professional reputation: Continue to ask for feedback. Receiving feedback is not a one-time event. It’s an ongoing process. Don’t ask for feedback weekly, rather check in once a quarter, tell people the changes you’ve made, and ask for specific input.

You can change your reputation if you want to. Doing so will require courage, openness, and effort on your part. Work on one or two things at a time, not ten. And then reward yourself for the changes you’ve made with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s because too often we’re hard on ourselves and forget to celebrate wins.


Improving Workplace Relationships – Suffering is Optional

When leaving a job, the late nights and all-consuming projects quickly become history. What we take with us, are the people we worked with and the friendships we formed.

Much of what contributes to job satisfaction or dissatisfaction are our workplace relationships. “I just can’t work with this person. We don’t see eye to eye. We can’t get along,” are the types of challenges that often motivate people to job hunt.

I’m a believer that suffering at work is optional. You deserve and can have a job doing work you love, with people you enjoy. If your workplace relationships are strained, there are several things you can do to improve them.

Four steps to improve workplace relationships:

1. Make a list of the people you need a good working relationship with.

2. If you’re not sure who you need to work well with, ask your boss, peers, and internal customers. They know.

3. Ensure you know what your internal customers are expecting from you. Ask what a good job looks like, how they’re evaluating your results, and how they like to communicate.

4. Tell people you’re struggling with, “I think we both know this relationship is strained. I’d really like a good working relationship with you. Would you be willing to have coffee or lunch with me, and we can talk about what has gone on, and perhaps start in a different way?”

Fixing a broken relationship needs to be a phone or in-person conversation. Sending someone an email, telling him you want a good working relationship, won’t do the job.

Damaged workplace relationships can be fixed. We often don’t know what the other person is really upset about. We may think we know or assume, but may be surprised when we have the conversation.

You spend way too much time at work not to enjoy the people you work with. Don’t assume strained relationships will remain strained. Identify who is most important to your success, tell those people you want a good working relationship, and then ask questions to learn what they are expecting from you. Good relationships don’t just happen.

You have more influence over your relationships than you may think. Don’t accept the status quo. Suffering is optional.

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Advance Your Career – It’s Your Job

If you haven’t had a bad boss yet, just be more patient. He or she is coming. Why do I say that? Because not all managers are great bosses. Many managers don’t provide employees with challenging opportunities, regular feedback, and exposure to different areas of the business.

Too many professionals are waiting for their boss to make their career happen. You might be lucky enough to have a boss who cares about you and helps you advance your career, but you might not. Either way, you deserve to have the career you want and ultimately, it’s your job to advance your career.

Here are five steps you can take to advance your career:

How to Advance Your Career Step One: Learn about different areas of your organization and become clear on what you want to learn and to what areas of the business you want exposure.

You won’t know what to ask for from your manager if you don’t know what your organization does and the opportunities that are available. Get to know the leaders and employees in other departments. Find out what they do on a daily basis, the initiatives they’re working on, and their short and long term goals.

How to Advance Your Career Step Two: Ask your manager, your peers and other organizational leaders who you need a good working relationship with and who can influence your next career opportunity.

You never know who talks to whom and who can influence your future opportunities. Department heads you don’t know well talk to other department heads. Don’t assume that because you don’t know someone well that s/he can’t influence your next opportunity or lack thereof.

How to Advance Your Career Step Three: Build and strengthen necessary working relationships and improve your reputation in areas it has been damaged.

You might need to tell a coworker (in person or over the phone, not via email!), “Our relationship is strained. I don’t think I’m saying anything we both don’t know. I would really like a good working relationship with you. If you’d be willing to have lunch or coffee with me and talk about what has gone on, and perhaps we can start anew, I’d really appreciate that.”

Ask for feedback and make necessary changes. Assume others are not aware of the changes you’ve made, so make those changes overt. Tell people who can impact your career, “I’ve received _________ feedback. As a result, I’ve made ___________ changes. I’d really appreciate your continued feedback on the changes I’ve made and other changes I need to make.”

How to Advance Your Career Step Four: Tell people who can influence your career what you want to do.

Don’t assume people know what you want to do in the future. In fact, assume others have no idea about the work you want to do and the things you want to learn. Tell people, “I’m really interested in learning more about ___________. I’d like exposure to __________ part of our organization.”

