Friday, October 29, 2010

Speak Easy Note #39 – Juggling Job Offers … Being True to Yourself

Dear Wordsmith,

The firm I've worked for, for the last eight years, is facing a severe downturn in business and is eliminating all consultants who don't have a significant book of business. My role has been primarily in project design and client service delivery which is what I was hired to do. I was even told three years ago by the biggest producer and most senior partner of our firm that I was doing such an outstanding job for the firm’s two major clients. He said he wanted me to continue to focus on supporting these two clients and not to focus on building a book of business of my own. He told me that there would always be a role for me in the firm and that I was providing the highest caliber of work possible. Flash forward to March of this year when I was told that by the end of October, I would need to have found new employment since the work for these two major clients had diminished significantly and the firm could only afford to keep consultants who were earning their keep through having built a solid book of business.

Since March, I've poured myself into networking and job search and am fortunate, in this difficult job market, to have two excellent potential options to consider. The problem is that even though these were moving along at a parallel pace for a while, one of them has speeded up significantly and the other has slowed down quite a bit. My current employer has committed to keep me officially employed without announcing anything about my work coming to a close until the end of November. This is very helpful so that I can convey and demonstrate to these two potential new employers that I am employed and still working until then.

Here are some of the specifics of these two options:

Option A:
A former colleague who heads up a consulting business in Chicago has asked me to open a satellite office for them in Atlanta. They have asked me to locate office space here in Atlanta which I have done and they have signed a lease starting in November on a monthly basis through an office-services executive suite provider.

Option B:
This is a long shot and one I am extremely interested in. Rather than working as an external business management consultant, this is an internal strategic planning role for an established technology company. This is what I most want to do and feel that this could be a once in a career opportunity. Of course, I don't know if I will get the offer. The final round of interviews has been rescheduled twice and now won’t take place until the last week in November. I am one of only two final candidates who will be interviewed by the CEO and new General Manager.

I cannot risk being unemployed or being passed over right now and have chosen to move forward with the Chicago consulting firm until and unless I get the offer from the technology company. Prior to their signing the lease for me to have new office space, I felt that my communications were as they should be. Now, with every day that passes, I am feeling more and more uncomfortable. I've always had a strong ethical compass in all of my business dealings and want to make sure that's the basis for all of my decisions and actions right now during this extra challenging timeframe.  It's very important to me to be direct and honest with people and my professional reputation is at stake here. Please help me figure out the best way to handle this dilemma.

I would like to postpone any official announcement of the new Atlanta office and my role in it as Managing Partner as well as postpone my official start day. If I accept the other offer in the next month to six weeks, I am so concerned about how all of these current communications will appear in retrospect. I have to put my professional and family security first. Is there any way to do that and still act with integrity?

Tightrope Walker


Dear Tightrope Walker,

It sounds like you’re experiencing tremendous pressure and that this must be extremely stressful for you and your family. Let’s work toward adjusting your perspectives so you can be less stressed. And let’s also craft some best-case communications and strategies to carry you through this successfully.

Putting your own personal obligations and responsibilities first is an ethical decision. You are right to protect your own job security as your first priority. To gain some perspective, look back for a moment. When the partner told you then that you were highly valued, that you would always have a role in the firm and that you did not need to focus on building a book of business, he was speaking to you in good faith and was sincere about the current circumstances at that moment in time. When things changed, you were unexpectedly told something altogether different. You've actually been sincere and acting in good faith with the Chicago consulting firm. You don't have any other offer at the moment and don't have any guarantee that you will get one. So you are moving forward in an ethical and appropriate way based on the facts that are true right now.

Here’s another way of looking at this challenging situation. It’s possible that you could have accepted the new role with the Chicago-based consulting firm, could have set up their Atlanta office and could have begun diligently and whole heartedly working for them to establish their Atlanta presence, when, suddenly, six weeks into the commitment, you get a totally unexpected call to come in and interview for your dream job in your dream environment, resulting in an offer.

Additional remedy activities and choices you might want to provide at that future point of job offer, IF it occurs, might include these:
- Offer to reimburse the firm for their office rental expenses.
- Recommend other candidates to fill the managing partner role.
- Continue to provide client introductions and participate in business development activities.
- Make a commitment to bring your new technology company to the table as a potential client.

