Tag Archives: career strategy

Do you practise conversation hygiene?

I was introduced to this expression “conversation hygiene” by someone who is not a first language English speaker. Once I heard the words, they stuck in my head and I realised how perfect they were to describe many of the situations we all see and hear on a daily basis. Some of us don’t practise any sort of conversation hygiene at even a most basic level, and many not at all.

Hygiene is defined as:

Conditions or practices conducive to maintaining health and preventing disease, especially through cleanliness.

So  in terms of conversation hygiene, for the word “health” substitute “mental health”,  and for “disease” add “stress and discomfort. Although they are not soap and water instances, some can be pretty close. It has the same impact on your auditory space as bad breath and body odour have on your olfactory senses. We don’t like to be around people who smell. People who have personal hygiene problems are usually glad to be told and yet we frequently don’t tell people when they don’t carry out conversation hygiene. Why is that?

8 examples of conversation hygiene

Do any of these sound familiar?

#1 Abusers

Of course this is familiar. I’ve heard these people on a number of occasions in the last few days. On a train, in a restaurant and in a shop. Yes I do give a f*****ing  $*µ#! I have no problem people complaining – more should, but loud aggression directed at some junior employee, who possibly doesn’t understand them, is not going to help anyone at all.

#2 Dominators

conversation hygiene

Commonly found in meetings the Chair calls for everyone’s view points and then talks over them.  He clearly hasn’t listened to Simon Sinek’s video -“Leaders be the Last to Speak” There’s  no agenda and we go off topic. Nothing is decided. There is no action plan or follow up or through. It is an epic waste of time. Lack of conversation hygiene – big time.

#3 Mega Talkers     

A network encounter talked at me for about 8 minutes, apologised for talking too much, smiled and then left. More time wasted.

#4 The self absorbed 

A man held a conference call via lap top speakers in a public space. This was a major conversation hygiene fail and noise pollution alert.

#5 The self interested  

A woman watched a video in a restaurant with the volume on. it sounded like a sex/slasher and horror flick. Let’s just say it wasn’t Frozen or a TedX Talk. There was a lot of panting and screaming.  She did put in ear buds when prompted without looking even faintly embarassed or nonplussed.

#6 The inconsiderate

Two women sitting two seats down from me talked through a presentation by Daniel Thorniley at HRTechWorld Amsterdam until I asked them to stop. Trust me, everything Daniel Thorniley says is worth listing to. Every. Single. Word. They threw me a “Whatever” glare. Thorniley’s presentation was targetting their age demographic, the under 40s. They obviously have no interest in the economic and social projections about their futures. They are not great.

#7 The extreme interruptor

The extreme interrutor cuts everyone off mid sentence. All the usual strategies “let me finish” and assertive body language fail.  No, you are not more important than any of us, even though you would like to think so. The only thing that stops them is telling them to “shut up and let other people make their point”

#8 The unpresent 

This is the person who is talking to you because there is no one else. They are constantly looking over their shoulders for someone more interesting /influential to engage. As soon as they see that someone, they smile indulgently, tap you on the shoulder and leave. Their conversation hygiene needs a lot of work.

The idea of when we open our mouthes it should be with the same consideration for conversation and other people  as if we needed to brush our teeth. We wouldn’t breathe stinky breath all over anyone. Would we?

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Career advice needs context

Why career advice is meaningless without context

There is no shortage of career advice, with any number of people giving tips on what and not what to do. There is even advice on what career advice to ignore. Everyone has careers, so we all believe we know what everyone else should do. But as with anything, these bumper sticker type homilies are much more nuanced than we ever imagined. Times and workplaces change. Circumstances change. Heaven forbid – you change. These golden tips and nuggets of wisdom need to be revisited and always put into context. Context is everything when it comes to career advice. Without that – any career advice is meaningless.

4 common pieces of career advice without context

#1 You have to follow your passion

This is the most regularly doled out of all career tips. If it was a movie or a song it would get an award. Of course you should all be advised to do something you love and which satisfies you. Otherwise you will be condemned to a life of frustration and misery. But there are some caveats. The first is to be strategic. Do you have the skills or can you acquire them? The next question is will that passion pay the bills? At the age of 14, I was passionate about tennis, but there was no way I could make a living at it. Or had the skills. That is something that very often people misunderstand. I know one woman who was an excellent home cook and passionate about food. But she was unable to turn that passion into something that paid her bills. Some things like my tennis, are best kept as hobbies.

