Last week, while training an administrative assistant in a new position, some of the advice I gave her would never be found in a manager’s training class or in a how-to-be-better-organized guidebook.
Instead, I borrowed these work hints from real life experiences:
- Bachelorette secrets … are never kept. In a recent episode of ABC’s television program The Bachelor, one woman asked another bachelorette not to betray her darkest secret to another living soul. But oh my gosh, what a great secret! So of course, the second woman told The Bachelor himself, at the very next opportunity, that she knew he had met the other woman pre-production, and did more than dance with her at a wedding reception. The ex-lover was then asked to leave the show, by his request, for betraying his trust. The takeaway from this is that information becomes even more powerful when it is passed along in the guise of a secret or when leaked. Most confidents will spit it out because swallowing it in makes them feel complicit in whatever the secret involves. Secretly … just between us … don’t we all want that bachelorette punished for telling? We do, and in the workplace, the messenger usually is soon escorted off-set, too. The closer you are to the big boss, the closer you are to the boss’s quirks and personal life. The less you comment on those insights, the more secure your job.
- Hate the task you’re doing? Take a “Clean-the-Fish-Tank” break. I really enjoy watching my colorful neon fish swim around in their tank by my desk, and I’ve developed a special fondness for the huge pleco. However, as much as I like the fish, I deeply dislike cleaning their tank. In the past, I’ve put it off for as long as possible, but I now clean it (bi-weekly instead of monthly) when I need a break or before starting a long laborious job. Instead of taking a walk or watching a video to break up the day, if that tank is dirty, I clean it. When I am done, I feel that extra sense of accomplishment from having overcome my own reluctance to do it, as well as a happy feeling about having a sparkling tank again. But the bigger benefit is this: I’ve just been elbow-deep in fish crap, not walking in a beautiful garden, which makes that other project seem easier and much more pleasant to start or return to.
- The better you are at your job, the more “invisible” you become. Think of the housewife of the 1950s. Rob never had to ask Laura to bring him a roll of toilet paper; it was always just there. He never had to worry about what was in the freezer because dinner was always on the table. He left a clean house in the morning and came home to one at night and likely imagined her relaxing with a book that morning, perhaps sipping wine with her friends over a lunch, and then lovingly preparing his meal. In fact, more likely she was mopping floors, buying groceries, taking in the dry cleaning, and sweating over the stove. He just saw, standing before him, the perfect wife because everything she did was invisible. I neither adopt nor promote that role for women today, but it makes the point that regardless of what job you do, you’ll be most successful if you’re adept at anticipating problems and addressing them before they happen. Then (figuratively) have “a cocktail” (good news about something as your parting comment) to offer the boss at the end of the day. Corollary: the less you fill in your boss about the mundane or expected details of your job, the more professional an impression you’ll leave.
The woman I’m training for this position brings a lot of her own life experiences to the job, too. She likened working for a new boss to cooking:
“I’ve got to find out if she wants a spicy, salty or bland assistant,” she said. “I don’t know yet how much truth she wants stirred into her oatmeal, or how many compliments she’ll need to sweeten the bowl. But I’m a pretty good cook with lots of recipes.”
I think she will do just fine in this new job and we’ve had lots of fun during the training because she has a good sense of humor as well as practical life experience. Those things can’t be trained, just enjoyed.