Girl vs. Boy Small Talk

women-networkingAt a business lunch this week, I happened to end up sitting next to the executive director of the professional association to which I belong. Within minutes of exchanging names and affiliations, we found ourselves comparing notes on the challenges of caregiving (she cared for her mother with Alzheimer’s; I’m in a new role helping my mother-in-law who’s now staying with us).

I’ve noticed this dynamic before in my professional interactions. When meeting a female business associate for the first time, I quickly zero in and talk about a personal fact we have in common (kids, hobby, vacation destination). If I feel connected and comfortable during this sharing/networking time, the person automatically (and unconsciously) earns the “Elaine Seal of Approval.” I am much more likely to seek out and respond to this person down the road when our professional interests overlap.

I’ve engaged in this get-to-know-you dance with a few male associates over the years, but only a handful. Probably explains why the number of women outnumber men on my contact list by 10:1.

A recent article forwarded by Wise Woman Shane validated this experience for me. In Understanding How Women Network: Why Women Make Small Talk and Men Shoot Straight, Meghan Casserly writes:

In an effort to personalize professional networking, women normally try to create connections or friendships. “Before we think, ‘What can this person do for me,’ we ask, ‘What can I do for her in order to get what I need.’” In many cases this give-and-then-take style of networking builds long-lasting relationships.

The article goes on to describe the benefits/downsides of this type of networking, as well as how to best network with men (e.g., “make boy small talk, not girl talk”).

What’s networking look like for you? And can someone please tell me what constitutes “boy” small talk?

Sorry, Robert, But Meetings Suck!**

roberts-rules-of-orderWhen was the last time you sat through a meeting and, at the end, thought, “That was really a productive use of my time”?

I’ll give you a minute to think …

Racking your brain to come up with an example? I did, too, especially after reading an article written by Marie Wilson (co-creator of Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work) that stressed the importance of meetings to “build the morale of an organization.”

What?!?!? Where are these morale-boosting meetings taking place, and why wasn’t I invited? The hundreds (maybe thousands) of meetings I’ve attended in my life have almost universally left me listless, uninspired and a tad more cynical. Whatever good momentum I had going during the day was usually brought to a screeching halt by a mind-numbing meeting. (In case you haven’t guessed, Wednesdays are the big meeting day in my department – two, sometimes three, meetings every Wednesday. It’s painful.)

Wilson’s piece The Joy of Meetings and other columns featured in The Washington Post’s “On Leadership” section argue that in-person meetings are critical, particularly in this day of overflowing in-boxes and an over-reliance on virtual communication. However, they hasten to add, those meetings must be well-run and have purposeful agendas.

Now, no one I know sets out to run an aimless and unproductive meeting. In the minds of most meeting leaders, THEIR agendas are purposeful and participants benefit from the deliberations.

Where is the disconnect here? Any Wise Woman (or Wise Man) out there regularly participate in a meeting that they consider to be worthwhile? What’s the secret? And, what’s the secret for me to get through next Wednesday … and the Wednesday after that … and the one after that?

** Note: I am not a huge fan of the verb “suck,” but being around teens and college students so much, the word has snuck into my vocabulary. And, in a discussion of meetings that drain your energy and suck the life right out of you, I can think of no better term. Sorry if the word turns you off.

Virtual Foot in Mouth

foot-in-mouthMy workplace is like many in its efforts to save money. No raises this year. No more funding for travel reimbursement. Nothing for professional development training. No money even to treat the guest of honor at going-away lunches. I’m OK with all this and have not grumbled once because we’re all “taking one for the team.”

Then, last Friday morning, I open my email and read a request to change the font size we use when printing documents: adjust to 10 pt., it says, so that we can save money by using less ink and paper.

Did I mention it’s Friday? At the end of a long week? And that I woke up on the wrong side of the bed that morning? And that previously my request to take a month of unpaid leave (touted as a my way to help save money) had been rejected?

As I reread the email, I think, “You’ve got to be kidding me! A month’s worth of even my paltry salary would save more than a century’s worth of using 10 pt. font.”

