Could you call someone, ‘Fats’ in 2017?

When Antoine Domino was born in New Orleans back in 1928, it’s impossible to think that Mrs. and Mr. Domino looked down on their newly born son and said to each other, “let’s nickname him ‘Fats’. In fact on his birth certificate they gave him the nickname Anthony. Turns out he was initially called Fats by big band leader Billy Diamond in 1949 – then at age 21 because he reminded Billy of two other musicians; Fats Waller and Fats Pichon.  Also of note was that in 1949, he released an album self-titled, “The Fat Man” and it went on to sell a million copies; a hugely successful number for the times.

Oh and take the case of Ernest Evans. Who’s he you ask? Ernest was born in 1941 in South Carolina, and it was while he was working in a Produce Store that he was bestowed a nickname by his boss that he would go on to use and be better known by. After doing an impression of Fats Domino, Dick Clarks wife asked him what his name was and he said, “My friends call me Chubby; the name his boss had first gave him.” She replied, “As in Checker?” referring to a game piece like a domino. So it stuck; and there you have the icon Chubby Checker.

So how would such a nickname go over these days in 2017? Not sure? Maybe you should try one of the two out on a co-worker and let me know. What’s that? You wouldn’t dare because the repercussions could mean you’ll be sent for sensitivity training? Fair enough. So why were these people comfortable back then saying such things? By all accounts they never meant disrespect, and the people themselves, Fats and Chubby, used them in reference to themselves professionally and personally. Oh and the group of musicians that backed up Chubby? Yep, the were called The Fat Boys. Chubby Checker and The Fat Boys.

These names didn’t just refer to musicians either. There was a great billiards player Rudolph Walderone Jr. (doesn’t that just roll off the tongue?) who actually gave himself the nickname Minnesota Fats; claiming the character of the same name from the movie, ‘The Hustler’ was based on him. Fats went on to promote the game of Pool and Billiards like no other and it wasn’t the championships he won that really drew attention but his name and his artistry.

I wonder though what would have happened to those three boys if it was their parents that had given them those names at birth. Would they even have been allowed to do so? What would have happened to their self-esteem? My goodness, they might have spent years with a psychiatrist or mental health counsellor trying to repair fragile and damaged self-egos!

Some nicknames are more flattering. Maurice Richard of the Montreal Canadiens was nicknamed the Rocket, and another Canadiens player, Yvon Cournoyer was nicknamed the Roadrunner for his bursts of acceleration. He played along, ‘The Flower’ Guy Lafleur. But all three of these hockey players never lost their real names; they were still known as Maurice, Yvon and Guy. The nicknames though were definitely associated with the men themselves.

But again, do you think you could honestly call someone at work, “Chubby”, “Fats” or, “The Flower” and pull it off as a term of endearment? Wouldn’t you at least have to say, “Gee, do you mind if I call you _____? I somehow doubt you’d be successful and it’s even less likely that your nickname would be picked up and used openly by your co-workers. Somehow, “Hey Fats, when can you have that shipment ready?” “How’s 3 p.m. sound Chubby?” just sounds so ridiculous. Any customer overhearing that exchange might be shocked, and more than one person would tell the two guys to stand up for themselves, grow some backbone, have some self-respect and stop allowing others to label them with these self-deprecating nicknames.

The entertainment business has a long tradition of changing a person’s name early on in their budding career. You’d probably not recognize the names Archibald Alexander Leach as Cary Grant, Joyce Frankenberg as Jane Seymour or Krishna Banji as Ben Kingsley. Sure these are names of famous people largely from the past, but the practice continues today. But the average guy working in a blue or white-collar workplace? Well you’d find a William going by Bill, Robert going by Bob, or a co-worker whose friends shorten the name; like Trev for Trevor.

When applying for jobs these days, names can and do influence people’s perception so much that there are some organizations that remove names from applications before passing them on to the Hiring Managers. This is to prevent bias from ruling out a Mohammad or Myubai and choosing a Michael or a Jessica. Some actually put nicknames on resumes; “Yes my name is Ahmed but people call me Anthony”. Really? Hmm…or is this a strategy to get into the hands of the people who make decisions on who to interview?

Whether to land a job or get along with co-workers, names name who we are, how we see ourselves, maybe as manifestations of endearment. Still you might not get on well if you call your co-worker, “baby, hun, dear, sweetie, gramps” etc. If you’re proud of your name, you may correct people who mispronounce, lengthen or shorten it. You decide who you let call you what.

Names say a lot about how you see yourself and others.

Leaving Your Mark In The Workplace

Eventually we all leave the employer we’re working with now, be it retiring, quitting outright, taking a leave of absence that turns into moving on, getting laid off or yes, even terminated. What if anything, will you leave behind that would mark your contribution?

