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A Long Time Ago, In An Office Far Far Away: The Last Jedi Leadership Lessons

****Spoiler Alert****
Beware, This article has spoilers about the Last Jedi

Last Jedi New Boss

Beware the New Boss

The Last Jedi  continues the story of what happens in the epic Star Wars tale. Who would have thought it has leadership and workplace communication lessons as well? 

The Last Jedi opens to a scene where the impulsive, driven, and stubborn Resistance pilot Poe Dameron goes rogue on General Leia Organa. He ignores her order to return to the ship and takes a rare opportunity to attack an enormous and deadly First Order battleship. They bring it down, but pay dearly by losing all of their bombers and a talented and dedicated team of pilots. General Organa greets Dameron with a slap and a demotion, telling him that “there were no leaders” on that mission. His victory came at too great a cost. But the punishment doesn’t seem to have an impact on him. Later on he shrugs off the demotion and appears unmoved.

Dameron, at least at the beginning of the film, is too wrapped up in himself to see how his actions are part of the rebellion’s larger mission. He goes for immediate gratification, while General Organa understands the power of strategy and playing for the end game.

Then, General Organa is "out of the office" while recovering from, let’s call it an unexpected space flight, and replaced by Vice Admiral Holdo. Dameron is doubtful of Holdo’s abilities and immediately asks to know her plans. He acts as if he should have special access to the command. She reacts strongly, and negatively, by putting the cocky pilot in his place and telling him to back off and wait for his orders. This results in misplaced efforts, secrets, and mutiny.

Sound familiar? Ok, you may not be fighting the First Order at work (even though it can feel that way), but you’ve probably dealt with some of the following:

Workers Who Think They Know Better Than Their Bosses

We’ve all had times when we incredulously ask “What?!” when given a new task. But, you don’t want to come across as arrogant. Once I asked someone who worked for me to help with an urgent project and she responded, “I can do it, but this is taking me away from my important work.” I had to calmly explain that this new project was important work and went into more detail about the backstory of how it came up and why we needed to do it. She followed through, but her response raised some red flags for me. She sincerely believed she was being a team-player by voicing her concern about not working on what she thought was most important. She unknowingly came off as selfish and dismissive of my request. Not the team player I could trust.

Dameron had similar thoughts at the beginning of the movie. He assumes his leaders are too narrow-minded to appreciate his vision. He literally turns off all communications so he doesn’t have to hear Organa’s orders.

Later on, Dameron secretly assumes authority, builds up his own coalition of colleagues, and leads a mutiny, with disastrous results, when vetting his ideas with his leaders could have saved lives.

Impulsive Workers Who Don't See How Their Actions Impact the Company's Long-Term Goals

This one's a doozy. It’s easy to justify doing something that you think will have a payoff even though it may not fit into your boss’ or company’s long-term plan. Yet, a good leader will know to hold back and cut losses and can see how small actions fit into the larger plan. Steve Jobs said that “Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.” The person who famously decided to release “New Coke” went for the immediate result instead of considering how it would fit in with the values and mission of the company.

The key is finding the right balance between creativity and long-term thinking. The way to achieve that balance is with communication. It goes both ways, with leadership needing to instill the long-term vision while encouraging innovation. Employees need to feel comfortable asking questions and encouraged to offer their ideas, but respect lines of authority.  

Dameron’s impulsiveness doesn’t fit in with the the long term plans for the rebellion. He might have taken down a huge battleship, but the rebellion force was decimated in the process.

Supervisors Who Let Employees Get Away With Things That Shouldn't be Tolerated

Princess Leia fans might be angry at me for this one, but I was disappointed with how she handled Dameron. Even though she gave him a demotion, her explanation of his poor decisions didn’t make it through to him. (I mean, many people died because of it!) She could have used different language to explain how this was catastrophic. Or, maybe said he was grounded from flying until further notice. If anyone else had ignored her orders, perhaps someone she didn’t like as much, would they have been treated the same way?

