Mysogynist? But I only said I liked her dress…

As Twitter and trolls continue to hit the headlines this week it raises a question of acceptability…

The women receiving those Tweeted threats must have had one hell of a week. I’m not sure I’d have the sangfroid to stand firm in the face of such overtly personal confrontation. It’s totally unacceptable. Yet years of working in big business have thrown up interesting instances of people’s ‘pain thresholds’ when it comes to remarks in the workplace.

Working with an organisation recently I was complimented on my dress. The chap’s colleague was outraged and spluttered apologies on his behalf. Having worked in the construction industry for 15+ years, I’m more used to comments about my anatomy than my outfit and was mildly bemused at her upset.

It reminded me of working in a global civil engineering company in the 1990s. They weren’t used to having women around in managerial positions. Within days of starting I discovered it was impossible to open a door for myself. On explaining to one colleague that it really wasn’t necessary to sprint 10 metres down the corridor to perform this gentlemanly act 20 times a day, I realised I’d overstepped the line. His line. The word on the street quickly spread that I was a raging feminist. So chivalry wasn’t dead then… but only when it came to opening doors!

This lack of understanding of another person’s point of view was highlighted in another story I heard of one woman’s comment to another in an office about her outfit being pretty and chaste. It got her into deep water. Unfortunate for her that it was taken as a slur rather than the slightly misguided compliment that was perhaps intended.

More recently I witnessed a board member, new in post and the only female in the board meeting, being asked by her boss to write on the flip chart because she had nice writing. Cringing, I waited for the clever retort. What did she do? Wrote on the flip chart in nice writing… but with a face that could have soured milk. I would have definitely and resolutely handed the baton (or pen) to someone with equally nice writing and passed (or failed) the test that may have just been set!

That said, all of the organisations I work with are very aware of where their responsibilities lie in making the workplace a comfortable environment for all of their people. But even so, we’re human and therefore some of this stuff is subjective. Tell someone you like their dress and it’s a lottery whether you get a sincere ‘thank you’ or a death stare. Just to lay my cards on the table… male or female, if you tell me you like my dress I’ll say ‘thank you’, reaction to comments on anatomy vary according to whether they refer to bits above or below the neck and if you should choose to use your more senior position to belittle me in front of my colleagues? Well we all have our own line that can be crossed.


Are you mixing your messages?

Faking it

My own forays into faking it have been largely confined to the board room: nodding sagely as weird construction terminology was bandied around. I had a great ability to lead the whole room to believe I was totally at home with ‘firring’ and ‘Flemish bonds’ when in reality I was mildly alarmed they were actually talking about something quite unsavoury.

Making it

On the flip side have you ever found yourself in a situation where you’re not faking it but those around you simply haven’t cottoned on? It may be ages since you were promoted, so why do people just not seem to get it? Maybe you’re applying for more senior roles but don’t ever get past interview or the job offer comes in but with less salary than you were expecting?

Mixing your messages

Are you mixing your messages? When you’re nodding furiously in the board room be careful you’re not giving the game away with a look of abject bewilderment on your face. What about promotion? It’s not always easy for the team around you to adjust. Are you hindering them? One client, ‘Julia’, couldn’t understand why the team weren’t taking her seriously since her promotion. “They don’t take any notice of me. I end up having to be more aggressive to make them listen and that causes conflict.” ‘Julia’ had tried not to let promotion go to her head. She was struggling to make the transition between being a liked member of the team and a respected leader of the team. In an attempt to stop any resentment at her promotion, she’d been rolling up her sleeves and mucking in. This meant the team was also struggling to make the transition to having ‘Julia’ as their leader – she was giving them the message nothing had changed – and that’s how they responded.

