Category: Interpersonal Skills

I Didn’t Sleep with my Boss (and Lost my Job)

It took me years to tell anyone about this. Why? Because I was embarrassed, I took responsibility for causing it, it was his word against mine. The expression ‘he could sell ice to Eskimos’ was surely written with him in mind. I moved on. But, now it’s time to put pen to paper. One of my favorite Nelson Mandela quotes comes from when he was released from prison and said: “…if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” And so here’s my story.

A few years ago, I was working for a company where I loved my job. Let me rephrase that. I actually didn’t care much for most of my job responsibilities, but I loved my boss, and that made a world of difference. He was smart and savvy and I was learning a lot from him. The good news was, he thought I was great at my job and that I was a great person and told me so frequently. After my first year, I had my first review and it was the best I have ever received in my entire career. At the time he gave me that review, he also said that if he were starting his own company, I’d be among the first five employees he’d hire. Wow. How great to be so appreciated! I fairly swooned from his attention. And to be truthful, it helped that he was a young and handsome guy.

Fast forward a few months. My boss and I were on a business trip together, just the two of us. We were at a coffee counter preparing for the afternoon meeting and it happened. He made an overt pass. I froze. I mean, I loved his attention, I really did, but I wasn’t interested in taking our relationship to this new level. So I did nothing. I didn’t respond and eventually suggested that it was time to go. The next week in the office he said to me that “we’ve got to stop ‘this,’” and that his wife had been depressed. That was both the start of, and the end to, the conversation. And  actually, I wasn’t really disturbed by what happened, and just expected things to go back to the way they were.

About 2 months later it started. My boss took me off of the business I’d been managing since I started working for him, and put me on a business about 1/10th the size. And he also moved my office to a building that was completely separate from the bulk of the company. I felt like I was in The Office. I was shocked by his actions and told him so. My problem was, I was so crushed that someone who I cared so much about, and who clearly cared so much about me (ha!), could turn in a heartbeat. For whatever reason, I didn’t actually make the connection to ‘the incident.’ I was just hurt and I’ll confess, I couldn’t talk about it without dissolving into tears. And so I didn’t. Instead, I started the process of looking for a new job.

Things got worse. Because I wasn’t sitting with the rest of the company, I started to feel more and more out of touch. By now I had accepted that ‘the pass’ had everything to do with what was happening, but I didn’t want anyone to know about that. And that made me more susceptible to what was becoming a massive mind-f***. Sorry to be crude, but it’s the only way to describe it.

The next review period was approaching and I was nervous. I was the sole wage-earner in my family. My husband had been a stay-at-home Dad for over 20 years and so my earnings kept us going, kept our kids in college, kept us insured etc. Because my first review had been done late, this next review came only 9-months later. And it was scathing. It was the polar opposite of the first one.

Pre mind-f***, my boss would often tell me how one of the reasons he hired me was that my job references were the best he’d ever heard. Ever. Seriously, he mentioned this a lot. Then during my review, he told me that he’d thought more about my job references and realized they were all actually giving him the same ‘read-between-the-lines’ message about my lack of skill. He really said this and also that I couldn’t ask them about it because of confidentiality (for a sense of timing, this was almost two years after he would have talked to them). I should also explain that there was a sentiment throughout the office that my boss lived in his own reality. He would say things that were blatantly untrue, and then over time come to believe them. I hadn’t noticed that until now.

The mind-f*** continued. He told me that he’d had 360 discussions (a common review method where subordinates and colleagues confidentially are asked to evaluate you) with a boatload of folks at the company, and they were all negative. All of them. He told me who said what, and also said I couldn’t mention it to any of them. It had to be confidential. I knew it was all crap, but being the good employee I said nothing, just as with the comments about my references. And, he told me that if I agreed to leave the company, he’d ‘make it really good for me.’ But of course I couldn’t quit…sole wage earner and all. I had to get a new job first.  If I thought things had been bad before…

It’s also important to say that I’m in a protected class. I’m female and was over 50 at the time, working in a company where the median age was 28. That makes me hard to fire, especially with no cause.

