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I Hate People

I-hate-people "I love mankind.  It's people I can't stand." -Charles M. Schulz

In the past five years, I've read and researched and digested a lot of books about office politics in order to write my own.  There have been some great ones and a few miserable ones.  From a branding perspective, you have to appreciate authors who cut right to the chase and say what many are already thinking.

Jonathan Littman and Marc Hershon have created a masterpiece of office human relations:  I Hate People:  Kick Loose from the Overbearing and Underhanded Jerks at Work and Get What You Want Out of Your Job.

This is a fast read, filled with all of the pithy snarkiness (I mean that as the highest compliment) you would expect from two people of their credentials.  They start out the book identifying the 10 least wanted individuals in the workplace and giving specific examples and strategies for each.  These include:

  • The Stop Sign - those wet blankets of progress
  • Flim flam - the manipulator
  • Bulldozer - resistance is futile
  • Smiley Face - if you're happy and you know it... run!
  • Liar Liar - self explanatory
  • Switchblade - when you least expect it
  • Minute Man - time stealer extraordinaire
  • Know-It-None - they used Cliff Clavin from Cheers in the book; he's the benchmark
  • Spreadsheet - they make obsessive compulsive look sloppy
  • Sheeple - zombie followers

The great thing about this book is the authors crank through the problem identification and race right to meaningful solutions.  My favorite was learning about the Soloist.  Our office society has pushed so much team (Together Everyone Annoys Me) stuff onto us, that we've forgotten how to be the rugged individualist of the Teddy Roosevelt era.

Many people are "stuck" in jobs they hate right now because of the economy or other personal situations.  I'd put I Hate People at the top of your reading list (OK, maybe after GUST), for handling difficult office situations.  Because I never use my own books as required reading for classes, I've already decided that this book will be the new de facto text for my Drake Office Politics class.

Filled with brutal honesty, amusing anecdotes, and helpful strategies you can immediately employ, add this to your reading list.  By learning how to hate people, you make actually start to like them again.

I Brake for Breaks

Brake-pedal I admit it.  I'm a blogospheric slacker.

This is the longest break I've ever taken from blogging.  To be honest with you, my readers, I just haven't had it in me the past couple of weeks.  The reality is that I've had a couple of family issues to attend to, and my priorities shifted for a bit.

But in my mind (and hopefully in yours), it's OK to walk away and take a breather.  It's just important to come back.

In my creativity class, we talk about the importance of 'think time" - just building in time to contemplate.

In my leadership class, I cover the importance of priorities and flexible focus.

With my project management clients, I emphasize contingency time for those "what if" scenarios.

So I guess I have just been practicing what I preach.

And I found out that an bit of a break can be one darn fine accomplishment.

Thanks for your patience.  I'm back in the saddle.

PURRRRR-pose Driven Life

Feline I knew it

I knew it

I knew it

I told ya so!

Seems scientists have just proven that cats use a special purr when they want to manipulate humans.  It's called a solicitation purr.  (I'm a dog person, and they're not maniuplative as much as they're just bossy and demanding.)

I just finished a weekend of working with my graduate students on office politics.  We spent a fair amount of time talking about communication in its various forms.  There's a lot to be said for HOW we communicate things to get our way.  And cats - all of their other obvious flaws notwithstanding - have figured this out.

As far as cats go, I don't have a lot of love.  (My daughter thinks we can't get a cat because they taste like chicken.)  Kudos to the scientists who reinforced what we already suspected: when any living being wants something, they'll figure out how to get it.

We do this a lot in business.  Some of the names are nicer-sounding than manipulation; others, not so much.  We call it sucking up, art of gentle persuasion, sales and marketing, networking, or intimidation.  Others wish they could do it better.  So how does one go about PURRRR-fecting the CAT-aclysmic impacts of communication?  Here are a few tips to help you get your next back-scratching:

  • Coaching - either professional or from a friend, ask somebody to watch how you communicate others and offer suggestions or things you might do to improve.
  • Practice - try role playing an upcoming conversation with you to see where the weak spots in your argument may be.
  • Anticipate - the best way to persuade somebody is to figure out their potential points of resistance.  It is said that truly great lawyers learn to argue the other side's case first.
  • Non-verbals - watch yourself in the mirror or (if possible) videotape yourself.  See firsthand what you do that could undermine your entire message.
  • Debrief - if you don't win your argument, ask the other person what you might have done differently to better persuade them.  If you do win it, ask them what it was that put you over the top.

Communication is key to seizing the accomplishment.  Try a little word of MEOWth and see what you can do to improve your persuasion skills.

(No puns were hurt in the writing of this blog post.)

Work with People Who "Get" You

Puzzle The past couple of weeks have been... well... distracting.  That much should have been obvious with the lack of original blog postings.  But most of you who read this blog know that I have been enjoying the ultimate masochism by finalizing two book projects this summer.

