Getting Unstuck from Sticky Situations

The name tag goes on the right side.
It’s one of the things that puzzle a lot of us when confronted with a Sharpie and a peel-off label. According to etiquette expert Emily Post, you should wear the tag on your right because it makes it easier for someone who is greeting you and shaking your hand to read your name (ostensibly, he or she will be shaking your right hand).  
I bring this up because figuring out where to stick your name tag is a relatively simple thing. What’s harder to deal with is someone at work yelling at you or taking credit for your ideas, as a friend of mine recently found. Or being asked to do something you absolutely do not want to do. Or finding yourself in an awkward situation, and at a loss as to what to say.   
Those are sticky situations. And while you can find plenty of books offering advice on how to cope -- including “Excuse Me, But I Was Next” by Emily Post’s great-great-granddaughter-in-law Peggy Post -- let me offer up a few suggestions that have worked for me when I’ve had to unstick myself from tricky situations.
1. The yelling thing. If a co-worker, family member, friend or even stranger is yelling at you, take a deep breath and stay calm. When they’re finished yelling -- or if they take a pause to take a breath -- hold up your hand and say, “You’re obviously upset. Why don’t you take some time to get yourself together.” Then walk away.

I mean it. Never engage an angry person. You’ll get nowhere and you may end up yelling yourself, which really doesn’t accomplish anything. If you’re being yelled at by your boss, find yourself a new job if you can, because you’re dealing with what I consider to be the most unprofessional behavior. Yelling also shows that your boss doesn’t respect you. If you can’t quit, you really can’t say anything except “I understand,” “I’m sorry,” or “I see.” A good boss will apologize for losing his or her temper and yelling.
2. Idea theft. A friend of mine recently offered up a suggestion during a meeting, only to be ignored. A few minutes later, during the same meeting, one of her colleagues offered up the same idea and everyone thought it was fabulous. Has this ever happened to you?

Now, it could be that my friend didn’t present her idea as clearly or as concisely as her co-worker, but the bottom line is that she was unhappy because she wasn’t getting recognition for her idea.

What to do? I suggest speaking up as soon as possible and saying, “I’m so glad you like my idea. Now let’s talk about how we can make it even better.” The point here is to take control of the situation and stand up for yourself. If the person who is taking credit for your idea is your boss, see my suggestion above. 
3. No, no, no. Saying no can be very difficult for some people. That's why, instead of “No,” I always say, “That doesn’t work for me.” But you can't just throw it out there and expect great results. You're going to get pushback from whomever is doing the asking, since they don't want to take "no" for an answer. So knowing what to say after "That doesn't work for me" is important too. See my essay on this topic, “The No Problem,” for what to say next.
4. At a loss. What to do when you’re speechless, literally? Take a deep breath (I’m a big believer in deep breaths), count to five, and see if something comes to you after you’ve had a chance to clear your head. Still got nothing? That’s okay. If you don’t know what to say, then just say it. “I don’t know what to say to that. I’ll think about it and get back to you later.” Or maybe, “Hmm. I’m going to have to gather some more information before I can give you an answer on that.”

Take the time you need to come up with an answer you can live with. It’s much better to take a pause before saying anything than to say something you may regret later.

In the meantime, take comfort in the fact that you know which side your name tag goes on. And that you'll have absolutely no problem unsticking it. -- Connie Guglielmo

April 2, 2014

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Is Multi-Tasking Frying Your Brain?

unfocusedI'm not a big fan of multi-tasking, if only because it points out what crazy, busy lives we lead. So I paused when I read the November obituary of Stanford University professor Clifford Nass, who conducted groundbreaking work on the brain-ravaging effects of multi-tasking. 

In a 2009 study, Nass found that multi-taskers aren't the efficient, high-functioning folks they – and we -- think they are. "It turns out multi-taskers are terrible at every aspect of multi-tasking," he said in an interview with PBS' Frontline. "They’re terrible at ignoring irrelevant information; they’re terrible at keeping information in their head nicely and neatly organized; and they’re terrible at switching from one task to another."


And they're also terrible at recognizing that they're terrible multi-taskers. "One would think that if people were bad at multi-tasking, they would stop,” said Nass. “However, when we talk with the multi-taskers, they seem to think they’re great at it and seem totally unfazed and totally able to do more and more and more. [Yet] they’re suckers for irrelevancy. Everything distracts them.”

I'm sorry I never had a chance to interview Nass, but I'm glad I was able to dig into his research to get some ideas about how to dig ourselves out of our multi-tasking mania. It turns out there’s a very simple fix: Focus on one thing at a time. Easier said than done? “By doing less,” Nass found, “you might accomplish more.”

Read more: Is Multi-Tasking Frying Your Brain?

