Posted: Monday 26 April 2010
You have probably heard and read plenty of articles and advice about how in order to succeed in the corporate world on any level, you have to have tough skin. However, talking about toughening up and actually achieving a skin-thickening are two very different propositions. Several years ago, I worked for a man who ran a great company, had a great sense of ethics and was totally devoted to his customers and his company's integrity. He was also a jerk.
No way around it: that is the only way to describe him. He may have had a heart of gold, but he was a total drain on the emotional state every time he entered the office. He had no patience with me as his assistant, and he had even less with the other people who worked with him. Needless to say, this made my job pretty complicated on a number of levels.
Fortunately, one of my dear mentors gave me a hint to dealing with this kind of behavior that I will now pass on to you. I realize that basic human nature makes us want to say, "If so-and-so can't treat me with respect, then I cannot work here." However, sometimes basic human nature also says you need to eat and clothe yourself and your family, so you need to keep working in your position. And I have found that many times learning to deal with the intractable and the impossible makes you a truly desirable assistant - virtual or otherwise - because this is a skill that most people do not have.
So next time your employer is ranting and railing, hollering and screaming or just plain in a bad mood and taking it out on you, follow this action-series:
1. In your head, say "Thanks for the help! You brightened my day!" I'm going to recommend against saying it out loud because it probably will come out too sarcastic.
2. Thank them aloud for their input. Keep your face as impassive as possible.
3. Ask for a suggestion on how you can improve their experience in the future, and whatever they say (this is important) - write it down right in front of them.
4. Summarize your interaction in a brief email: "Dear Mr. Jones, I was disappointed to learn that you were inconvenienced this morning because of X. I have taken note of your recommendation that I do X (whatever you wrote down earlier, minus profanity if they were really on a roll), and will work hard to implement this strategy in the future. Thank you for your time and your advice on this matter."
By the time you have finished this four-step series, you will find that not only are you calmed down, but in many cases your employer will watch their "feedback" more carefully when they are compelled to read about it later. Your skin will thicken as you realize that everything is not your fault and that you are taking proactive steps to improve the situation, and you will likely develop a better working relationship with your boss in the process.