Here's the type of communication that may be very helpful for this situation:
“I have just received an offer for a job that is beyond any expectation I have ever had. This is exactly the kind of work I most want to do. I certainly was astonished to receive this offer at this point in time when I have just made such a significant and dedicated commitment to XYZ Consulting. This has definitely been one of the most difficult decisions and challenging crossroads of my professional life. I have accepted the offer and wanted to come to you immediately to inform you of this. I want to do everything possible to make this transition as smooth and successful for the firm as possible. I have put an outline together with important talking points for us to examine together. I want to partner with you in every way I can to ensure as much business and operating success for the firm as possible.”

It's also appropriate right now to find a very simple way to ask for the announcement to be made in December along with your official start date. That brief communication might sound like this:
"I've discussed my departure from my current role with the senior partners in my firm and we mutually agreed on December 1 as the official date for me to start a new job. There are some loose ends that are pending here and I think it makes sense to wait until all that is completed before beginning the new job officially and before making a formal announcement about the new Atlanta practice and my role as Managing Partner. I will continue to set up client calls and actively participate in marketing meetings in the interim. December 1 also makes a lot of sense because I have commitments and will be traveling over Thanksgiving and there will be continuity if my official start date follows that trip."

The best communications are direct, simple and respectful with integrity and honesty as the guiding underlying principles.

Until next time,
The Wordsmith
Author of
SPEAK EASY, The Communication Guide for Career and Life Success

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Speak Easy Note #38 - Starting the Dream Job ... Wait, There's a Hitch!

Dear Wordsmith,

In three weeks I’m starting a new dream job. I’ve wanted a role like this for so long. The company is highly respected, the product is of excellent quality and the job description encompasses everything that I have been building toward for many years. This will be my largest responsibility to date, with over 30,000 employees working in my Division. I have an unusual background because I worked on the product development and marketing side of the business for many years before becoming a Human Resources Executive, specializing in Leadership and Talent Development. People in sales and marketing are often high achievers in building company profitability who have great business development skills and end up being promoted to management roles even though they have never managed people or been leaders who motivate and inspire others. Often they have a very competitive individual-contributor drive and can find it challenging to channel their competitive natures into the leadership inspiration and vision required in executive positions. Team development is quite different from business development.

A former colleague that I worked with years ago approached me to fill this new job exactly because I have such a personal and deep understanding of these dynamics and because of my long history in marketing combined with my extensive experience as an HR Professional. She said she knew I would be the best person to head up the Talent and Leadership Development function because of the unique background and experience that I will be bringing. I agree 100% and know I have so much to contribute that will make a big difference and add so much needed value.

The former head of this department, whom I will be replacing, has always been in Human Resources roles throughout his career and has never had a first-hand role in operations, marketing or business development. He has been described to me as very detailed-oriented and seems to get completely bogged down in every project he has ever initiated. I'm known for seeing the big picture, putting the right people in place and for delegating with precision to the right individuals. So how perfect does this all sound? Well, wait a minute. There’s a huge elephant in the room. And guess what/who it is? The person I’m replacing is not only not being let go, he will be continuing in a key administrative management position in the same department within the same group that he used to be the leader of. I will be his boss and will be the boss of all of the people he has been the boss of for the last eight years! He and I have met and he was very pleasant and even receptive to my taking over the helm from him. I can see though that it will be very hard for him to let go of the decision-making authority he has always held. I also can see how well-liked he is by everyone and I can imagine that people will naturally go to him with problems and questions because that’s what they’ve always done. I‘ve been told that because of his long tenure and great company loyalty that his employment is secure.

I want to handle this well and know that my communications with him and with others in the first six months of this new job are the key to my long-term success in the company. Please give me your best advice on how to do this well and right.

Highly Motivated and Slightly Nervous


Dear Motivated and Nervous,

What a mixture of emotions you must have. Starting a new job is always challenging and stressful. On top of the normal feelings a new manager would have, you are walking into a situation that is charged with many extra elements to keep you on guard. The best approach is to use this awareness to increase your motivation to do a really great job and pay extra attention to the interpersonal dynamics that are always critical for success in the workplace.

Here are some basic operating premises that can form the foundation for your success:
You are the right person for this role and your extensive experience, vast expertise and calm solid self-confidence will reflect that, day-in and day-out.

