Close talkers

One of the Super Bowl commercials that continues to be aired is a toothpaste commercial starring Luke Wilson. In his role, he is a self-professed and proud “close talker.” This is someone who violates another’s personal space, speaking only a few inches from the person’s face.

This commercial is a little unnerving, primarily due to my history of working with a close talker. My colleague was an otherwise pleasant and charming person, but this habit was not his best attribute. Plus, he was in senior management.

My boss would do his best to have some form of interference in-between him and our close talker. He would use a desk, a table, a couch, et al, anything to provide distance. I followed his advice as well, but it was not fool-proof. Elevators were risky with our close talker.

There was an instance when our close talker cornered the company CEO in an elevator. He got the full force of close talking and left the elevator shaking his head.

I recognize cultures vary. I also recognize the US culture is more informal than many. Yet, invading personal space is still a no-no when talking. It would have been so very helpful if the CEO called him aside in private and shared a few tips. In our case, we just need more tables.

 

A few vignettes to make work fun

I have shared a few of these work vignettes before, but I think we could all use a laugh these days.

– A friend and colleague left for a meeting 90 minutes up the road. After about an hour, the client showed up in our office for said meeting. Can you say “uh-oh?”

– A couple of colleagues were meeting with a woman who had pictures of Don Knotts all over her office. After trying to make small talk about the pictures, she finally said she just loved Barney Fife. Better not tell Thelma Lou.

– Two of us were meeting with a prospective client at their office at the plant. Since we drove awhile, we asked for the restroom, which was just inside the plant. My friend went first and as the door shut, the sign said “Women.” Just as I noticed, a line started forming. My male friend walked out and said he thought it was pretty progressive to have a tampon machine in a unisex restroom.

– An old boss told the story of a very sad and funny insurance claim he handled early in his career. Apparently, this company had someone clean the toilets with gasoline. When one of the employees snuck a smoke break in the restroom, he unfortunately tossed his lit cigarette into a toilet and the explosion propelled him off the throne. Not, the way to go, so to speak.

– Speaking of cigarettes, my boss and his boss, who were smokers, were interviewing a medical doctor, who they did not know smoked. So, our two guys chose not to smoke, as did the doctor, and this lasted for a couple of hours. When they got back together for a follow-up interview, the doctor said, “I must tell you, I need to have a smoke especially if we meet for two hours again.” Relieved, our two guys pulled out their cigarettes as well and conducted the smoky interview.

– An old boss was meeting early one morning with prospective client. Since the man’s AA was not in yet, he waved my boss back and proceeded with small talk about an easement infringement on a piece of property. When the guy asked my boss what he should do, my boss said “I think you should hire a lawyer.” The guy looked at him and said “Who are you?” Apparently, he thought a lawyer was his first meeting. My boss did not make the sale that day.

– This same old boss was near San Francisco with a colleague and they were driving this windy, mountainous road trying to locate a manufacturing plant pre-GPS. When they came upon a bicyclist pedaling away, they slowed and asked him for directions. While telling them, the bicyclist ran off a ledge. They stopped the car and looked over the ledge scared to find out the bad news. The man was on another ledge ten feet below, lying on top of his bicycle, still telling them directions. They said “Forget that, are you alright?’ He was, but he wanted to be informative.

– I once had a client, where the benefits attorney in their Legal Department would often argue with the Benefits Director in HR. For some reason, I was on good terms with both, so each would call me separately for ammunition on the same argument. When I realized what was happening, I was able to coax them toward resolution, helping them to see the other person’s argument, which I had help frame. Talk about arguing with yourself.

– I had colleague who was late for a meeting with a client’s Board of Directors about two hours away for an unusual reason. A cattle carrying truck had overturned on I-95 and, unfortunately, several steers did not survive the wreck and were littered all over the road. When he returned to his office and flipped on his desktop computer, his screen saver opened up to a Chick-Fil-A screen complete with cows saying “eat mor Chikin.”

– Speaking of Board meetings, I was taking this colleague’s boss to one for a prospective client and I had a flat tire. So, rolling up my sleeves, I changed the tire while he called our main contact. We made it on time, but I had to run to the rest room to get cleaned up. We got hired, as I guess they were impressed we could change a tire, as well.

– We were attending a major finalist meeting for a client for a new project. Two of our key folks had personal family reasons they could not attend, but could join by phone, pre-Skype or videoconferencing. So, we made life-size torso shots of each and sat them in chairs by the phone, so the client could see who they were talking with. We got hired and my contact said the committee was impressed with our improvisation and fun.