Now, I’m in a snit. I cut and paste the offending email (because I know the risk and folly of simply hitting “forward”), punch in a new address and send it to Wise Hubby with the comment: “Really?!?!? Wouldn’t it be a whole lot easier to just give me a month of unpaid leave?”

An hour later, I check my email again. I blink twice. The email response with “Really?!?!?” in the subject line is not from Mike, but from my boss. Yes, I had inadvertently sent my snarky email to my boss, not my husband.

My Friday has taken a decided turn for the worse.

To my boss’s infinite credit, his response is perfect. It’s simply: “I get it.” (He must have gone through the advanced training course for dealing with grumpy and hormonal middle-age women.) However, his lack of defensiveness and acceptance of my unprofessional comment somehow make me feel even worse.

With my boss out of the office that day, I can’t walk into his office, look him in the eye and apologize. I must rely on a virtual apology for my virtual faux pas, so I craft an apologetic, mea culpa email.

And spend the rest of the day behind my closed office door trying to wrestle my size 10 (that’s shoe size, not font size) foot out of my mouth.

What Would You Choose? More Money or Good Boss?

beach-chairsAlmost 10 years ago at our annual Labor Day gathering in Rhode Island, my co-blogger Anne was my sounding board as I wrestled with the pros and cons of an exciting, high-prestige job opportunity. The decision came down to one fundamental question: Was it worth it (to me) to earn double the salary for double the stress (and a so-so boss)? I don’t remember what Anne said (and I doubt she even remembers the conversation), but I do remember the clarity I felt upon leaving The Ocean State: I wasn’t going to take the job. And, it was the so-so boss that tipped the scale for me.

I had a flashback to that decision point when I read about the recent biannual job satisfaction survey of Federal workers which found that employees place a higher value on a good boss than a fatter paycheck. More than 200,000 surveyed employees said they most valued their senior leadership team, how well their leaders communicate information with the rank and file, and availability of training and other professional opportunities

Who are the happiest campers among Federal workers, according to the survey? Folks at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a finding which brings me great comfort. If your job description includes words like “plutonium”, “emergency preparedness”, and “nuclear reactors,” I WANT you to be satisfied on the job!

Do the survey results jive with your experience, Wise Women? When you think about jobs where you were happiest, what were the attributes that made it worthwhile? If you’ve ever had a poor-communicating boss, what amount of money would have made the job more tolerable?

And, if you’re interested in NRC vacancies (GAO, NASA, CIA and State Department ranked highly, too), check out job opportunities at


5 Things to NEVER Say to Someone Who’s Laid Off

pink-slipI’ve been laid off twice in my career. The first time, the layoff coincided perfectly with my decision to leave my job and return to graduate school. How great was that – receiving severance pay (a whopping two weeks at a $19K/year job) for nothing more than good timing.

Years later, the second layoff caught me by surprise. I felt like I had been kicked in the gut. While I spent the next month calmly notifying clients and tying up loose ends, emotionally I was rolling around on the floor writhing in pain. I was so lost without a professional identity, even temporarily, that I did the one thing laid-off workers should never do: jumped at the first job offer. I desperately wanted to be able tell people how I landed on my feet. During that period, I learned that being laid off is not the worst possible professional experience – being in an ill-fitting job with an ill-tempered boss was much worse.

Thus, I feel strong compassion when I that hear a friend/colleague/loved one/even stranger has been laid off. As I offer support, I know there are things to NOT say at those times, even with the best of intentions. Such no-no’s include:

  1. “It’s probably for the best. You didn’t like that job anyway”
  2. “Just think – You’ve got all this free time to catch up on your reading (or pastime of choice).”
  3. “How’s the job hunt going?” (OK to ask. Just not OK to ask first thing during each and every conversation.)
  4. “I know how you feel.” (Even if you, too, have been laid off before, the circumstances may differ greatly, such as industry outlook, “rainy day” money in the bank, mortgage/rent commitment, etc.)
  5. “Don’t worry. You’re so talented – you’ll find something in no time.” (These days, everyone is scrambling.)

Anyone want to add to this list of “What Not to Say?” Conversely, what have people said to/done for you that felt supportive and understanding during layoffs or other challenging work time?