Mind your language

Another client ‘Sarah’ came to me when she was in discussion with a corporate about a senior role. An offer was made, but much lower than she was expecting – she was frustrated that with her credentials and experience she didn’t seem to have convinced them of her worth. I critiqued the email exchange she’d had with her prospective employer. Her words gave the game away. Like many of us, ‘Sarah’ had her own internal wobbles about achieving her potential – perhaps deep down, there was fear about stepping into the top job of her dreams. Her language gave it away and her emails simply didn’t carry the weight of someone at such a senior level – and that’s how she was perceived.

If you’re struggling to be heard at work, make sure your body, words and behaviour are backing you up. Whatever you’re trying to achieve, show them you really believe it!

Mary Keeley is a professional women’s coach and communications guru. An ex-corporate communications head she spent years faking it and making it in the global construction industry before establishing her boutique company working exclusively with professional women who want to take it to the top.

Since working with Mary on her communications style, ‘Sarah’ has been offered and taken up a strategic director role at the company. After just three strategic one to one sessions with Mary, ‘Julia’ has worked hard to pinpoint the areas of her behaviour that were encouraging her team to treat her as ‘one of the gang’ and she has since taken over responsibility for a global, group-wide project rolling out a new corporate initiative.

Hi Ho, Hi Ho!

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it’s back to work we go! So have you got a spring in your step for the brand new year or are you struggling to get upright after way too many mince pies? Are you raring to go and at the start of an exciting new chapter in your life or mildly alarmed at the prospect of yet another year being clocked up?

Either way, the New Year is a really great time to rejuvenate yourself and embark on your plan.

“My plan? What plan?” I hear you cry.

Ah, well this is what the New Year is all about for people like me. It’s about getting people like you cracking on doing what you want to do. OK, OK – if you’re already doing what you want to do, go and have a cup of tea and wait until next week’s article. This one’s solely for those of you who have that vague feeling that there has to be more to life than this. For those of you who have always wanted to X, Y or Z but never had the time/ energy/ money/ courage to do it.

Now could be your time to seize the opportunity. Because there truly is something about the New Year that makes us draw a line under the old way of doing things. It’s a demarcation. Something that gives us the opportunity to start afresh. And if nothing else it gives us a big, fat 12 month window in which to succeed!

So you like that idea do you? Well here are some tips to get you started:

1. Take yourself off to a quiet place and cast your mind forward 12 months. It’s January 2014. Now introduce yourself to me. Who are you and what do you do? Where are you living? What are you wearing? Who is/isn’t in your life? What’s the best bit about your day? How does your day look? Just this once you can go on a bit and go into lots of detail!

2. What’s the main thing that’s changed from your life now?

3. Take this thing as your big ticket item. Imagine it is achievable. Write down some headline steps you could take to make it happen. Lottery wins aren’t allowed but, for example, if in 12 months you are a bestselling author, one of the headline steps to make that happen will be: write a book.

4. Now take your headline steps and start breaking them down into chunks. For your book you may want to think about storyline, chapter headings, word count etc.

5. Now take the chunks and break them down into TSTs (Tiny Specific Tasks). Your TSTs should be so small that it’s a doddle to complete them!

Oh look, you’ve got a plan!

There’s still time to join our January Rutbuster – the three-week ecourse to rejuvenate your life!  Sign up here

2013. What’s in it for you?

So what’s on your mind as we approach the holiday season? Are you caught up in a whirlwind of activity creating the perfect Christmas for loved ones? Maybe you’re trying to avoid the frenzy altogether or just wishing it was all over? Whatever your thoughts are about Christmas, we’re also about to embark on a brand new year. What’s in it for you? Excitement? Fear? Opportunity? Change? Or is it a case of the same old, same old.

If you’re about to roll out the trusty New Year’s resolutions that have featured for the last five years, STOP! It’s that time of year when I shout: “Don’t resolutionise… revolutionise!”

You see the trouble with resolutions is they are just that: resolutions. It all seems so easy at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Of course you’re going to change jobs/ lose two stone/ finish the book/ get promoted. But once the lustre (aka fizzy wine) has worn off and you’re faced with writing 100,000 words, dusting your gym kit off, telling your boss you’re the best thing since sliced bread or making yourself sound like Superwoman on your CV – it can be easier to put it down to wishful thinking and just carry on as before. So why not make 2013 the year to do it differently and turn those resolutions into revolutions?

