Category Archives: constructive communication

Do you have a “Go-To” Top 10?

Who are your Go-To Top 10?

Who are your Go-To Top 10?

All of us have situations which are problematic. They can range from  minor irritations and something irksome, to outright  emergencies.    To get out of a hole we might need repairmen, baby sitters or service providers in a wide range of fields.  But one area which we woefully neglect  is the development of strategic alliances to support an emergency in our careers.

We all need a ‘Go-To” Top 10.

These will be your top 10 top professional connections to whom you can turn in a crisis or even with a problem or a question.

All our requirements are different when we assess who should be included on that list.  Broadly speaking there are some general guidelines that apply to us all.  There will be variations according to the severity of the situation:  whether it’s a little situational glitch, a specific question or something more major requiring a full  emergency landing.

  • Go-To Top 1 : Do you have a mentor?  This would be the senior or elder states person in your professional life who can share their deep experience and wisdom.  This will be immediately calming and informative as appropriate,  or both.
  • Go-To Top 2 :  Do you have an internal sponsor?   This role will be filled by a  confidante,  a door opener,  someone whose  professional status and standing will be sufficiently significant to catalyze responses to calls and emails,  or even better to effect introductions to contacts beyond your reach .
  • Go-To  Top 3, 4 and 5: Do you have external sponsors?  See above,  but with a wider reach in your geographic region or functional or market sector.  Having one for each segment of activity would be even more beneficial. If you have connections in line with your longer term goals so much the better.
  • Go-To  Top 6: Do you know a super-connector?  This will be different for all of us.  I count on my super connectors,  but in turn fulfill that function for others. They are the ones who say  ” Let me think… have you tried …????.”
  • Go-To Top 7  Do you know a curator? We all come across the person whose catch phrases are ” have you seen? or ” have you read?” These individuals will be veritable gold mines of information, sometimes obscure, sometimes less so. They will know where to look for any key information on and  in the latest emergency and can send you there quickly, thus saving you hours of valuable time.
  • Go-To  Top 8:  Do you have a port in a storm? We all need a sympathetic shoulder to lean on,  some one who will be there only for us. Their role is not to advise  but perhaps put the kettle on,  open a bottle of something cold and white (or warm and red) and just listen neutrally.   Very often this role is best  fulfilled outside an intimate relationship,  although  not always.
  • Go-To Top 9:  Do you have a devil’s advocate?   Their role in any Go-To Top 10 is to give you the viewpoint from the other side. Their skill in constructive communication will be peerless as they force us to examine our own roles and responsibilities in any debacle and communicate that to us in a way we can hear .  They risk our moods, wrath and petulance or even worse. They are people who know us well.
  • Go-To  Top 10:  Do you have a  list of specialists  Whether this includes doctors, lawyers, coaches, bank managers   accountants or any other type of professional  or technical specialist, it’s always useful to have a full,  up to date list of people you can call on.  If anyone in a network has no problem being contacted out of the blue after years of neglect, it’s usually because they are charging a significant fee.

Who would you put on your list?

Learning difficulties in the workplace

Should candidates declare learning differences?

It is estimated that 15% of  employees have moderate learning difficulties.  Although many received support during their education, when they transition into the workplace, for most that support disappears,  although the issues regrettably don’t. I actually prefer the U.S. phrase “learning differences”, which covers a wide variety of challenges and should not to be confused with any intellectual cognitive impairment which is more severe. This might range from mild dyslexia, dyspraxia, attention deficit disorders and short-term memory issues, through  to milder conditions on the autism spectrum.

Anything to declare?
For many candidates it’s hard to know where and when to declare these issues, or  whether to declare them at all.  Some companies list the conditions as   “disabilities ” on their application forms,  which many  applicants are reluctant  to admit, because they actually don’t believe  their condition is disabling. Or they fear that it will be held against them in the recruitment process. In many cases it will depend on the type of job being applied for and the severity of the problem – if there are health and safety risks involved (ciphering chemical symbols for example, might be challenging for someone with dyslexia) or if the condition can impact on the job performance with more serious consequences.

According to the British Dyslexia Association being up front can be most useful in the long-term,  particularly if job descriptions change and lead to more report writing and greater organisational demands,  as these may need to be supported by assistive software and strategy training. There may also be (dyslexia unfriendly) tests for promotion.

Poor performance may be dyslexia related and can lead to stress which impacts performance even further. So another reason for being open,  but possibly after an offer has been received to ensure that all channels of support can be available and there are no later accusations of lack of transparency.

As cruel as school
Workplaces can be as cruel as school. One client told me how a report he had written containing some spelling mistakes and word confusion ( caught/court, assistance/ assistants, bear/bare) was circulated on an ” all company” email circulation list. Rather than supporting this employee,  he was made an object of ridicule for almost a year,  bringing back a childhood stammer,  which he had over come 20 years before.  ” Spell check is no use at all for anyone with dyslexia ”  Tom told me   “all the words look the same to us”

Kara Tointon  a British actress, herself  suffering from dyslexia made an excellent documentary ” Don’t call me Stupid”  charting her own  struggles. It really is worth watching.  Here is an extract.