A Passion for Jewelry

img_0607A week before Mother’s Day, I just wanted to salute two Moms who are pursuing their passion to design jewelry. Both “corporate” women, one has left the corporate world to pursue her passion full time, the other continues to work full time and pursue her passion on the side. Both have their own distinct style – and both offer refreshingly unique, fun pieces. 

Beyond their obvious talent, I applaud their pursuit of their passion more than anything – so many of us are always thinking “I wish I could find the time to do …”  I’ve decided the reality is that there will never be the time, nor the perfect time, and if it is something you truly enjoy, you just have to figure out how to make it happen.  

So beyond my pure admiration of their talents and pursuit of happiness, Mother’s Day is around the corner – and you may want to check out exactly what they have to offer.

The first is CM Design. Check out Camille’s website to see her pieces. Camille uses tumble polished and satin finished sterling and silver plate wire as solo pieces or embellished with unique and beautful focal point beads of hand-blown Venetian and Murano glass, natural stone, hand painted ceramic, resin and vintage acrylic.   

The second designer is Pam.  It is Pam’s work that I have pictured here, as she has not had the time to develop a website yet. Her business is called Beadazzled, and you can reach Pam at 203-968-2811 or on her cell at 203-912-1250.  Pam works with sterling silver, swarovski crystal, borosilicate glass and semi precious stones. 

Support these two Wise Women when you’re thinking about your Mom, aunt, daughter, special friend or yourself!  img_0617





When Work Collides with Home

mcdonalds-workerIf you are a lawyer, registered nurse, public relations manager or police detective, research shows that you have more stress in your life due to higher levels of work-life conflict. The rest of us? We should just quit our belly-aching!

Well, the The Journal of Applied Psychology article didn’t say EXACTLY that.

According to the recap in The Washington Post, those jobs were found to require high levels of interaction and also carry responsibility for the work quality, safety and output of others. “Your resources are drained dealing with people,” said Erich Dierdorff, DePaul professor and study co-author. The DePaul University press release announcing the study (perhaps written by one of those over-stressed public relations managers) underscored the point: the authors observed that “high levels of interaction at work may lead to increased fatigue and depletion of personal resources needed to fulfill family role obligations.”

Well, duh!

It’s dealing with people, particularly colleagues and bosses, that is so exhausting, not the actual tasks. And after a stressful day of butting heads at work, who hasn’t flopped on the couch, ordered Chinese food, and spent the evening zoning out with the latest TiVo’d shows? What laundry? What kids?

Those “Take Me Away Calgon” days are not exclusive to lawyers, registered nurses, public relations managers and police detectives, honorable professions all.

Wise Hubby used to express his envy of people who work at McDonald’s. “At least they don’t have to take their work home with them (physically or mentally).” I would point out that no mater where you work, there are political and interpersonal conflicts that drag you down. Irritation at who gets the better shifts or gossip about who got stuck at the drive-through. Frustration with the slowness or incompetence of co-workers. Drama and intrigue about who is over-salting the fries.

What are the energy drains at your work? Do you find yourself distracted by those grievances when you’re not at work? What work-related issues should researchers tackle next?

Your Boss: Great Leader or Boss from Hell?

Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers.

~ Gen. Colin Powell

I read this quote in February’s Reader Digest and immediately thought of Barak Obama. Despite his wonkiness, he has a way of expressing himself in simple, direct and logical ways which I find appealing.

After this past week, I now read this quote and think of my boss.

It was my turn (and my first time) to carry the after-hours beeper and respond to mental health emergencies on campus. Did anyone notice the full moon? Let’s just say there’s a correlation between the size of the moon and the levels of emotional distress: the bigger the moon, the higher the levels.

I ended up consulting with my boss numerous times over the course of the week. I would wake her from sound sleep, blurt out a complex maze of facts and she would immediately point me in the right direction. With her words in my head, I eventually figured out how to lead the student out of the crisis. And the next student. And the next.

Now that someone else has the beeper and I’m out of reactive mode, I can appreciate what a gift my boss has for breaking down a complicated (and alarming) situation and identifying needed action steps. As soon as the advice started coming out of her mouth, I instantly thought, “Of course!” and felt myself de-stressing.

Paying my stylist to color all the new gray hairs I’ve sprouted? $125 … Knowing that I have a boss that has my back? Priceless.