How to Advance Your Career Step Five: Make it clear that you’re capable of either doing or learning what you aspire to do.

I’ll never forget my first college internship. I was interning for a company that did ropes courses and backpacking trips with at-risk teenagers. During orientation, my boss pointed to a large storeroom and told me that interns were responsible for sweeping the floor and washing sleeping bags and cooking utensils after camping trips. I thought, “I did not take a semester off from school to sweep floors and wash sleeping bags.” I never said that out loud. I simply did other things (that I wanted to do) well, that offered great value to the organization. At the end of the internship, my boss said, “You’re the only intern who has never cleaned the storeroom because you demonstrated you were capable of doing more.”

Your career is your responsibility. Don’t wait for the right boss to make your career happen. Take matters into your own hands. Follow the steps above and get more of what you want at work.


Your Mom was Wrong – Speak Up

“If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Most of us grew up hearing these words. Last week I used them with my four-year-old son, and instantly regretted it. He said something hurtful to me and I told him to keep those thoughts to himself.

I want him to keep his thoughts to himself if he doesn’t like a kid at school or doesn’t want to play with someone. Walk away, find another place to play, is often my guidance. But with me? With me I want him to be honest, always, even if it hurts.

Every time we talk with people, we train them how to interact with us. If I tell my son not to tell me the truth, I teach him to protect my emotions and stifle his. I teach him I’m not strong enough to handle the truth and that I’m someone who needs protecting. I teach him that he can’t be honest with me.

Do I want him to be a kind, empathetic person? Yes. Do I want him to measure himself with others, watching what he says and how he says it? Yes. Do I want him to do those things with me? No. I’m the mom. He’s the kid. And that will always be the case, even when he’s 45. I can take whatever he has to say. And if I want to have a real relationship with him, he needs to know that.

Every time we react to what others say, we train them how to interact with us. If you want your coworkers, boss, family and friends to be honest with you, make it easy to tell you the truth. Take in what others say without visibly reacting. Say “thank you” for whatever feedback and input you get, even when you want to say everything but. Take the time to ‘get over’ hard messages and then discuss further, when you’re not angry.

People learn quickly. If we react to suggestions, input, and feedback negatively, people learn that we can’t take challenging data and they stop giving it to us. I don’t want to be the person the people I care about are afraid to talk with because my reaction is just too hard to deal with.

Should you care about everyone’s feedback? No. Should you ask everyone for feedback? No. Should you be open to everyone’s feedback? No. Be open to feedback from the people who matter most to you. Open your heart and your mind. Close your mouth. Even when you want to do everything but. Strengthen your relationships and train people that you can handle the truth.

Note: I know this blog is not what my weekly tip said it would be about. I write the weekly tips before the blog and this blog just went a different direction. Everything I write is inspiration driven. I’ll write about the courage to speak up in a future week. 


Be Careful What You Ask For – Protect Your Reputation

We’ve all heard the expression, “it doesn’t hurt to ask.” But what if it can and does?

While it’s true that you won’t get what you don’t ask for, it’s also true that requests help form others’ impressions of us. Some asks may seem high maintenance and create the impression that we’re difficult to work with. Other requests may create the impression that we’re out of touch or entitled. Be brave in what you ask for but also be judicious and aware of how requests may impact others.

So, what shouldn’t you ask for at work? That’s a hard question to answer. What’s appropriate in one environment may not be ok in another. I’ll provide some guidance for most work environments below.

Don’t ask for anything that requires your boss to break the rules or treat you differently from other employees. This may seem obvious, but I’ve been asked for things that I couldn’t legally provide. A candidate asked me to write her a monthly check towards her personal health insurance plan versus her participating in our company-sponsored health insurance plan. It’s an innocent request but put me in a very awkward position and I said no.

Here are a few do’s and don’ts to follow when making requests:

Don’t ask for or take time off during the busiest times of the year. Ask your boss what those busy times are and then plan accordingly.

Don’t ask for exceptions unless you’re desperate – being paid in advance to cover unforeseen personal expenses, time off you haven’t earned, unless It’s regularly permitted in your company, using company resources for personal use. All of these may seem acceptable in the moment, but if they make your boss bend or break the rules, they’ll likely make you look bad too.

