A big part of managing expectations in the workplace involves understanding deadlines and making them work for you. There’s nothing that makes you look more unprofessional than missing an important (or even unimportant!) deadline—and few things break trust as quickly.
In order to manage such time targets effectively, you might have to proactively renegotiate them at times. Unfortunately, many professionals don’t know how to properly do this so they end up creating new problems for themselves when they try. To help ensure this doesn’t happen to you, follow these simple steps.
1. Don’t agree in the first place.
If you know a deadline is unreasonable from the very beginning, don’t accept it. It’s your job to educate your colleagues regarding expectations. If they think a task takes much less time than it actually does, inform them of the reality. This will help them better gauge timelines in the future.
To be clear: This doesn’t mean you should decline or renegotiate deadlines that stretch you. It’s fine to accept something that pushes you past your comfort zone. In fact, that’s a requirement in today’s workplace. What we’re talking about here are deadlines that simply don’t make sense given the circumstances (other priorities, time constraints, etc.).
Then, skip to step number 3.
2. The sooner the better.
If you’re working with an established deadline you’ve already agreed to, don’t wait until the last minute to tell the necessary parties that it’s next to impossible to meet. As soon as you realize there’s a chance it can’t be done, speak up. Lack of communication is probably the biggest problem most people have with deadline management.
3. Offer a reasonable alternative.
Instead of simply saying you can’t meet a deadline, provide a reasonable alternative that can be met. Don’t forget to give yourself some wiggle room in there. You can’t always predict your workload and Murphy’s Law ensures anything that can go wrong will. A good rule of thumb is to “under promise and over deliver.” That basically just means your suggested alternative deadline shouldn’t be too aggressive. You want to give yourself every opportunity to not only meet but exceed expectations.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that your alternative deadline will simply be accepted. Be prepared for this to kick off a negotiation process. Both parties may need to compromise a bit to find a solution that works for everyone.
Keep in mind that you might have to reprioritize some other items to make room for this one within the required time frame. Obviously, it has to make sense to do so. Should it happen, let the other party know that you’re going out of your way to meet their needs. This helps to create a feeling of camaraderie. If they know you’re willing to shift things around for them, they’re more likely to flex a bit on their end as well and they’ll be especially appreciative of whatever you can offer.
Whatever you do, don’t let yourself get talked into another unreasonable deadline.
5. Don’t renegotiate twice.
Rarely is it acceptable to renegotiate the same deadline twice. Heed the advice in steps 3 and 4 to ensure you don’t get stuck again. If it happens, the same rules apply as above. But this time, you absolutely must ensure you can and will meet the new deadline—no exceptions. Repeated renegotiation of a deadline indicates the task or project isn’t a priority and perhaps it should be reconsidered.
6. Don’t make excuses.
The key to success in all of this is honest, straightforward and timely communication. There’s no need to offer complicated excuses, place blame, or provide a litany of reasons for your renegotiation request. Keep the conversation simple and clearly define what you want/need to successfully resolve the situation. A concise explanation is often appreciated, but don’t go overboard. Most people just want to know the bottom line. The question of “why” is less important than figuring out next steps.
A lot of people think cover letters are relics of the past. But truth be told, they’re still a crucial part of the job search process. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should just throw one together and check the box. You want to use the cover letter as an opportunity to differentiate yourself from the crowd. In my recent segment on Fox 31 Denver’s Good Day Colorado, I address the importance of cover letters and the various things you should include to make yours stand out. Watch and learn!
*Also watch as the new anchor gets me all worked up with his “gimmicky” ideas right around the 2 minute mark!!
In honor of Mother’s Day, I wanted to share just a taste of the wisdom my mom has imparted on me over the years. Of course, I could fill an entire book (or series of books) on life lessons from mom, but in an effort to stay on topic, I’ve gathered a few of my favorite tidbits for you here and related them to the subject of career development. Enjoy!
Look for what’s right first.
My mother is the Queen of Optimism. She taught me that focusing on the negative doesn’t solve anything. When facing any situation in life, she is always quick to see what’s working, not what’s broken.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Her rose-colored glasses don’t blind her to reality. She knows there’s plenty of negative crap out there. But you choose the level of energy you give it. She believes it’s far more productive to put your energy into what’s right rather than what’s wrong, and when you do, the good stuff grows bigger and brighter.
Her theory is this: If you want to be happy, it doesn’t just happen. It takes work. You have to look for ways to be happy. You have to find opportunities to see the good in life.