Consider if General Organa came down harder on Dameron and didn’t tolerate Dameron’s impulsive antics.  Even though she gives him a demotion, he almost laughs it off. Beneath her anger she almost seems to wink at him like a mother exasperated with her mischievous but charming kid.  

A lack of fairness from their bosses is a complaint I hear over and over from clients. It creates a toxic work environment and leads to job dissatisfaction and concerns about favoritism.

A New Boss Who Doesn't Try to Understand or Listen to the Staff 

I once was part of a team that had the chance to meet with prospective new managers for our group. When asked “How would you describe your management style?” one candidate said, “I rule with an iron fist in a velvet glove.” She likely thought this response showed her strength and leadership, instead it terrified all of us and suggested that she would keep us all in place. There was no way we wanted to work for her. 

In the Last Jedi, Holdo should have assumed the best of the crew and heard Dameron out instead of treating him with disdain. He did approach her immediately and ask for her plans but she silences him. Rather than cluing in the staff on what she is up to, she gives no glimpse into her strategy and demands them to blindly follow. He has no reason to think he can share his ideas with her.

A lack of trust, contempt, and poor communication are a lethal combination in any workplace, and it’s a two-way street. Moving past our own egos and trusting your colleagues and bosses almost always results in a better outcome.

In the end, Dameron finally learns his lesson. He orders troops to pull back from a battle where the immediate victory wouldn’t be worth the long-term consequences. He becomes a true leader. But, it was a painful, costly lesson.

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Take Action One Step At A Time

Celebrate taking action

I met with a new client who’s trying to figure out her next steps and is unsure of how to take action. She wants to discover the best career fit for her, and hopes that by next Spring she will be happily situated in a fabulous, just-right-for-her job that supports her career strategy and life.

We discussed the steps we could take together to work towards identifying her perfect career fit and launching a targeted job search. But, her days are jam-packed right now, both professionally and personally, and she’s worried about dedicating time to the self-reflective process of finding the right career fit. Instead, she suggested that we start by working on her resume and LinkedIn profile now, and then do the deep dive later.

Easiest Doesn't Mean Best

I cautioned against this approach. It's like building a house without a blueprint. The resume and LinkedIn profile revisions should come at the end of the process. They are tools to help her get to where she wants, and need to be targeted to her dream job. She has to know the desired end point before working on the tools that will help her get there.

We all have this tendency to do what seems “easiest” or most tangible, even though it usually yields the worst results. To get past this, don’t overwhelm yourself  by thinking of the everything you have to do. Make it manageable by taking it one step at a time. 

Many Steps = Taking Action

Break down the different steps you need to take. For example, one of the first things in finding the right career fit is to identify what you do and don't want. What makes you happy? What does an ideal day look like? What frustrates you the most at work and what do you love the best?

You may be putting pressure on yourself thinking this means that you have to just "know" all these answers immediately. That assumption is overwhelming! Instead, consider doable next steps to help identify what you do and don't want in a job.

Actions you can take may include: taking assessments such as the Myers Briggs or, my favorite, the CliftonStrengths assessment (previously called the StrengthsFinder), monitoring when you feel happiest or the most miserable at your current job, and answering questions about your ideal workday. Each of these steps gives you information that you can use to gain perspective about yourself and formulate a vision for the type of environment and job where you will be satisfied and happy.  By checking off one step at a time, you're calmly taking action and working towards your goal.

Just Start!

Break through the inertia and start! You’ll be much less stressed out just knowing that you are doing something instead of worrying and wondering what to do next.  It’s time to get excited about your next steps, make a plan, and move yourself forward. Start the New Year off with a bang and take action.

If you’d like someone to hold you accountable through this process, or aren't sure of how to start, just reach out to me or another career coach.

Get Excited About Your Future

Excited over Career Strategy

“I’m so excited about the future,” my friend said to me with such passion that I could feel the joy radiating from her. She was devising a career strategy to pivot down a new career path.

