Category: Soft Skills

Sometimes, you just have to get creative. You might not want to - everyone has those days when they really just want to follow the rules, keep their head down and not make waves - but creativity will not only help you find solutions to problematic issues at work; it will also help you stand out at work as a problem solver and innovator. However, the creative juices do not always flow on demand. If you are having trouble solving office problems creatively (or at all, for that matter), try these simple tricks to stimulate your flexible thinking:

1.    Put yourself in someone else's shoes
Sometimes a problem seems utterly intractable because you simply cannot understand why it is there. This is particularly the case with office interpersonal issues. If you cannot understand the problem, you definitely will have trouble solving it! Try to see the issue - honestly - from someone else's perspective. Sometimes just seeing where the problem started (even if you think the whole thing is ridiculous) can help you see your way to a solution.

2.    What if you could do anything?
If you cannot see your way to realistically resolving an issue, take a break from reality! That's right: pretend you can do absolutely anything. How would you solve the problem? (Note: avoid resolutions like "kick her in the knee" since that would not actually resolve the issue). Thinking about a problem without your self-imposed confines will often open up avenues that you did not previously investigate.

3.    Identify what you really want
Sometimes a problem exists because you are not clear about the outcome that you want. Be selfish: decide what you think will solve the problem and then determine if a change in your condition alone is enough to resolve the issue. Sometimes just changing your perspective can resolve the issue.

By implementing this advice, you will be able to see your office issues in new and creative lights that will likely result in your problem soon being solved.

Category: Career

When it comes to office politics, most of us would rather steer clear. After all, who wants to spend their days wondering what people think, trying to manipulate people into doing things and conniving in general, right? Of course, not all office politics are all bad. Sometimes being involved in the office political scene is crucial to advancing your career. One way or another, office politics will affect you. So you need to be sure you never break the cardinal rule of office politics because it can land you in serious trouble.

Most people think that the driving force behind office politics is gossip. And in some offices, it may feel like it is. However, the real politics are not what people are saying about each other, but rather what those things lead to. For example, if everyone thinks that "Jim" is a lazy slacker who cannot be trusted, then he may be less likely to get a promotion if he is going up against "John," who everyone knows never misses a deadline. This may be the case even if it is gossip and reputation that have forged these personas for the two men, and in reality John is a slacker and Jim is always on time. In order to combat a negative situation like this one, you may have to suck it up and get involved.

When you dive into the fray, you may be tempted to air all of those opinions that you have been judiciously holding back since you resolved to stay out of the office political game. However, that is the one thing you must not do. Being involved in office politics is as much about what you do not say as it is about what you do say. This means that you need to appear confident and positive at all times. This helps you exude an air of productivity and will make people want to be around you and work with you. That will be immeasurably helpful to you as you seek to advance professionally.

Indeed, watching what you say - and keeping it positive - will pay off in many ways. Do not say bad things about people however tempting it may become. Not because it's unpleasant (though it is) but because it's a bad idea. You start talking about one person, and suddenly your audience knows that you might talk about them too. So "keep your nose clean," as it were and do not indulge in office gossip and badmouthing. Your professional career will thank you!

Let's face it: sometimes all you really want at work is your own way. Now, I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can be better at my job - we all do. However, sometimes it just comes down to that basic human desire to exert some control over our environment. For example, the other day I was so frustrated! I had brought a delicious ham salad sandwich to work made with the last of the weekend's picnic ham. I would like to point out it was clearly labeled and dated when I put it in the fridge. However, when I went to get my yummy lunch, I discovered that it - along with most of the rest of the contents of the fridge - were gone. Some well-meaning, fridge-cleaning jerk had pitched my sandwich! Needless to say I was hungry and really steamed. I don't mind if people clean the fridge, but we need a schedule. Is it really that hard? Well, I put my anger to work and drew up a calendar for fridge-cleaning in the future. I placed it on the fridge so that people could sign up on the highlighted days to clean the fridge and added a note saying that these were the only days on which the fridge should be cleaned. (Of course, I got my boss' approval first). Now we have a policy for cleaning and I am less likely to lose my next sandwich.