What about you, Wise Women? What’s been a quality in your boss – past or present – that you’ve really appreciated? What makes for a great boss or leader?

National Bosses Day doesn’t take place for eight more months (10/16/09), but in honor of my boss, I’d like to raise a virtual toast to all the great leaders out there. Salute!

P.S. We’ll tackle bosses from hell in another post. I had to come up with a catchy headline and that’s the only one I could think of. ;-)

Ready for your Dream Job?

hamiltonisland11A few weeks ago, I came across a job opportunity (can’t remember for the life of me where I read it) that just seemed too good to be true.  Problem is, it is obviously a very sought after job, and the competition to land this one will be fierce.  So far over 11,000 applications have come in, from 162 countries.  Application deadline is February 22nd – so you still have some time, if you decide this is the job for you.

What job could be so highly sought after, you ask?  Well it’s a 6 month assignment to be the caretaker of Hamilton Island in the Great Barrier Reef, living in an oceanfront villa and earning $96,000.  It’s part tourism ploy, but definitely a legitimate assignment.  I actually emailed my sister-in-law about the job, who is finishing up her PHD in Biology and studying the psuedo scorpian, which has taken her to Australia for the past few summers, searching the Outback for this elusive insect.

What caught my attention regarding this job opportunity again was an article that Osama Bin Laden had applied for the job.  Obviously a prank, but a funny one at that.  Osama described himself as “outgoing,” “familiar with sandy areas” and experienced with “large scale event coordination.”

Since Osama’s application was denied….you still have a chance.  Go to to read all the details about the job requirements and how to apply.  Flexible working hours and key responsibilities include exploring the islands of the Great Barrier Reef to discover what the area has to offer.   You’ll be required to report back on your adventures to Tourism Queensland headquarters in Brisbane (and the rest of the world) via weekly blogs, photo diary, video updates and ongoing media interviews. An offer is a unique opportunity to help promote the wondrous Islands of the Great Barrier Reef.   

I know not many of us are in the position to pack up and go to Australia for six months, but why not think about it?  So for those of you locked into a job, maybe it’s time for a sabbatical.  And the kids?  You could probably home school them for a few months.  Go ahead and apply. Again, competition is fierce, but for the lucky one that lands this job, a whole new road awaits.


Pool Police Arrest and The Unsuspecting Perpetrator

pool-21My boss and I workout at the same gym. Fortunately, since I’m an early-bird and she’s a post-work exerciser, we’ve bumped into each other just once in the locker room. The work/life boundary certainly gets blurry when chatting up one’s boss while wearing wet hair and a postage-stamp size white towel.

Recently, my boss told me about her unsettling experience before a water aerobics class. She was walking toward the pool’s edge in her bathing suit when another woman verbally pounced on her and demanded to know if she had showered before entering the pool. When my boss said “no”, the woman reprimanded my boss, walked into the pool muttering about how unhygienic and discourteous some people were, and proceeded to complain about my boss to other women in the class. My boss was puzzled (and more than a little embarrassed) by this woman’s very vocal displeasure with her lack of showering prior to pool time. (My boss hastened to assure me she had showered earlier that morning at home.)

Now, I ask you, does any adult ever heed those signs hanging by every pool in America and actually shower before jumping into a pool?

No, don’t answer that. I’m not really interested in discussing the merits or futility of showering before swimming in a pool.

What really fascinates me is that this woman took it upon herself to act as the pool police and shame my 50-something boss into acting differently. It reminds me of a friend of my mother who used to (and maybe still does) chase after and confront smokers who tossed their cigarettes butts on to the ground. I admire their tenacity and passion, but squirm uncomfortably at their methods.

Honestly, I can think of nothing that would inspire or enrage me enough to go after an unwitting stranger and chastise them for their boorish behavior. Maybe I’m just a wimp.

What about you, Wise Women? Have you taken it upon yourself to educate/police others about a particular cause or injustice? What’s been your experience?

P.S. OK, I AM curious about whether one really should shower before entering a pool; more than 350,000 shared my curiosity and Googled that same question. An MD who teaches at Harvard gives his opinion on the matter.

Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.

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