I think anyone who is unhappy at work should heed this advice. That doesn’t mean you should stay somewhere that isn’t working for you or pretend that everything’s great when it’s not, but find something that IS working, even if it’s miniscule. Focus on the good that has come from this experience. Aim your energy toward something positive, no matter how small. You’ll feel better and the situation won’t seem so dark and overwhelming.
Take pride in a job well done.
If you want a job done right, give it to my mom. Whether crafting a lamb out of a stick of butter (yes, she really did that) for Easter brunch or proofreading my latest project, she never misses a detail. Meticulous is an understatement. And this goes for everything she invests her time and energy in—from crafting a beautiful piece of stained glass artwork to knitting a cozy sweater for her favorite grandpuppy (my dog, Ms. Mollie).
What’s even more amazing is that she (gasp!) even seems to enjoy herself!
So, why is she such a hard worker? It’s not for the recognition, I’ll tell you. None of us properly appreciated the time and effort that went into that butter lamb, I’m sure. And it’s not for the money either. She edits my work for free!! And she’s never once charged Mollie for a handmade outfit.
What motivates her to put such care and attention into every project? As far as I can tell, it’s for the pure enjoyment she gets out of doing a good job. That’s what’s called “internal motivation” and it’s the most sustainable energy source there is. When you’re compelled to work hard simply because you get satisfaction from doing so, you have unlimited drive that relies solely on YOU and no one else.
If you ever feel a lack of motivation in the workplace (ahem, everyone knows what I mean!), try to tap into your own internal motivation. Don’t look to others to amp you up. Take pride in the work you do. Focus on doing well simply because it feels good.
Make others feel special.
Southern charm is my mother’s specialty. Watch her work a room at a party and you’ll learn a lot about building rapport. My mom can make the most awkward person in the world feel comfortable, the ugliest person feel pretty, the most boring person feel witty. Charm is really about making the people around you feel good. When you delight in elevating others, people are drawn to you. And, in turn, you are lifted to new heights as well. Everyone wins.
It’s not about being fake or boosting people up at your own expense. It’s about easing the interaction. Putting others in a position to be their best. Helping those around you to feel comfortable in your presence. Making them feel special.
I know that personal relationships are very different from professional ones, but think about how this kind of charm could help you create stronger bonds with people at work. What if you spent a little time making your co-workers feel special? Whether or not you want to admit it, professional opportunities come to people who are likable. A little southern charm might be just what your career needs.
Don’t mistake kindness for weakness.
I don’t want to shine you on. My mother is definitely a kind, gentle and charming southern soul. But don’t let that exterior fool you. Underneath, she’s tough as nails. She’s been through a lot in her life, though she’s not one to whine about it. She knows how to fight and she’s not afraid to hit hard when it’s needed (metaphorically speaking of course; I don’t think she’s ever thrown a punch in her life).
My point is this: She’s no wilting lily. My mom is the person you want on your side when things get tough. She’ll hold you as you cry, but at the end of the day, she won’t let you back down.
My mother taught me that kindness is not synonymous with weakness. You don’t have to be a jerk to get your point across. You don’t have to wear your strength or your courage like some kind of monster mask. You can be both nice and tough, kind and strong. These are not mutually exclusive traits. In the workplace, it helps to embrace both.
Women really CAN do everything.
I have a retro 1950’s style wall hanging in my house that shows a young girl in a sailor’s hat. It says, “Gee, I wish I were a man. I’d join the navy!” It makes me laugh because, in my mind, I can’t imagine that world. It’s crazy to me that women were ever restricted from doing the same things as men.
When my mother was growing up, she had three options for her career: She could be a nurse, a teacher, or a secretary. Alternatively, she could be a mom. There’s nothing wrong with any of these options. But, for a long time, those were her only choices.
I’m sure there are many women reading this who felt the same way as children—limited and restricted. The beautiful thing about my mother and all of you is that you didn’t listen. You rejected the idea that you couldn’t do anything you set your mind to. And as a result, women in my generation can not only join the navy, we can serve as officers if we so desire. We can be astronauts, physicists, or brain surgeons. And yes, we can still be nurses, teachers and secretaries too. Our choices are limitless.
Sure, I know there are still a few glass ceilings yet to break (a female president in 2016 may shatter one…). And income inequality is still a problem we’re trying to solve. But let’s take mom’s advice and look for what’s right first. What’s right is that my mother and so many other women of her generation proved that women could do anything and everything just as well as men.
I’ve never felt limited in my career choices. My mother never discouraged me from any dream. At the same time, she never let me believe it would be handed over on a silver platter.