The stress level was fairly unbearable. My eyebrows fell out. I couldn’t sleep. I dreaded going to work each day.

The mind-f*** was in full force. My boss was the king of making me feel good and two minutes or two days later kicking me in the stomach. His goal was to either make me so miserable that I’d quit, or to be able to make a case against me that of course had nothing to do with me rejecting ‘the pass.’ Here are just a few examples:

  • He would have me prepare a presentation, then give me feedback to remove a key component. I’d rewrite it and he’d deride me for its omission. I’d rewrite it with it back in and he’d want to know why. Etc, etc, etc.
  • He had a colleague of mine show up with him to one of my out-of-town partner meetings, without telling me he’d be there. And then he set me up during the meeting.
  • He asked me to meet with a friend of his because I was uniquely positioned to help this friend understand how to approach a particular business opportunity (related to my job)…and so I did. He even thanked me afterwards, saying something like “I really appreciate you meeting with him, given everything that’s going on here.”
  • I had great respect for the other senior leaders in the company. But I was also, for the most part, kept away from forming my own relationships with them. My boss wanted it that way. After that bad review, I was going to send my written response to his boss, but he asked me not to and so I didn’t. That’s how far down I’d been kicked.

What happened to me, in spite of the fact that I knew better, was that I started doubting myself. I started to believe that I really was incompetent and couldn’t do anything right. I faltered during meetings, both externally and internally. My boss would set me up and I’d fall right in. I had no confidence. I made mistakes. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy and was exactly what my boss wanted to have happen. And what was worse was that though I was getting calls for interviews for other jobs, I was so beaten down that I blew every opportunity. In one interview, I literally couldn’t answer the question: “what’s your best quality.”

And then finally, after a year of bullying, he forced my resignation. He gave me the news with the HR VP in tow, the same HR VP who once told me that she’d have to “Jew him down,” referring to a negotiation we were having with a contractor (but that’s a story for another day). I didn’t bring up ‘the pass.’ It was yet another confidence I kept until the end, out of some sick sense of loyalty.

I hired a lawyer but knew I didn’t have the stomach for a fight, even though there was no doubt I could have demanded more money. Now that it was over, I wanted out and I wanted out quickly. I was devastated and humiliated.

The good news is, I landed on my feet. I built myself (and career) back up and became the confident and competent person I’ve always been. I learned from this experience and became better for it. I learned that even smart people make mistakes, and that there is life after stupid. I learned it’s okay to trust, but to be careful with that trust. I learned that it’s never okay, no matter what, to let someone make you feel awful about yourself. And I learned the importance of relationships at work, even if someone is trying to prevent you from having one.

And that’s my story. I have made peace with myself and even forgiven him. That’s what us Jews do.

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How I Added Two Hours Back to my Day

By Sue Brady (back to marketing topics next week!)

Working from Home

I work in a virtual office environment.  And I’m not the only one either. My whole company at RM Factory, all 25 of us, work from our homes. Our homes just happen to be in several states across the country. We have real jobs at a real marketing agency where we all work 50+ hours a week. We don’t have kids at our feet, do laundry in between conference calls, or coffee clutch with the neighbors every afternoon.  We’re a motivated, hard-working and focused group of folks, and I’d argue that we are more productive than your typical office worker.

Don’t get me wrong. All of us have held jobs where we commuted to an office every day.  So we know what that’s like. Some of us even worked for very large ad agencies on Madison Avenue.

This virtual arrangement has so many benefits, only one of which is increased productivity.  How am I more productive at home, you might ask? Aren’t there too many distractions, like the refrigerator or kids? The answer is no. There are not too many distractions. In fact, a key driver of our productivity is that there are fewer distractions. In addition, there is less stress and less wasted time.

