get on at work
Six principles to ensure you make friends and influence people at the office
The stance traditionally adopted by ambitious young executives - head safely beneath the parapet, back well covered, nose squeaky clean - feels wrong to today's Branson Wannabes. Nor will they learn much from such classic guides to success in organisations as Stephen Potter and Anthony Jay. The world they describe is too clearly that of tea ladies and clerks, one-company careers and management by command and control.
The paperless office surely requires a new route-map: without it, how can young Turks hope to avoid the booby-traps of everyday life in the de-layered organisation, let alone plan their assault on the commanding heights of UK plc? Here are six basic principles, designed to prolong active life on the ice floe, make friends and influence people, while still leaving you with sufficient time to monitor the performance of your portable personal pension.
Check regularly that you're still employable
This is important if you've been in the same role for some time. The question is: if you were applying for your own job, would you be the obvious candidate? If not, why not? Are there new skills you'd be expected to have, but currently lack? If so, get them now. Remember that where technophobia used to be acceptable as an amusing quirk; it's now more likely to be translated into the cost of an extra typist or regarded as a symptom of ossification.
2. Be the person who comes up with new ideas - not the one who instantly identifies the difficulties involved
If creativity isn't your bag, it's not the end of the world. At least make sure you give other people's brain-children the benefit of the doubt. You may be able to contribute by pointing out the ways in which a new approach can add value. Better still, offer to trial it. In today's changing corporate environment, guinea-pigs stand to gain glory without exposing themselves to the same level of risk faced by genuine innovators - whatever the company mission statement says about encouraging new ways of doing things.
3. Give new people the benefit of the doubt
Work is increasingly organised around business processes rather than along old, functional lines. Project-working is becoming the norm, which means regular moves between teams. You probably need to improve your relationship-building skills. Can you give praise without sounding patronising, or let a colleague know you're unhappy about some aspect of their behaviour without starting a vendetta? Can you say no without sounding negative - logically impossible but essential, particularly if you have a reputation for delivering on commitments?
4. Fight possessiveness and territoriality in yourself
You can't afford to get too attached to anything these days - whether it's a particular desk or a bright idea. Flexibility and team-working have never been valued so highly. Being a good team-player doesn't mean shying away from conflict and confrontation. Habitual yea-sayers don't add value to the decision-making process. However, most teams - including those thrown together to work on short-life projects - do expect members to abide by an agreed code of practice. And they take a dim view of those who disregard the principle of collective responsibility.
5. Convince yourself of the benefits of diversity
It's increasingly necessary to involve a wide range of disciplines in finding solutions. You also need to be comfortable working alongside people from different backgrounds to yours. They're unlikely to share all your values, and it's not enough to pay lip-service to the doctrine that other people have rights, too. Autocratic leadership is out of fashion and effective delegation skills are at a premium - the speed at which decisions have to be reached today means that they often need to be taken by quite junior people.
6. Make it easy for people to give you what you want
Get it clear in your own mind first, but remember that other people aren't mind-readers. Make sure they know what you're after, understand how your ambitions can support theirs, and realise how well- equipped you are to meet challengesn
Dr John Nicholson is chairman of the business psychology consultancy Nicholson McBride Ltd.
improve your memory
Think in pictures - but don't expect miracles
It's all very well having a good time at a party, but can you remember the names of anyone you were introduced to? If, like most of us, you are mnemonically challenged, there are several tricks.
Good for recalling a string of objects. You need a primary key. The standard version begins one-bun, two-shoe, three-tree, four-door, etc. So if your shopping list begins cucumber, goat's cheese, yogurt, cuddly toy, associate each item with the corresponding object: a cucumber in a bun, a goat wearing shoes, a tree with yogurt cartons hanging from its branches, a cuddly toy coming in through a door. Or imagine a tour through a grand mansion, leaving each item behind at prearranged points: cucumber on hatstand, goat's cheese at library door, yogurt on a library book, cuddly toy in the downstairs lavatory, and so on.