The other thing is that your passion can change over the years. So something that you might be passionate about in your 20s,  can be the source of unremitting boredom in later life.

You can also develop new passions. It’s not inconceivable that you might find two or even more passions in a working life which is extending all the time.

Core advice: maintain a path of life-long learning. Be open to possibilities and be sure to do your inner work regularly. Assess and prioritize your goals.  In our careers we will be passionate about many things at various times. At different stages of our lives we have a range of commitments and constraints. There is nothing wrong with having to defer to those in the short-term. As life goes on compromises are made as we factor other people’s needs into our planning. The question is do you feel compromised? If you do, then it’s time for a re-evaulation. The pace of change is also so great in our workplaces, that we have no idea what jobs will exist in 10 years that we may become passionate about.

Passion isn’t static for most people. It’s misleading to suggest it might be.

Read: Knowing yourself in the beginning of all wisdom 

#2. You should have a dream

Martin Luther King had a dream.  Some athletes, movie-stars, musicians have dreams. Other more regular people also have them. But unless that vision is backed up by a strategy, goals and a plan then it is worthless.  Relate this to your passion. The same criteria apply.

Core advice: See above

#3. There is no substitute for hard work

Actually there is. I prefer the advice to work smart. In an era of 24/7 availability the pressure to work incredibly long hours is high. In some sectors it’s a badge of honour and status symbol, particularly for men.  Burnout, breakdowns and depression are now normal. There are times when hard work is necessary. But it’s not just about the hours clocked  – it’s about the quality of those hours and their strategic value.

A bedfellow to this piece of advice is that you are judged by your work, so you should allow that work “to speak for itself.” That isn’t necessarily true. People tend to be judged by their results and they need to be able to develop a message that people are aware of. Find a mentor or a sponsor to help you share that message. This is a very female trap to wait for recognition. It frequently doesn’t call. We all have poor, lazy colleagues who still manage to do well.

Core advice: work smart and strategically, have a plan. Network effectively, work with a sponsor who will act as your door opener and find balance. Don’t be afraid to communicate your achievements. Done properly, with some humility, it is not bragging.

Read; Overwhelmed by a culture of overwork

#4. Get as many qualifications as you can 

Today with the cost of education sky rocketing and many graduates leaving university to depressed job markets with huge debts, the further education argument is now under discussion. It is no longer the golden conveyor to career success. So the career advice in this area should be tempered. Clearly there are certain professions which require higher education. In medicine, engineering, architecture and so on, minimum academic professional standards are not optional. But a number of organisations are starting to drop the focus on degree qualifications and look at other skills. The accounting firm Ernst and Young says that there is

‘No evidence’ that success at university is linked to achievement in professional assessments”

The World Economic Forum list the following as vital skills in the future of work:  literacy,  numeracy,  financial knowledge, technology, soft skills (see list below)

wef -skills

 Core advice: The workplace is changing at a terrific pace and currently there is a massive disconnect with our education systems. There is no doubt that the value of traditional educational paths is coming under question. I would definitely think long and hard before taking a liberal arts or soft degree and relate that carefully to longer term career projections. This brings us back again to life long learning. No one can afford not to update their skills on an ongoing basis. Failure to do so will be a problem. So you can have as many qualifications as you like, but if they are out of date, or redundant – they are of no value

Success means different things to each of us. The important element is to be clear what it means to you and to check regularly if those factors are consistent and constant. Career advice is not a one of one size fits all. The advice we need, will evolve as we and our circumstances do.

For career advice, context is not just critical, it’s everything.

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Frozen eggs don’t address the real issues

I have been following with interest the recent media hype involving some high-profile companies, Apple and Microsoft, offering a frozen eggs service to their female employees.  I suppose this possibly might be in the way that they might offer luncheon vouchers, concierge services or membership to a health club.  Both companies hope that this move will help them attract and retain female talent, by reducing the pressure on them to have children before a particular age and stage in their careers.

I am all for family planning being openly discussed with both men and women equally.  I am all for career strategy. I can indeed see there could be some advantages in the egg freezing perk but I am also aware of the process being fraught with potential difficulties.