Race Through The Forest has been just that:  a race through the proverbial forest of the publishing world.  I've actually been working with two publishers on this project.  My original publisher, Tiberius, maintains the rights and handles all of the Amazon activity.  I made the decision to hire my current publisher, Lexicon, to reformat the book and make it look more like my other two for brand consistency.  But still, one would think the second edition and second printing of a book would be easier than the first.  Not so, my friend.

The project has come with the normal bumps and bruises, but I have to say I've been so impressed working with Catherine Staub and her team.  She has been a communication hub between me and the printer the past few days.  I always feel completely comfortable talking with her about any publishing-related issue.

I started processing why this was the case.  What makes Lexicon stand out?  (For the record, I really liked Tiberius, too, and the ONLY reason for the switch was geography.)  Even so, Des Moines is a publishing town.  We have historically held much talent in the field of creating literary tomes people want to read.  For Catherine and Lexicon, books are just one drop in a very diverse bucket of publications they produce.  They create everything from photographic layouts to corporate publications (all of the highest quality) and a lot of other things I would never guess.  The big reason for going with Lexicon time and time again is... well... they "get" me.

They understand what makes a project manager tick.  Catherine can read me like a book.  She knows when I'm in my gregarious and goofy mood, and she knows when I'm in my down-to-business mood.  She knows how to encourage and negotiate on the triple constraint of project management, and she knows when (and how) to tell me I'm not being realistic.  She knows how to tell me bad news.  She celebrates the victories along the way.  In short, she gets me.

Besides a shameless plug for my publisher (who deserves that and much more), this post is about YOU.  Do you work with people who "get" you?  Do you allow them to understand you and your needs?  Have you shared the difficult "come to Jesus" meetings with them?  In office politics, I sometimes advise people to play it safe and not reveal too much... at least in the beginning when trust levels are low.  However, there comes a point when the veil must be lifted.  Trust has to be built.  Emotional bridges are the foundation to Carpe Factum.  I know I don't work well with people I don't trust (and I've seen plenty of them in my career).  But when the trust level is present and the communication is zipping along... watch out, world!

Big thanks to both Lexicon and Tiberius for a great project completion.

The Plot Thickens

OK, I'm back to my original posts about Race Through The Forest (which was officially released today).  Amazon purchasers can still expect a 2-3 week delay as books were shipped off today.

This little post about how the book was originally conceived was originally written in April 2006:

OK, so I've decided to write this "end all be all" business fable on project management.  Now what?!?!?

This is where a little inspiration and a lot of creativity came crashing down all at once.  I was reviewing the movie, Trading Places, 01mwith Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd, for an upcoming management class lecture when my daughter came up to me in her cute little fuzzy pajamas wanting me to read her bedtime story.  (NOTE:  Never refuse the opportunity to read bedtime stories to cute children, namely when they are your own.)  The movie had just started, so I turned the volume down while I was reading her the story of choice:  The Tortoise and the Hare.  Something about Randolph and Mortimer Dukes' initial conversation at the beginning of the movie and the simple plot of the children's story jarred some synapses loose, and the basic plot of Race Through The Forest came into focus.

Project managers love to talk about best practices (too often, sometimes, since every project unique by definition).  However, there are some basic principals and guidelines that work across a majority of projects.  There are even more "worst practices" which are sure to create failure in your project unless your guardian angel has been promised overtime and hazard pay.  The story of the The Tortoise and the Hare drive home that contrast of approach quite nicely, but how to extrapolate the contrast into business terms?  I reached into my memory banks and thought of people with whom I had worked who were exact opposites of each other.  I started writing down odd combinations of individuals who could compete in a project management arena.  The one that made me stop and giggle (and then stop again and laugh uproariously) was an accountant vs. a field sales representative.  And the generalized personality traits of these professions fit well with the personalities in the Tortoise and the Hare.  Hence, the accountant Barry Tortisse and the "flashy sales guy" Biff Haire were created.  I'll dive into their respective characters in a later post.

Since neither accountants nor salespeople tend to seek out project management as an alternative lifestyle choice, there needed to be something imposed on them, which is where the movie came into play.  A debate cycles through every once in a while about what makes a good project manager, and the Duke Brothers' debate about genetics vs. environment at the beginning of the movie served as the inspiration for the opening debate of the Forest Sisters, Flora and Fauna.  Again, I'll share more about their character development in a future post.  The debate for my book:  What works best for managing projects?  Something with a little structure to it (slow and steady tortoise) or an individual with a track record of success (speedy hare).

What followed was a lot of fun, a lot of mental wrestling, a lot of replayed conversations, and a lot of digging through old project meeting notes.

Lessons Learned:  Inspiration lies all around you - what are you missing that is right under your nose?  What seemingly unrelated things can you combine to make something new and fun and innovative?  What can happen when you turn down the volume to do something really important?

Author's Footnote:  All of the characters stayed intact for the 2nd edition. I had considered making the characters more "serious" since that is where my writing has gravited since that first book.  Those to whom I suggested this switch said in loud unison:  "Don't you dare!"  So while they are real people with cute names (my favorites are still Ben Theer and Dunn Thaat), they have not gone away at all.  What is new about the book are a lot of templates and project how-to ideas that you can begin using immediately.

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