So do you think I'm just bragging or whining? Well, I'm not. I'm describing one of the best ways to get your way at work: take control. Most people in an office are not particularly interested in taking initiative. They will follow stated instructions. So if you want to get your way, become the source of those instructions. Be nice about it. Do not storm into offices yelling out directions and criticisms. If you can, you may not even want to notify anyone that the instructions they are getting are from you (my fridge post, for example, was unsigned and most people think that my boss implemented the rule). Be subtle and tread lightly for the best results.

Of course, you will not always be able to get your way with a simple, printed note or a post-it. Sometimes, you will need a bit more diplomacy. One way to make sure that this is effective is to moderate your responses. For example, do not blow up at every little thing. Save your irritation for the big things. Then, when you actually get angry, you will get a response other than eye-rolling. Just knowing you have the ability to make changes at the office can go a long way toward improving your work mindset. You will find that when you know change is within your power, you are willing to use that power judiciously and wisely.


Category: Etiquette

Lots of offices have "unspoken etiquette" rules that you will need to identify as quickly as possible in order to slip smoothly and effectively into a routine in a new job. Sometimes the rules may not be crystal clear and you may have to look hard in order to avoid offending someone with whom you work or creating an unintended conflict. Being able to identify "unspoken etiquette" is as much about being courteous and asking the right questions as reading the office rule book, so be prepared to be polite and be corrected along the way.

One of the biggest issues in office etiquette that may go unaddressed is, surprisingly, the dress code. Most offices do have some formal dress code, but generally you should err on the side of conservatism, particularly at first, rather than walking the fine line between appropriate and inappropriate. Add a few inches on skirts past the bare minimum and keep decolletage largely covered, particularly if you are well endowed, until you have seen how other people with similar body types to yours dress in the office and observed office mates' reactions and behaviors around them.

Next, be aware of simple things, like allergies. Most offices have no problem with air fresheners or even candles, though the majority do prohibit incense. However, if the guy in the office next door has asthma or allergies, it might be considerate to find out how those items will impact his ability to breath. And frankly, strong scents make many people nauseous. Even if no one is actually allergic, you might want to think twice before putting in something the aroma of which will not be entirely contained in your office.Finally (and this is the big one) fish and popcorn. You're probably thinking, "What?!" but these are huge office "no-no's." They both stink up the entire workplace with a pervasive and not universally pleasant smell that can take days to dissipate. So leave these two food items at home, or prepare them ahead of time, so that you do not stink up the kitchen for everyone. (Cabbage, while far less popular, is also pretty smelly when microwaved and should be avoided). Keeping your eye out and your ears alert can help you stay on top of things at your office and keep all your co-workers happy.

Category: Soft Skills

As a gatekeeper, your role is just what it sounds like: you have to "guard" your office, your supervisor and the rest of the members of your staff. While it may sometimes be useful to hear sales pitches and other presentations from companies and individuals who want to sell your company products or services, many businesses make a habit of "cold calling" potential clients. While sometimes this results in a sale, it also can completely demolish a carefully planned schedule and keep your employer from getting things done that really must be done. As a gatekeeper, you must sometimes keep those salespeople at bay - literally - by identifying them before they move past you and start their pitch to your boss.

For starters, be aware that not all salespeople are "evil." They are just doing their jobs like anyone else. However, some salespeople will try to trick their way into an audience. For example, they may ask for your employer by his or her first name, as if they are personal acquaintances. It may be tempting to simply forward on someone who appears to be on a first-name basis, but this is a common trick. Make sure you identify the person calling and clear them before sending them on.

Next, be kind but firm. If your boss does not take sales calls, period, then do not tell a salesperson that he or she could call them back. Simply state firmly that your company does not handle sales in this manner. Be polite but do not bend. If you sound like you might change your mind, then you convey the message that another call a different time might yield different results. If your boss or someone else in the company does handle sales, but in a scheduled fashion, then it is perfectly fine to firmly set a time for the salesperson to call back and speak to someone.