The trouble is that when you've just met someone, you don't have anything to hang their name on. So when introduced, repeat the name back at the person: "I'm pleased to meet you, Athelstan Fortescue Fitzgerbil", and picture him wearing a crown, to remind you of the mediaeval king Athelstan, and a pair of gerbil-skin gloves.
Turn them into words, each digit corresponding to a different set of consonants. In the standard system 0 is s or z, 1 is d or t, 2 is n; 3 is m; 4 is r; 5 is l, 6 is j; 7 is k; 8 is f; 9 is b or p. To remember the fax number of the Independent letters page - 0171-293-2435 - translate it as stkt-nbm-nrml and remember the phrase "sticky tuna bum normal".
Will all this help you develop a super-power memory? Probably not, according to most academic research. We can hold in our minds roughly seven things at any one time. Juggling groups of seven in and out of short- and long- term memory, we can perform prodigious feats - but it's not really improving our memoriesn
draw up a life strategy
Make a list of things you want to do with your life. Then ask yourself why you haven't already done them
Directionless and confused? Why not let Peta Lyn Farwagi sort out your life? Prue Leith - cook and entrepreneur - did. So did George Bain, the principal of the London Business School. We are talking top people here.
Mind you, at pounds 100 an hour - which is what Ms Farwagi charges - you have to be pretty successful to afford to be in crisis in the first place. She recently had a senior executive from an inter-governmental bank fly in from Washington and spend two-and-a-half days with her. That was pounds 3,000, airfare not included.
Still, I could do with getting my life in order so I went to see her in the smart South Kensington flat from which she helps top people stand back from their busy careers and plan their next nodal departure. "Take that banker," she says, as she settles with precision on to one of the two sofas which face each other across a cool glass coffee table. "As he saw it he had no alternatives other than another contract with the bank or retirement. By the end of the time we had built him some possibilities."
She offered me tea but she appeared to be drinking plain hot water. "It's about changing their habits; sometimes they're success habits. You see, society asks people to keep on doing the same thing - the thing they're good at - and that can eventually make them frustrated."
Peta Lyn Farwagi is a personable and attractive woman in her later middle years. She is a person of the world. She has been a champion ice-skater, travel editor of Vogue, a director of an advertising agency, an "experiential psychologist", a fellow of the London Business School and is now a consultant on "life balance" issues. You can speak frankly to such a woman. So I began by asking her: "Isn't all this all a load of old guff?"
She gives me a smile halfway between indulgence and concern. "Many of those who come to see me are in corporate life - banking and the City. You might expect them to be very sceptical but in fact most have open minds," she says. Ouch! If I'm so clever how come I'm not rich? Which is what you have to be to afford to come and squat with her for two-and- a-half days (or to visit for a couple of hours every couple of weeks for three months, which is what she prefers). And presumably you have to be nearing retirement.
"Not necessarily. Yes, there are some, like George Bain, who do come towards the end of a career." (He is 57 and due to retire from the London Business School in three years; after a series of Farwagi consultations he decided not to look for another big job but to combine a series of three- to five-year projects with a return to his academic roots and part- time residence in Canada). And others, like Prue Leith, are rationalising: working out what to do after selling successful companies, and deciding how to restructure their lives, working out what to drop to make way for where they want to go.
"I went through Prue Leith's appointments diary with her, asking her to rate events in terms of how useful they were to where she wanted to be in five years." She did it on a scale of one to five. Anything which wasn't five, she axed.
"But it's not just people coming towards retirement. There are also people with the urge to go back to school. There are people who in their forties say, 'I've achieved all this, but at what cost? And where am I in it all?' There are top executives in their thirties wondering if it is time to start a family. And there are those in their late twenties who after a fast, fast start suddenly wonder if they can keep this up for the rest of their lives. Change points can come at any point in a career."
She is certainly tuned into something in the zeitgeist. It is the language of that telephone ad which is headlined "Catch the Sleeper" and shows a smiling girl of school age on the phone in her nightie. Not putting the children to bed has in our society become almost a mark of machismo rather than a matter for regret. "I want you to introduce me to my family," said one executive at the Parisian business school, INSEAD, when Ms Farwagi ran one of her sessions there. Companies must create more family time and build in some three-day weekends to avoid burn-out, she told him. She could, I suppose, have just sent him out of the seminar and home to see his kids.
