What Getting Defensive Means

The other day I was having lunch with a friend who is looking for a job and as I said something she started getting defensive. To be honest, it took me by surprise.

24398770_sI did not back down about what I was saying. I told her – “This is what I see, this is the behavior that is being shown to me.” I gave her specific examples of how I came to my conclusion.

She was not listening to what I had to say, instead she started to talk very fast about how it not what she meant and I was not interpreting it correctly.

What she failed to understand is that what I see or perceive is based on how she says things or behaves. She has the power to change how I or someone else might see her.

So what do you do when you are getting defensive – when someone says something that you don’t like?

The first step is to explore if what the person is saying has a kernel of truth – after all – why would you get defensive? If someone speaks the truth – whether it is positive or negative, there is no reason to get defensive. You might get mad, but then again, why not own it?

The second step is to be curious about what someone is saying. Seek to understand why they feel the way they do and not trying to shut down the dialogue.

Is the person sharing their observations being well-intentioned? If so, listen deeply to what they have to say and try to figure out how you might be able to affect some changes, if that is important to you.

Finally, realize if one person thinks this way, there are likely other people in your life who may think the same way. Consider reaching out to them and ask them what they think. When you open up the conversation yourself, you are already in the mindset to receive feedback.

So the next time you feel yourself getting defensive – stop, listen and learn.

Is it Time to Leave Your Job?

While traveling from Charlotte NC to Rochester NY, I met a woman in the seat next to me and we talked about her career. It turns out she has been working for the same organization for 35 years, most of that in the same job. She has six more years until she wants to retire. The question she is pondering is “Is it time to leave my job? Do I stay even though something is missing?”

She has not gotten a raise in years because she is at the top of her range or pay scale. With the economy, many organizations have had little to no movement in their salary ranges for jobs in years.

It is clear she is torn about what to do. The lack of financial rewards (pay increases) in her job troubles her. A few years back she contemplated leaving the organization to do something else, but decided the economy was too shaky to take such a bold step. Now she believes she should ride it out – every additional dollar she makes will help boost her pension.

She shared that she could take a promotional job opportunity in the organization at one of the other locations – one that is closer to home. She currently commutes 40 minutes to work. I asked her why she had not done that. She said:

  1. The person who would be her boss at the other location was someone she did not want to work for because they often disagreed with one another. The boss she currently has is easier to work for even though he has not stepped up to support her efforts to be recognized and rewarded for her work.
  2. She did not want to leave her co-workers because there was a family camaraderie and that was important to her.

I commended her for looking at the situation from all angles. The reasons people leave jobs are most often because of a poor relationship with their manager and a bad fit culturally. The company either lets them go or a little voice inside them asks – “Is it time leave?” – and they do so on their own.

Money is not the key motivator for leaving a job, which is why she is still there. While she may want more compensation/pay, ultimately the reason people stay is because of their relationship with their boss and positive work environment work environment.

If either of these too factors are not working well for you, think about how you can either improve them or perhaps it is time to leave your job and find a place for your remaining work life and make it enjoyable.

Angry People Say Stupid Stuff

OK, I said it and I will say it again – angry people say stupid stuff. It happens in the office, at home and online in blog comments. Today was the first day I unapproved a thread of comments on one of my posts because angry people were saying stupid stuff.

At first I thought about a leaving it because everyone can form his or her own opinion. However, the commenters were throwing around language that to be honest was a personal attack. I don’t mind differences of opinion, however, I do mind it when angry people say stupid stuff.

I get it that you may not like my advice. There is a big wide world out there to get lots of opinions. Not everyone will tell it like it is and sometimes someone will tell things you don’t want to hear and deep down you know it is the truth.

Too often people want to find others to confirm what they want to hear or confirm that what they are doing is right when in fact, it is not. The sad truth is that many of your friends and family will not tell you what they really think because they are afraid of how you will react. You may shut down, get vengeful or mean. That’s right angry people say and do stupid stuff.