Here’s a typical day for when I used to work outside my home: I’d wake up, have a run, shower, dress and make myself presentable. I would drive an hour to get to my office. Once there, sometimes frazzled from the drive, I’d grab a cup of coffee and start my day. Any number of people would stop by my office in the morning to say hello, ask me a question about work, ask me a question about my kids, ask me if I had plans for lunch…you get the idea. I’d attend many meetings.  At lunchtime I’d walk with everyone else to the cafeteria. Then I’d head back to my office, where inevitably, the parade of employees, coworkers and meetings would continue. And then I’d head back home, in my car for another hour, at the end of the day. I was exhausted by the time I made it back to my family!

My typical day as a remote employee is very different. I still get up, have a run, shower, dress and in general make myself presentable. But from then on, everything changes. I walk down the stairs to my office where I can close my door if needed, put on my fuzzy pink slippers (every new employee receives a pair) and get to work. My only distraction is an occasional visit from my cat. If I had young kids in the home like some of my coworkers do, I’d have to arrange for child care.

edible arrangementWe occasionally do fun things too. We celebrate birthdays, but not in a conference room with cake. Rather, each employee receives an edible gift at their doorstep on their special day. And this year we even had a virtual holiday party. You can read about that here.

I stay connected with the outside world. I still have meetings and calls throughout the day with coworkers, employees and clients over Zoom, Skype or ooVoo, but they are concise meetings that cover the subject matter at hand, without a lot of wasted time. We use instant messaging to communicate as well, so easy questions are answered quickly and efficiently. If I don’t understand a response, a phone call can clear that up. And we use other productivity tools like Google Hangouts and Megameeting  so that we can share our desktops or files as needed. And at the end of the day, I turn off my light and go upstairs and start my evening.

Joe Pulizzi, the Founder of the Content Marketing Institute says: “Our decision NOT to set up a traditional office location was, perhaps, the best decision we’ve made as an organization.” You can read his virtual office story here.  This life is not for everyone. It takes a disciplined, self-starter kind of person to make this type of arrangement work.

If I really analyzed my time, excluding my commute, I’d guess that I’m two hours more productive at work each day than I used to be.  Two hours! Plus, I have two hours of commute time a day returned to me to use however I’d like.

What would you give to get two hours back every day?

Tune in next Thursday for: “How to setup Your Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook Pages for your Business”

All I Really Needed to Know About Working I learned in Kindergarten…well, almost

By Sue Brady

KindergartenRobert Fulghum wrote a book in 1989 called: All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. (You can buy it here). It was so simple and easy to read that it became a sensation virtually overnight. And that was before the Internet! To date he has sold over 7 million copies of his book, and it is the inspiration for this blog post.

Here’s what Fulghum says he learned and how I think it applies to the workplace (all book quotes used with author’s permission):