Being a gatekeeper is not always easy. Sometimes you will feel like the "bad guy" because people trying to get past you may feel frustrated and take that out on you. However, you can rest assured that you are doing the best that you can do for your boss and your company if you are sticking to company policy and keeping the gates up when necessary.

Category: Miscellaneous

Most of us like to restrict our work to a single area of our houses, offices or our lives - specifically to our desks in most cases. However, as the world becomes more mobile and we have more and more options about how and where we work, the idea of working only at a desk is fast becoming outdated. You need to be able to work away from your desk in order to get the most out of your workday and to give yourself better flexibility in your working life.

At first, it may take some practice. I know that I grew up in a household where homework was done at a desk rather than on the floor, at the kitchen table or even outside. You did your work at your desk, then you left that area in order to enjoy the other areas with the family. It was a way to keep work and work materials contained. While this sounds good in theory, this kind of background made it nearly impossible for me to work anywhere other than in a quiet environment with a desk or table for many years. I could not work on planes, and even had trouble in libraries. I needed isolation and utter silence. If you have similar workspace habits, be patient with yourself. Start out working in slightly uncomfortable places like a coffee shop before you attempt working in the food court at the mall, for example.

Additionally, keep the work that you are doing in mind when you work away from your desk. Remember that not all internet connections are secure. There may be some things that you simply should not "take away" from the office even if you would rather be working elsewhere. Being aware of your environment - but also able to tune it out - will help you determine what types of work you can do away from your desk and also what types of work are appropriate for out-of-office focus. You will love the flexibility that being able to work away from your desk gives you, so definitely give it a shot!


I have a friend (we'll call her "Sheila") who recently lost her job. And as much as I love Sheila, I have to say that it was 100 percent her own fault. Now, you may be thinking to yourself "Wow, she probably slacked off at work or called in sick all the time. I don't have to read the rest of this article because I never do that." However, Sheila was the perfect employee. She was always early; she gave 110 percent, and she hardly ever called out sick. So what did she do? She took a stupid picture. And furthermore, she wasn't even the one who took the picture, she just happened to be in the picture in an compromising situation.

So now you are probably totally confused, but I bet you are starting to get an inkling of what happened. That's right: it has something to do with Facebook. She went to a party and she took a really dumb picture which her friend happened to caption "Sheila's boss is a horse's a**." Bad move. Sheila didn't post the picture; her friend did. And then she tagged Sheila. And the photo was not private. Not surprisingly, a few days later it circulated in the office and Sheila lost her job.

So here's the thing: it's not entirely fair. Sheila can have whatever opinion she wants about her boss, and she wasn't partying when she was supposed to be working. And worse, she didn't post the picture! But ultimately, it led to a problem that resulted in the loss of her job. This is a worst-case example of what can happen when social networking goes too far, so make sure that your friends understand what types of things are okay with you to post online and what things should remain "undercover" or, at a minimum, marked "PRIVATE, KEEP OUT!" Otherwise you could end up in the same lousy situation that my friend Sheila did and be out of a job.

One of the hardest things I ever had to do was work for one supervisor while also managing the entry hall in an administrative building. When I was hired, I was assigned to handle one supervisor's schedule. However, since that supervisor's office was directly off the building's atrium, his administrative assistant had always managed the desk in the front hallway, serving as the first point of contact not just for people coming into the building, but also for people calling the department. When I took the job, I was pleased by the arrangement because I felt like I was right in the middle of things. However, it turned out that right in the middle meant that everyone in the entire building thought I might be working for them.