That’s not how it is here on Elephants at Work.

You may not like what I say. Sometimes I ask the question you do not want to face.  Take it as an opinion or a personal challenge — one you can agree with, one that can question what you thought or one that you may absolutely disagree with. What you decide to do with it is what matters — just make sure it is a positive step for yourself and others.

I want to hear your opinion, however, I will not allow anyone to make things personal on here — whether it is about me or anyone else.

Three Pitfalls a New Manager Should Avoid

Congratulations, you have been promoted to a new manager role within your organization. With that new manager title comes some responsibilities to yourself, your staff and the organization. How you handle your transition into the new manager role will set the stage for how your direct reports, peers and boss evaluate your potential.

istock_000006404981xsmallThese three pitfalls new managers face are common. It may take a little maneuvering to avoid doing them because the company culture or the outgoing manager believes they are doing you a favor, when in reality they are not.

Making Assumptions on Expectations and Goals

It is very important to get clear goals when you first move into the new manager role. What you were told during the interview may not be what is really going on in the organization.

Develop your goals with your manager and get things in writing. Make sure the goals or outcomes have clear measurements and timelines associated with them. Inquire what resources you may need to be successful and engage your new boss in how to best go about it.

Avoid Getting an Initial Debrief on Your New Staff

Every new manager is faced with this well-intentioned helpfulness that frankly sets you up for more work and sometimes – poor decision-making.

It is not imperative that you know the history of every direct report with the previous manager because they had their own opinions and filters on performance and engagement.

Just think, how many times you have in the past had a manager you did not gel with and when someone came along and believed in you that things changed and you flourished. Give your new direct reports an opportunity to show you what they can do and not having them start in the hole.

You are being brought in to make a change or to bring a new perspective to a department. Demonstrate managerial courage and strength by making your first assessment independently.

Build Peer Relationships Early

As a new manager, you will be stretched in many directions. Some new managers forget to build peer relationships and alliances early in their new role. These advocates can make or break you. They will serve as a resource to understanding the organization’s culture and norms.

A word of caution about relationship building – avoid fueling any gossip or water cooler information. Listen and ask questions. Be curious about the new organization and use judgment on what you share.

By avoiding these three pitfalls that new managers face, you will set yourself up for a more successful integration. If you want more information on some of these pitfalls consider getting my eBook: The Secrets to Successful Job On-Boarding.


What is a Good Starting Salary?

It’s finally the moment you have been waiting for…the company is interested in you and they are going to make you a salary offer – what should you expect as your starting salary?

Assortment of American CoinsThis question comes up often and it is important to know the facts about how companies come up with that magical number. You might think that they have a secret dartboard in the back room (which may be true for very small companies) and hope you are lucky someone knows how to hit the bull’s eye. The truth is it is much more complicated than that.

The secret to knowing what is a good starting salary is finding the intersection between what the company is willing to pay and what you are worth.

If you are going after a position that is below what you have performed, be prepared to lower your expectations. That same advice may also hold true if you have been in a position for a long time because your salary has probably crept up over the years and companies may not be looking for someone with as much experience (also translated as someone with a higher salary).

From a company perspective, starting salaries are a combination of several factors.

The Position or Job

The position or job you are applying for will have a specific wage or salary range associated with it. That specific wage or salary range is based on a number of factors:

  • Scope of Job. How much responsibility is there in this job? Does it deal with a single task or complex tasks? Other factors impacting scope include – sales, number of direct reports, profit/loss responsibilities, matrix relationships, size of company, etc.
  • Level of job. Where does it fit in the organizational structure? While a job title may be descriptive, some companies have adopted generic titles and it is more difficult to decide where the level of the job is unless you see the organizational structure. Is this position over one or several departments, functions, divisions, or locations?
  • Market Competitiveness. Savvy companies will survey the local or national market to make sure their pay is competitive. It is important to note that when organizations do this type of analysis they account for all pay types — salary, bonus, stock options, benefits etc.

