nyminutenow new york skyline

Concrete playground.

It’s now been almost a year since I’d written Be True, Be Kind, Be You, one of the most-read career posts on the blog to date. As the months passed, I began to compile a few more things to add to the original five and that list has now grown threefold, so I’m uploading it in three parts…

Side note: Back in August I started reading I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This: Success Secrets Every Gutsy Girl Should Know by author, speaker, and former Cosmopolitan Magazine editor Kate White. It’s a great read. Plus, I was amazed and surprised at how some of the things she’d written mirrored what I’d observed firsthand and duly noted.

Here’s this year’s list, the first of this three-part series:

1. Ask for what you want.
I always look back at my magazine training when it comes to this particular thing. It must have been the casual and open work environment—and a wonderful boss!—that I never felt that I couldn’t ask for what I wanted, even if I didn’t always get it. To this day, I stand by this rule AND I still don’t always get what I want. But that’s okay. Verbalizing what you want and need regardless of outcome, at the very least, puts it on someone’s radar, and sometimes, that’s all you need. Unless you’re a slacker who has a misplaced sense of entitlement, I find that bosses are keen to hear you out and make your work life better. So just speak up.

2. Apologize when you’re wrong.
I’m sure there’s a career article out there that advises you to never apologize or say sorry because as a manager you need to show “strength.” (To quote little Eddie Huang’s mother on Fresh Off The Boat, “I don’t have to say ‘I’m sorry’ to him … I GAVE BIRTH to him.”) I beg to disagree. In yoga, there’s this thing in Sanskrit called satya, “the virtuous restraint from falsehood and distortion of reality in one’s expressions and actions” [Wiki]. In short, truth. To me, it’s simple and crystal: If it’s your bad, say sorry. If something needs to be fixed, proceed accordingly.

THEN move on.

3. There is no point in bad-mouthing your boss.
In the first Be True, Be Kind post, I mentioned that the boss is always right.

There is that manic, almost obsessive trait, a personality quirk that managers have in common (including yours truly): OCD—mild or pronounced—impatience, a quick temper, tunnel vision, stubbornness, or a combination of some or all of the above. Bear in mind, these “flaws” could be the exact same characteristics that propelled a higher-up to their position. Tenacity. An exacting eye. Deconstructing. Reconstructing. Over and over and over.

There’s no point in lambasting your boss, at least while you’re working for him/her. They won’t change on your behalf and unfortunately, they do not owe it to you to change. Now, if your boss is being completely inappropriate, that’s when you make a beeline for HR.

IMPORTANT FOR JOB INTERVIEWS: Repeat after me, you have never had a bad boss in your life, ever. Some were a little more challenging to work with, but you only learned and grew from those experiences. (I actually got this from executive coach Celia Currin, whose interviewing skills seminar I attended a few years back.)

4. Trust noone. Or pick one (or two).

Now, I fully understand the need to vent. I find that this happens a lot during Happy Hour. Sometimes you’re not ready to leave a job, but you just need to air your day-to-day grievances. I get it. This is important for your health and well-being. Just be very careful when doing this and be mindful of whom you trust. You need to vet the people you tell private, work-related things to. Just note that it can be tricky when you do this with coworkers with whom you share projects. Ideally, find someone outside of your department to chat about the not-so-pleasant things.

5. Touch-base regularly with your supervisor.
Speaking of bosses, if you’re a middle manager whose day-to-day dealings involve other middle managers and you all individually report to someone higher up, then make sure you’re keeping that person in the loop. It sounds pretty basic, but I only recently (re)learned this.

You see, I enjoy a great deal of autonomy in my job. It’s something that I’m absolutely grateful for. It suits my working style of simply letting the work speak for itself without too much verbal hoopla. I try not to bug my boss although in retrospect, I now wish I bugged him more. Why? People in upper management have their minds on things outside of your stratosphere and the business in general. While they definitely do not want to be inundated with the daily minutia, it helps to regularly check in and tell them what you’ve been up to: milestones, brand new ideas, goals. This is important especially if your job is atypical in terms of being quantifiable.

For example, as a copywriter who deals with brand voice and consistency and a ton of packaging artwork, I am not able to gauge the effectiveness of my work in terms of tangible—or immediate—increase in sales. Adding to that, if things are quiet in the Copy Corner, that means it’s business as usual and gears are running smoothly. If I suddenly need to barge into my supervisor’s office, that’s usually not good news.

Back to checking in regularly, it helps your boss paint a complete picture of what you do, and makes the review process easier on both sides.

6. Evaluate your “stress response.”
Courtney Lynch of Leadstar writes, “In times of challenge, change, chaos or stress, others seek leadership from those who can remain composed. Leaders work hard to have the emotional resolve necessary to maintain an approachable demeanor and consistent response to stressful news, events or circumstances. Practice thinking before you act, especially before you overreact, during moments when leadership is needed.”

Kate White also reiterates this in her book, “One thing that’s important to realize is that the more frenzied you make the situation, the worse it will be. Grace under pressure can save the day.”

7. Manners go a long way.
My most memorable manners-related story was from my early days here in New York. At the time, I worked as a hostess at a Japanese restaurant in midtown. During my break, I liked to sit at the benches outside of Rockefeller Center where I would eat lunch that I brought in from home. One time, an elderly couple sat nearby and I noticed them glancing my way. I proceeded to eat, and once I finished, the elder gentleman stood up to ask if I knew where Christie’s Auction House was. Then it hit me: The couple was waiting for me to finish with my meal before asking for directions. How polite!

In the workplace, manners—and humor!—go a long way. It’s easy to lose finesse and flip one’s lid especially when things go awry. Do your best to stay well-mannered and even-tempered (try yoga!) to the best of your abilities. You don’t want to be that person who’s always freaking out over little things. Unless you want to be feared/reviled and that is your management style of choice, then power to you!

Other posts in this series:
Be Kind, Be True Be You
Be Kind, Be True, Part 3
Be Kind, Be True, Part 4