“You can do anything you put your mind and heart into.”
In terms of career advice, there are no sweeter words. Feeling empowered to create your own destiny is the greatest gift.
As many of you know, I talk a lot about professional passion. I believe it IS possible to love your job and really feel a fire in your belly when you think about the contribution you’re making at work everyday.
I’m always careful to note though that work passion is very different from passion passion…you know, the kind that gets you all hot and bothered…? Professional passion is NOT the same as romantic passion.
However, as odd as it sounds, the two actually do have a lot in common. Some things about passion are the same whether at the office or in the bedroom. Crazy? Nope.
To see what I mean, read on.
Work at It
Relationships are easy and fun in the beginning. The passion often comes quite naturally…for a while. But, as any of you who are married or in long-term relationships know, at some point, it becomes harder to keep that passion alive. You have to actually put some effort in. If you aren’t willing to exert some energy, the passion will eventually fizzle out.
The same is true for your relationship with work. At first, it’s exciting. The passion is there and you can’t imagine it ever going away. But then, the day-to-day routine sets in, and you slowly become complacent.
This kind of fizzle-out isn’t necessarily a given. It doesn’t have to happen. But passion doesn’t stick around on its own. You have to buy some sexy lingerie* every now and again. In work terms, you have to take some risks and try new things. Put yourself out there. Get out of your comfort zone and see what happens.
Don’t Rely on Your Partner to Make You Happy
Your romantic partner isn’t responsible for your happiness. YOU, and you alone, are the only one who controls how you feel about yourself and your life. Sure, it’s nice to hear that you’re pretty and loved, but your partner can’t give you confidence you don’t have. Others can influence you, but ultimately, your feelings are totally within your control.
The same is true about work. Having a great job that pays well and has endless opportunity is certainly helpful. But your employer doesn’t determine whether or not you’re happy doing what you do. You choose how you respond to the situations in your life. If you choose to stay at your job, choose to see the good in it and don’t dwell on the bad. If you choose to stay with your romantic partner, do the same.
Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t try to improve the things you don’t like (whether at home or in the office) and here’s what I mean by that…
Ask for What You Want
Your partner can’t read your mind and neither can your employer. If there’s something that isn’t working for you and it’s reasonable enough to change, ask for it. But be specific and 100% straightforward. If you try to be coy and beat around the bush, it’s easy for your signals to get crossed, and miscommunication is a sure-fire way to kill the passion.
If you want your partner to open the car door for you, tell him. If it really matters to you, I’m sure he’d rather know so he can do something about it. It’s easy enough! He might still forget to do it, of course, and at that point you can re-evaluate how much it really matters.
Likewise, if your employer can resolve some underlying irritation you have, in many cases (though admittedly not all), it’s worthwhile doing so. They’ve already invested in you so simple things—like a new office chair or a slight shift in schedule—might make sense if it keeps you happy and working hard. Again, it won’t always work, but at least you’ve made an honest effort. And, as I said before, you can re-evaluate at that point.
Stay Mentally Engaged
Presence isn’t just about physically being there—at work or at home. It’s about being truly mentally engaged. It’s about caring, inquiring, listening and connecting.
We’ve all seen those couples at restaurants who barely make eye contact and spend most of their time looking at their cell phones or gazing longingly at the couple on their first date next to them. They’re there, but not really. Part of them is somewhere else.
This same thing happens all the time in workplaces around the world. People are there, but not really.
When you’re at work, you have to be there 100%. Otherwise, it shows and you feel it. Time drags by. You leave the office wondering what the heck you just accomplished…if anything. You feel like a zombie walking through the week holding out hope that the weekend will bring some kind of excitement.
All you have to do is engage your brain and work will become exciting again. Believe me on this. Everyone enjoys feeling mentally stimulated, but again, you sometimes have to work at it. Find the challenge again. Seek out new information. Learn new skills.
Know When to Leave
Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, the passion just can’t be reignited. There’s no sense sticking around forever trying to fix something that’s irreparably broken. Get out while you can, but leave with dignity and grace. Remember that the time you shared together was, at least for a while, a good thing. It probably wasn’t perfect, but then, you probably weren’t either.
Bring Yourself to It
This last one might sound odd but here’s what I mean: YOU are in this relationship. Whether with work or with a romantic partner, YOU are half the equation. That means you have to share who you really are and what you’re really capable of. You can’t hide or pretend to be something you’re not. Authenticity is the most attractive quality in people, professionally and personally. Be real and you’ll have more to offer your employer and your partner.