Are you excited about your future?

Or, do you feel trapped in your job and unsure of what to do?

You have more control than you think. Once you actively plan your career strategy, you’ll be amazed at how empowered and invigorated you feel. 


One of the first steps in making a career strategy is to identify your long-term and short-term goals. They can be as big or a modest as you like. They may range from changing careers, finding a job that will let you travel the globe, relocating to another city, gaining a promotion, working on different projects at your company, or becoming an expert in a particular subject. Once you envision your future and get clear on long-term goals, you can plan out short-term goals that will help you along the way.

Where Do You Want to Go?

A good starting point is to ask yourself the following questions:

  • When are you happiest at work?
  • How would you describe your perfect day?
  • When are you most unhappy at work?
  • If you are looking at your life a year into the future, what do you want to see?
  • What is holding you back right now from making any changes?

Yes, this type of introspection takes a great deal of work. Yet you owe it to yourself to do it.

Treat your future and happiness with the same kind of dedication that you show towards anything else that is important to you. If you’d like someone to hold you accountable through this process, just reach out to me or another career coach.

Take heart that you can do this. The key is to start!  Once you have a plan, just imagine how excited you will be about your future. 

Think Confident, Be Confident

Guest post by Jess Hopp

Many people in their career are pressured to believe they need to reach monetary milestones in order to achieve success. Perhaps it is making a certain amount of money each year, owning a specific car, or achieving a title at work. However, would you guess true confidence and positive self-esteem do not automatically come with the pay increase and title at work?

As Amy Cuddy points out in her book “Presence,” true confidence stems from real love and leads to long term commitment to growth. False confidence on the other hand, comes from desperate passion and leads to dysfunctional relationships, disappointment, and frustration. Having true confidence and positive self-esteem are both highly positive traits but not all individuals are truly confident.

confident woman

So, with that job promotion and the title bump, you might be radiating confidence for a hot second, but then reality sets in quickly. Your CONFIDENCE is showing. BUT is it true confidence?

Cuddy goes on to say that true belief in oneself, in ones ideas is grounding. It defuses threat.

True Confidence

How do we know if we have true confidence? Below is a list of core values a truly confident person would possess.

  1. Commitment to Growth
  2. Create Value for Others
  3. Be Present— Put Assumptions Aside
  4. Acknowledge Your Strengths and Weaknesses
  5. Accept Others and Welcome Feedback

I challenge you to take time today and jot down numbers 1-5 on a sheet of paper. After each number, write the core value and how you are working toward building your truly confident self. If it is blank, that is okay! Write down how you would approach a situation in the future with a true confidence mindset.

Jess Hopp is the founder of Career Love Collective, an organization with a single mission to empower all women to be their best self and reach their fullest potential offering customized professional development services. In the "Confident You" program, you receive a tailored  plan that works best for you. This excerpt was taken from an archived posting of #askjess. 

Networking & Informational Interviews: How to Reach Out to Someone

You  know how helpful it can be to grow your professional network. The majority of jobs out there are unpublished, and the people in your network may be the key to your learning about amazing opportunities. Another powerful benefit of networking is to reassure you that you're heading in the right direction.

Confirm Your Are on the Right Path

People talking and networking

You probably have some kind of goal in mind for your career (and if not, let me know and we'll work on your career strategy). But, what if your perfect vision of that future isn't realistic? What if your dream is more like a restless night's sleep? The best way to confirm that what you think your want is what you actually want is to talk to people who are already there. 

This step of doing information interviews is a powerful tool. It confirms your plans, grows your network of people in your field of interest, and you can give you invaluable advice and insights.

Despite the benefits, I'm often hearing from clients who are uncomfortable at the thought of reaching out to people they don't know. I totally get it! It's scary to go up to someone you don't know and ask for something. But, if you follow the principles of curiosity, connection and care you'll discover it doesn't need to be painful. 