How I Learned to Work a Room, and You Can Too

I did it. I went to a cocktail party where I didn’t know anyone, and successfully chit-chatted for two hours. (Not to myself. I actually spoke with other people.)

I have never been good at the kind of networking where you’re supposed to walk into a room full of strangers and walk out with “connections.” The very idea makes me cringe. But as a writer and reporter, I get invited to more than my fair share of meet-and-greets. Every now and then, I read an invite and think, “Eeek. I really should go. But I won’t know anyone.” Sometimes I go, sometimes I don’t. Some of these events are better than others. They are rarely fun.

But now I’m actually looking forward to them. It’s as if all these networking receptions are part of a big game, and I finally figured out how to play. Here’s how I learned.

Last month, as I was heading to a work-related cocktail hour with some colleagues, I groaned that I hated having to introduce myself to a room full of strangers. Even though my co-workers were coming with me to this particular event, the whole point was for us to talk to people we hadn’t met.

Then one of my colleagues told me the trick he uses: When he walks into a room alone, he looks for pairs of people who are talking, and introduces himself to each person in the pair.

I thought you were supposed to approach people who were by themselves. If two people are talking already, why would you interrupt them?

Because everyone else is there to meet other people, too, he explained. So if you see a pair of people, the chances are that they arrived together and know they should be mingling. Or else they’ve just met and are, in the back of their minds, worried that they’re going to end up talking to this one person all night. (One of these people may be trying to get out of the conversation; you’ve just made it easier for them to exit.) Either way, they’re relieved to see you. And your chances of having a decent conversation are better, because now you’re talking to two people, not just one.

Consider the alternatives: Approaching one person makes it harder to eventually extricate yourself. And if you can find absolutely nothing in common with that one person, you’re sort of stuck, at least for a while. Plus, it’s becoming more awkward to go up to just one person, because self-conscious people who don’t have anyone to talk to will increasingly stare into their phones and give off the “I’m so busy” vibe -- even if they want to mingle. Breaking into a knot of four or more people is really hard, at least for me.

So twos are the best bet, and after that, threes.

Here’s the bizarre thing. It works. It really, really works. The next time I walked into a totally intimidating cocktail party, I had met only one person there before. Since she was with the company that was hosting the event, I knew she wouldn’t have time to talk to me. I took a deep breath, got a glass of wine, and looked for groups of two. I probably had a dozen conversations that night, some more comfortable than others. About half the people I spoke with offered me their card, which, in the age of LinkedIn, is becoming more rare. Then I went home, flopped on my bed, and thought, “I can’t believe that worked.” Game on. -- Kimberly Weisul


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Kids? What Kids? A Working Woman's Bluff

kids closetAt a recent business dinner, I was seated next to a woman who had founded  a venture-backed startup. Her company was about four years old, and had raised tens of millions of dollars. 


I’m an editor-at-large for Inc and At Inc, we write about entrepreneurs — and burnout. So I asked her, “We always hear that being an entrepreneur is a 24/7 endeavor. But you’ve been doing this for years, and no one can work all the time without burning out. What do you do to stay sane?”


“I don’t know,” she said. “It’s funny. You just find a way to keep going.”


At some point, I thought, everyone needs a break. Even people who claim they only need four hours’ sleep each night generally take big naps during the day. So I tried again. “Look,” I said. “If you ask me, I’ll tell you I work all the time. But the truth is it’s very hard to get me on the phone or on email between 5:30 and 8:30 on a weeknight. That’s when I see my kids. I’m back online by 9:00, but I don’t literally work all the time.”

Read more: Kids? What Kids? A Working Woman's Bluff

Finding Peace, Standing Up Straight and Rethinking Happiness

clementineWhen Sheryl Sandberg released her feminist manifesto Lean In earlier this year, Kristin van Ogtrop was compelled to offer a different suggestion to other well-educated working mothers with big jobs: Forget about leaning in or leaning back. Stand up straight  and take the time to enjoy life, family, relationships -- and the occasional clementine.   

“My days in the office are busy, and when they are over, I don't want to go to networking dinners or think about finding a mentor,” van Ogtrop, managing editor of Real Simple magazine, said in a widely-read essay published in April on The Huffington Post. “I want to go home and have a meal with my family and laugh my head off over some dumb YouTube video my husband found that day. Maybe that means I'm not really ambitious. But if I had to choose between ambition and fun -- well, that's an easy one…I take great pleasure in my professional success, but I can tell you with certainty that, when I'm lying on my deathbed, I'm not going to be thinking about career wins.”

Five months after sharing her thoughts, van Ogtrop, 49, and the mother of three, said she was surprised how much her essay resonated with women. One Thing New’s Connie Guglielmo asked her to share more of her thinking about Lean In, about being a working professional with a family, and about what life has taught her.  

Read more: Finding Peace, Standing Up Straight and Rethinking Happiness

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