Although many adults with learning differences develop sophisticated coping and cover up strategies for dealing with these challenges (quite often avoidance),  the best way is to accept and confront the conditions and to make use of some of the many tools and supports services that exist.


  • Assistive technology: voice-activated software, text-reading software
  • text-to-speech and scanning tools
  • organization of work areas on to improve the reading of  VDU with appropriate fonts and colours
  • support on a one-to-one basis setting realistic deadlines, organising workloads, clearly marking deadlines etc.
  • Structured admin patterns including written lists, to cope with a host of multiple verbal instructions.
  • Provision of a dictaphone.
  • Find a proof reading ( non -dyslexic)  peer.

Many famous people have dyslexia –  Tom Cruise,  Steve Jobs, Einstein,  Winston Churchill, Walt Disney, Leonardo da Vinci, Richard Branson and Thomas Edison to name but a few! And we all know what kind of careers they enjoyed!

If you are coping with a moderate learning difference in the workplace, don’t remain isolated. Most geographies offer support, please check out your local areas.


Flame Wars – The downside of e-communication

Flame mail is on the increase

Urban Dictionary : A flame war is a heated argument between two individuals, that results in those involved posting personal attacks on each other during or instead of debating the topic at hand.

Flame Mail
Technology has transformed the nature of communication. Gone are the days when a letter had to be written, put in an envelope, a stamp attached and then taken to the mail box. Most of us can send emails, Facebook messages, DMs and post on blogs and discussion networks in a heart beat. On line platforms can be the perfect location for a rich tapestry of global discussion. Technology can be a fantastic way of making the world a smaller place, or bringing it uncomfortably close. It is also an excellent facilitator for miscommunication, when situations can escalate out of control into what I have just discovered are called flame wars.

Most organisations, forums and platforms have guidelines insisting on respectful discussion and communication. This is because the quality of conversation can be polluted when any communication thread or chain is disrupted, or even hijacked by individuals who would prefer to score points off each other, than discuss the subject in hand.

Set up to fail
Justin Kruger of New York University and his colleague Nicholas Epley, PhD, of the University of Chicago, have published research that helps explain why electronic communication can go adrift. In a study in the December Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 89, No. 5, pages 925-936), testing email usage, they tell us that individuals overestimate both their ability to convey their intended meaning when they send an e-mail, as well as their ability to correctly interpret the tone of messages they receive.

The reason for this communication disconnect, the researchers found, is that people have a difficult time detaching themselves from their own perspectives and understanding how other people will interpret them. As e-mail has become more prevalent, perhaps even the preferred form of written communication, Epley tell us ” the opportunities for misunderstanding have increased” .

So apparently we only have a 50-50 chance of ascertaining the tone of any e-mail message. “People often think the tone or emotion in their messages is obvious because they ‘hear’ the tone they intend in their head as they write,” Epley suggested. At the same time, those reading messages unconsciously interpret them based on their current mood, stereotypes and expectations. Email senders predicted a 78% success rate for their emails to be correctly interpreted when in fact the result was 56% correct interpretation.

Increasing trend
Annabel Kaye of Irenicon told me ” I am finding that many forums are showing an increase in flame mail and unpleasantness. Apart from the usual license that people seem to assume in cyberworld (I guess they think no-one knows where they live) I am experiencing an upturn in over reaction and unpleasant comments on the web generally.

My thinking is that this is due to a lot of anxiety in the world not only about economics, but also about political and personal instability, that means that people are not assuming that they didn’t understand, but assuming they did and going for it! Cultural and linguistic misunderstandings abound at the best of times and this is not the best of times. Dogs on a lead bark more than those off a lead – so individuals who feel constrained are often more difficult to deal with than those who do not!

Most people unwittingly find themselves in antagonistic situations, only realising that their ” hot ” buttons have been pushed, whether by mail, text, tweet or any other form of electronic communication, after the event. Oftentimes, they feel acutely embarrassed at having allowed themselves to have been sucked in. Others (known as flamers) deliberately create those situations.

What to do?
So if you are engaged in an online exchange, whether in a professional workplace email interaction or via any other media, here are some points to consider:

  •  How will your message be perceived by the recipient?
  •  Examine your motivation. Do you want to communicate or win?
  • What outcome do you want? To persuade or coerce? Do you want to be right or effective?
  • Have you made wise vocabulary choices? Are you using loaded emotive language and sending “should”/” need ” “always/must’ messages
  •  Are you being polite or insulting and provocative?
  • If you are angered or even mildly irritated by the sender, wait for 24 hours before hitting your own send button. Edit carefully before sending it again. What internal “hot” buttons have been pushed?
  • Look at the length. Many valid comments get lost in ” white noise”. Do you want to be heard or to vent? Pare it down by 50%
  • Remember your cyber footprint. Anything written in temper will be recorded on some hard disk, somewhere and might end up being searchable – even after its has been deleted.