Failure rate

Discussing oocyte cryopreservation (egg freezing) has been part of my congruent career couple coaching programme since 2012, together with the elective freezing of sperm, as a back-up fertility plan. I have always been a Plan B kind of girl. I.V.F. is an expensive process, with sums ranging from $12000 upwards being charged, so having a corporate health plan that includes this would be beneficial.  I am told by friends who have been down this path, that the experience can be painful and emotionally difficult with a failure rate of around 70% reported.

Opponents will raise concerns about the unintended consequences of the scheme which would add even more pressure on female executives to delay motherhood until later on in their careers. The profile of the typical egg freezer has changed over recent years, showing a shift from single women not in relationships in their late 30s who want to protect their child-bearing possibilities, to younger women, who want an extended period of freedom. It is not always associated with career strategy and there is nothing wrong with this per se. Advocates will argue for women being given the opportunity to control their destinies both professional and personal. The ideal time to freeze eggs is when the egg quality is highest, which could be in late 20s.  A strategy relying on this relatively untested medical technology carries additional unknown risks.


It takes two to tango. Eggs need sperm. So women will also need access to high sperm count semen, one would hope from the father of their future child, although I understand this is not necessarily a prerequisite.  Many women are single some out of choice others not.  But are the companies offering the same service to male employees where research shows that sperm count peaks between  ages 30-35?

Terms and conditions

There will surely be terms and conditions associated with receiving this benefit. Will these organisations see an influx of younger women who may want to take advantage of the offer only to see them leave once their eggs are frozen. Will they have to repay the fees as they might professional training fees? Ironically, this could lead to increased churn in the female talent pipeline.


This nice corporate perk might help at the upstream end of career and family planning, but at some point the woman hopefully will become pregnant and will have a baby.  Whether she is a single parent or within a couple, there is no guarantee that her days in a family unfriendly job are over. It is equally likely that she could land a job later in her career which requires travel and high time commitment, post baby. If she is a single mother these challenges will be significant.

Delaying parenthood is therefore not the total solution. These new practises are only going to work for both men and women if organisations stop seeing children as a corporate inconvenience.  Children will get sick and need taking to dentists. There will be sports days and parent teacher conferences.  Kids cannot be freeze framed and re-activated at will, although I’m sure many parents would welcome that initiative on occasion.

In economies with declining birth rates, aging populations and critical skill set shortages, egg freezing health benefits are a nice-to-have, but no substitute for over all conditions of service and corporate cultures that don’t penalize parents. Parental leave should no longer be seen as career suicide for men and flex and remote working should lose the label “mommy track.”

If these critical corporate cultural issues, as well as the other challenges associated with unconscious bias and gender imbalance are not addressed then


4 time management tips to work smarter not longer

Even though my kids left school years ago, I’ve always been impacted by the back to school vibe. Just like in school, it’s a great opportunity to use this symbolic period to take some refresher classes.  I decided I needed to go back to school and focus on some time management tips.


We all often complain about not having enough time. Me too. For many of us time is our most valuable commodity. So now seems a good moment for me to review some time management basics to make concrete changes to the way I go about things. With a good foundation of best practises firmly in place I intend to create a new and better time management plan for myself. When we value our own time and the time of others, the tendency is that this approach will be reciprocated.

Here my back to school 4 basic time management tips:

 Carry out a personal time audit

  • Keep a log of how you spend your time on a typical week day.
  • How does this change at the weekend?
  • When are you most and least productive?
  • What tasks could do with a little more time spent on them or survive a cut ?
  • What are you spending time on that you don’t really enjoy, or  tasks you enjoy but have no value?
  • When are the main points in the day you waste time?
  • Using this evaluation, decide how do you want to redistribute your time.

Identify your priorities

  • What are your goals?
  • Create a to do list that reflects as many steps towards meeting those goals as possible, not just what needs doing or you like doing
  • Put these essential task at the top of the list,  as well as tasks that you like doing. Facebook is fun, but unless you work for them or it is a genuine professional tool, this should go low on the list

Identify tasks, distractions or individuals that eat into your time

  • Identify anything which causes a regular, repeated drag or drain on your time. These could cover technical glitches, workload peaks, routine tasks that could be outsourced, unproductive meetings or even people. We all have individuals in our lives who are time wasters and energy drainers. Whether they are your best friend, a colleague or a report, be clear who they are and be willing to tell them

In a formal business environment set clear guidelines about when you are free for unscheduled meetings, taking calls out of the office, when you will have your phone switched off and will respond to emails. This is easier with seniority, but even at a junior level your boss should appreciate your structured approach. That’s OK for you, I was told. You are your own boss! So ask him or her:

Turning off my email alert signal was one of the best things I have ever done to reduce distractions. Just as I know that chocolate contains calories, I know I’m going to get emails most minutes of most days, and most of them are not important.