"I'm really fed up with my job," is one of the commonest refrains of those who seek her services. "If I can just hang on until Christmas/my holidays/the end of the financial year," is another. These are people who work 80 hours a week. "They stop laughing," Ms Farwagi says. "The shape of their faces changes; it becomes long and thin and only when they later relax do you see that isn't its natural shape. They want to make a different future but can't find the space. They ask: 'How do you build the future when everybody wants a piece of your today?' I get them to look at their lives and rethink them."
She uses a number of games and stratagems to do this. "I ask them to list 10 unachieved goals - from childhood through to yesterday - to look at their yearnings. Then I ask them why they wanted these things - and why they didn't do them. In part that is to help them get rid of what they're holding on to wistfully and which is taking up emotional energy. In part it is to isolate what they actually still want. I'm looking for the connections they haven't made between the various aspects of their lives: work, friends, hobbies, health and spirit."
People do not always want what they think they want. One man said he wanted to teach music to young children. In the Farwagi consultancy he decided this was a metaphor for wanting to bring more hope and optimism into his job. "People can often find what they need within their existing job," she insists. One woman redirected herself by staying in her present job but becoming involved in her company's planning group to mastermind the advent of new technology. Another did the same by joining the committee which distributed her City firm's charitable donations.
"People often talk about wanting to make a difference - to help people rather than just creating a greed system - but they often find they can make more of a difference where they are. It is good for their companies too. It shows in the bottom line because their staff are sharper and work better. The fall-out from resignations and illness is less because people have balance in their lives."
The consequences of hanging on too long are evident from other clients. One young woman, after eight years in a fast-track job in the City, just walked out and went to see Peta Lyn Farwagi the next day. Another client was a man who had been on a weekend personal development course where he was seized by a new vision of himself, as a result of which he went in on the Monday, resigned, bought a yacht and went around the world leaving his wife and children behind. "One year later he came to me and said he thought it had all been a mistake." To avoid such precipitation and confusion she advises her other clients to insert some "quiet time" into each day to slow the brain down.
Sitting back and thinking as she speaks, some echoes of older wisdoms resonate in my mind. Isn't all this the sort of advice - albeit wrapped in faintly New Age management-speak - which we might in a bygone era have had from our mother, father, friend or parish priest? Isn't this what people used to talk to their friends about in the pub?
"Of course", she says disarmingly, "or tribal elders, aunts and uncles or shamans". It's just that in our fragmented society we don't always have the time to give to each other. Isn't that sad? "Not really. I don't see it as a bad thing. I just see it as a change in the nature of society. As we learn to handle it we'll like it more." Or at least those of us who can charge pounds 100 an hour to listen willn
work the room at parties
Flattery, the art of introductions and physical contact are among the most potent party-going skills. And whatever you do, keep moving
You've seen them at it, haven't you? Those shockingly confident, well-connected, magnetically popular types who glide through a party as if figure-skating - exchanging a word here, sharing a joke there, pausing for a longer put-the-world-to-rights conversation every seven minutes, test-flying a seduction at one end of the room then radiating loyalty at the other, endlessly (though imperceptibly) on the move, constantly finding the right thing to say, and invariably leaving the party happy in the knowledge that everyone thinks they're just adorable.
Sickening isn't it? Who are these Martini-generation folk with their perfectly judged social skills and their ski-lodge sophistication. Can I be one too? The answer is, of course you can't (you silly thing) because they don't really exist. They only seem to be these perfect beings because they remind you of your own shortcomings. They intimidate you because you are deficient in the skills of schmooze management. You do not know how to make an entrance. You do not know how to work a room.
It's an area of human interaction that doesn't get written about much. Agony aunts are rarely solicited for their views on Room Working. Etiquette advisers might tell you how to start a conversation at dinner, but not how to move in on a group of total strangers and leave them all talking about you. Desmond Morris may bang on about social leakage but, on the black arts of Bore Avoidance, he is strangely silent.