I suppose one key question is whether or not leaving behind anything of a lasting nature is even important to you. It’s kind of like when you and I – all of us – pass away in life really. Well it is isn’t it? I mean, do we want to leave behind some sign of our passing? The big difference here is that we’re not actually dead and so yes, we can look around us while we’re still in our workplace and point to things we’ve had a hand in creating. Conversely, we can just walk away, never look back and not give it a moment’s thought.

Consider though the number of hours, days, weeks, months and years you give to an organization. When it all adds up, you’ve invested a great deal of your life sitting at that desk, standing on that line, traveling in that vehicle etc. You’ll have a lot of mixed memories no doubt when you move on, perhaps all the way from great ones to ones you’d rather forget. Those memories are important not just now but in the years to come because they mark the time you put in and they’ve had a hand in shaping who you are.

Not unlike the impact the experiences have in shaping you, your time in an organization contributes to it. Maybe you’ve affected a policy or procedural change. Perhaps you mentored some others who in turn went about their business differently because of your influence. Perchance there are things you’ve created like manuals, filing systems, software designs, physical spaces, programs etc.

Here’s something to think about. If you were to go back now and visit the places where you put in time in your past, what would you find? Depending on how large the organizations are that you worked for and how long ago we’re talking, they may or may not even remember you. Maybe your co-workers and the management of the day have all moved on themselves. No one even recalls your name. It’s different I suppose if your name adorns some oil painting in a hall of founders.

So how would it make you feel to go back and discover its as if all your years working for an organization never even occurred? That no one remembers you? If you couldn’t point to a single thing you’ve done that had any lasting impact, would you care? I’m not suggesting you should of course, but it’s an interesting thing to contemplate. Again, you may or may not be concerned one way or the other; comfortable in the knowledge that you contributed while there and the only lasting memories you want could be the day you walked out the door.

Still, you were there for a chunk of time weren’t you? Yes when you add up the time you worked for this place and that place and oh yes, that place too, you’ve put in a significant amount of energy. Hopefully those places appreciated your contributions. Then again perhaps the organizations themselves have ceased to even exist; they went under, relocated, disbanded or dissolved. No wondering then if you’re remembered!

Maybe – just perhaps – the real key then for some of us is not to put much energy and time into making a mark on an organization; the physical bricks and mortar. Maybe the real key for at least some of us is to make our mark on the people we worked with. While they too will eventually pass and move on, if we influence others by the way we work, the things we say, the actions we take, the training and advice we pass on, maybe what happens is they are shaped by us in part no matter where they go. So it’s not a physical building, a policy manual or a plaque on a wall that we seek to leave behind to mark our time, but rather the interaction we had with those we worked with.

So, can you look around where you work now and honestly see any influence you’ve had on others? What of yourself? Can you see how what you do  is because someone in your past or present passed on something to you? Maybe you work smarter, act kinder, put in more effort, smile more etc. because somebody you admire passed on something that affected you.

Here’s the thing reader. Unlike when we die, you’re still alive and have the time if you choose, to make your mark. Whether you use the time you’ve got to positively or negatively impact on others, your workplace itself or not, you’ve got the luxury of having the choice. You can therefore choose to consciously contribute to your workplace in such a way that you do make your mark, or you can opt just to do the minimum, take your pay and move on.

Where you work now, I bet you can think of at least a few people who have retired or moved on in some other way. Do you recall their faces and names as well as their legacy or do you struggle to even recall what’s-his-name?

Either way, it’s a life.


Tolerance On The Job

If you were to say you are a tolerant person, would you be casting yourself in a positive light or unintentionally exposing a character flaw?

I don’t often come across this word on too many resumes, nor hear when I listen to most people describe themselves in interviews; particularly with the, “Tell me about yourself” question. However, I have come across this word several times in the last week when reading some LinkedIn profiles, and in correspondence I’ve received from job seekers. Each time I read the word, I became aware that I was conflicted reacting to the word. I knew the writers using it intended to be speaking positively about themselves, so why then was I unsettled with the choice of the word?

Tolerate: Allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of things one does not necessarily like or agree with, such as opinions or behaviour, without interference.

So I started to imagine myself in my workplace; I imagined all sorts of people in their workplaces too. I conceived of situations we all might have where other people held opinions that we didn’t like or agree with, where people were behaving in ways we didn’t like or agree with. Finally I imagined myself allowing the existence and practice of those same behaviours and opinions.

Somehow, I find myself accepting of others opinions that I don’t necessarily agree with much easier to accept than I do behaviours. I’ve no right to impose my opinion on someone else with the expectation they change theirs to mirror my own, any more than that person has a right to expect me to change mine to match theirs. I have no qualms with this part of what it means to be tolerant. In fact, it is in differing opinions that I – that we – learn. When exposed to the differing views of others, we are afforded a chance to perceive something from a differing view, and with that new information re-evaluate our opinions or behaviours.

