Office Rules

By Maggie Reed

May 2, 2008 6 min read


Plenty of career advice available for professionals

By Christine Huard

Copley News Service

No matter what stage of your career you're in, be it brand-new worker bee or veteran cubicle dweller, there's a book to offer you advice on your workaday life.

Here are some offerings from the employee lounge:

- Feeling blocked, like your creative flow is backed up worse than the interstate at rush hour? Maybe you need a whack up the side of your head from Roger von Oech. He's made it his mission to help people whack out their creative abilities in fun and efficient ways. His book, "A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative" (Grand Central Publishing, $16.99) has recently been released in a 25th anniversary edition.

Revised and updated, the best seller on creative thinking offers 10 chapters of mind-stimulating ideas, examples and exercises to give the brain a good boost. Much of the focus is on overcoming mental blocks that prevent you from generating new ideas. Chapter 7's advice: Reverse your viewpoint.

"Try switching your objective and going the other direction," von Oech writes. "Reversing your viewpoint is a great way to sharpen your thinking."

Some tips:

"If something is worth doing, it's worth doing well." If a thing's worth doing, it's OK to do it poorly, writes von Oech. Otherwise, you'll never give yourself permission to be a beginner at a new activity.

"A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." Two in the bush are great, he writes. Everyone needs a dream. Without the "two in the bush" mentality, what would happen to risk-taking?

"A chain is no stronger than its weakest link." Put it into perspective. Many systems have weak links as part of the design, writes von Oech. They're called fuses. When the system overloads, the fuse blows and saves the rest of the system. Look at it this way: What would you rather break, the $50,000 piece or the 5 cent part?

- The latest buzz on getting ahead at work is all about soft skills, the personal, social and self-management skills that make you valuable but get little attention.

In "The Hard Truth About Soft Skills" (Collins, $14.95), author Peggy Klaus, a communication and leadership coach whose clients include Disney, UNICEF, Credit Suisse and Kaiser Permanente, writes about workplace lessons we would all do well to learn.

Among her favorites:

- Knowing yourself is as important as knowing how to do the job. "Knowing what you are best suited doing workwise can be tricky," Klaus writes. "It's not always clear where your strengths lie from the start, so it can take some time and experience to figure it out.

"And sometimes we can learn the most from paying attention to our weaknesses."

- Your procrastination is trying to tell you something. What's it saying? You don't have everything you need to get the job done. You need to improve your time-management skills. Or, it's time for a change.

"Nothing fuels procrastination more than losing your enthusiasm," Klaus writes.

- Don't take it personally. As a career coach, Klaus has heard many a tale of humiliation and betrayal. What she's noticed is a gender difference. While she's coached women who will swear they'll ever speak to a co-worker again until an apology is issue, she's never heard the same from a man.

"Women often take things way too personally. And while being passionate is generally a positive thing, getting overly emotional on the job is a definite career sinker."

- For anyone who wants to be more polished and professional, there's "Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success At Work" by Jacqueline Whitmore (St. Martin's Press, $19.95).

Whitmore is an international etiquette expert and the founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach, where executives go to learn the nuances of polite dealings with co-workers, clients and those they serve. "Business Class" is a powerful, practical guide to the business etiquette that will improve your professional relationships.

If you're prone to forgetting names the minute you hear them, are baffled by restaurant silverware or need to learn how to give a proper handshake, this book is for you. As the saying goes, you don't get a second chance to make a first impression.

And that handshake? Here are Whitmore's "5 Tips For the Perfect Handshake:"

1. Regardless of the person's gender, deliver a firm handshake. Although men may mean well, some women find it condescending when a man shakes her hand delicately or grasps just the fingertips. No matter who you are, connect palm to palm.

2. Please rise. Standing is more powerful than staying seated and it shows respect.

3. Keep it short and sweet, and be sure to smile and make good eye contact.

4. In a business setting, either a man or woman may initiate a handshake. In a social setting, it is acceptable for a man to wait for a woman to extend her hand.

5. To show your sincerity when meeting another person, pause ever so briefly before releasing your hand from the shake. No grab and go.

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