How to Request an Informational Interview

Identify some people who are already in your dream job, have expertise that you want to build up, work at a company you are interested in, made a similar career transition to one you are planning, or who have already done something that you are aspiring to. Then, reach out to them and ask for 20 minutes of their time. Your goal is to have a brief phone call or in-person chat. 

How do you do this? What do you say to them in your introductory email? Here’s a sample email that shows the points to hit when you are contacting folks: 

Ms. Matthews,
You recently spoke to the University of Statesville alumni chapter about social media marketing and I truly enjoyed your perspective.

I’m a marketing manager at Company X, and have been working in the publishing industry for 3 years. My goal is to transition from marketing into social media management, and I’d love the chance to learn more about your career.

Could we schedule a 20-minute informational phone call where we'll chat about your background and current job? This short discussion would be invaluable to me as plan and pursue my career.    

Thank you for considering it,  
Beth Smith

You have nothing to lose. Sure, some people may not respond or may say no. But, others will say yes. I issue you this challenge. Think about what it is you are interested in. What is your dream job or even dream company? Then, think about what skills or expertise you need to have to get there.

Find at least eight people to contact who are in that field, at that company, or have the expertise you want to build. Reach out to them and see what happens. The more of these you do, the easier they will get and the stronger your connections will be.

Networking Successfully: Make Connections and Enjoy Yourself

A picture of a woman sitting at a table

Rather wait in a long line at the Department of Motor Vehicles than network? Does the thought of networking make you involuntarily groan? You aren’t alone!

I was just talking to a client who’s in the midst of a career transition and wanting to expand her network. Yet, she dreads the idea of connecting with people she doesn’t know. She also feels like networking is smarmy and manipulative. She asked, “How can an interaction with someone turn into a job offer without being exploitive?”

Even though networking is a career-booster, it’s hard to break through the fear. You can do it, though, and will likely find it invaluable. A recent study from LinkedIn reported that 70 percent of people in 2016 were hired at a company where they had a connection. This number will likely continue to go up in our increasingly interconnected world.

Networking = Meeting and Learning

It’s important to reframe your thoughts about networking. You don’t need to transform yourself into a used car salesman to make a deal and you aren’t in it to exploit anyone! Stop thinking of networking as trying to get a job. Your goal is to get to know people and build relationships. It goes both ways. While meeting and learning from others, you also are expanding their network and sharing your unique perspective with them. 

I've found the key to successful networking is to approach it with the 3 C's: Curiosity, Connection, and Care. 


When you are curious about the person you're talking to, networking stops being about you. You want to learn about whomever it is that you are speaking with. Asking genuine questions breaks down any feelings of networking “smarminess.” Most people enjoy talking about themselves and would be happy to share information about their career path. They can pass along lessons learned and give you invaluable advice. 


Finding commonalities between you and the other person will put you both at ease and can help form a relationship. You may find that you both went to the same school, have a similar background, have shared interests, or are in the same LinkedIn groups. When you reach out to people, it is extremely helpful if you can mention something you have in common. It is a great way to introduce yourself, and will help with the conversation. Also, it is very powerful to reach out to people by commenting and following up on article, video, presentation, blog, Instagram post, or something else they have created or shared. By doing this, you are showing an interest in their perspective and also demonstrating common ground. 


Just as you would be concerned for a friend's well-being, you should show the same concern for those in your network. Treat each person as you would a friend. Don't put them in a position to feel used or bad about the exchange. Be polite and thankful.

Putting these 3 C’s together can transform your networking experience.  In the future, I’ll write more about finding people to connect with, how to contact them, what to do during the chat, and how to follow-up. Anything else you want me to cover? Also, let me know how networking has worked (or not worked) for you. 