When we outright dismiss another person’s point of view, we run a risk of dismissing the person who holds it, and every experience in their past which has led them to hold the view they now have. Opinions we hold are after all, the summation of all our experiences to date. We shape our opinions based on what we’ve seen, read, heard, felt, tasted and experienced. With everything we experience we either solidify our opinions or we adjust them. So it stands to reason when someone or some group holds a differing opinion, we have a chance to hear why, learn and then choose to maintain our view or modify it.

Allowing the occurrence of behaviour I don’t necessarily like or agree with however, is something I find harder in some situations. Here I believe I’ve hit upon what rubs me the wrong way when I read others describe themselves as tolerant.

In most organizations, there is a person or group at the top that hold a common belief system. They refer to this as their values. It is their expressed objective to bring people on board who share or develop similar beliefs in order for those beliefs and values to be consistently experienced by end-users. When consumers experience the same behaviours with each interaction no matter the representative of the company, that consistency brands the company and reinforces the view the consumer has. They come to expect – be it positive or negative in their mind – to be treated a certain way, to experience service a certain way, and come to know therefore the company in the same consistent way. This is branding.

When an employee holds an opinion that varies from those of the larger company; they may choose or not to make that opinion known. However, behaviours and actions are observable, and when those behaviours appear to fly in the face of the values the company purports to uphold and believe, the consumer is conflicted, the brand weakened. This is one of the biggest fears organizations have. Too many people acting and behaving in ways that differ from the organizations expectations, and the brand loses its strength and becomes muddied.

When you observe a co-worker behaving or acting with a client or customer in a way you know contradicts the beliefs or values of your organization, tolerating such behaviour may not be best advised. Tolerance here may become a flaw. The real challenge is to correctly identify which differing behaviours and opinions to respect and leave unchallenged, and which behaviours and opinions to openly address and how.

Not all of us are comfortable addressing the opinions and behaviours of others any more than we are comfortable having our own opinions and behaviours discussed.

In the workplace, sound advice is to identify the behaviour (not the people themselves), that is at the crux of any discomfort you experience, and assess if it flies in the face of your own opinions and behaviours and/or those of the organization. It’s a fine line allowing individual expression; thought and behaviour while at the same time having everyone pull in the same direction.

Tolerating behaviour and opinions sometimes is the thing to do. Other times, those opinions and behaviours need to be challenged and discouraged; especially when those opinions and behaviours depart from the organization expectations, or when the people stating them demand your conversion to their views. Knowing which is the real test of good judgement.

Challenging Authority At Work

The longer you report to a person, the greater the likelihood that eventually you will question a decision or opinion that person has, no matter how much you respect them personally. It’s inevitable and undeniably going to happen. So when it comes about, it’s not really so much your difference in opinion that could spell trouble; it’s possibly the way you handle yourself in the process.

Like so many things in life, there is a wrong way and a right way, and an awful lot of ways in between that you could choose to air your feelings. I have found from listening to many of my clients over the years, that going about things the wrong way can lead to immediate dismissal, a stalled career or a whole lot of energy spent trying to repair damage done in what otherwise was a good working relationship.

One of the first things you would be wise to acknowledge is where you find yourself on the organizations hierarchical chart. Are you the supervisor or boss? If so, realize the title on your business card doesn’t necessarily mean every decision you’re going to make will be the right one. Nor does it mean that all the people who report to you have less intelligence or somehow don’t see the big picture the way you do. You are entitled to be treated with respect based on your position in the organization, but you also gain respect from your employees based on the respect you show them.

If you answer to an authority figure at work such as a supervisor or boss, you would be wise to respect the person you report to, and ultimately defer to their authority as the final decision-maker on the big items. You can get yourself into trouble if you overstep the boundaries of your position and start making decisions you have no right to.

I’ve listened to both men and women who got fired or let go from places of work who despite overstepping their job descriptions, failed to learn the lessons. “The guy’s a jerk. I could do his job with my eyes closed. He’s an idiot. I told him what to do and that if he didn’t he was stupid. I wouldn’t go back if they begged me, and I’d do the same thing again if I had the chance. Good riddance!”

The comments made above tell me more about the person making them than they do about the person being talked about. The person talks in issues of right and wrong, my way or the highway, black and white. Further, the message communicated is that if things aren’t done the way the speaker sees things, then the other person is an idiot. Ouch! There isn’t any respect being shown for holding a different opinion, and there’s no credit being given to the supervisor for seeing a bigger picture, knowing more background in a situation or their own work experience.

If you are going to question someone with authority, let me give you some helpful advice. First of all, always respect the other person and their right to hold an opinion different from your own. Ultimately you both want the same thing; to maximize your resources, improve conditions, solve a problem, generate numbers, maximize profits, etc. So keep your thoughts and your comments confined to the issue, not the person.