Before you can set about changing things, you’ve got to decide exactly what you want. How do you want things to be? You need to be specific here. It’s no good just deciding that you want to be promoted. You need to be clear about the details: what the role could be, how it fits into the structure of the organisation, how it benefits them, what attributes you have that will make it possible etc etc.

Once you’ve sorted out those little nuggets, you’ll have to make a plan of how you’re going to make it happen. And your plan needs to be a cracker. It needs to be broken down into TSTs (Tiny Specific Tasks) and carefully constructed in a way that makes you get on with it. And of course, once you’ve made your plan, you’ve actually got to get off your bum and do it!

If you’ve wanted to do something differently in your life and haven’t, the chances are you may need to deal with some pesky demons and shake off a bit of baggage. And this is where a good coach can help. So many of us sabotage ourselves because we’re scared to do it differently. And believe me, changing your life does take courage.  But changing things isn’t about delving into past pain or focusing on what you feel may be inadequacies, it’s about playing to your strengths and finding a way through the obstacles. It’s about stretching yourself and saying ‘yes’ to new things. It’s about revolutionising your life.

So here’s to a Merry Christmas and a splendiferous 2013.

And if you’re looking to do it differently in 2013, join us on The Rutbuster. Our three-week ecourse runs from Monday 7 January 2013 and could be just what you need! Sign up here

Where’s the frenzy?

I’m mildly concerned. It’s the second week in December and I’m calm. Where’s the frenzy? Where’s the mild panic at getting the tea, coffee and loo rolls stocked up before the shops close for two days? Where’s the unutterable rage at other motorists/ shoppers/ parkers/ everyone within a 10-metre radius? For this year I’m way on top of things. Even the lovely woman at the taxi firm remarked on my organisational skills as I booked the car to take Granny home on Christmas Day. The menus are complete, the presents bought, the cards written, the lists of outstanding tasks done. I’m feeling just a tad smug.

But still I’m worried.


Because it can’t be this easy. Every Christmas for the last umpteen years has been pre-quelled by a three-week period of hyperventilating, savage irritation and complete bah humbuggedness about the whole thing. Clearly I’ve forgotten something major and will only remember this vital element that’s essential to the enjoyment of our family Christmas at 11pm on Christmas Eve.

Actually I am putting this feat of human organisational ability down to a year spent working with amazing women. High-powered women who juggle their way through a myriad of arrangements that somehow make sure their children, partners, colleagues, bosses, families, pets, neighbours, friends, suppliers, gardens, homes, wardrobes and workloads all thrive. These women are miracles of organisation. They are plate-spinners extraordinaire. Their ability to mastermind a multi-million pound project while running through the French words for everything in the kitchen with one child and cook Nigella’s latest masterpiece with the other is second to none.

They come to me for all sorts of reasons: work/life balance issues, glass ceiling issues, boss issues, not feeling confident issues, getting it all done issues or simply wanting something different issues. But the one thing they have in common is that these women pull it off day after day. They may not always be calm and serene, in fact many of them are downright stressed. They may not always have immaculate houses and they definitely never put themselves first, but every day they get out of bed and face the world with courage and an undeniable capableness that leaves me in awe.

Here are their top tips for getting it done:

“Spend 15 minutes every day planning for the next day, prioritise and do the worst job on your list first.”

“Don’t try to be perfect. Lower your tolerance level on a few things.”

“Stop and drink it in. It’s so easy when we’re rushing about to forget that life is for living – not just surviving. Take pleasure in the small things.”

“Just say ‘no’.”

“Say ‘yes’. Have courage and stretch yourself. You’ll grow and your ability to take things in your stride will grow with you.”

(The last one’s mine!)