The Human Resources Department or Compensation Specialist in an organization is responsible for establishing and reviewing salary structures periodically to stay competitive and to aid in retention activities. There is some flexibility in the starting salary in large companies and how flexible they are depends on how badly they want you.

What Are You Worth (to the Company)?

This is a tough question because our ego gets in the way! The most common way to evaluate what you are worth is to look at your last salary.

While that may be a great first step, consider if you are making significant changes in the type of work you will be doing (scope) or if you are moving to a lower cost of living location. Many of these factors go into what you are worth (at least from the company’s perspective).

Try thinking about this question with a different angle if you are having trouble getting the pay you believe you deserve. Here are some questions to think about.

  • What specific skills are you bringing to the job?
  • Are those skills rare or different from other people applying for the job?
  • Are you able to articulate them if you have to counter your starting salary offer?
  • Is the company asking you to perform at the level you were performing in your last company?
  • Is the company a mature company or new venture?
  • What is the size the company – how does that company with your last company? Smaller companies have lower starting salaries.

Finally, consider if is salary the most important part of working for this company. These other quality of work  factors have a big influence on overall happiness:

  1. Benefits
  2. Working from home
  3. Flexible work schedule
  4. Great company culture
  5. Great boss
  6. Low stress
  7. Work/life balance

When you factor in these considerations, revisit the question – What is the intersection between what the company is willing to pay as a starting salary vs. what you are worth? Do you have a little more leeway?

Is Your Career Progression on Track?

You probably have asked yourself that question, “Is your career progression on track?” several times over your lifetime.

Businesswoman climbing ladder.Perhaps early in your career, you made great traction and then things slowed down or you were a slow starter and are ready to figure how to ramp your career progression up. Either way, questioning your progress is natural and normal.

When evaluating your career progression, think about the pivotal points along the way – they may have been physical moves, marriage, children, illness, divorce, changing jobs or education.

If you were to draw out a map of your life, identify the major events that took place that affected your career progression by putting it on hold or propelling it beyond your expectations.

As you consider those life junctures, do you have an opportunity to recreate them if the impact of them was positive? If so, what are the risks and upsides to making those leaps? Are you willing to make those changes? Do you have the support of your family or support system to do it?

As we grow older, making changes and taking risks get harder unless you are someone who likes to live on the edge. We create lives that become more complicated because of financial or personal obligations.

Know that you can work your way to moving forward. Your career progression may not be at the pace you hoped for. It may take some planning. It may require you to take some risks or make some changes in the way you are approaching your work situation. All of this “stuff” that gets in the way can be resolved if you have the right attitude and determination to make it work.

How to Know It is Corporate Politics

At some point in your rising career, you will encounter corporate politics. It doesn’t matter what size the company is – it may be a family owned business or small company, the signs are the same.

istock_000001275566xsmallHow you find out may be through careful observation or perhaps experience when you find yourself in the middle of a mess. The better you prepare yourself for recognizing the signs before you get caught up in the situation, the easier it will be for you to figure out a way through it.

Here are some signs that tell you corporate politics is alive at your workplace:

  • You are surprised at decisions being made without your consultation.
  • You are not being included in communication (email or meetings) in pre-planning stages.
  • After a decision is made, subsequent meetings are held to vet out concerns and you are not invited.
  • Peers withhold information or resources that affect your effectiveness and success.
  • Communication with peers is not balanced. You hear more negative comments than positive encouragement.
  • You see a noticeable decline in meeting requests with your staff, peers or boss.

There are many more subtle and obvious signs of corporate politics. The signs I identified are the ones that become visible at first. If not addressed quickly, the organization, your peers, staff and boss will lose confidence in your ability to lead with strength.

Corporate politics essentially are power plays at work.

The way you handle the corporate politics will set a tone for everyone in the organization on how you want to be treated. It is important to not overplay your hand with emotion and not seem wimpy at the same time by letting things continue. It’s a delicate balance.

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