Your enthusiasm to prove yourself and do a good job will be preceded and surpassed by your commitment to listening to others’ viewpoints and by your visible respect for everyone who works for you and with you.

Leadership is quite different from popularity. Your goal is to inspire, provide vision and demonstrate authority for what is right. If making sure people like you as much as they like your predecessor becomes your highest priority, it is unlikely that you will ever achieve that goal or any of the other secondary objectives you have.

Delegating authority to others, including your predecessor, is an excellent way to show you have confidence in your team and in their former boss. Give up power whenever possible so that when it is essential for you to be in charge, you will be, plain and simple. If you focus on being egalitarian, rather than obsessed with controlling everything, you will gain the potential to garner better results and stronger loyalties.

When there are conflicts in role authority between you and your predecessor, without becoming dependent on your own boss and without giving up your leadership authority, selectively (and confidentially) request that your boss or a senior executive arbitrates a decision or assigns authority to you publicly so that your predecessor will save face and/or have no recourse. This will avoid natural power struggles between you and him and will also remove some of the feelings of resentment about you that he may have. This tactic must be used sparingly and strategically. When you make these requests to senior management on a limited basis, you will be demonstrating your leadership, your vision, and your careful management of a sensitive situation.

Partner with your predecessor whenever possible and praise him publicly often. He has some strengths that you can capitalize on that will open up great windows of time for you to concentrate on what you do best and care about most. The more he feels valued, the more influence he will provide to bring others on board with your initiatives.

If you sense sabotage or undermining from him or because of him, it’s very important to establish frequent open communication. Remember that open communication involves a good deal of listening. Ask tactical open-ended questions to gather information. Validate others based on careful listening. State your opinions and requests without emotion or judgment. Verify understanding. Ask for buy-in.

Until next time,
The Wordsmith
Author of
SPEAK EASY, The Communication Guide for Career and Life Success

Friday, October 15, 2010

Speak Easy Note #37 – The Mother/Daughter Connection, Expanded and Revisited

Dear Wordsmith,

Your response last week was very helpful and provided me with great new perspectives and communication approaches for the difficult circumstances between my daughter, Sara, and me. Here’s a brief version of what I wrote to you last week:

Sara and I have always been very close and have shared many common interests. Her boyfriend, Tom, who is a good deal older than she, is determined to change my daughter by trying to keep us from sharing time together. Sara claims I've been rude and disrespectful to Tom. I’ve become very defensive and our problems are escalating; we haven’t spoken for weeks. I really want to be close to my daughter again and am finding it very difficult to control my anger.

There is a new layer to this situation that I need more advice about:
My cousin Diane has always been like a sister to me and has also been very close to Sara since she was a little girl. What I just learned is that Sara has turned to Diane and has been confiding in her and spending time in her home. For some reason Tom has no resentment of Diane and is fine with Sara and Diane spending as much time together as they want. It’s very painful to me to hear that Sara is reaching out to Diane and telling Diane how disrespectful I’ve been to Tom. I also resent that Diane is able to spend an abundance of time with Sara when Sara and I are no longer spending any time together or even speaking to each other. The worst part of all is that Diane kept all of this from me and it wasn’t until I ran into Diane’s son this week that I learned from him that Sara and Diane have been spending so much time together. I called Diane and told her how upset I was and told her that I think it was wrong for her to have kept this from me. I also told her that she should stop letting Sara come to her house and confide in her and that if she wouldn’t agree to that, then I wasn’t going to have any contact with her right now. Diane got very angry at me and told me she was only trying to protect my feelings by not telling me anything and that she just wanted to help. She said she didn’t want to abandon Sara when Sara was having such a hard time worrying about me as well as trying to finish her dissertation. Now I have a double dilemma to deal with. These are the two people I care the most about and these conflicts are taking a big toll. Please help!

Hurt and Angry


Dear Hurt and Angry,

Ouch! Double dilemma and quite painful indeed! You must be feeling so hurt. The two people you love the most remain connected to each other while you are excluded from their lives and interactions with both of them.