1. ‘Share everything.’ It’s important to share your industry and/or company and/or product knowledge with other employees. Why? Because it helps people trust you and might help them succeed. Don’t hold back. If someone asks you a question, answer it honestly. Be a mentor. There has probably been a time in your career when you really could have used one. Share useful information. It doesn’t hurt.
2. ‘Play fair.’ That means no cheating or undermining others. They’ll find out and then they won’t trust you anymore. Trust is a tough thing to win, and an easy thing to lose. Tweet this!
3. ‘Don’t hit people.’ Or stated differently, be nice. Shouting in an office situation for instance is NEVER necessary. It does not make you sound smarter or be more right, and it will certainly damage your credibility. Being labeled as a bully won’t do you any good.
4. ‘Put things back where you found them.’ If you use someone’s stuff, make sure you put it back, in good condition.  Same applies to using community things, like in your lunchroom at work.
5. ‘Clean up your own mess.’ Own it and make it right. If you made a mess of a presentation, acknowledge it and go about making it right. If you said something that created angst with your employees, own it and correct the situation. If something you did made someone look bad, own it and apologize.
6. ‘Don’t take things that aren’t yours.’ That means someone’s lunch from the fridge, someone’s mug from the shelf, someone’s umbrella drying by the door…and someone’s idea that you overheard being discussed.
7. ‘Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.’ Again, own it and make it as right as you can. It’s hard to take back words, so think before you speak or take an action that you might regret.
8. ‘Wash your hands before you eat.’ Get rid of germs and feed your mind well. Eating is important, as is taking care of yourself. Keep your brain healthy.
9. ‘Flush.’  Sometimes you just have to let it go. Whether it’s bad thoughts about someone or ideas for revenge, sometimes it’s best to just flush those thoughts. Keep a mental ‘file 13’ (aka trash), and load it and empty it frequently.
10. ‘Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.’ Duh. It’s always wise to treat yourself.
11. ‘Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work every day some.’ Volumes have been written about work/life balance and how important it is. Working hard is important, but enjoying a life outside of work is important too to your own health and well-being. Not only that, but downtime will make you a better employee. There are many studies that have been done that illustrate the importance of taking a break from work. There’s more to life than the office. Start a new hobby, volunteer somewhere, begin a fitness program. Whatever it is, don’t just work.
12. ‘Take a nap every afternoon.’ I’ve never worked for a company where this was encouraged, but there are studies that show that napping improves your creativity and can make you more alert. At Google they even have nap pods for employees to use.
13. ‘When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.’ Look out for your peers. Everyone can use help sometime, and sometimes the world can be a dangerous place. Remember, there is no ‘i’ in team.
14. ‘Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Stryrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.’ If something doesn’t make sense, question why. Some things are the way they are for a reason, but others should be changed. Understand the difference and appreciate the ‘wonder of why’ before you try to change a sacred cow. But don’t be afraid to question ‘the way it’s always been done.’
15. ‘Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.’ Life is short. Don’t waste one minute of it being an asshole.
16. ‘And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first words you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.’ Look for the one good thing in the person at work who you really can’t stand. Everyone has one good trait. Sometimes you just have to look a little harder to find it.

You might also be interested in: The Worst Advice (and best!) I Ever Received from a Boss.

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The Worst Advice I Ever Received from a Boss (and the Best)

By Sue Brady

Donald Trump
Ali Goldstein/NBC

As a boss, you have a great deal of influence over the lives of your employees. You control the paycheck after all. We’ve all had good bosses and bad ones, some who gave great advice, and some, not so much. The good news is, you can learn a ton from both good and bad bosses and can use both to become a better and more effective leader and mentor yourself. Some of this advice comes in the form of watching how someone handles a situation and some comes in the form of direct feedback.

Here goes:

Good Advice. If you exude confidence, everyone will think you know what you are talking about (Tweet this). I’ve also heard this described as “own it.” And it is good advice. It doesn’t mean you should emphatically state things you know not to be true, but it does mean speaking with authority on topics where you know your stuff. I believe Sheryl Sandberg calls this ‘Leaning In.’ http://www.amazon.com/Lean-In-Women-Work-Will/dp/0385349947

Sheryl Sandberg
Time

Bad Advice. Only hire people who are married. Seriously, a boss actually said that to me. His reasoning was that married people were more stable. Oh boy.

Good Advice. When you are talking to an employee (or anyone), give them your undivided attention. That means, don’t look at or answer your phone, check your email or look over their shoulder. Being distracted sends one message: the person you are talking to isn’t as important as you are.

Bad Advice. Always have something to say in a meeting. I had a boss who would comment in a long-winded fashion in every meeting, regardless of whether or not what he was saying added to the discussion. Folks hated to be in a room with him because meetings would last twice as long as necessary. He would say to me, you can’t just sit in a meeting and not contribute. On the face of it I felt he was right. After all, why was I in a meeting if I didn’t have anything to contribute? But, if I didn’t have something new to add, I believed (and still do) that saying something just to say it, was not productive. Just because I’m not talking, doesn’t mean I’m not observing, absorbing and processing. Let’s face it, when you’re talking, you’re not listening. Someone came up to me after a management meeting once and said “Sue, you don’t say much, but when you do I pay attention, because I know what you’re saying will be important.” I took that as a compliment!

