All Posts by communicate

Avoid Unexpected Reactions at Work: Watch for Red Flags

We’ve all been there. You are blindsided by an explosively negative reaction to a random comment you made, a business decision, or what you thought was a harmless email. It’s communication gone wrong. Why does this happen? And, most importantly is there a way to avoid it?

Sleuthing Out Clues

What if you could anticipate hot-button issues and avoid unknowingly ticking someone off, losing the deal, losing credibility, or losing respect?  You can monitor for and pick up clues about the interests, values, and motivations of different people at work. 

Here’s an example of when this happened to me. We decided to remove a certain type of information from a project I was working on. Our reasons were solid.  My immediate supervisors and the key people being impacted reviewed and supported the decision. It was a no-brainer. But, after we made our announcement, we learned that a senior leader at the company was upset about the decision. This negative reaction shocked us and sent us scrambling for additional justifications and to brainstorm possible replacements. We had no idea he would care about this. Also, there was no reason to think we needed to run this choice by him. I should have known though. How?

Thinking back, months earlier he had sent me an “FYI” article focusing on this particular type of information. Since he emails me rarely, this must have been something very important to him. His email was a red flag waving in my face. If I had remembered that, coupled with some other references he made in previous years, I could have saved us a lot of trouble. We would have made the same decision. But, we'd have planned to communicate the decision with senior leadership and proactively addressed concerns.

Red Flag File

To prevent unexpected communication blowups, you can create a “Red Flag File”  

Turn your observation meter up a bit and start documenting the clues that are being thrown at you each day. Create a file. It could be in a notebook, a spreadsheet, on your phone, whatever. All that matters is that you have a dedicated (and private) space in which you can easily make interesting observations about certain people as you observe them. In my example above, I would have noted that this senior leader cared about this particular type of content.

Jot down things as you notice them. They can be anything you find unusual, interesting, or noteworthy. For example, maybe your boss rolls her eyes at the words "leverage" and "strategize." It's best to avoid those words with her. Maybe you noticed that another person referenced the importance of some new technology on your industry. Even if talking about that technology puts you to sleep, it's a good idea to make note of it and consider how that information might impact future interactions (and projects) with that person. 

Then, review your file on a regular basis. Just schedule a 10 minute meeting with yourself once a month or on whatever regular schedule you would find to be helpful. Your handy-dandy Red Flag File is your reminder. It’s your secret weapon to remembering what is on each person’s list so you can sidestep problems and anticipate questions. 

Signs You May be Fired

Getting fired or laid off feels like a slap to the face. If it hasn’t happened to you, you probably know someone who has been through it.

It usually feels like it happens without any notice. Is there anyway to anticipate it and prepare?

Here are some signs that you may be at risk of losing your job:


Your manager may ask you for a detailed list of everything you do. Certainly, they may want to assess the workload of everyone in the office, plan for a reorganization, figure out what to outsource, or get a better sense of how to improve efficiency for the whole department. But, it is possible that they are planning for how to cover your work after you are fired. Also, the company may be trying to decide how essential your job is and and what can be cut in your absence.

If the reason behind the request isn't clear, or if they're not asking this of your coworkers, you should be on guard.


On the same note, you may be asked to document the steps you take when doing certain processes. This alone isn't a bad thing. I'm a huge advocate of documenting procedures and also how you, as the employee, can look proactive and prepared by documenting your core duties. There are many reasons why it is smart to have this in place anyway. It helps If you are unexpectedly out sick, assists when training, and is crucial for knowledge management so that best practices are not living solely in someone’s head. But, it can also be a sign that the company wants to ensure ongoing operations once you are asked to leave. You should be on alert if you are the only one asked to do this or if there is unexplained urgency for the request. 

Unusual Behavior

Are your managers, human resources staff, or the IT department acting unusual? When I was laid off, I felt totally blindsided. But thinking back to that day there were some signs that it was about to happen. I noticed one manager going through a pile of business cards and spreading them out on his desk. This was weird behavior for him. Based on what he said to me after the whole department was laid off, it was clear he was putting together contacts to help us network and find new jobs. (That never materialized, but that's another story.)

Also, before we were summoned into the meeting where they delivered the glum news, the head of the IT department kept hovering around our office. I should have realized that something was up by the smirk on his face as he scanned the room while avoiding eye contact. He was hovering to know when to shut our computers off before being escorted out.

Being Excluded

Are you not invited to meetings which you've previously attended ? Maybe someone else is assigned a new project that you would have expected to come to you. Or, when you ask about upcoming work, you are told "Don't worry about it." If you feel like you are being given the cold shoulder, and they haven't explained any shift in your duties or expectations, then you should be wary. 

Warnings and Paper Trails

The most obvious sign that your job is in jeopardy is that you've been told. This may be subtle or very direct, but usually involves being put on a performance improvement plan or warned that there will be consequences if your performance or behavior doesn't change. If this happens, it's in your best interest to keep checking in with your manager about your progress and gauge how well they think you've turned it around. 