Schedule down time

One of the biggest time-eating traps is not scheduling time off.  Big mistake. We all need to disconnect, have enough sleep, exercise, eat healthily and make time for things that matter to us  – whatever they may be,  to simply re-charge.

So as the summer fades away, why not go forward into the winter with a new game plan

Need help with your time management? Check out the individual coaching programmes!


Organisational red flags

They’re just not that into you…Organisational red flags

He’s just not that into you ” is the headline from  He’s Just Not That Into You: The No-Excuses Truth to Understanding Guys by Greg Behrendt , the modern girls guide to men, dating and relationships. To save us women from complete denial when we fail to take on board something that is glaringly obvious to everyone around us. Yet  these warning signs in relaitonships are also organisational red flags.

Organsiational red flags are the same as relationship ones

We  convince ourselves that our rose-coloured version of reality is the correct one,  even if all the signs scream a  totally different message . We have all been  in relationships that are  dysfunctional,  one-sided or perhaps just past their sell by date.   If he doesn’t call it’s because he lost his phone,  broken both his hands or  (poor darling…)  had to go unexpectedly to some remote wilderness and signal- less location. Despite our excuses and even defence of an indifferent or bad relationship,  the reality is we are not  important enough for them to call.

GB ” If he creates expectations for you, and then doesn’t follow through on little things, he will do same for big things.”

They are just not that into us. Sound familiar? 

Well, like many truisms this philosophy is transferable and can be applied to other situations, even corporate relationships.  Many employees hang onto old jobs, roles and relationships for all the wrong reasons,  when all evidence is suggesting they should getting a Plan B and getting one fast.


Regional Sales Director of an international logistics company, Frederick had been the designated deputy for the C.E.O. for 9 years and expected to be appointed on his retirement.  He was shocked to find that the position was advertised externally. He had not been appointed on an interim basis or even invited to apply for the job he had been effectively doing in his boss’ absence for many years. He pushed hard to be considered as a candidate and although he went through the interview process with an executive search firm, an external candidate was given an offer. The VP H.R. claimed to be too busy to discuss this with him directly and asked a junior assistant to make the turn down call.

Message:  they aren’t that into him. If they had wanted him for the job they would have spoken to him not just for an interview, but maybe even years before and started a development process.   There are a lot of organisational red flags here.

GBThe word “busy” is the relationship Weapon of Mass Destruction…..  Remember: Men are never too busy to get what they want.”


Returned from maternity leave in the banking sector and instead of slotting back into her position leading a large team, she was shunted into a solo operator functional role with no teeth. She was excluded from key meetings and responsibilities that had previously been hers were  re-allocated to employees who had previously reported to her.  She was told she needed to re-build her reputation after being in the company for five years. She is still working hard to retrieve her position,  putting in long hours despite having a small baby. She rationalizes the decisions  in terms of organisational imperatives and gender stereotyping which she hopes she can turn around.

Message:  they aren’t  that into her.  1 in 6 women experience contractual difficulties on return from maternity leave. Companies who value their female employees will honour and respect contractual obligations.  Will Manuela effect a successful turnaround of opinion? Should she have to go through this exercise just because she’s had a baby?  These are all organisational red flags.  

GB  “When it comes to men, deal with them as they are, not how you’d like them to be.”  


was hired from outside the financial services sector as a C.F.O. designate, to step into the senior role after a three-year grooming period. When the outgoing C.F.O.  left suddenly after only 18 months, under a mysterious cloud, the position was given to a colleague. It was felt that Simon lacked the necessary experience  to assume a senior role and as the errant C.F.O.’s protogé, he might be happier elsewhere. Despite  a tough time at the height of the recession, he finally got another job. In the meantime the new appointee isn’t working out and Simon has been approached to return as his departure has left a gap in the organisation.

Message:  they aren’t that into him.  That was a major red flag. They could not see any potential and would not invest in coaching or other onboarding programmes to guarantee success. None of the other executives were willing to support him because appointing Simon was a risk they didn’t want to take.  

