Monthly Archives: February 2013

Are You a Pushover?

office pushover

In today’s competitive, demanding business world, being able to say “No” to projects that don’t fit your career objectives or schedule is a vital part of maintaining both sanity and productivity.

And yet, for many of people, saying “No” feels as if it’s as serious an offense as coming to work drunk or cussing out the boss over a bad review.  It isn’t easy, but if you’re an office pushover, it’s incredibly important that you learn to recognize and manage these behaviors in order to stay on top of your workload and your sanity.

Here’s how to do it…

Common behaviors of the office pushover

The first step in preventing the pushover mentality from disrupting your career is to recognize when it’s rearing its ugly head in your life.  To do this, ask yourself whether or not you can see yourself in any of the following common behaviors:

  • Allowing others to break your department’s rules – even when there’s no good reason for making accommodations.
  • Accepting additional work that falls outside of your job description when your “to do” list is already packed full.
  • Picking up the slack for others on committees or group projects.
  • Failing to defend your work or decisions against criticism from a superior.
  • Working late on a regular basis, because you’ve been too busy helping others to handle your own responsibilities.

If any of these descriptions hit a little too close to home, it’s possible that you’re an office pushover.  Don’t be embarrassed – plenty of people struggle to find the assertiveness needed to thrive in corporate cultures.  Instead, put in the effort to take back control of your career by minimizing pushover behaviors and employing more assertive techniques.

How to take control of your career

If you’re ready to make a change and develop the assertive behaviors needed to survive in today’s cutthroat business world, check out the following steps for instructions on how to be more authoritative and less of a pushover:

Step #1 – Prioritize your pushover behaviors

When it comes to managing pushover tendencies, you’ll first need to assess when they’re occurring in your life and which of these instances is most harmful to your career.  As an example, suppose you uncover two pushover behaviors – one that represents a huge drain on your time and self-esteem, and another that’s a mere inconvenience with no lasting ramifications on your personal or professional well-being.

In this case, tackling the first instance of pushover behavior will have a much greater impact on your overall career satisfaction than handling the second example will.  Start by addressing the larger issue first in order to bring about better results more quickly using the following steps.  From there, you might be surprised to find that your newly assertive attitude makes handling the other issues in your life a breeze!

Step #2 – Develop scripts to assert yourself

Going from meek and reserved to assertive and powerful is a scary transition.  If you’ve spent your entire life acquiescing to the requests of others, learning to stand up for yourself can seem as daunting as training for a marathon or adopting a vegan diet.

However, you can manage the discomfort of the process by developing anti-pushover scripts that enable you to stand up for yourself without having to think on your feed.  Any of the following examples should help to get you started:

  • “I’d love to help, but my schedule won’t allow it.”
  • “I’m sorry, but this is a bad time for me.”
  • “Unfortunately, my schedule is booked solid right now.”
  • “I can help with this task, but something else on my plate will have to go.”

Choose one of these scripts and modify it to your particular needs.  For example, if you have a boss who continues to pile more on your plate than you can handle, using a variation on the fourth script listed above can help you to have an honest conversation about what should be prioritized.  Or, if you’re constantly facing assistance requests from a slack-off coworker, saying, “I’m sorry, but this is a bad time for me,” can effectively shut down the conversation without impinging on your schedule.

Once you’ve chosen and modified an anti-pushover script to your needs, practice saying it over and over again until it becomes effortless to repeat it in the heat of the moment.  Practice your script in the car, in the bathroom mirror – whatever you need to do to make the words feel as natural as possible.

Step #3 – Recognize that it’s okay to make others uncomfortable

One of the hardest parts for pushovers to deal with is the thought that saying “No” might make other people uncomfortable – whether their assertiveness will result in angry bosses or coworkers who no longer want to make the weekly trip to happy hour together.

The thing is, though, that in pushover situations, somebody is always uncomfortable.  If you’re the pushover, you’re shouldering the burden of this discomfort in order to minimize the stress of others – which seems like a silly way to align your priorities!