Let me see if I can identify some helpful perspectives on this very distressing situation. Since you’ve made it clear how much you love your daughter, perhaps you can find a way to have a positive view on the fact that she has a family member to turn to right now. After all, this is your cousin that you’ve always been very close to that she’s choosing to confide in. It could be Sara is choosing a way to hurt you by turning to Diane since she knows that you’re likely to find out about this. On-the-other-hand, it could also be a way to be as close to you as she can be without upsetting Tom who is influencing her to stay away from you. There’s a clue that her love for you is the prime motivator in Diane’s comment that “Sara is having such a hard time worrying about [you]”. This must be extremely painful for Sara too and Diane is certainly caught in the middle. With the amount of anguish you’re experiencing as a result of Sara’s choices, it makes it very hard for you to see how painful this must be for your daughter and cousin as well.

Since you’ve always been so close to Sara and shared so much together, it’s probably quite difficult to wrap your head around the potential latent adolescent component that I mentioned last week. Sometimes when there has been such a strong connection and inter-dependence, there can be a powerful sense of needing to break away and separate.

Your feelings about Sara and Diane being together without your knowing this and about Sara’s criticizing you to Diane are certainly legitimate. What mother wouldn’t have those reactions? What’s important is to manage your emotions and communications to lessen the tension that is building. The key is to find a way to express these feelings in a non-accusatory, non-judgmental, non-ultimatum way.

Let’s examine what you said to Diane and how you might want to adjust the way you communicate going forward.

You said:
“… told her that I think it was wrong for her to have kept this from me. .”

Here's a way to express your valid reaction without being accusatory:
“I feel very hurt and upset that you kept this from me.”

You said:
“I also told her that she should stop letting Sara come to her house and confide in her and that if she wouldn’t agree to that, I wasn’t going to have any contact with her right now.”

Here's a way to express the same sentiments without being judgmental and without ultimatum:
“Diane, I know how much you love Sara and want to help. It’s extremely hard for me to know you and Sara are spending time together and that you’re talking about me when I’m not there and when Sara and I aren’t speaking or seeing each other. What I would like and am asking is for you to stop spending time with Sara until she and I are re-connected and communicating with each other.”

Even when expressed as a desire in an appropriate way, this request creates a slippery slope, similar to when a couple gets divorced and friends and family members are asked to choose sides or abandon one of two long-standing relationships. You might want to simply let Diane know what you're feeling without making any request for her to stop spending time with Sara.
“Diane, I want you to know how hard it is for me to know you and Sara are spending time together and that you’re talking about me when I’m not there and when Sara and I aren’t speaking or seeing each other.”

The strong history and deep bonds you've had with your daughter and your cousin over the years provide a solid foundation for optimism. Remember the guidelines from last week:

- adjust your perspectives
- remain authentic and true to yourself
- make sure you're loving and kind to your daughter
- demonstrate genuine respect to all

“Everything happens for a reason, people change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so you can appreciate them when they're right, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can come together.”

Marilyn Monroe

Until next time,
The Wordsmith
Author of
SPEAK EASY, The Communication Guide for Career and Life Success

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Speak Easy Note #36 - The Mother/Daughter Connection

Dear Wordsmith,

Please help me figure out how to handle a very difficult crossroads with my daughter, Sara. We have always been very close until she became involved with her current boyfriend. We have always shared a love of good restaurants, ethnic/gourmet food, foreign films/independent movies, and liberal American politics. We've always been on the same page with all of these and they've been the cornerstones of our strong relationship. We used to go out to dinner and a movie together at least once a week and we’d talk endlessly until 2:00 in the morning about all of these topics. The boyfriend, Tom, is a good deal older than my daughter and is not as educated as she. She has just completed her doctoral thesis to earn a PhD degree. They are currently living together in the next town from where I live, fifteen minutes away. He just doesn’t share any of her interests at all which is bad enough. Worse than that is the fact that he’s determined to change my daughter’s political views and areas of interest, particularly by trying to keep my daughter and me from sharing the kind of time together that has always been so important to our relationship. Not only has Sara stopped going out with me for our girls’ night out dinner and movies together, she has told me that I've been rude to her boyfriend and that I treat him disrespectfully. He has told her she's too old to spend so much time with her mother and that he doesn’t want her to see me so frequently or to spend time with just the two of us anymore. Every time she and I speak on the phone, I can hear his voice and his tone when she speaks to me and not hers. She is a completely different person from the dear loving daughter that I've known for the past 25 years. There is also something in her tone that sounds just like her father that I have never heard in her voice before. Her father and I divorced when she was very young and she had very little contact with him when she was growing up and he passed away many years ago. Each time I hear her bitter and accusatory tone, I get very angry and defensive and our conversations have escalated to such a degree that we haven’t spoken for the last six weeks. I've written her a few times, trying to get everything resolved and back on an even keel. When she’s called after receiving my written communications, she’s been very nasty and I just explode when I hear what she is accusing me of. I’ve come to hate the boyfriend and feel like they both owe me a big apology. I have done nothing but try to be a loving supportive mom to my daughter. The chasm between us is huge and I don’t know what to do or how to communicate with her anymore.