When you challenge something, don’t challenge authority, challenge yourself first. That’s right; challenge yourself. Your challenge is to respectfully bring up a topic, suggest or recommend an alternative to a process. Understand right from the start that you may be successful and you may not. You may be the one who has to relent and you might not be given a full explanation as to why your idea – so blatantly better – is not the right one at this time. Your title and the title of your supervisor or boss alone might mean you walk away having been heard but your ideas not acted on. That’s the order of things.

Picking your battles, understanding you won’t always win and seeing things differently than ‘You won I must have lost’ or ‘I won you must have lost’ are smart attitudes and behaviours. The boss is no more an idiot in every given situation than you are right in every situation. Far from being about who is right, wrong, smart or an idiot, words you choose should always be about the issue, not the people.

Conceding on issues may just be a sign of your strength by the way. By presenting your ideas for improvement but openly deferring in the end to whomever is in a position of authority, you demonstrate good interpersonal skills and your Supervisor will appreciate that. You can still be passionate about your ideas on a subject, and you might even find the person in authority gives your future ideas more thought because of the respect they feel you’ve earned by respecting them.

Personality clashes sometimes get in the way of respectfully exchanging ideas and respecting those in the workplace. It’s a wise person who pauses to see things from another person’s perspective when they can, and asks for clarification when they can’t. People want to feel listened to, their ideas heard and considered. In the end, the higher a person is in the organization the greater is the ultimate responsibility for major decisions.


Sharing Skills With Your Co-Workers

I sent an email out to my co-workers just yesterday, asking if they’d be interested in a lunch and learn session next week on the subject of social media and LinkedIn specifically. Lunch and learn for those of you that don’t already know is literally where you bring your lunch and eat while someone is making a presentation.

It is known to me that at least some of my co-workers are skeptical of social media, a little gun-shy about putting their personal information out there, and others who do get it might still have reservations about what it can do for our clientele; many of whom are not technologically savvy.

This kind of volunteerism, sharing a skill you have with your co-workers so that they personally and ultimately their clients can benefit has a huge upside. For starters, if you are trying to get noticed in your organization, standing up in front of your peers and facilitating a session gives others a chance to see you in what could be a new role. Speak well, answer questions with intelligence and provide a safe room for questions and you may get a few folks thinking of you in ways they didn’t before.

Another benefit is that in sharing your skills, you upgrade the knowledge and ultimately skills of others. With a shared understanding of the subject matter, you’ll be undermined less. Undermined? Definitely. Suppose for example I was in this case extolling the virtues of social media for a job seeker and one of my peers chirped in by saying that they personally don’t think it’s all that necessary and just a fad for upper level business professionals. Now they haven’t ever done this just to be clear, but as an example it works. All of a sudden the job seeker might not want to put forth the effort required to take my advice, and I sure wouldn’t appreciate having my suggestions cut out from beneath me. Intentional or unintentional, that remark may come out of ignorance of social media itself and how to best exploit it.

Another benefit is that the employer need not incur the cost of bringing in some social media guru who in the end might not be as effective as you. After all, you know your business and if you know social media, you know best how to utilize it. Without knowing your business, clientele and their capabilities, no one from outside is as best positioned to maximize this tool as maybe you yourself.

Now think about your own business whatever that is. Surely there are people on your staffing body who have expertise and skills in certain areas which exceed those skills had by most others. Is there a person who is up on the latest trends, seems to be the go-to person when it comes to technology itself, or just knows how to use the advanced features on the photocopiers!

Instead of doing nothing at all which has the impact of keeping knowledge from being shared, or paying someone to come in and share knowledge but at a price, why not initiate your own lunch and learn activity? Now not everyone is going to jump at the chance to get up in front of their peers and lead a session. I get that. Some people would rather sign up for root canal.

Surely however, there are at least a few people who would be willing to speak with some of their co-workers (a voluntary participation over lunch, not mandatory) about something of interest to their co-workers on a topic they themselves know something about.

Take me now. In doing a short presentation on social media in general, and LinkedIn specifically, I’m hoping to demonstrate to my peers how best to help them help our clients. After all, if someone has heard of LinkedIn but doesn’t really understand it, they are not going to be able to sell it as an effective tool to be used in networking and job searching.

As the business my colleagues and I are in is helping others gain and sustain employment, we should be looking for tools to use that give them a competitive advantage. With social media being so prevalent and common these days, using it actually levels the playing field somewhat rather than giving them an advantage. The advantage is already being enjoyed by their competition!

Suppose however you are a clerk who knows how to add your digital signature to documents produced by the printer or the digital photocopiers. I would think that more people in your office would like to know how to do this too. Why not set aside 20 minutes of your lunch and gather those interested so you can walk them through how to do this. 20 minutes…no formal teaching role just standing at the photocopier…showing them what you know…that might be possible?