GB “Don’t be flattered that he misses you. He should miss you. You are deeply missable. However, he’s still the same person who just broke up with you”.

Organisations that value employees look after them and groom them. They treat them with integrity. They provide support for growth and development.  If they have issues they communicate them constructively so that the employee is clear and can make informed choices.

If they fail to behave correctly once, will that be a pattern that is repeated? Are the early warning signals likely to re-occur?  Like in other relationships there is always a chance of an epiphany and the neglectful employer will reform. They are also  strong indications that forming a Plan B would be a good idea.

GBThe quickest way to rectify that mistake (choosing the wrong person) is by learning from that, moving on, and choosing much more wisely in the future.”

What do you think?

Nip/Tuck: new career strategy for men

Nip/ tuck – a new career strategy for men

I recently came under fire from some male friends of a “certain age”, complaining that I needed to write more about the problems that men face in their careers. So I was delighted when news this week featured the latest figures relating to male cosmetic surgery and could oblige.

Exactly a year ago while examining the value of make-up for professional women in the workplace, one of my contacts, a senior lawyer, William,  mentioned that a growing number of his peers were resorting to cosmetic surgery to support their careers. “An increasingly number of men in my circle have had cosmetic surgery to maintain a more youthful appearance, because they see it as a professional advantage.”

Remember, you heard it here first!

It wasn’t that I didn’t believe him, I simply didn’t take it too seriously. I couldn’t understand how sporting a “6 pack” could make a difference. Presumably it’s not on display in the workplace, or at least not the offices I go to, so more appropriate for the beach or bedroom than the boardroom. So I was surprised to hear in the media,  suggestions that the number of nip/tucks  for men showed a higher increase in 2011,  than in any other demographic.  Only cursory research showed similar trends in Australia and the United States.  One of the reasons cited was to gain, or maintain,  professional credibility and advancement.

Male surgery  now accounts for 10% of all cosmetic procedures in the UK, with a tummy tuck seeing a 15% rise in popularity, as men turn to the knife to eliminate or reduce their middles. The second most popular procedure for men, rising by 7% was the removal of ” moobs”  – man boobs (gynaecomastia). This surgery was followed by liposuction with an 8% rise, along with rhinoplasty (nose job), blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery), otoplasty (ear correction) and face and brow lifts.

Appearance of control 
I immediately picked up the phone to William.  We went through some lawyer-speak for ” I told you so” and then got down to business.

He elaborated  ” A forgotten demographic is the 50 something executive,  by anyone’s standards  probably successful,  but feeling the pressure from younger professionals, both male and female, coming hard on his heels, through the ranks. Many will have to work longer than they anticipated. Some have re-married and have young children even at this age.  Our culture places great emphasis on physical appearance as an outward sign of what is basically  power, control, high energy, seeming competent, capable and in charge. Old-looking men with straining shirt buttons over bulging bellies don’t give off that impression. We work long hours, have business lunches or sandwiches at our desks or on trains. Combined with family commitments,  we struggle to get to the gym or take the exercise we need. For many this is a quick and relatively painless solution.”

He put me in touch with George, a gentleman no stranger to the scalpel,  with 2 cosmetic procedures already notched up, a tummy tuck and eyelid surgery, as well as Botox injections.   Clearly my tips on Touche Eclat had fallen on deaf ears.  “ I work in  a client facing environment and was starting to look a bit paunchy, saggy and tired. Companies don’t like to work with people who look as though they lack energy and permanently seem in need of a vacation. It was well worth it and I have no regrets!” Whatever happened to the revered elder statesman role?

But anyway who is going to see this perfectly re-constructed abdomen in a professional environment I asked somewhat directly?  George did smile when he expanded  “ It’s about confidence, my suit fits correctly. I just feel better.”  

Is 60 the new 40?
To repeat what I said last year, this rising trend to attempt to create washboard abs or any other age reducing surgical procedure, simply to stay ahead in the career game,  seems a sad commentary on our times and corporate cultures. The ultimate irony of course is that youth unemployment figures are at an all time high.   Could it be that our rejuvenated 50-something Boomers, with their  newly achieved 6-packs are getting in the way?

If 60 is really the new 40, then things are not going to improve any time soon for Gen Y.

  What do you think?