Next thing I knew, I was making copies for the lady upstairs; two other administrative assistants were forwarding their phones to me for nearly three-hour lunches and other "errands," and I had access to every calendar in the place "just to make scheduling easier." And it was not to make scheduling my boss' meetings with their supervisors easier, it was to help make sure I could access calendars and set meetings without even having to bother those other assistants. At first, I thought that I was working as a team. I was actually happy to have all of this stuff to do. However, the first time I got a real project with a real deadline from my own boss, I realized how much trouble I was in. I barely had time to read the background information on it between answering phones and putting out fires that should not have been mine in the first place! I knew I was going to miss that deadline if something did not change fast.

Fortunately, my boss was really understanding when I talked to him about it and sorted everything out without creating any serious turmoil - though the other administrative assistants were not happy about cutting their lunches back down to size. If you find yourself in a similar situation, before you agree to take on any additional responsibilities, talk to your direct supervisor and make sure that he or she approves the changes and that you have a very clear, written description of what will be required of you and, ultimately, who will make the decision about expanding or contracting those responsibilities. It is not unreasonable when you are first starting out in a job to ask, flat out, who you should report to. It is a responsible thing for you to do to insure that you understand the chain of command and to also guarantee that you are able to keep the number of people telling you what to do at a manageable level. 

When you read the title of this blog, you probably thought to yourself, "I should not have to help her appreciate me! I don't even think that office would run without me! And you're probably right; it probably wouldn't. However, appreciation and necessity are seldom the same thing, and you can be entirely integral to office operations without necessarily being appreciated.

Another common response to the idea that you should be helping your employer appreciate you is that if you have to point out what you should be appreciated for, then you don't want the appreciation. While this is a natural and often instinctive response, think carefully. Do you really not care if you are appreciated for your hard work? Would it really not make any difference in your mindset or your enthusiasm if you got the occasional "thanks, great job!" from your employer? If it would not, then by all means, stop reading right now. Most people, however, will find that they benefit from a greater degree of appreciation regardless of its origination.

When you are trying to "help" your boss appreciate you, the best thing to do is make sure that they are aware of the things that you are doing. For example, it may not really have occurred to your employer that it is you who are responsible for keeping their calendar organized, keeping the coffee pot full or coordinating their 8,000 meetings. While you should not start nagging or reminding them directly about how hard you are working, it can be a very useful tool to start recording your efforts. This serves two purposes: the record is practically useful when it comes to annual evaluations, but it also helps make your contributions clearer. I worked for an employer once who saw my lists that I was keeping and actually asked that he receive an email containing such a summary at the beginning of each day. It helped him know what was going on in his own schedule and, at the same time, let him know where my attention was focused!

While appreciation may not rain down on you like a storm the second you start subtly taking measures to increase your employer's awareness of your hard work, you will soon find that your efforts will pay off. Remember to be patient and that ultimately, your own appreciation and pride in a job well done is its own reward!


Category: Miscellaneous

One of the most common complaints that I hear from my administrative colleagues is that they are not taken seriously at work. For me, this is difficult to understand. After all, administrative workers are the lifeblood of any business. Without us, nothing gets done. So how could our employers, who hired us to manage their daily working lives, not take us seriously?

Well, I spent a little time looking into this, and I'll admit, I was a bit surprised by some of the things that I learned. Below, I've listed three reasons that administrative assistants and other administrative personnel are not taken seriously, and what you can do about it if you are experiencing this frustrating work situation.

Dress the part
Many times people in administrative positions forget that in many ways, they are the "face" of their company because they are the first person that people see when they walk in the door. Dress professionally at all times, and people will treat you like a professional.

Act the part
Whether you are answering the phone or talking to your best friend in the office, be sure that your behavior is always professional. Never use slang in the workplace, get "rowdy" or allow your emotions to influence your behavior. Acting serious about your job will lead to your being taken seriously.

Steer clear of "drama"
Workplace drama can make the day fly by. It can also send your professional reputation flying out the window. As an administrator, you have access to lots of information about everyone. Do not allow yourself to fall into the trap of taking advantage of this information. Be discreet. The more trustworthy you are, the more serious jobs and information will come your way.

By making these simple changes, you can change everyone's perceptions and start to be taken seriously in your job.