Neil deGrasse Tyson, Katy Perry and Cosmic Communication

Trying to figure out the best way to talk to your boss, pitch a proposal, give a presentation, or do anything else that involves you communicating at work? Get a free master class from the great communicators around us. Look around your office and notice those who always seem to get their way, say the right thing, and are well respected.
You can also find “communication masters” who you don’t know personally. They could be people you read or hear about. One example I was struck by recently is Neil deGrasse Tyson, famed astrophysicist and science communicator. You can see the “master” in action in a conversation he had with Katy Perry.
Read on for details and and a free download that will help you prepare to be a master of communication at work.

Tune into those Receptors

Neil deGrasse Tyson gets at the heart of what it means to effectively communicate your message in an interview with Quartz. He reminds us that the key to communicating with your audience is to understand them and frame your information in a way that will be meaningful to them. In an explanation that isn’t surprising for a scientist, he says that he shapes, “the content in a way that can best be received by the receptors of that audience.” This can’t just be a surface understanding. To really connect with the audience you need to understand what has shaped their worldview. He says:

​“… if you want to get all the way there, that means [understanding] what are the receptors in a 12-year-old versus a 20-year-old versus a 50- or 80-year old. If the person grew up in a city versus the suburbs or in the countryside, if they’re foreign, if they grew up wealthy, struggling—all of this will feed the demographics of your audience.”

We’ve all heard it before. Know your audience! But, how does that work in everyday conversations? How can you do this when you are talking with your boss, coworker, or clients?

Watch and Learn

Just watch Tyson’s conversation with Katy Perry in her weekend long, reality-showesque live stream to kick off her album Witness. Watch as Tyson connects with Perry and discusses science with her.

He masterfully takes the following steps…

Do Your Homework

Here is a man who has done his homework. He asks about the name of her past album Prism and talks about its scientific meaning. He relates her one-page bio to philosophy on the fly. He has listened to Perry’s songs and asks about the song E.T. to understand Perry’s interest in space and aliens. He also knows that she has tickets for a flight on Virgin Galactic and asks about her desire to go into space.

Speak the Same Language

You won’t get very far in a discussion if you don’t have a common language. But, this is more than just being sure you are both are speaking English (or Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, etc). It’s important to frame discussion points in a way that makes sense with your audience. Watch how Tyson answers Perry’s question about if life is a simulation by talking about video games. First, he makes sure that it has meaning to her. He actually asks her if she plays video games. After confirming it, he asks her for an example of a game. This helps her to be invested in the answer and also paints a relatable picture.

Provide a Judgement-Free Zone

Being judged is exhausting, and doing so will turn your audience from sweet to sour immediately. To really listen and deliver information effectively, you absolutely cannot judge. Responding with sarcasm, arrogance, or anything other than an open mind does not serve you or the other person well. Notice how Tyson just responds factually to Perry’s questions, like what is a solar eclipse. Of course, it helps when both people in the discussion have an open mind, and Perry is certainly approaching the conversation with curiosity and no judgement!

Think of Yourself as an Educator

You may not realize it, but every time you communicate with someone at work, you are telling a story and also passing along a message — mostly about your personal brand. Think of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s words about educators really needing to understand the worldview of the audience. As you tune into the perspective of the person or people you are talking to, you will develop your ability to sense their perspective. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with them. But, you need to be aware of it to help craft your message in a way that makes sense to them.
Examples of great communication are all around. Keep your eyes and ears open and take note when someone powerfully connects with an audience and gets a point across. If Neil deGrasse Tyson can use this approach for encouraging discussions about science with non-scientists, you can use it to make a compelling point to your boss.

What to Do While Your Boss is On Vacation

1Happy summer. I hope you all are enjoying the sunshine, popsicles, beach, pool, or whatever fun things that summer means to you. Top of the list, of course, is vacation! The summer months can become a game of “who’s in the office” and “can you cover for me while I’m out” requests to and from coworkers.