That doesn’t mean you should toss all social decorum out the window though! If your “real” self wants to throw a temper tantrum, rein it in and consider whether that’s the right move for the relationship. Remember that it’s also about respect. Tact and diplomacy go a long way. Adapt to the needs of others from time to time and they’ll do the same for you.
I know you questioned my take on this topic when you first started reading this article…so what do you think? Do you see the correlation now between professional passion and personal passion? Or have I just been reading too many romance novels?
*Note: Sexy lingerie should not to be worn at work. Unless you have some kind of…”nontraditional”…workplace. In which case, good for you.
For some, ethics are black and white. For others, there are all kinds of grey areas. Perhaps you live by a strict moral code. Or maybe you just go on gut instinct. However you define your ethical standards, it’s important to perform your job with integrity. This means basing your decisions and actions on a consistent framework of values and principles. Do you have a commitment to integrity? Do you act with high ethical standards in the workplace? What guides you in your decision-making process?
Take a few minutes to consider your ethics. Are you conducting yourself in a way that you can be proud of or are you slightly ethically challenged? Take this quiz and find out!
Read each situation and choose the answer that most closely represents what you would do. Write your answers down on a piece of paper.
1. You are concerned that a co-worker is lying on her time card. Even though it doesn’t impact you directly, it still makes you angry. You:
a) Sneak a peek at her confidential files to find out. After all, if she’s lying, you could save the company a lot of money by getting her fired.
b) Discuss your concerns with your supervisor and let her handle the situation.
c) Pretend you know nothing about it. It really isn’t your business anyway.
2. After making you promise not to tell anyone, a co-worker confides in you that she is being sexually harassed by a superior. You:
a) Keep your promise but approach the person who has been harassing her. You let him know that you won’t stand for this and if he doesn’t stop, she’ll sue.
b) Explain that you can’t keep your promise and report the issue to Human Resources to investigate.
c) Provide her with personal support and keep your promise.
3. Your supervisor asks you to sign off on a report that you don’t really understand. You:
a) Sign it. If your boss asks you, it must be fine.
b) Ask someone with more knowledge to help explain the information in the report. Once you are comfortable with it, you’ll be happy to sign off.
c) Tell your boss that you can’t sign it. If the document is valid, why can’t she sign it herself?
4. Your boyfriend is going on a business trip to London and he invites you to tag along. You really want to go but you don’t have the vacation hours. You:
a) Call in sick for a few days. They can’t argue with the flu.
b) Tell your supervisor about the opportunity and ask if you can take unpaid leave. If not, you’ll just wait until next time.
c) Tell your boss that there was a family emergency and you had to go to London. Hey, it’s half-true! This is the kind of opportunity doesn’t happen every day.
5. A potential client asks a question that, if you tell the truth, will make you lose the sale. You:
a) Tell a little white lie. You need this sale. There’s no way you’re letting it go now.
b) Explain the truth of the matter and offer solutions as best you can.
c) Dodge the issue and try to be vague in your answer. There’s no sense in wasting all the time you’ve already spent with this customer.
Review your answers.
If A’s appear most on your list:
It’s time to re-evaluate your ethics, my friend. I know you might think you’re doing all the right things, but having integrity sometimes means doing the difficult things. You need to think carefully when facing delicate situations. At times you may be avoiding the ethical solution because it’s not as easy as the alternative. And let’s face it: Even a white lie is still a lie. Stop trying to fool yourself. If you aren’t careful, you could end up in serious trouble. Having “flexible” ethics is not a respected value in the professional world and you could easily get taken advantage of. Watch out and shape up.
If B’s appear most on your list:
Congratulations! You appear to have high ethical standards. You know how to handle complicated situations and you’re not afraid of doing the right thing—no matter how difficult it is. You also seem to understand the value of professional integrity. Don’t let go of that! Others will respect you for it, and in the end you’ll have more success because of it.
If C’s appear most on your list:
Newsflash: Ignoring ethical dilemmas doesn’t make them go away! Stop trying to avoid the issues—you aren’t fooling anyone. The excuse that “it’s not your business” doesn’t work, especially with important matters that have can serious consequences. You have a responsibility to your company, your co-workers, and your superiors to confront issues in a professional, ethical way. Turning your head when others are acting inappropriately is another way of condoning the behavior.
You don’t have to shout your protest from the rooftops, but you do need to call attention to the problem. It isn’t up to you to fix it, but bringing a supervisor into the situation will help. And remember, there’s no justification for lying, especially in the workplace. Be careful with those little “oversights” and “fibs.” They may come back to haunt you.