Your worries are over. Just keep these few simple rules handy, study them when the next stiffie pops through the letterbox, and you'll be working the Victoria & Albert Museum faster than Elizabeth Esteve-Coll.
DO go prepared to circumvent awkwardness. What's the worst that can happen? You won't know anybody. You'll experience a panic attack. It'll be celebrity overload and you'll find yourself desperately straining through the hot crush trying to spot someone who isn't famous. (It has happened to me countless times. Once, I was tongue-tied and paralysed with embarrassment. Get a grip, I told myself. Deep breath, turn round and, whoever you find yourself standing next to, offer some phatic overture about the state of the Test Match. I took a deep breath. I turned round. I found myself standing next to Harold Pinter and Simon Gray. Silently, like a revolving door, I kept on turning.)
All you need to do, when you don't know anybody, is zoom in on the host, and ask him or her to name three people at the party who can talk about (say) operation scars or cooking or babies or New Labour, and get him to introduce you. Then you say, "Gerry tells me you're a great expert on children," (or whatever) and you're away. Even if they know damn-all about the subject, they'll be flattered to hear that their host is apparently telling other guests about them. And in the unlikely event of you finding nothing to talk about, you should have one story from the news washing around your head, so that you can say that best of all openings: "I've just heard the damnedest thing ..."
DO NOT remain rooted to the spot. It is given to very few people to be the pole towards whom the party gravitates; Carmen Callil and Alice Thomas Ellis are the only ones who spring to mind. Ms Thomas Ellis invariably finds a piano, parks herself beside it, and watches in amusement as, gradually, the entire party drifts by her. But then you haven't got the fathomless depths of her melancholy, tell-me-everything eyes.
DO, when moving, get the direction right. Readers of Prof C Northcote Parkinson will know his scientific observations of diplomatic cocktail parties and how they always circulate clockwise. Nothing is to be gained by tacking across the room all the time like a five-year-old in a supermarket.
Remember your rationale for being here is divided thus: to meet acquaintances (25 per cent), to make new friends (10 per cent), to drink to excess (20 per cent), to hear news, gossip, scandal etc (10 per cent), and to be seen being cool, socially connected, confident, attractive to the opposite sex etc (35 per cent). Note how the last-named of these is the biggest reason for you presence. So you must circulate the room (clockwise) as if you've owned the place for years and are, frankly, going off it a bit.
DO NOT use money. Yes I know, you've seen Goodfellas and marvelled at the scene where De Niro works an entire restaurant to the general approbation of all, dishing out $20 bills to all and sundry, little tips and backhanders flowing from his pockets like sweets from Santa's sack. But he was playing a big shot in the Mob and you are not one. Instead you must fall back on Charm.
DO use the bar as a friend, not a crutch. I used to hang around beside the bar throughout a party, reasoning that it's where the grandest and/or the most amusing people will turn up sooner or later. But it can get you a reputation as a bit of a soak. Far better to chat up the bar staff, in anticipation of the moment when you can say to them, "They're all gasping for a drink on the balcony. Gimme a bottle and I'll take care of it. You must be rushed off your feet." At the other end of the room, you will soon receive friendly overtures from surprising numbers of people, one or two of whom will think you frightfully enterprising (provided they don't think you're a waiter).
DO NOT use ghastly old pick-up lines. You will only be laughed at. To help you identify which are the least well-received chat lines in the world, check with the Internet. It has a constantly updated list on a web site called something like http: WWW. doyoucomehereoften.co.uk. At the time of writing, the joint favourites were: 1) silently examining the label in the neck of a woman's blouse and, when she asks what the hell you're playing at, saying, "I was just checking to see if you're my size"; and 2) licking your finger, dabbing it first on your shoulder and then on hers, and saying, "Hey - why don't we go back to my place and get out of these wet clothes ..." However ...
DO use outrageous flattery, personal remarks and staggeringly insincere compliments to begin a conversation. Supposed likenesses are always useful starting points. Seeing a solitary woman momentarily becalmed, it is entirely acceptable to address her with the words, "I cannot, surely, be the first to remark upon your extraordinary resemblance to Cecilia Bartoli/Anna Nicole Smith/Sally Gunnell/ Jennifer Aniston ..." But for goodness sake, make sure you know who you're talking to. Once, at one of Lord Weidenfeld's legendary bashes, I spied a small, portly but rather handsome woman flourishing a cigarette holder and waiting for someone to offer her a light. So I did so - and I was just about to say, "Can I be the first to remark on your striking resemblance to Princess Margaret?" when I realised that she was.