Most likely, one of the people who is going to take time away is your boss. He or she may be out of the office for a decent chunk of time…perhaps ten days or even more. This presents you with a great opportunity. No, I’m not advising a “when the cat’s away, the mice will play” mentality. Although, if your boss’ absence gives you any sort of breathing room, I strongly advise you make the most of it. This might mean taking stock of any outstanding projects, getting caught up on those lingering to do’s that have turned into to don’ts, cleaning up your email, creating systems to help you stay organized, or other wild and crazy things. I know, I know. I should really get out more.

Here’s a suggestion I have for you if your manager is on vacation for more than four days. Write up a summary with a high-level overview of key events or occurrences in that time period. This can take many different forms, all dependent on what makes sense for your boss and your office. It could be simply a bulleted email saying something like, “Welcome back. Here’s an update of some key things I thought you would want to know about.” Then, you can include what you think would be important to your boss. For example, your list might include, “We did not receive any comments on the Project x report” and “The regular update of the invoicing system went well.” Or, perhaps “We’ve made progress on gathering feedback about the pilot study and have received 35% of the surveys” or “I took a call from Mr. Brown who had concerns about the software. It escalated to a call with Pete and the problem was corrected.”

You can provide an update regardless of the type of industry you are in. Just think “What will my boss want to know?” How you present this to your boss is also a matter of preference and opinion. If you know she lives by email, then by all means send an email with clear subject line and list what you think she’ll want to know. Or, perhaps it is appropriate to save it for a meeting or even a ‘drop in’ to the office. It is extremely comforting for your manager to hear you say “I know you are still digging out, but here is a list of some highlights of what happened while you were out. I’ll leave this here for you to review when you’re able. Just holler if you have any questions.” If you are in a very formal, paper-centric place, you might even leave a print out in an inbox along with the pile of mail or whatever else your boss will be reviewing.

When you provide this overview for your boss, you are reinforcing that you can be trusted and also that you want to keep your boss in the loop. This is the type of action that really gets noticed. Make the most of your boss’ vacation time to show your work super powers. It’s all part of managing your manager. Happy summer!


Managing and Understanding Your Micromanager

Group of people at work

Do you have a micromanaging boss? We’ve all been there. It makes you feel like you have no control at work and that your boss has zero confidence in you. All is not lost! It is possible for you to manage your micromanager. First, you have to understand why he or she is acting this way. Here are the different types of micromanagers and some tips for handling them.

The Egocentric

Be aware of her need to feel important. Update her on your work, particularly about anything that is visible to higher ups. She wants to look good. Who doesn’t? Let’s say you have an idea but aren’t sure if she will support you on it. When you present it, you should explain how this idea will help establish your department as a leader in a certain area. Or, basically, how it will make her look good. You should demonstrate how doing this is forward thinking, innovative, financially sound, etc. Also, use phrases like “I wanted to see what you thought about this before I move ahead with it”, or — and this one  can be magic — “I want to get your take on this, but I defer to you.” You have to make sure she doesn’t feel that you are threatening her power. Eventually, you will build trust if she knows that you will run things by her first.

With the egocentric, you need to pick your battles. Don’t argue for the sake of arguing! Make a conscious decision about what you want to push back on and what you will let slide. If she suggests something that you don’t agree with, you can question it and strategically “fight back.” Explain how whatever it is that you disagree with will put your department (and more specifically, your boss) at a disadvantage.

The Perfectionist

This person has to have it done “just so” and genuinely believes that his way is the only way to do things. This was certainly the case with my “That’s not how I would have done it” boss. The perfectionist has a low tolerance for approaches that are different than what he had in mind. Someone that particular about how work is done will literally look over your shoulder and make corrections as you are doing the work. This reluctance for new approaches and fear of having things done in a less tried-and-true approach is debilitating.