Be brave. Be bold. And be careful what you ask for. Your reputation is more important than a request that feels important right now but will be insignificant by next year.


Stop Being Silent – Speak Up

My four-year-old son Grayson likes to narrate. He gives instructions to people he doesn’t know, tries to be “helpful” and keeps everyone informed.

Today we rode a miniature train Grayson has ridden many times. He has the instructions memorized. “Keep your arms and legs inside the train. Stay seated while the train is in motion, etc. etc.” While we were waiting to ride the train he informed everyone standing in line of the rules. The other parents were patient and indulged him, smiling and asking questions. When we got on the train Grayson continued to give instructions, and I became embarrassed.  Self-conscious that my son was irritating other passengers, I told him to be quiet. He looked at me and wisely asked, “Why are you shushing me?” And then I was even more embarrassed.

He was right to ask. Why, indeed, was I shushing him?

Before I had children, I always hoped my child would be one of those kids who wore superhero costumes everywhere, who didn’t care what anyone thought, who was unabashedly himself. And I wondered, at what age do kids become self-conscious? When do they begin to lose this level of self-expression? And then I had one answer, when adults tell them to.

I imposed an old ‘rule’ on my son, “children are meant to be seen and not heard.” Sit quietly. Don’t stand out and don’t inconvenience others.

Where are you sitting silent, stifling your views? What do you know a lot about, but keep your skills or expertise under wraps? When do you have a solution or a better way to approach a problem, but you don’t share?

Share your ideas. Do it in a way that doesn’t tell others they are wrong. It’s ok to have the answer. You can be right without being righteous. It’s ok to speak up.


Say No to the Empathy Sandwich – Giving Effective Feedback

No one likes giving people negative feedback. Giving negative feedback often makes both the feedback deliverer and the recipient feel badly. To make everyone feel better, we dress negative feedback up with pickles and relish, otherwise known as The Empathy Sandwich.

The Empathy Sandwich in action: “You’re doing really great. Now you did almost cost the company $50,000, but in general, things are going great.”  

The Empathy Sandwich is plain wrong, wrong, wrong. It leaves people unclear, wondering if there is a problem. Instead of softening negative feedback with positive platitudes on both ends, tell people you’ll be providing positive and negative feedback as things happen and then separate both types of feedback.

Here’s how you can set the expectation that you’ll be providing balanced feedback:

Giving feedback to people you manage: “As your manager, my job is to help you be successful. As a result, I’ll tell you what I see, as I see it. I’ll give you both positive and upgrade (negative) feedback in a timely way. Because if I don’t, you’ll learn nothing from working with me.”

Paving the way to give feedback to peers and those at a higher level:  “We see each other work and are in a unique position to provide each other with feedback. If you see me do something really great or not so great, I’d like to know. I promise to be receptive.”

Delivering feedback and avoiding The Empathy Sandwich:  When you give feedback separate the positive from the negative. You could say something like, “I want to talk about a few things today. Here are some things that are going well… Now, I also have something to talk with you about that is not going as well… After you deliver the negative feedback, say something like,  “I know there is a tendency to dwell on negative feedback. I want to remind you of the positive things we talked about today.”

People can handle negative feedback. They won’t quit if you’re honest about their performance. They will likely become defensive and get upset for a time. That’s ok! Your job when giving feedback is to be clear, timely and specific. Worry about your delivery. Ensure you have the relationship to deliver the feedback. Don’t worry so much about the response.


Manage Your Professional Reputation – Get There First

Managers Don't Like SurprisesYou’ve heard countless times that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. So when something not-so-positive happens – a customer is upset, you missed a deadline, or made an error – don’t let your boss find out about it from someone else. Manage your professional reputation and get there first to create the first impression of what happened.

Managers don’t like surprises. If your manager is going to get a call about something that isn’t positive, let her know before the call comes in. You will create her perception of the situation, and perceptions are hard to change.  Don’t wait for the s*** to hit the fan. Get ahead of the problem by coming forward and giving your manager and other stakeholders a heads up.

Boss Phone CallIt could sound something like this, “I just had a tough conversation with John in IT. You may get a call.  Here’s what happened… I didn’t want you to be surprised.”

Or, “I told Brian at Intellitec that we’re raising our prices in the second quarter. He wasn’t happy. You may get a call.”