Sad and Angry Mom


Dear Sad and Angry,

This situation sounds truly heartbreaking. After so many years of such a warm, loving, and connected relationship, it must be extremely hard to feel so distanced from your daughter.

There are many psychological threads running through these circumstances as there always are in all that we experience in life. It may be helpful to you, and also add some perspective, to identify what some of these may be. I’m picking up on a few undercurrents that could be contributing more barriers to your relationship with your daughter than you realize. It sounds like you two have been extremely close and that she never had any kind of closeness with her father at all. Girls who have lost their fathers or who have had difficult relationships with their fathers, will often seek out older men to replace or make up for what was missing in their childhoods. I’m also looking at the possibility that since you have always had this closeness with your daughter, that she may never have been a rebellious teenager and is somehow experiencing a bit of latent adolescence right now, particularly because she is just finishing her doctoral program and facing being out there on her own in the world in a particularly difficult job market and economy. Young adult females coming out of college who have been extremely close to their mothers can sometimes feel very frightened of facing the new life ahead of them. She may feel a need to disagree with anything you say or believe in right now; that doesn’t mean that she always will. Her relationship with an older man who can provide for her and easily control her life could be feeling like a very safe cocoon to your daughter. And lastly, your daughter’s closeness to you can feel very threatening to an insecure man who wants to be the sole provider and life-fixer for his young girlfriend. Quite a confluence of potential contributing factors, right?

Given all of these pieces that potentially form the foundation for what's going on, it's important for you to focus on managing your own emotions, behaviors, and communications in the best way possible while

- adjusting your perspectives on everything that is happening
- remaining authentic and true to yourself
- making sure you are loving and kind to your daughter
- demonstrating genuine respect, without judgment, of your daughter and her boyfriend.

You cannot control what your daughter or her boyfriend do or say. You can only control your own perspectives, behaviors and communications. The basic premises are to remember to keep your communication level (including tone of voice and facial expression) and to validate your daughter’s feelings no matter what your own viewpoints are.

The first step is for you to become calmer within yourself. If you continue to be defensive and explosive you will naturally contribute to this escalation that you so want to de-escalate:
“Each time I hear her bitter and accusatory tone, I get very angry and defensive and our conversations have escalated …”
“She has been very nasty and I just explode when I hear what she is accusing me of.”

Remember when you remain unruffled and acknowledge calmly what you’re hearing, you are NOT admitting guilt or agreement. Make sure you omit the word “but” from your transition from an acknowledgement to stating your own opinion, and make sure you refrain from anything that sounds like, “I think you should” or "How dare you accuse me ...".

The following are the types of communications that may lead your daughter and you back to the closeness you have always had.

“Sara, I hear how upset you are about this, and want you to know that my goal is always to be respectful and understanding of your feelings. It is also important to me to be true to myself and share my views on this.”  (And then your views have to be what you think and want rather than what is right or wrong with what they are saying and doing.)

“Sara, our time together has always meant so much to me and I hope that we can still find a way to share the kinds of things we have always enjoyed together. Please help me understand exactly what you want and what your preferences are.”

“As difficult as it is to hear …………………, it is very valuable for me to know that you and(/or) Tom have that point-of-view.”

Here is a link to one source of many that can contribute to your acquiring the type of communication you would want to develop for this and other aggressive communications you encounter in life.

Above all remember this:

-- Benjamin Disraeli

I hope this input contributes to your meeting these challenges in ways that are right for you. Even though it’s always impossible to predict the future accurately, there’s comfort in knowing that the strong and beautiful relationship you’ve always had with your daughter will contribute greatly to the good future outcomes you seek. Professional counseling or therapy for you separately or for you and your daughter together could be a highly valuable option to consider. These matters are very layered and complicated and come about as a result of a long history of family dynamics. We can never see ourselves objectively.

Until next time,
The Wordsmith