Again, think of your role in your present job. What do you know that others would benefit from knowing? If you are in Management why not float the idea of your talented workers sharing their knowledge with each other – say once every two weeks. Then step back and let it morph and grow on its own. Book the room, then sit at the table just as one of the gang and see what you can learn. You might be enthusiastically impressed. Skills on the front-line don’t always need to come from those at the top.

Overcoming Trepidation

Today at work, I’m going to be pushing my personal boundaries of comfort and do something I’ve never done before. I’m voluntarily stepping into the spotlight in front of all my co-workers and it’ll be one of those make it or break it moments that if done successfully, will bolster my self-esteem, see my self-confidence grow, and hopefully make my workplace just a little bit happier for having taken the risk.

So what am I doing? Delivering a workshop? Making some kind of address to my colleagues? Sharing a presentation of some kind? No….not really. You see I’m going to be playing my guitar and singing with three other staff members during a noon hour Management appreciation luncheon. Big deal you say? Uh yes! To me it is.

You see I’m comfortable doing community theatre, acting and singing on stage to a house of 700 people, even when it’s a love song involving a few kisses for a leading lady. That may scare some of you, but I relish in that. So if I can get on stage and do that, what’s the big deal about playing my guitar and singing in front of maybe 50 co-workers at the office? Plenty. On stage, I’m playing a part; I’m not Kelly Mitchell, I’m Emile in South Pacific, the Lion from the Wizard of Oz or Professor Hill from The Music Man. And everything is rehearsed and choreographed. But today, it is Kelly Mitchell live and up close. Ahhhhhhhhhh! And no one else is playing an instrument in our group. So I’ll be noticed for good or for ill. Say a prayer for me.

So what has this got to do with job advice and why is it worthy of a column to share with you? Well, overcoming some fear you may have in the workplace may be something you similarly have or may face. Oh you’re not alone by a long shot. So whether it’s delivering a presentation, toasting someone who is retiring, taking the lead on a project with major implications, meeting the press to respond to some inquiry, you may be in a position where you will also be in the spotlight, and you might feel similar trepidation.

Now what I have found comforting is finding a way to take small steps on which I’ve built up my growing confidence in my ability to pull this off. You see up to now, I’ve only ever played in the backyard and inside the safe confines of my home. My audience has only ever been my own ears, and those of my wife and once or twice my daughter. So what have I done to make this easier?

First I envisioned in my mind a successful performance. Not rave reviews you understand, just some polite applause, and a, “good job!” and the odd, “That was nice.” One day I brought in my guitar and went into the room I thought we’d perform in and at 7:30 a.m. while there was no one in the building, I played two songs I feel confident in even though they weren’t Christmas songs. Emerson and Palmers, ‘Lucky Man’ and James Taylor’s, ‘Sweet Baby James’ were played and the guitar all packed away before anyone else arrived.

Next I went into the room around noon, shut the door and played (a little softer) just enough so I was aware that others could tell I was in there. And then of course I got together with one or two of the three people I’d be performing with and we ran over some Christmas songs, but not before just singing some non-Christmas songs that I was comfortable with. That was a bonding experience and we sized up each others capabilities. Then it was 4 or 5 planned rehearsals, but yesterday was the first time we got all 4 of us together to try things out. Did I mention we are performing at noon today?

So this process of visualizing a positive result, and putting into place small steps upon which to build up to the delivery is a model you too could follow with respect to overcoming your own fears and trepidations in the workplace if you find yourself stepping out of your normal comfort zone.

While there is always the possibility of disaster striking just when all seems right with the world, I know that come 1 p.m. it will all be over and I’ll still be breathing one way or the other. This isn’t an audition for me to join a band, go on tour, and no talent scout or Publicist will be in the audience to my knowledge. It’s just me and my colleagues. If things don’t go well, sure I’ll leave them with a poor impression of my skills, but it’s a risk that if pulled off will be a positive for them, make them smile and enjoy the luncheon a bit more. Risk and reward.

And you? Well you could advance your career, grow in personal stature and confidence. You might learn things about yourself you didn’t know you were capable of. Perhaps you’ll stretch yourself in ways you didn’t think you could and it might ignite a desire for more opportunities and lead to a change in jobs WHEN you pull off (not ‘if’) your moment in the spotlight.

So yes, at 55 years old, I’m still growing, pushing my comfort zone a tad and taking a chance. So, “Happy Xmas”, “Frosty” and “Silent Night” don’t let me down!

An Example Of Office Spirit

Not in every firm of course, but in most organizations, there is a general hope that employees go about their jobs on a daily basis with some optimism, some positive vibes; in short, some spirit. Many have committees whose sole purpose is to raise the spirits of everyone who works there, because happy workers are productive workers.

The irony of these committees I have always maintained, is that there always seem to be a formality about the activities. It’s kind of, “Okay what will we plan to have fun doing?” Do things really need to be planned out in order for people to generate positive spirit in a workplace? I sure hope not.