The perfectionist needs reassurance that you will follow his directions. I know that you can feel extremely frustrated when your perfectionist boss has an expected outcome in his head, but doesn’t share that with you. He assumes that what he is thinking matches what you will do. Since you are not a mind reader (although, if you can do this, please contact me and share the details), it is important to ask your boss questions that clarify his expectations upfront. When he gives you a task, ask about his desired format and the level of detail he expects. It is particularly helpful to understand what he will do with whatever it is that you complete. Will the information be shared with his boss? Is it background information that he is using for a client meeting? Is he going to insert your draft into another report he is creating? Whatever it is, once you understand the importance of this deliverable to your boss you can determine the level of care and feeding it deserves.

If you think you won’t be able to deliver on a deadline, let your boss know immediately. Nothing ticks the perfectionist off more than someone who doesn’t follow directions or meet deadlines. Also, observe the hot buttons for your boss. I know someone at work who detests the word “leverage” and you’d better believe I avoid using that word in any correspondence.

The Micromanaged Micromanager

This boss has someone (or many people) micromanaging her! Since she is being criticized and scrutinized by her boss, clients, users, media, whomever, she is reacting by breathing down your neck. It’s a bad case of dominos and you are suffering because of it. She may be jittery, defensive or downright unpleasant. Of course, the problem is compounded if she is also a perfectionist or egocentric.

Your micromanaged manager needs to know that you support her and that you want to help her and your office address the critics.By turning your radar on, you should be able to get a glimpse of the scrutiny your boss is under. Your observations of your boss’ boss and the overall flow of information, and power, at work will be informative.

As with the Perfectionist, when she gives you an assignment, you want to be sure to understand why your boss needs it and what she will be doing with it. Ask questions like “Would it make things easier for you if I <insert whatever it is>?” For example, “Would it make things easier for you if I drafted the email for your review first?” or “Would it make things easier for you if I added a mockup to the proposal?”  She needs to know that you are on her side, and you will be amazed how the dynamic can change once you figure out who she is trying to please and why. Nothing units people like a common enemy. You must position yourself as someone who helps her succeed instead of another critical person who is waiting for her to fail.

Of course, none of us fit into a box. But, the important thing to realize is that most micromanagers are acting that way out of fear and insecurity. Once you understand your boss’ motivations and pressure, you can respond in a way to build trust, relieve them of some of their fear and soon get some control over the micromanaging. Head it off at the pass!

Oops!: When You Insult Your Coworker

When you insult your coworkerYou know how it can feel OK for you to complain about your brother or sister or cousin or friend or whomever, but you get upset and protective if you hear anyone else do it. I’m not saying this is a good thing, but it is certainly a thing! There is an unspoken feeling of having earned the right to be critical by how close you are to the person or situation you are complaining about.

The same is true at work. Beware of falling into a trap where you try to join in a gripe-fest, but manage to upset the people griping.

One of my previous jobs required me to track and document publications and other items gathered from hundreds of different places. It was an attempt at a “library of best practices” from different sources. I was astonished at the low-tech approach for tracking and managing these items. One of my coworkers kept referring to a database they used to track the items. However, when she showed me the database I was stunned since it was actually an Excel spreadsheet. While I could do many cool things with the spreadsheet – I couldn’t quickly do the more advanced things that I would expect to do with a database.

I was new in the position, and trying to get a handle on how I would move forward with this project. My coworker, who was handing off this task to me, kept complaining about what a mess it was. She rattled off a list of complaints and I quickly absorbed her frustration. How could I improve the situation?

Without thinking it through, I joined in the complaining. Then I said the fatal words…”It’s not even a database! It’s a spreadsheet.” Her whole tone changed, and she went off on how the spreadsheet IS a database and how much it helps. Turns out she is the one who created the spreadsheet in the first place. Oops! You’d have thought I insulted her child. In a sense, I did.

It took me a long time to recover from that misstep. She didn’t trust me and felt that I was judging her work.

Beware of criticizing work tools or projects, particularly when you don’t know the whole history. You can suggest ways to improve them or ask about different approaches, but do this carefully and positively! There is a difference between saying “This spreadsheet stinks.” and “It would be awesome if we could do advanced searching and reporting. Can I investigate ways that we could do that?”