Thursday, March 26, 2009

Do The Right Thing: Ethics, Coworkers, and Surviving

One of the most difficult parts about being in a competitive industry or professsion is being exposed to the competitive underbelly of humanity.

Surviving The Inferno

(1) Unethical People are Not Your Friends... or enemies.

Does she cheat on her time sheet? Over-expense the company? Does he give a little too much away about what went on in confidential meetings? The small things matter - when you start out in the professional world, allie yourself with people who are ethical.

First, unethical people are likely to throw you under the bus if anything happens. They're inherently selfish and egotistical, so if accused of anything may suddenly come out with something completely innocent you've done in an ill planned effort to save themselves. Additionally, if you appear to gain success they might encourage it until it is percieved as a threat and then go on the offensive unexpectedly.

Second, if they do get busted you can end up guilty by association.

Third, while ethical people tend to extend opportunities to others unethical people often seem to subscribe to the maxim that others have to fail in order for them to win - when actually the opposite is true. By creating success in others you are more likely to be surrounded by success in the future. Think about it.

At the same time, remain neutral and friendly. Just don't confuse being friendly with being friends.

(2) Engage at the Water Cooler But Provide No Real Information

In a competitive work environment it's essential to have access to inside information. It helps you stay ahead of the curve and gives insight into what actually matters. It helps you sync what you're doing to what the workplace needs: work smarter, not harder. It can also ensure you know about new projects, opportunities and red flags early enough to fall on the right side.

I think people underestimate the power of workplace gossip in creating a sense of community. If you never participate you may become invisible and lose out on key connections. At the same time, you need to develop a reputation as someone who is confidential and understands discretion. Blow it once and you sabotage a relationship permanently.

There are a few tricks I've picked up. First, make things that are not insider information seem like they are. Be early on office announcements and break them before anyone else. Offer thoughtful but neutral commentary. Next, figure out who has information and engage them. It's amazing what people will reveal when they simply feel listened to. Last, recognize you are being tested by people with good information - if you leak, you will be cut off abruptly without notice. The point is to get information, not to pass it along. Resist the ego boost that comes from seeming like you're an insider.

(3) Find and Keep Sane Friends

My best friend has the same educational credentials as I do - in fact, she graduted the year before I got in. She's in a different field but we're in near daily contact about what's really going on at our offices... I know I can trust her. She's the reality check when I think someone is crossing the line, and a safe place to vent about frustrations. She also gives great advice because we're close enough she won't just agree and will call me on overreacting.

My boyfriend is a similarly excellent person to bounce ideas off of. He asks the right questions and understands the nature of a competitive professional environment.

Like the ladies of many a Candace Bushnell novel, you need powerful (probably girl) friends from diverse backgrounds. Almost all the people I know with great jobs have one thing in common: great friends.

I could offer some other reasonable advice: don't sleep with your boss! Invest in matching pension plans! Don't be afraid to ego stroke for mentorship! But all of this advice is something you can get somewhere else and perhaps even intuitive. The above is from the trenches, one young female yo-pro to another... dispatch over and out.

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