Or let’s say you’re going to work on a strained relationship. Tell your manager before you take action.  It could sound something like this, “I want to work on my relationship with Julie. Our relationship has been strained since we worked together on the software project last year. I’d like to approach her, tell her that I know our relationship is strained, and that I’d like a good working relationship with her. Then I’d like to ask if You Create the first Impressionshe’s willing to have lunch with me, talk about what’s happened, and see if we can start again in a more positive way.  What do you think of me doing that?  Would you approach the conversation differently? I don’t know how it’s going to go, so I wanted you to know what I’m planning to do, just in case it backfires and you get a call.”

Manage your professional reputation assertively by taking responsibility for mistakes, working on damaged relationships, and telling your manager before someone else does!


Admit Mistakes and Advance Your Career

No one likes to make mistakes. We want to do good work and have people think well of us.

The key to maintaining your relationships and reputation, when you make a mistake, is to take responsibility and make things right as soon as possible. Saying something wasn’t your fault or becoming defensive will only damage your reputation and relationships. As counterintuitive as it sounds, you will gain respect and credibility by admitting fault and correcting problems.

I often get asked if people lose credibility by being humble – asking for feedback and admitting to making mistakes. It takes strength to ask for and be open to feedback and to admit when you drop the ball. So while it may seem counterintuitive, the more you ask for and respond to feedback, and admit when you make mistakes, the stronger you will appear.

I made a mistake at work. Now what?

When you make a mistake say something like:

“I dropped the ball on that. I apologize. I’ll fix it and let you know when it’s been handled.”

Or, “Thank you for the feedback. This clearly didn’t go as planned. I’ll make those changes and let you know when they’re done.”

Also, let people know the steps you’ll take to avoid similar challenges in the future.

You could say something like:

“Thanks for letting me know that our process is causing your department challenges. We certainly want the process to be smooth. My team will fix this month’s report, so your team doesn’t have to invest more time. We’ll update the process for next month and walk you through the changes before the report is due.”

Don’t provide a bunch of reasons for breakdowns. No one cares. Telling people why something occurred can sound like excuse management. People just want to know things will be made right.

Asking for feedback, taking responsibility, and telling people how you will correct errors may not be your natural or first reaction. The more you can train yourself to do these things, the easier you will be to work with and the better your reputation and business relationships will be.


Give Feedback by Asking Questions

The people you work with want to do a good job. They want you to think well of them. Yes, even the people you think do little work. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Assume people are doing the best they know how to do. And when you don’t get what you want, make requests.

There are two ways to give feedback. One way is very direct.

Version one:  “You did this thing and here’s why it’s a problem.”

The other way is less direct. Rather than telling the person what went wrong, simply make a request.

Version two: “Will you…” Or, “It would be helpful to get this report on Mondays instead of Wednesday. Are you able to do that?”

It’s very difficult to give feedback directly without the other person feeling judged. Making a request is much more neutral than giving direct feedback, doesn’t evoke as much defensiveness, and achieves the same result. You still get what you want.

When I teach giving feedback, I often give the example of asking a waitstaff in a restaurant for ketchup. Let’s say your waiter comes to your table to ask how your food is and your table doesn’t have any ketchup.

Option one:  Give direct feedback. “Our table doesn’t have any ketchup.”

Option two:  Make a request. “Can we get some ketchup?”

Both methods achieve the desired result. Option one overtly tells the waiter, “You’re not doing your job.” Option two still tells the waiter he isn’t doing his job, but the method is more subtle and thus is less likely to put him on the defensive.

You are always dealing with people’s egos. And when egos get bruised, defenses rise. When defenses rise, it’s hard to have a productive conversation. People stop listening and start defending themselves. Defending oneself is a normal and natural reaction to negative feedback. It’s a survival instinct.

You’re more likely to get what you want from others when they don’t feel attacked and don’t feel the need to defend themselves. Consider simply asking for what you want rather than telling people what they’re doing wrong, and see what happens.

I will admit, asking for what you want in a neutral and non-judgmental way when you’re frustrated is very hard to do. The antidote is to anticipate your needs and ask for what you want at the onset of anything new. And when things go awry, wait until you’re not upset to make a request. If you are critical, apologize and promise to do better next time. It’s all trial and error.


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