Cyber bullying
Cyber bullying moves into totally different territory, when professional advice should be sought if it persists. Cyber bullies perversely send flame mail expressly designed to provoke and enrage and delight in deliberately generating a reaction. In Internet slang, this person is known as a ” troll “, someone who engages in inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online situation, with the specific intention of disrupting normal on-topic discussion to provoke an emotional response. It is a form of modern-day exhibitionism and attention seeking. The only response is – “do not feed the trolls”.

But whether on-line or in person , in the words of Dr. Laurence J. Peter ,“When you are angry – you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret.” There is simply no substitute for constructive communication.

Bitch or Bully: The Pink Elephant

Part I of 5 in my series on bullying by women in the work place.

I am exploring a number of complex and often confusingly over lapping issues. I have consulted a global network of HR professionals, lawyers, bullying specialists, psychologists as well as executive coaches and leaders. I have also heard from ” targets”  themselves.

When does bitchiness, strong or bad management cross the line into workplace bullying?

A few weeks ago I was contacted by a client. I’ll call her Jane. She was struggling to have a successful and equable working relationship with her new boss of 9 months. Her husband thought she needed to ” step up , toughen up and be more assertive”. Whatever was going on was impacting her negatively. She felt she was wearing the departmental scarlet letter, sleeping badly, starting to dread going into work and feeling distanced from her colleagues.

Not only did she feel that she was being singled out for exceptional treatment, but that she was being openly bullied . What had surprised Jane the most in the whole process was that her new boss was a woman.

A can of worms
For me this opened a mental can of worms. What exactly is bullying? Did I really know? When does strong management and bitchiness cross the line into tyranny? How prevalent is the issue of bullying by women? Do we really sweep it under the carpet? Is this issue the pink elephant in our sitting rooms that we don’t talk about?

In my own career I have worked in environments where I have witnessed bullying of the most appalling nature both physical and psychological, so I thought I knew what it was. In one extreme case it led to a complete nervous breakdown, in the other chronic depression leading to heavy drinking and marital breakdown. I have a family member who actually received a written death threat from a senior manager. In many of our minds it’s associated with raging, verbal and physical abuse, Machiavellian sabotaging and back stabbing. I have never been in a situation where the perpetrator was a woman. So where are all those soft skills, empathy and high EQ that we are supposed to have and read about?

Jane’s story :

  • she was  singled out for public criticism about her work and appearance
  • she was regularly called into bosses office at 17.20 to be given additional work with tight deadlines
  • she was excluded from email circulation lists and meetings
  • the only person in the department not invited to a social event at boss’ house
  •  attempts to discuss had been dismissed with contempt
  •  The HR department would only get involved if a formal complaint was made

So what is bullying really?
Annabel Kay of Irenicon offers this legal input about the UK legal system ” Interestingly at the moment there is no actual legal definition in terms of a statute defining it, the ACAS code and case law provide a guide (common law) – but that is it. “

Another lawyer in the US confirmed this ” although harassment has a clear legal definition, bullying does not, only guidelines”.

Jane Perdue suggests that ” Bullying is behavioral based actions that repeatedly humiliate, intimidate, frighten, offend someone, making them feel defenseless, particularly coming from a person in position of authority or with much influence . Acts/behaviors can be overt or covert such as personal attacks or social ostracism. In my view bitchiness crosses the line when it’s repeated, takes on notes of intimidation & becomes a believable threat, particularly from a woman

Annabel goes on to add that “The real problem in dealing with bullying in the workplace is that by the time the ‘victim’ feels desperate enough to complain, they are in no fit state to endure the rigours of formal grievance hearings and appeals and possibly employment tribunals .”

A Poll
The New York Times says that today 70% of cases of women reporting being bullied was by other women. This seemed incredibly high and feeling loyal to the sisterhood, I decided to conduct my own poll on LinkedIn. Have you ever been bullied in the workplace by a woman? Please take a few seconds to participate and read the results to date. It will be open until the end of the April.

Within 24 hours I had over 100 responses and my mail box flooded with stories, insights and perceptions, too many to cover here on the whole issue of female bullying.

In the meantime I am going to collate all the comments and feedback. I have invited leadership specialists, HR practitioners and communication experts to contribute their views over the next few weeks. Here are just a few of your thoughts that have been tossed out to me:

  • If someone feels bullied – does that mean they are, or just being sensitive?
  • When does strong or tough management cross the line into intimidation?
  • Do women feel they have to act like men in, or en route, to leadership positions?
  • Do reports expect female managers to behave differently?
  • Why do women sabotage other women?
  • Are women easier to bully than men?
  • What should the role of HR be in dealing with issues such as this?
  • When does passivity become enabling?

In case you think I’ve forgotten about Jane, this process is ongoing.

What do you think? Workplace bitch or bully? Or are they one and the same?

Part 2: The Lipstick Jungle: Female Saboteurs 

Part 3:  The Mascara Mafia   

Part 4: The Petticoat Polemic: the role of the organisation

Part 5: Whatever happened to Jane?