Category: Soft Skills

As an assistant of any level, you will be exposed to a large portion of your employer's colleagues, friends and business associates. You and the administrators affiliated with these people will also be working closely together. Add to this the fact that you are probably one of the first points of contact when people within your own office need information and help, then you can clearly see that your behavior is going to be constantly on parade and your abilities on display.

This can stress some administrators out. As a result, they may be unnecessarily curt, do their best to stay holed up in their office or even let the stress impact their professional demeanor and occasionally "flake" or lose their tempers. This is a problem for them professionally, but it is also a problem for the administrative community at large, since high-level administrative assistants are, like it or not, role models for pretty much everyone else in the office.

You may think that this is really not that big of a deal. However, the behavior of an administrator or administrative assistant directly impacts the tenor and personality of the entire office. If you are calm, in control and always helpful, then you will soon see that others in the office mimic your behavior. By expecting the best of yourself, others will soon start to expect the best from themselves as well. In addition, your remaining cool and collected prevents others from giving themselves a "pass" when things go wrong and allowing themselves to lose their tempers or behave unprofessionally.

Particularly if you have been with an employer for a long time, you must never let your temper take over. Not only will other administrators follow your suit, but your employer will soon come to associate your behavior with the rest of the office's professional actions. A good administrative assistant can influence an entire office positively, so make sure that you are always the source of positive energy and actions. Your employer will thank you with loyalty and professional rewards as well, while your job will get progressively easier because everyone around you is happy to work with you.

The first time I went to work for a CEO as an administrative assistant, I was definitely nervous. However, all my friends and colleagues spent a lot of time reassuring me that "CEOs are just like everyone else" and that "they put their pants on one leg at a time just like you." By the time I was done psyching myself up for the position, I had just about managed to convince myself that since I put my shoes on first right and then left, breathed oxygen just like everyone else and could type that I would be just fine. And, ultimately, I was, but if I'd have a better idea of what things actually matter when you are working with the truly "higher-ups" in a business, I would have had a much easier time of it.

Here are some things I wish I'd done ahead of time before starting to work for "my" CEO:

Boned up on my legal vocabulary
While not all assistants are hired specifically to help with legal issues, they come up a lot. Furthermore, most CEOs do not have time to explain anything. So if you are going to take notes, make appointments or resolve office-based conflicts of just about any type, you are going to run into legal jargon and you need to know what on earth your employer is talking about.

Figured out the common company acronyms

Again, this is a lot like the legal vocabulary issue. It may not be your job, but you need to know what your employer is talking about and most CEOS get annoyed when you ask. If you are coming into a new company, then make sure you are familiar with their "tech speak" before you get started.

Dressed up
I moved up through a company to work for a CEO. The dress code was casual, and I wore jeans or khakis and a nice blouse almost every day. I showed up for work for the CEO and realized immediately that I was not up to par even though I'd been dressed acceptably for my previous position. When it comes to work, overdress to start, then ease off if you realize that you have overdone it. If you are working as an assistant then most CEOs view you as a representative of themselves and will not appreciate anything that looks unprofessional.

Known how important confidentiality would be
While I didn't blow any corporate secrets, I did not realize how important it was not to tell anyone anything about what I was scheduling, taking notes on or talking about with my boss. Fortunately, the first person to hear me mention something about work was a friend of mine who works for the boss of a large company, and she emphasized immediately to me that I should never repeat anything about work when you work for the guy (or girl) at the top.

While it is true that CEOs are people just like everyone else, you do have to work for them in slightly different ways than you would work for anyone else. Keeping the lessons I learned in mind may help you better work with and for your personal CEO.

As an assistant, one of your jobs is likely to be screening calls for your manager. This will entail not only determining who gets through, but also courteously deflecting callers who will not be speaking to your manager at the time of their call. You will need to be able to take clear messages that enable your employer to understand exactly what the caller wanted later when you give them the information.