So where I work, we have events planned by our social committee that center around the holidays throughout the year – such as Valentines, Canada Day, Christmas, Halloween, Easter, St. Patrick’s day etc. It’s a sure bet there’ll also be fundraisers for the committees activities throughout the year too, like Bingo etc. All of these things are well received by the majority, but they all share one thing in common and that is that they are planned activities.

Yesterday however, there was a spontaneous event in my workplace that raised the spirit of just about everyone, even though only five employees out of 70 or so took part. That alone is strange don’t you think? What is it that a small percentage of people did that caused others to suddenly feel good, smile and laugh about? But before I tell you this, I must warn you that if you reside in a sunny climate where the temperatures have you in shorts and short sleeve shirts and blouses, you won’t be able to duplicate this activity even if you want to for quite a while.

Here’s what happened. We had a good snowfall yesterday which started around midnight and lasted right through until about 4 p.m. in the afternoon. Our office is on the second floor and many of the working areas overlook the parking lot below where the majority of staff park their vehicles. About noon hour, I decided to brave the white stuff, brush the snow off most of my car, and move it up four or five feet and back several times, just to make things easier when I’d be leaving, 4 hours later.

When I returned, I joined a fellow staffer named Mary, and commented how funny it would be to go out and draw happy faces on all the windshields. I don’t know if that comment had anything to do with what happened next or not, but a short time later an email circulated in the office, and it had a picture of a snow angel you’d see when people lie down on their backs and extend their arms and legs back and forth. The message was thanking all the snow angels who were out in the parking lot.

Curious, I walked over and looked out. What I saw was a small group of staff who were brushing the snow off not only their own cars, but EVERY car in the lot! One staff person at least even went down to a store and bought a shovel and was clearing the area in front of all the cars where the plow had piled up a barrier, making it otherwise hard to exit.

I stood and watched them go from car to car, their pant legs wet, but their faces smiling all the while. Well in no time at all, my email inbox was inundated with messages where people had hit, ‘reply all’ to the original, and everyone was passing on their thanks and appreciation. Now while you might suppose it was a waste of time and money for several staff to be standing around watching the shoveling and brushing, it actually produced the opposite.

What I observed was an increased energy level, and reading those emails – all of them short, got conversations going, and laughter happening. The whole vibe in the office went from, “UGH! Make the snow stop!” to “Wow! That’s so cool! Thanks!” The office spirit soared, and it was entirely spontaneous and a gift gladly given by those to their co-workers. You can’t buy this kind of friendship that extends beyond just working alongside other people.

So what’s all this have to do with sharing job advice? Well it’s random acts of kindness like this that endear workers to their co-workers. In the end, it was an easy ride out of the parking spaces, and a slippery ride home which took much longer than usual. I imagine today that the good will created by those people will hover around at least for a while longer.

If you want to find a way to get on the good side of those you work with, it’s sometimes in doing the unexpected. Joining in when someone says, “Hey I’ve got this crazy idea! Are you interested in …..” may be just the thing instead of being practical and saying, “Nah, it’s cold out there and I’ll get wet, but thanks for asking.” See when you respond either way, you either get branded as someone who will spontaneously do fun things, or someone who is more of a stick in the mud, and passes on these things. Your choice entirely.

This was too good to pass up when I was thinking about what to blog about today. What examples do you have in YOUR place of business that raise workplace spirit?

The Healing Sweater

I’m going to share with you a very special story that demonstrates a group of Educator’s going beyond their job description, the thoughtfulness of a child, and the lasting impact on a recipient of a gift carefully chosen.

Approximately 18 or 19 years ago now, my daughter was attending primary school in Bobcaygeon, Ontario. It’s a small community roughly 150 kilometres north-east of Toronto Canada if you’re wondering. One late fall day, she came home with a letter from the teachers in the school, and the letter asked parents to consider donating either new items they had around the house they didn’t want, or gently used items in excellent shape. These items were going to be all put on tables in the gymnasium, and class by class, students would get to go to the gym and for 25 cents an item, students would purchase and wrap a Christmas present for both mom and dad.

This always struck me in year’s since as such a fabulously touching idea. You see this way, neither parent would know what two gifts under the tree were; one for each of them. Every other year, I’d take my daughter out and together we’d pick out something for my wife from her, and then my wife took her out and bought something for me. Parental influence was evident both times. But in this case, it was truly entirely up to the child as to what they thought mom or dad would really want. So there was anticipation building to see what was going on in that precious little mind!

Although I’ve long forgot what the 25 cents per item was raised for, I have never forgot the idea, the generosity behind it, and the gift itself. When I opened my gift that Christmas morning so long ago now, it turned out to be a dark burgundy gable sweater. The arms were about 8 inches too long, and the overall length went to mid-thigh; clearly donated from a home where the man of the house was much bigger than I.