Good Advice. The difference in response rates between .051% and .057% is really small. Yes, it represents over a 10% difference, but unless you’re evaluating a ton of responses, it really doesn’t matter. It’s a big data problem. It’s hard sometimes to know what’s important.

Bad Advice. Say whatever you need to say to get what you want (from a client, boss, employee, customer). Basically, lie. This might help you in the moment, but is just not a good long-term strategy. And once you’re busted, it’s hard to gain that trust back. Here’s my list of most egregious whoppers that were said either directly to me or to someone else in the room with the express purpose of misleading:

  1. Google changed their algorithm because of us.
  2. She didn’t even apply for your position. She wants to work for someone like you.
  3. She slept with her boss.
  4. I’m getting you equity in the company.
  5. I had approval to overspend the budget.
  6. There won’t be any layoffs.
  7. You will be able to hire the support you need in this role.

Good Advice. An employee should never be surprised about what they hear in a performance review. Ongoing feedback is far more valuable than once a year feedback. It’s important to learn how to have these discussions.

Bad Advice. Every penny counts. On the surface, this might seem like good advice, but let me explain the context. I worked in Marketing for a company where we did a financial review every month.One Cent One month my balance sheet was off by one cent. I was grilled for two hours, in front of my co-workers, about that cent.  I’m not making this up. There are times when it makes sense <cents> to let the little things go.

Good Advice. If you make a mistake, learn from it so that you don’t repeat it, but don’t continue to beat yourself up (or let others beat you up).  I once made a $250,000 mistake. I had printed a piece (millions of pieces) with what I thought was approved language, only to be informed by the partner that it was in fact, not approved. With my tail between my legs, I went into my boss’ office and confessed my error. He said “Sue, you know you’re someone when you can make a $250,000 mistake.” That was all he said. I was prepared to be humiliated, beaten, fired, but instead, my boss made me feel like the world wasn’t coming to an end. He knew that I already felt badly enough and chose not to make me feel worse. As it turned out, I was able to work with the partner and they eventually let us use the piece, so money loss averted!

Bad Advice. Devaluing an employee gives you control over them. Okay, so I wasn’t directly given this advice. Here’s what happened. I was a new hire for a large, well-known company. My first day on the job was a business trip for a big and important client event. I flew across the country and showed up where I was supposed to, knowing no one but my new boss, and with no information regarding what was expected of me.  I assumed I’d be debriefed once I arrived. I wasn’t. At the first event, I recognized my boss greeting folks as they entered the room. I enthusiastically walked up and extended my hand. She gave me a (very) brief hello and was onto the next person in line. No introductions to others standing at the door, no ‘happy to have you here,’ no ‘welcome to our company.’ It was weird. And it got worse. I walked into the ballroom, not knowing a soul and not knowing what my role in the room even was. I moseyed over to the bar and tried to look like I belonged. Eventually, a young woman approached me and asked who I was. It turned out that my boss hadn’t actually told anyone that I’d be at the meeting, or in fact that I’d even been hired. She had even neglected to tell one of the direct reports who’d applied for my position, that he hadn’t gotten it.  It was a harbinger for things to come and I only stayed a year in that job.

Good Advice. Know enough about what’s going on in your employees’ lives to have compassion…but don’t overdo it. In other words, don’t try to be Mom or Dad, but know enough so that you understand why someone might be having a rough week at work, or why a hearty congratulations might be in order.

Bad Advice. If you are running a meeting, always sit at the head of the table. I’ve always believed that if you want to foster more of a team approach, you should sit with the team. Always sitting at the head of the table means you are isolating yourself by never having anyone seated next to you. Employees feel special when they can sit next to the boss. You can still keep control of the meeting from a seat at the table that’s not at the head.

What are some of your good advice/bad advice stories?