1.    Make a list of "Every Time" Callers
There are some people that will always need to be let through. You need a firm list from your manager that gives you the full names and titles of people who should always be put through. Generally these people will be family members and school officials if there are school-age children in the family.

2.    Establish a firm line for callers who will be screened
You need a clear, polite, firm way to tell people who will not be getting through that they need to leave a message. One of the best options is to tell them that your manager is in a meeting or out on a job, but that they will return the call later. Then you can simply take the message.

3.    Set a time for when callers can expect a return call

Work with your manager to determine what type of timeline you can give callers who are screened. For example, will they receive a call back within the business day? 24 hours? A week? Many callers will become belligerent if you cannot give them an idea of when they will receive a call back, and you will get more return and repeat calls if you cannot tell them roughly when to expect a call back.

Screening calls is not difficult, but you do have to be firm with callers. Having an established set of rules for yourself will help you do your job effectively.   Does anyone have other suggestions to add?

Category: Miscellaneous

Going to work is probably a pretty routine event for you. You roll out of bed, grab a shower, chug some coffee and stumble out to the car or down the street to the bus or train. When you arrive at work you likely sling your briefcase or laptop bag onto your desk, turn on your office machine and log in, then head to the kitchenette for another cup of coffee before settling in on your work for the day.

But what would happen if disaster struck?

Disaster can take many different forms. In this day and age, we usually think of disaster in terms of a terrorist attack or other destructive and even cataclysmic event. In these scenarios, common means of communication would likely be cut off, and you would probably be unable to reach loved ones via IM, cell phone or even a landline or text.

It is important to think ahead of time about what your work environment and responses would be like if disaster struck and develop a plan with family and with co-workers that will help insure that you stay as safe and organized as possible in the event of a disaster, natural or otherwise. Review this checklist and make sure that you have an answer for each issue so that you can deal with disaster in the workplace as safely and effectively as possible. 

Where will you go?
In the event of a disaster, you and your family should have a safe place determined ahead of time where you can meet. You may want to establish several safe places: one might be a local church, while another might be farther away in case the surrounding area is not safe to stay in. Once you have picked your safe places, then you should determine several different routes that you can take to get there from your workplace.

Additionally, if you work in a hurricane area that has the potential to be evacuated, you should be familiar with evacuation routes and have selected an additional meeting point for your family that is outside of the danger zone. For example, if you run the risk of being evacuated far inland, you might pick a town or a relative's house that lives outside of the danger zone.

How will you get there?
Of course, you probably will hope to get to your disaster destination by car. However, you should also know your walking and biking options in case roads are blocked or they are too packed with traffic to make traveling via road or railway an option.

What are your workplace responsibilities?
In many workplaces, there is a disaster plan in place, but no one is particularly familiar with the plan. Find out what you need to do. Are you responsible for helping any handicapped colleagues out of the building? Do you need to alert another co-worker to the event before exiting the building? Who should you check in with to let them know that you are safe, and how will emergency workers know that you are trapped inside if you are unable to leave the building? Generally there is a chain of communication for this process, but it cannot work if the links in the chain are not aware of the order of actions that they need to take.

What will you do if you are trapped?
Think ahead to what might happen if you are trapped in the building. Do you have a supply of food or access to drinking water? Many employers keep some rations around in case of emergency. You should know where they are located. How will you make your presence known? Are there first aid kits or defibrillators accessible in your office area? Do you know how to use them?

Of course, we all want to hope for the best. It is not reasonable or healthy to spend all of your time worrying about disasters. However, it is your responsibility to be aware of your options for dealing with disasters in the workplace, should they strike. Your knowledge and foresight could not only keep you safe, but it could also help others who have not planned ahead.

Once you have established an emergency plan, review and update it once every few months to make sure that it is still a viable plan and that locations, travel and transport options and emergency action plans are still implementable. Staying on top of potential disaster will, hopefully, never pay off for you. However, in the event that there is a disaster in your workplace, you and your colleagues will greatly benefit from your dedication and preparation.