DO get physical. Parties are contact sports. You should draw the line at actually trying to snog total strangers, but the touch of hand on arm or shoulder can make things seem more intimate than they really are. Physical contact is vital when you're leaving someone to move on around the room; you must give the impression that it's hell having to drag yourself away.
DO NOT spend too long in anyone's company, unless you're planning to leave with them. If you're at a party where you don't know many people, you may be tempted to hang grimly on to whomever you've persuaded to talk to you. Terrible idea. Your new friend can always be used as a fallback position, a booby prize or a way of demonstrating your social skills (by introducing her to people and giving the impression you're saving her life rather than the other way round).
DO introduce everybody to everybody else. This outmoded skill (complete with the two-sentence thumbnail sketch: "Do you know Marion Dawes, the lovely but bafflingly unmarried research chemist with the platinum Amex card and the house in Cheyne Walk? Marion, this is Arthur Byng, publishing superstar and Sealyham terrier-fancier...") is the fastest way of moving through a party, because the minute you've introduced two people, it's your duty to get the hell out of there, leaving them to socialise, and then come back to them later and singly.
DO NOT tell jokes. Unlike a dinner party, where at least you're got a captive (ie seated) audience, a standing audience will begin milling about, wandering off or looking over your shoulder for something before you get near the punchline.
That's about it. Give yourself an hour to get from one side of this party to the far end. The trick is to keep moving - from door to host, from host to bar, from bar to rock-solid chum, from rock-solid chum to attractive newcomer - as if you're casing the joint for some elaborate burglary.
The only conversations from the party which you'll remember afterwards are the shortest ones (ie the ones with facts and gossip in them), so don't worry about content. Worry about the more immediate challenge - that of taking a party and trying to extract the maximum entertainment out of every bit of it.
Make a New Year resolution out of it: Never again will I get stuck in the kitchen. Never more shall I stand like a bollard in the middle of a throng of revellers. Henceforth I shall work every room like a wasp, settling here, nosing there, with a high-pitched buzz and the faint suggestion of a sting ...
keep hold of your cash
Rule one: shop around; rule two: shop around; rule three...
So, your bank manager is threatening to kidnap your goldfish and hold it to ransom unless you pay off your overdraft. Here are 10 ways to increase your disposable income. Some of these suggestions may take a few hours' research; others will take just a few minutes. Apart from winning the Lottery it's the most painless way of boosting your bank balance.
Take out a new mortgage
If you have a variable interest rate loan, charging around 7.25 per cent, switch to a fixed-rate mortgage, pegged at about 6 per cent for the next year or two, saving at least pounds 40 a month. If you are with the Halifax, Woolwich, Alliance & Leicester or Northern Rock, wait until after they have de-mutualised and you have your free shares.
2. Change your car insurance
You could save up to 10 per cent. Try at least three telephone-based car insurers - Direct Line, Churchill and Guardian Direct. Then try OneQuote, who will give you the cheapest quote from every other UK insurance broker. Call 0891 515515. The call may cost about pounds 3.
3. Change your home and contents insurance
Call Premium Search, based in Northampton, which can usually undercut the cheapest combined household and contents deal you find by at least pounds 50.
4. Switch your bank account
Move to the Abbey National, Woolwich, Nationwide or Halifax, which don't charge pounds 8 a month plus interest when you are in the red. According to Which? magazine, if you go overdrawn by pounds 100 a month for five years you pay pounds 514 in charges at NatWest and pounds 344 at Barclays, compared to pounds 33 at Woolwich or pounds 95 at the Halifax. First Direct charges no fee on the first pounds 250 of your overdraft.