I loved the thing. I put it on and it was loose-fitting, really warm and light weight despite it’s size. Because it didn’t fit correctly I never wore it to work or out in public, but around the house it was comforting and great lounge wear. One day I can recall having the chills from a cold, and donning the sweater to ward off a long cold, I immediately felt snug and warm, like a big old hug. Hence, “The Healing Sweater” was born. I’d wear that sweater for years every time I was home ill, or just needed that comfort feeling people seek when they make comfort food on a cold winter’s day.

Ah but things don’t last. Eventually the sweater got stretched through use and the washing machine, holes appeared, and common sense told me it needed to go. To this day however, I’ve always got a sweat top or sweater that when lounging around on a Sunday in the winter at home, or feeling cold or ill, that I’ll put on and announce I’m wearing the healing sweater to ward off a lengthy illness.

So tying this story back to job advice, I often think about the person or group of people more likely, who thought of the idea in the first place up at Bobcaygeon Public School. Why did they do it? I mean sure the gifts were donated, and some parents donated wrapping paper, tags, bows and tape for each child to wrap their purchased gift. So it wouldn’t have cost the school anything at all to do the activity. And at 25 cents an item, I supposed they raised a few hundred dollars which may have gone toward school-related expenses of some sort. But it was never really about the fundraising.

I think looking back, it was a small school doing something to connect the children and their families to each other. No one complained about this being a Christian celebration that I know of, and the town did have at that time families from other cultures and faiths. It was a shining example of a group of teachers in this case who came up with an idea that got unwanted items out of homes and into the hands of others who would use them, built anticipation both for the children to see the reaction from their parents, and for the parents to see what their children purchased and wrapped for them. It was just such a win-win on so many levels.

And there’s an example of some people in a workplace who collectively put forth the effort to go above and beyond. The labour involved to get all those items displayed on tables in a gym, parade all the classes down, collect the money, help the child wrap all those presents and label them, then take the classes down again for other people in the family when there were still items left; that was a lot of work.

Does your workplace do anything on a social basis perhaps that gives back to the community? Some staff yesterday at my workplace exchanged gifts with a twist. Each gift had to be what you imagine they might have wanted as a child. After being unwrapped, all gifts were collected and donated to a toy drive for Christmas. No one went home with any gift, but everybody received so much more.

Invisibility Can Be Isolating

Ever been away ill for a day or two, and upon your return one person remarks that it’s good to have you back, but those around you turn and say, “Oh were you away? I didn’t notice.” Worse yet, you’re gone for a couple of weeks vacation and you get the same comment upon your return? That’s not a good sign.

Or how about a situation where you put in a great deal of effort on a project which turns out to be a success, but when the boss is handing out his or her thanks to the team, everyone seems to get thanked except for you? Again, it’s a good indication that you’re being overlooked.

Now this is quite different from the person who comes in daily, performs their work well but doesn’t need the accolades and constant positive stroking that others do. In my own workplace I’ve got a fantastic colleague who performs her job consistently well, and she shuns the spotlight, but her contributions never go unnoticed and she gets thanked often, but with less fanfare than others. So this isn’t what I’m referring to in this post.

No, this is the kind of person who gets overlooked, thought of as an afterthought, often forgotten. Another example would be when you share a birthday with a co-worker and there’s an email that goes out encouraging everyone to wish them a happy birthday, but you are omitted. Then some time later a second email comes out apologizing for having forgotten you, and it’s like you’ve become an afterthought. How do you feel?

Well like any other situation, you’ll react differently depending on who you are and what your needs are. Some people really don’t want any attention or fuss at all. However, I’ve found those same people do get emotionally affected if they are passed over for promotions. And little things can sting such as being left out unintentionally when everyone else is carpooling to go to some training event.

And this is the real danger; even though you are surrounded by people all day, you can still feel incredibly isolated and alone. Some people want to fit in, be included in some circles, but they just never seem to connect. Oh others can be very polite to them, but they just never seem to be, ‘one of the boys’ at work, and they just feel on the outside of all the ‘in’ gatherings.

Okay so suppose this was you I’m describing. The first thing that you’d have to decide is whether you want to bring about a change. How important or desirable is it for you to become more noticed, acknowledged and remembered at work? If your decision is that it’s really not an issue, ask yourself is that just you retreating to your usual safety zone of invisibility or is it you really being entirely satisfied with the way things are? If you are entirely happy that way, that is perfectly well and don’t change a thing. However, if it’s a change you seek – however small or great, here’s some thoughts…..

First of all, any change has to start with you. Change doesn’t mean you have to go from invisible to the extreme other end of the scale and become the company spokesperson, employee of the year, or Miss Popularity. I’m guessing you don’t want that anyhow. So recognizing it starts with you, make it a point of starting a conversation with someone one on one; with someone you feel closest to. It need not be a major production, and could be just a conversation starter such as talking about a politician in the news, an upcoming big movie release, or a local sports team’s plight.

