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Fix It or Forget It?

May 21st, 2010

Over the years spent designing resumes and coaching people who are interviewing, I’ve heard a variety of stories about the workplace – usually this or that situation(s) which has led someone to begin looking for a new position.  Often, it’s not the job or work itself that leads someone to leave, but the environment, people, lack of mobility, etc.

Once they come to me, the question often becomes “Should I start looking – or just forget about (it)?”

On Fridays, I’m going to give examples of Fix It or Forget It in the workplace, and I invite you to send me examples that you’ve either encountered, or know about from someone else.  I’ll be sure to remove or alter any identifying characteristics in the story, including names.

Here are two examples to begin with:

Brenda* told me that a (male) co-worker of hers was continually making unflattering comments about her physique:  “Looks like you’re not working out as much, lately, huh?  Putting on some weight there, aren’t you?”

After a few weeks of this, she finally mustered up the courage to approach their shared supervisor about it – also a man.  This was not an easy thing for her to do, as she is not confrontational.   She rehearsed what she was going to say, how she wasn’t complaining about his performance, but his comments were bothering her, etc.

Her supervisor’s response:  “Hmm . . . well, you haven’t been working out as much lately, have you?”

She was so stunned and flabbergasted at his unexpected response, she stammered, “Well, no. . . I’ve been pretty busy working on ____ and ___,” and she tried not to cry in front of him.  (She didn’t succeed in not crying while recounting the story to me, however.)

In Brenda’s case, the conclusion was to Forget It, and we worked on getting her another job!  Educating her supervisor would seem to be a full time job in itself, so why bother?

For Charlotte*, however, she was able to Fix It:

Charlotte was relatively new to her position – about 6-8 weeks on the job, doing database management and already known as the geek.  She was attending a staff meeting at a small organization where there was no agenda and everyone took a turn speaking his/her mind around the table. . . whether they really had anything to report or not.

One older gentleman decided to “report” on his relocation near the women’s restroom and his tally of how many daily visits each woman made to the bathroom, chiding some of the “sixes and sevens”!

Although the (all male) senior staff were visibly embarrassed, they said and did nothing to stop his “routine.”  The mostly young junior female staff giggled nervously.  Charlotte was new, but when he continued another few minutes, she had had it and decided that someone had to intervene – yet diplomatically.

She offered to lend her data skills to “assist him” with his statistical research project and began citing some mathematical errors in his “calculations.”  This finally led the CEO to stop the spectacle and continue the meeting.

Two positive things resulted from Charlotte’s actions:

The gentleman came to her office the next day (obviously sent) to apologize for his actions.  After he explained, “I was just kidding, you know,” Charlotte told him that a woman had later thanked her for speaking up.  He was shocked – and possibly learned something.

Agendas were instituted for staff meetings the following month.  If a staff member didn’t have something to submit, they didn’t speak.  Policy had been changed!

Particularly in this market, it’s important to look carefully at the situation overall and see if it is time to start looking or if you can assess what needs to change to make your current situation better.  A critical analysis can pay off so that, if nothing else, you feel more self assured that you are making the correct decision.

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Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

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