Accept that it’s okay for others to be uncomfortable every so often – and that it isn’t your sole responsibility to look out for the emotions of others.  Obviously, you shouldn’t use your newfound assertiveness to tear your boss a new one over the way he’s taken advantage of you in the past.  Instead, make a commitment to moving forward from your past pushover ways and to enabling others to treat you with the respect you deserve in the workplace.

3 Steps to Becoming a Better Leader

great leaders

Leadership is one of those skills that’s highly valued, but difficult to develop if you aren’t born with the propensity to direct and manage others.

But don’t let that stop you!  Because leadership is so highly valued in the workplace, it’s a good idea to put some effort in developing your own skills in this area.  If the thought of putting yourself in the spotlight makes you panic a little, try the following steps in order to become a better leader:

Step #1 – Identify your strengths and weaknesses

Before you begin this process, clear your mind of any pre-existing conceptions you hold on what “leadership” means.  Too many of us think of leaders as drill sergeant, attention-seeking types who get their thrills from telling others what to do – but the reality is that this is only one type of leader.

In fact, there are plenty of different leadership styles out there – including one that prefers to operate from the shadows by delegating tasks to others and only following up to ensure their completion.  So don’t worry if you don’t feel like barking out orders like some sort of commander heading into battle.  There’s a place for everybody at the leadership table!

To get started on your own leadership journey, take a few moments to identify your own strengths and weaknesses.  How do you feel when you’re placed in the spotlight?  How do you prefer to communicate and interact with others?  And how to do you handle situations in which tasks aren’t completed on time or to your specifications?

By understanding the unique skills and perspectives you bring to the table, you can begin to develop your own concept of what “leadership” means to you.

Step #2 – Lead from a “you” perspective

If you’re comfortable giving direct, sometimes critical feedback, then a more extroverted process of leadership will suit you best.  Or, if you tend to avoid conflict, a strategy that relies more heavily on delegation and teamwork will help you to get the job done.

But whatever leadership strategy you decide to pursue, it’s important to manage from a “you” perspective.

Essentially, this means that a project or objective isn’t about you, the leader.  Instead, it’s about managing the resources on your team effectively in order to ensure that the necessary work gets done.

To do this effectively, you can’t prioritize your own success as a leader ahead of the achievements of the group.  While it’s natural to want to take credit for your accomplishments, putting the potential for your own recognition ahead of your team’s dynamics is a sure-fire recipe for disaster!

Instead, take the time to get to know all the different members of your team – as well as how they operate most effectively.  If you’re working with a mixture of introverts and extroverts, you may need to adapt your management style in order to help each employee to reach his or her own potential.  Support your team members and take more pleasure in their success than in your own – believe me, your value as a manager who can balance these different challenges and still wind up with a successful project outcome will be recognized and rewarded by others in your company!

Step #3 – Solicit honest feedback

Of course, this vision of a team working harmoniously in balance is often just that – a vision of what could be, not what actually is!

Be aware that it can take time to develop your leadership skills and to embrace your own unique style of leadership (especially if your skills put you in direct opposition to commonly accepted forms of leadership).  However, the one thing you can do to speed up the process of leadership learning is to solicit honest feedback from both your superiors and the people you’re supervising to determine where improvements can be made.

This can be done in a number of different ways, from asking staff members to provide feedback throughout a project to sitting down with individuals after the fact and asking for their honest reviews.

Unfortunately, you may not always like what you hear.  Negative criticism can be difficult to accept and can bring down your confidence in your ability to lead effectively – that is, unless you choose to view this feedback as a learning opportunity.  Even if you’re truly upset about a piece of feedback that’s given, thank the deliverer and allow yourself some time to process both your immediate feelings and your later, more rational thoughts on how you can improve.

It can be a frustratingly slow process – especially if you feel that you aren’t inherently suited for leadership roles.  But by taking the time to understand the unique strengths and weaknesses that you bring to the leadership table, you’ll go on to develop both a highly valuable skill and the respect of people below you and above you within your organization.