– Let me close with a story about one of my favorite consultants, who stood less than 5 feet tall, but whose subject matter and industry knowledge was far larger. Proposing to do business with one of our larger clients, we went last for the finalist presentation. My short friend was asked what she thought about what they were doing and, as per usual, she was very frank, with necessary diplomacy thrown in. My main contact told me later after we were hired, when the committee discussed whom to hire, one guy pointed at my friend’s vacated chair and said “That little fireball who sat there will tell us what we need to hear.”

I would love to hear some of your funny work stories. Please feel free to share.

 

 

 

Have you ever noticed…

Speaking as someone with many imperfections and having been around the block a few times, let me offer some random musings for consumption and consideration.

Have you ever noticed…

  • People who are the least tolerant of others tend to require the most tolerance from other people in dealing with them.
  • People who tend to be hypercritical of other people or things, often cannot take criticism very well.
  • People who say “this is the truth,” usually do so before or after something that is not truthful or is an opinion.
  • People who say “this is the truth” are implying what they said at other times is not necessarily so.
  • People who brag on how pious they are should not have to brag about such matters – it should be obvious.
  • People who shout down your argument are using volume not quality as their argument.
  • People who name call or label don’t have a very good argument, so they must resort to shorthand demonization.
  • People can rationalize the most ridiculous viewpoints if they have decided this person best represents their interests, even if said viewpoint is antagonistic to their interests.
  • People who have an easy solution to a complex problem often do not understand what the problem entails.
  • People will agree with veracity of a source of information when it agrees with their position, but call that same source biased when it does not.
  • People who ignore the facts tend to get agitated when facts are used to refute their argument.

Now, I want you to close your eyes and picture each candidate running for office. Do any names come to mind as you do? If so, then do yourself a favor and vote for someone else. Being politically incorrect does not give anyone license to lie, name-call or label folks. But, if someone is going to be candid, then he or she should be prepared for candor in return.

If you have friends that are like this, my strong advice would be to lessen contact with said friend, as it will be less stressful. If you have a business colleague like this, smile, say have a nice day and move on down the hall. If this is your boss, then you may want to put that resume together.

I know I likely irritate people, even though I try my best not to. And, if I must say something direct, I will be as diplomatic and nice as I can be. As that is how I would want to be treated if I am doing something irritating or if someone disagrees with me. Maybe, with a little more civility, we can get along better.

 

A few oldies but goodies – three most frequented posts

As I reflect on my blogging which began in December, 2011, I tell folks that part of the reason I blog is to give me a place to write what I feel are the significant truths of our day. In a world where everyone seems to have their own source of tailored made and spoon fed news, we seem to lose sight of those truths.

I appreciate greatly those who have taken the time to drop by and read my words, enter a like every once in a while, and on occasion, offer a comment. When someone tells you the efforts you have made are worth a few minutes of their time, it is quite gratifying.

Like you, when I write a piece I have certain expectations of activity and resonance. Some, I have felt would be better frequented are not, while others tend to take off. And, there are a few that catch on later for some reason, where a person finds a lost episode and shares it with others. When I see that activity after months and years, I go back and re-read the post to remind myself what I said.

In the four years I have been writing, three posts have been the reason for about 25% of the visits my blog. The fourth most popular post is beneath 2% of the visits. If you are new to my blog in the past year, you may have not seen these three. I will provide a link below and offer my thoughts on why those three do far better than the others. I would love to hear your comments as well.

Six years alcohol free but still want to drink

I wrote this over two years and am still alcohol free. Many newcomers do not know that I am an alcoholic, but have been able to maintain my sobriety for now eight years. This post is by far my most frequented one, as each of us either have a similar challenge or know someone who has such a challenge. It offers advice I received from an unexpected source that I share with others. “I am not going to drink today.”

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/six-years-alcohol-free-but-still-want-to-drink/

Les Miserables and Social Injustice

My wife and I have always enjoyed the musical, but the music can overpower the true misery of the story. The movie starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway allowed that misery and social injustice to come to the forefront. The singing was captured during the filming rather than recorded later and dubbed over. This made the songs resonate with the anguish felt in their voices.

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/01/13/les-miserables-and-social-injustice/

Tribute to a Great Boss

Each of us have had several bosses in our career and we know their imperfections. So, when we get a good one, it makes the days at work much more enjoyable and rewarding. I have had a few good ones, as well as some bad ones, but one stood out as a great boss. This post is a tribute to him upon his retirement and a wish for others to have this pleasure at some point in their work.

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2012/12/05/tribute-to-a-great-boss/

Please let me know what you think. For those blogs I follow, I would love for you to do something similar as I would enjoy reading or re-reading your work that resonated most with readers. And, thanks for your words of prose, poetry and song along with the wonderful pictures. They are greatly appreciated.