Tackling the overwhelm

It can strike at any time. It can turn you into a whirling dervish who talks very quickly or into a blobster who just wants to watch telly. You’ll probably be stressy and overprotective of your time. You’ll almost certainly be snappy. But however it hits you, if you’re feeling overwhelmed – one thing’s for sure – you probably won’t be performing at your best.

And it’s not always down to having the mother of all to-do lists. Yes, overwhelm can smack us in the face when there’s simply not enough hours in the day, but it can also creep up when we’re least expecting it. Because it’s when we don’t feel in control that we start to feel overwhelmed and that’s not always about being buried by stuff to do. When we’re facing change or a tricky situation, it’s easy to feel that life is controlling you rather than the other way around.

But before you let overwhelm take you down, STOP! There is another way:

1. Get it all out. Dump it on paper: Work projects, team issues, meetings, kids’ stuff, chores, errands, losing a dress size before Christmas. All of it.

2. Now sort it out. Look at each item: Why are you doing it? Is it because you want to/feel obliged/are expected to/because you always have/because no-one else will do it properly? What will happen if you don’t do it? Cross off anything that’s not essential to your health, happiness or financial stability.

3. Prioritise the rest into urgent and non-urgent and take three things in the urgent pile. Break each one down into TSTs (for those of you who don’t know my famous TSTs = Tiny Specific Tasks), put a time within the next week by each TST for completion.

4. Delegate. And if that means lowering your standards, take a deep breath. It’ll be OK. No-one will do it as well as you can, but good really is good enough.

5. Be clear about what you want and have courage. If you’re embarking on a new project/job/way of life – use the steps above to help you understand what you want and why you want it. Use the TSTs to help make it happen. If you need more help visit:

6. Do something differently. Gain new perspective by shaking things up: walk a different route to work, stop at Starbucks instead of Costa, go for a power walk around the block at lunchtime, work at a hot desk for an hour.

7. Enjoy. Make sure you do one nice thing for you every day.


Are you being expertise-burgled?

Most of us are supportive at work and will happily give others a helping hand if we can. But at what point does asking someone for a favour become expertise-burgling? In the film The Holiday Kate Winslet’s longing for a self-absorbed oaf sees her selflessly give him every ounce of support she can to help him make it to the top. When he bags a powerful sex-goddess as his fiancée, Kate realises her foolishness and removes herself from his life. It’s a film. He’s the baddie. Yet it’s a story that’s played out all too often in the workplace and not necessarily involving could-be lovers.

I’ve heard tales from feisty, intelligent and very senior corporate executives about being sucked in by expertise burglars. And I’m fascinated that upstanding members of society can be so blatant in their ability to repeatedly steal another person’s time, energy and professional judgement. One woman – a function head in a global business – was texting amends to a colleague’s report while at her Aunt’s funeral. She told me that it didn’t strike her as odd until she saw the look of astonishment on her husband’s face. Let’s be clear. This wasn’t anything related to her own role. It was a favour. Yet it took this to help her understand that her colleague was taking the mickey (yes he did know she was at the funeral) and that she needed to set some clearer boundaries.

What seems to set expertise burglars apart from the rest of us is a ruthless streak that disables their ‘not polite to ask’ gene. Once a pattern of behaviour has been established, it can be hard to question. One senior manager was so used to getting weekend requests for work-related favours from a ‘mate’ in another part of the business, that one Saturday she cancelled a family outing to re-write an urgent and lengthy report that he’d asked for her help with and to get back the same day. She only smelt a rat when she couldn’t get hold of him to check he’d received it. It turned out he’d been out hiking in the Lake District and had no intention of looking at until Monday morning.

“More fool them”, I hear you say. But beware. Often you won’t even realise your expertise is being raided. These burglars aren’t plagiarising – they’re not stealing your work and putting it across as their own. These are people who expect ‘mates’ rates’ without the rates. Once is a favour, twice is a big favour – more than that you might want to let their calls go to answerphone!