The Secret Power of Listening

power of listening

The skill of listening often gets a bad rap in today’s corporate environment.  After all, it’s usually the person who can shout the loudest and take the most credit for work completed that tends to advance up the ladder as quickly as possible.

However, those who dismiss the power of listening without understanding how important this practice can be do their careers a serious disservice.  I know that it can be difficult to get out of the habit of putting your thoughts and opinions first in your conversations, but trust me.  Learning how to listen effectively will help you take advantage of all of the following benefits and more!

Listening makes you more knowledgeable

While I’m not suggesting that you engage in excessive office gossip, the hard truth is that those who listen more – rather than trying to figure out what they’ll chime in with next – tend to have access to more information in their careers.

Listening is an inherently flattering process.  When you give up trying to make yourself appear intelligent, witty or “in-the-know,” you demonstrate to others that you value what they have to say.  And really, who in the world doesn’t like feeling as if others value their conversational contributions?!

The point is that, when people feel flattered by your attention, they’re more likely to reveal information about themselves, their projects and their priorities that may help you out down the road.  It’s up to you whether you use this information for good or for evil, but the bottom line is that you won’t even have access to it in the first place if you don’t learn how to listen!

Listening builds relationships

Because listening can be so flattering to your conversational partners, it’s also a great tool for building rapport with the important people in your life.  Take a second to visualize all of the following situations:

  • You’re in a pitch meeting with a potentially huge client.  Because you take the time to demonstrate active listening, the client feels as if you truly care about the issues facing his company and signs a contract with your company.
  • Your boss has to deliver some negative feedback on your performance at work.  Although it’s hard to hear, you take the time to listen actively, which helps your boss to feel that he’s being effective and that progress is being made to resolve similar issues in the future.
  • A person you’ve been assigned to work with on a group project has some serious concerns about the future direction of your work.  Since you take the time to listen – instead of steamrolling over him with your own thoughts – you’re able to eliminate potential disruptions before they occur.

In all these situations, you come out ahead – just because you made the small effort to listen actively instead of ignoring the counsel of others.

How to become a better listener

Hopefully, by this point, I’ve convinced you that it’s in your best interest to learn how to listen effectively.  If you’ve never purposefully studied this skill before, you should find the following recommendations helpful:

Tune into conversations fully – Perhaps the most difficult part of learning to listen is discovering how to turn off the voice in your brain that’s constantly thinking about witty retorts or ways to turn the conversation back to you.  To minimize this instinct, try to focus as much of your attention as possible on your conversation partner.  Does his voice sound confident, shaky, upset or joking?  What does his body language tell you about his mood?  The more you pay attention to the people you’re interacting with; the more likely you’ll be to hear, process and understand the words that they’re saying.

Repeat back questions and statements – Of course, anybody who’s ever interacted with a teenager knows that there’s a big difference between passive listening and active listening.  To demonstrate to conversation partners that you’re an active listener (in order to reap the benefits described above), try repeating back parts of the questions and statements you hear.  For example, if your boss tells you, “I’m concerned about you coming in late in the mornings,” responding back with “I understand that you’re frustrated about me coming in late in the mornings,” demonstrates that you’re actively engaged with the conversation.

Ask your own probing questions – Finally, to seal the deal on your active listening experiences, try to ask probing questions based on the information somebody has shared with you.  As an example, if a coworker tells you that he’s concerned about completing his part of a group project on time, asking questions about the factors that are causing delays and how these issues can be handled showcases both your proactive abilities and how closely you were listening to your coworkers concerns.

If you’ve never taken the time to improve your listening skills before, the process can seem strange.  But by consistently making it a priority to tune into the people around you, you’ll reap the benefits of being seen as more knowledgeable throughout your life and of forming the type of relationships that will help you to succeed in your personal and professional goals.  Believe me, it’s well worth the effort!