Best wishes to all over the holidays and have a wonderful 2016.

And, the less than great bosses…

One of my more frequented posts is a “Tribute to a Great Boss” which I believe many folks check out as they want to see the attributes of someone who does the job well, as so many do not. This boss is also very humorous, so his many sayings are worth the read.* Yet, even though he was the best boss I ever had, he was not perfect. Nor are the many other bosses I have had the pleasure of working for. Some of their imperfections stood out more than others, but I have been blessed not to work for any screamers or tantrum throwers, which unfortunately exist.

My second favorite boss was a terrific story-teller and was supportive of me and others. His stories were so riveting, we would end up correcting them as he retold them again and again to new audiences. Our office flourished under him and the three years we worked together were memorable. Yet, his Achilles Heel was impulsive decisions and he left his role out of frustration, a decision he later regretted and put a strain on his marriage which ended in divorce. We missed him greatly after he left.

My favorite story of his is when he arrived at a meeting with someone he had not met before the administrative assistant had arrived. He was waved in and the guy proceeded to tell him about a legal problem. My boss is a great listener, so he is taking notes and is rapt with attention. When he finished his story, the guy said “What do you think I should do?” My boss said, “I think you should hire an attorney.” The guy looked at him and said “Who are you?” The guy had mistaken my boss for an attorney he had a meeting with next.

On the flip side, my first boss out of college was a great salesmen who was promoted to management, a very common mistake. Great salespeople do not necessarily make good managers. He was not an exception to this rule. He went out and bought 23 management books and read them all. One of his rules was to have a “quiet hour” from 9 am to 10 am, so no client calls or internal meetings could be had. Now, mind you, our business was to consult with clients, so not taking a call from them during that hour was not good for business. Eventually, the other senior folks in the office suggested he cease this practice. Unfortunately, he was asked to leave about six months after I got there, so the company lost a great salesman. We missed his excitement and passion to go see people.

I also had a boss that was a very good subject matter expert, but whose people’s skills left something to be desired. I learned a great deal from him both good and bad. I learned the subject matter in a practical way and he taught me how to dive into new things. Yet, I also learned how not to act as some of his mannerisms would make you feel awkward. He was like our Sheldon from “The Big Bang Theory.” He is very smart and we remember him fondly in spite of his mannerisms. One of his shortcomings was small talk at client meetings. You wanted to make sure the meeting stayed focus on the issues. He was excellent with the issues. One of my favorite stories about him was in a client meeting when a key contact of our client was arguing over a legal issue with someone in the client’s general counsel office. My boss used both hands to inch the legal plan document over to the attorney and said what was written here says otherwise winning the argument for our contact. To see him push the document slowly over to the attorney was priceless.

One of my least favorite bosses was on the arrogant side, but he also was cheap. He would spend the company’s money on himself, but he would be quite frugal with his own money. An easy example is we would have year-end holiday parties at his house, with a secondary purpose to stock his liquor cabinet, as he would over order supplies. In spite of these traits, he had a congenial side and he contributed to our success, so we tolerated his behavior. We had a great run under his guidance, but it was more due to the caliber of people we had working under him. Yet, he would tell others in the firm how he harnessed these horses underneath him to achieve the success we had. That was a stretch.

Through my earlier years, I worked with a mentor who was one of the best consultants I ever worked with. He was never my boss, which is good, because he would have been horrible at it. He was a great consultant because he did not tolerate anything less than perfection. Unfortunately, no one is perfect, so he would have had issues with lesser talented people. I had to redo a lot of work at his suggestion. Yet, not being my boss, we could tease him about some of his habits to work very well with him. He was not my boss, but he had a great influence on my life and career. He is a lot like the final person I worked for at a small firm. He also pursued perfection on client issues and had a great reputation, but he was not a very good business person around time and expense management.

Each of these bosses I remember fondly to varying extents. I learned a lot from each, but none could be construed as perfect. Of course, neither could I.  I guess one piece of advice I would give to someone starting out is recognize the strengths and weaknesses of your boss and manage up. If you need face time to ask questions, schedule it. If your boss does not take the time to communicate well, help him or her using words comfortable to you. Also, where you can, discuss possible solutions and not just the problem.**  If you help this navigation process, then you can survive and flourish. And, don’t ever work for a screamer. If you do, keep your resume up to date and begin searching for a new job in case nothing is done about it.

* You can check out this post with the attached link: https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2012/12/05/tribute-to-a-great-boss/

** There is a great article called “Who’s Got the Monkey?” which will help you in managing up through offering possible solutions rather than passing the problem back to your boss.