If you listen well, and I suspect you do, you can pick up what is of interest to other people. Engaging others in conversation is easier when you are discussing things they are interested in. And don’t do an entire research project on their interest area before you work up the nerve to engage in conversation! Sometimes it is sufficient just to say, “I don’t know much about (whatever the subject is), tell me a little about it.” The degree of success you obtain in your first attempts isn’t really that important, but the effort is.

All that chit-chatting and social interaction that goes on that you may wish you could engage in but feel awkward trying really does have a point. Those seemingly time-wasting conversations about past weekend activities, kids sports teams, medical issues or home renovations are really examples of relationship building activities. By building trust, and nurturing these relationships, people are always more at ease working together on projects, and seek out co-workers for inclusion rather than exclusion.

Yes of all the super powers to have, you don’t want to really be Invisibility Woman, or Captain Invisible.

I understand that the quieter person, who seeks the sidelines as their place of comfort is more than entitled to continue to lead that life if that’s the life they sincerely desire. Again I want to make that point crystal clear. There’s nothing wrong at all with that person or their choices if they thrive and are happiest there. But if you desire change, a little more recognition and inclusion, know that it really does have to start with you. And the only one who truly knows how difficult it can be is you. Why not start today to bring about the change you want to see?

Nice Little Things You Can Do

Often I write about what to do if you are out of work and searching for it. Other times I write about what you can do to improve your chances of advancement. In both cases, the things you can do are designed specifically to move you ahead. Today however, I want to write about seemingly small gestures and things you can do that are not designed to move you ahead significantly, but are still nice to do nonetheless for their own sake.

For starters, saying please when you ask someone to do something, and thank you when someone does something for you seems almost too obvious to even note. However, if my own experience is any example, there are a great number of people who would be well advised to remember these two basic courtesies. Not only does their use brand you as someone with good manners, it demonstrates your appreciation for what others do in the case of the ‘thank you’ and your request instead of a demand in the case of the ‘please’.

If you work with the public, a smile and eye contact – both of which don’t require you to utter a word – are often all it takes to make someone feel acknowledged. Nothing is more dismissive to a customer or client than an employee who swiftly walks by with their head turned the other way or looking down at the floor in what is obviously an attempt to bypass them without having to interact with them.

Unless you are self-employed, there is a high probability that someone else cleans your desk, empties your garbage and recycling, vacuums your floor etc. If this person does a good job, you may never even think about them. Isn’t that worth a brief note left for them just saying, “Thanks for cleaning my space, I appreciate it?” And if they haven’t done a good job, leaving such a note might encourage them to do it better. Either way, it’s nice to let somebody working odd hours with minimal pay know they are appreciated.

You know much of the time I hear people that they don’t get enough recognition from their boss. I wonder the opposite however; how often have they themselves expressed to their own boss how much they appreciate them? What is it about your boss that you might recognize and appreciate. One way to get your boss to support you and act more the way you want is to reinforce that behaviour by praising it. So you help them and they might help you. But for once, maybe that shouldn’t be your prime motive.

On your way to work or during your break or lunch time, maybe you grab a coffee or tea from some entry-level fast-food establishment. What might it take out of your day to genuinely thank that person and perhaps – just perhaps mind you – tell them you appreciate their smile, their enthusiasm, or their quick service? If you don’t think you’ll be too comfortable doing this at a restaurant standing face-to-face, do it at a drive through after you’ve got your order, then you can dash off. You’ll feel good!

Are you required to leave a message on your answering machine each day? Does it sound like the exact same message, with the same flat tone, the same droning voice? How about having a little bit of fluctuating tone, a rising and falling pitch that sounds normal? Perhaps have a little fun with your Halloween message by pretending to be Igor and Dracula leaving the message for you in your absence. I did that today! Not only do people get a kick out of it, but if you regularly get annoyed people calling (thank goodness I don’t!) it’s hard to be overly annoyed if you’re laughing.

Whether you’re a man or a woman, holding the door open for someone behind you is still courteous and polite. And does it really slow you down on your busy important trip from point A to point B?

Put a smile on other people’s faces whenever you can. I see people in our reception area who are discouraged, frustrated, exhausted, numb and a host of other emotions. They are Social Assistance recipients waiting to talk to someone here. Even when I don’t know them and they aren’t here to see me, I stop often and look right at someone and say, “Where’s that smile?” Then I grin and they can’t help but grin back and then it breaks into a laugh. Then I say, “There it is! I knew it was in there somewhere!” and I walk on. They may ask the Receptionist who I was when I exit, but their engaged, alert and smiling now.

You know there are so many little things you can do to be nice, and some will go noticed while others not so much. Wiping the sink of all the water drops in the washroom when you’re done may never be noticed and therefore remarked on, but it’s still a nice thing to do. Make your workplace a nice place to work by being the change you want to see. Start it yourself with intended acts of kindness!