Improving Email Communications with ToutApp


We all know how important email communications are, so I’m not going to belabor that point here.  The way you handle outgoing messages and manage your inbox says a lot about how you conduct yourself professionally.  Sending the right message at the right time can result in leads, sales and more – while the wrong combination of these elements can tarnish your reputation and affect your career in a negative way.

So if you feel like your inbox has gotten the upper hand in your relationship, it’s important to look into solutions that’ll help you manage your email communications as effectively as possible.  ToutApp is one such tool that offers a combination of different features – from email scheduling to CRM tracking and more – making it a great option for busy professionals who are feeling overwhelmed by the email monster.

In the interest of full disclosure, the ToutApp team reached out to me to write this post.  I’m not being compensated for it in any way, but I do think it’s a legitimately cool tool that you should check out if you want to improve the efficiency of your email communications.

Anyways…  That aside, the following are a few of the different features that I think make ToutApp worthy of your consideration:

Email tracking

There’s nothing like sending off an email to a hot new contact and then waiting (impatiently) for a response.  If that return message never arrives, you’re stuck wondering what happened with your once promising lead.  Even though the answer may be something as simple as your message being buried in an overly-cluttered inbox, it’s hard not to read more into delayed email responses.

For this reasons, one of my favorite features on tools like ToutApp is email tracking.  Tout’s particular email tracking program allows you to see – in real-time – who’s opening your email messages and when they’re doing it.  There’s no more watching and wondering – just the data you need to make informed decisions about your business relationships.

Email templates

Another great feature that ToutApp offers is email templating – which, if you send as many email messages as I do, is a pretty big deal!

Basically, email template programs allow you to save the chunks of text that you type over and over again as templates that can be called up and personalized with a few quick key strokes.  There’s no more painstaking re-writing of similar messages – all you need are a few clicks to automatically pull up message templates and CRM info using ToutApp.

Email scheduling

Email scheduling is another “big deal” feature that I love seeing in programs like ToutApp.  This service allows you to compose email messages whenever you have time and then schedule them to be sent out later.  As an example, if you have an important message to share, email scheduling allows you to avoid sending it during periods when your contacts’ focus will be low – say, on Monday mornings at 9:00am.

It might seem like a pretty simple thing, but the ability to have your message delivered at the exact right point in your contacts’ days shouldn’t be underestimated!

Gmail and CRM integration

One final ToutApp feature that I want to give a shout out to is its suite of different integrations.  Not only can you use the program from within a number of popular CRM systems, ToutApp will automatically sync your CRM database with contact information (depending on how you’ve set up certain parameters).  These integrations can save you a serious amount of time when it comes to both contact management and email communications.

If you pay for some of the service’s professional plans, you’ll have access to a ton more features than I have time to go into here – including website tracking, custom link domains and analytics reports.  The company also offers plenty of great training products designed to make your email communications as effective as possible.

Initially, my biggest concern about the tool is its cost, which seems to be much higher than the prices offered by competitors like Yesware.  According to the company:

“Yesware is a good tool for basic view and click tracking. However, with Tout, you’ll not only get view and click tracking, but we take it a step further with Website Tracking, Presentation Tracking, deeper integrations into the CRM, ability to group contacts and send them emails with a click and even meeting scheduling. Enterprise teams also favor us because of our white-labeling options around email tracking. If you’re looking for basic email tracking, Yesware works. If you’re looking for a complete sales communications platform, you use Tout.”

So I’ll leave it up to you.  If your email tracking needs aren’t that complicated, Yesware might be able to provide all the features you’re looking for at a lower cost.  However, if you want to get more in-depth with your email management processes, the added functionality of Tout might be worth the extra expense.

In addition, keep in mind that ToutApp offers a free “lite” version that should give you a feel for whether or not the service is right for you.  If any of the services described above sound interesting, I’d recommend taking a look at the company’s website in order to determine whether or not this particular tool will met your email management needs.