5. Change your gas supplier
From March, you may be among the two million home-owners in Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Dorset, Kent, Sussex and the former Avon whom independent gas companies are wooing with the promise of up to 25 per cent off their bills. Get a quote - British Gas may try to match it. Other parts of the UK become eligible in 1998.
6. Pay your gas and electricity bills by direct debit
You could get up to 3 per cent a year off by agreeing a fixed amount to be taken off each month, rather than paying them off every quarter.
7. Cut up your credit and store cards ...
8. Switch to cable telephone
Cable companies claim average savings of 10 per cent on BT bills. Failing that, discuss with BT the various tariffs it has introduced.
9. Check the interest paid on your savings account
The chances are it is far less than you could be getting elsewhere. Yorkshire Building Society's First Class instant access postal account pays 5.15 per cent gross on savings above pounds 1,000. Bristol & West pays 6 per cent gross on deposits over pounds 25,000.
10. Challenge the council's valuation of your property
If you are about to buy a house, don't just accept how much council tax the council wants to charge. Your "banding" is based on a years-old valuation, which may be too highn
get the most from your doctor
Don't just lie back and swallow your medicine - be informed, get involved and find out if your doctor knows or cares about your illness and its cure
In the beginning there was only the pink medicine. No one quite knew what it was, patients swallowed it dutifully and doctors always asked for a specimen next time round so they could get the bottle back. Medical science was in its infancy and doctors were judged not on the pinkness of their medicine but the way it was handed over. Bedside manner was everything. Now we have more machines, tests and treatments than you can shake a stick at, and doctors spend their lives hiding behind them. Patients' expectations have gone through the roof and doctors' manners have declined at the same rate. We're just not used to assertive people demanding good treatment. Why can't you all just lie back and think of England?
The General Medical Council is charged with regulating the profession and weeding out those unfit to practise. You're expected to believe that all practising doctors will therefore be competent, no questions asked, but doctors are understandably reluctant to shop each other, so the GMC remains in the dark much of the time. In the absence of any public data about the performance of hospital doctors, you're very much at the mercy of your GP as to where you go for what treatment. So to get the best out of the NHS, you need a switched-on GP who knows who he'd send his mother to, or who he wouldn't send his dog to.
Or she. For some patients, the sex of the GP is important, but the bottom line when you're choosing doctors is do you feel better for seeing them? And when the news is distressing, do you feel comforted? The GMC recently published The Duties of a Doctor. In the "professional relationships with patients" section, it deems that doctors must (not might, must):
listen to patients and respect their views
treat patients politely and considerately
respect patients' privacy and dignity
give patients the information they ask for or need
give information to patients in a way they can understand
respect the right of patients to be involved fully in decisions
respect the right of patients to refuse treatment
respect the right of patients to a second opinion
ask patients' permission, if possible, before sharing information with their spouse, etc
be accessible to patients when on duty
respond to criticisms and complaints promptly and constructively
There is plenty more in a similar vein, but it may well all be in vain because most of the doctors I know haven't yet familiarised themselves with the Good Doctor Guide. As one put it: "When I trained, we were just told to avoid the three As - alcohol, adultery and advertising - and that's good enough for me. Except for the bit about the alcohol." Ultimately, the subjective side of medicine (whether a doctor is sensitive, compassionate, and switched-on to your needs) can only be judged by you. You'd be foolish to stick with someone who falls well short, so shop around.
Of course, a doctor can have a wonderful manner but still be dangerously incompetent. Your only protection here is knowledge. Find out about your illness from as many sources as you can, so you can try out a few informed questions on him or her. Contrary to popular belief, many real doctors like patients who get involved and there's plenty of evidence that involved patients feel better, experience less pain and may even live longer. Information can be unsettling, but less so if you understand the difference between relative and absolute risk, eg a doubling of the risk of clotted veins with one pill rather than another is much less frightening when you realise the absolute risk changes from 1 in 10,000 to 2 in 10,000. Finally, if you're going to get informed and involved, you'll quickly discover that doctors don't have all the answers. When there is a tricky treatment decision to be made, can you cope with, "You tell me, you're the patient"? If not, then don't worry. You'll always be able to find an old-fashioned doctor who just loves being in controln
Dr Phil HammondReuse content