Usually a warning like this will be accompanied by formal documentation. If your manager feels you are not complying to the request, that will be put in writing as well. For example, let's say that you have been warned not miss anymore deadlines. If you do miss another deadline, your boss might send you an email saying, "The report was due yesterday at 5pm. However, you did not turn it in until 11am today." This will be added to the information your boss is putting together to justify action taken against you. 

I’m not sharing these points to make you paranoid about your work situation. But, I’m encouraging you to keep your eyes open and pick up on signs that something may be up. 

The reality is that no job is guaranteed and you should have a contingency plan ready to go. Contact me if you’re interested in bulletproofing your job or career. 

Addressing Your Cover Letter

You’ve written a great cover letter and then get stuck on how to address it. Sound familiar? 

Conventional advice is to search for the actual name of the person who will be reviewing or receiving your letter. I disagree with this and think taking that effort is a waste of time and adds extra stress to an already nerve-wracking process. My advice is very simple and will let you spend your time on perfecting your resume and the content of your cover letter.

If the name of specific person is given in a job listing, obviously that is the name you should use. But, if no name is given you should address your note to the hiring manager. Yes, that means saying “Dear Hiring Manager” in the letter’s salutation. This is preferable to the stilted “To Whom it May Concern” or “Dear Sir or Madam.” 

There. You just saved hours of searching and worry about how to address your cover letter. You're welcome. 

Let me know if you’re interested in other information about what to put in cover letters, how to address an unsolicited job application, or effective approaches for cover letters. Just reach out if I can help you update your resume and target a resume or cover letter to a specific job. 

The Myth of The Dream Job

“We only have one soulmate in this world,” she said while looking sadly at me and thinking of her recent breakup. She truly believed that there is just one person she was destined to be with. What if the person who just broke her heart was “the one?” She might as well give up on any hope of finding love and happiness. This type of thinking can tear you apart.

The same is true when you think of work.

Do you think there is only one “perfect job” where you will be handed copious amounts of money for doing what you love? I’m sorry to shatter the dream, but this isn’t true. If you are unhappy in your current job and/or looking for a new job, It’s important that you be realistic as you consider your options. Yes, you deserve to be happy at work! But, there is not one perfect job where you enjoy 100% of everything you do.

Getting Realigned

Your goal is to find the job that best aligns with your values and what is most important to you. Also, when debating your next career step, you should consider how taking a job will help you get closer to reaching your goals. In other words, does moving to a new job get you closer to where you eventually want to be?

It’s also important to be realistic. Of course you shouldn’t stop dreaming or give up on your strategy for landing an amazing job. But, if you want to be a surgeon, you can’t just will it to happen. You need to start by going to medical school and then work on it from there. Know what foundation you need to lay down and build from there.

A job hunt is stressful enough without dismissing opportunities as not being perfect. You want to get as close to perfect as you can, but don’t dismiss opportunities that will help you get there. Wondering how to reframe your concept of a “perfect job” without settling? I’m here to help. 

Fear of Failure: Take the Shot!

basketball hoop

While at my son’s basketball practice, I overheard a conversation between the coach and one of the players. The coach asked the boy why he didn’t take a shot even though he was wide open. The boy shrugged and looked away. He’s not one of the hot shots on the team and clearly was worried about landing the ball in the basket.

The coach put an arm on his shoulder, looked him directly in the eyes, and said, “When you are wide open like that, you need to take the shot. I won’t get mad at you if you miss. You just need to try.”

I was blown away by how these words sum up the fear-based decisions we all make. How often do you avoiding taking the shot, even though you are standing on the court unchallenged? 

Get Out of Your Head

Fear of failure can be paralyzing. Failure is different for each of us and different in each situation. Perhaps it means you’ll feel stupid, be ridiculed, embarrassed, or ashamed?

We can apply much more dramatic consequences to something not working out. The fear of failure builds upon itself itself and intensifies to dramatic heights. You don’t just miss the shot, but you are humiliated as the worst player of all time and you get kicked off the team. You don’t just miss out on the job you applied for, but you're doomed to an eternity in a miserable job and will be shunned by those who work at your dream company. Hoping to protect ourselves, we give into the fear and rationalize our inaction.

I’m here to remind you to take the shot. Acknowledge your negative fear-filled thoughts, but then dig deep so you can follow through. Stop the horror movie you are playing in your mind with the worst possible outcome, and consider the true risk. Most likely the fears are much more dire than anything that will happen. And, quite honestly, no one will really care about it except you. Days later, people won’t be saying “Did you see that person who tried to make the shot on the basketball court and failed?” Nope! Everyone is worried about their own fears and won’t spend much time on yours.

Stop Making Fear-Based Decisions

Give yourself permission to try and to break through your fears. Turn off the negative thoughts in your head and congratulate yourself on giving yourself a chance. 

How is fear holding you back? Are you not making a phone call, applying for a better job, asking for a promotion, or even extending a friendly greeting to someone you want to meet? On your daily ‘to-do” list, write down “Stop making fear-based decisions.” Catch yourself when you do.

Take the shot.

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.