overwhelmed with meeting requests, what am I allowed to do during work hours, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. I’m overwhelmed with meeting requests from salespeople and nonprofits

I just started a new job and am a little overwhelmed with the amount of meetings that external people are requesting of me. I work at a for-profit company and I get a ton of donation requests, sales calls, etc. There is no one else on my team and I report directly to the CEO, so there is no one to go to these meetings in my place. I also have a lot of work needing to be done at my desk, so taking a meeting depletes precious hours of my day. How can I decline meetings?

Many nonprofit or sales professionals want to “build a relationship” and quite frankly I don’t have the time or interest, and my boss doesn’t expect me to take all of these meetings. I’ve thought of requesting a phone call instead – but is there a way to get out of them altogether? Particularly for nonprofits, I can’t just tell them I’m not interested in buying their service! It’s a small city so I don’t want to burn bridges; I just want to protect my time.

I think you’re feeling a much higher sense of obligation to accommodate these requests than actually exists. It’s totally, totally normal to turn down these meetings. These callers are very used to having these requests turned down and they will not think you are rude or a bridge burner, as long as you are polite about it.

If you’re truly up for a phone call in place of a meeting, it’s absolutely fine to say “My schedule is very tight so I can’t meet but we could schedule a short phone call.” (And confine those to 15 minutes, max.) But you don’t even have to do that — believe me, most people are just saying no and not even offering a call.

For sales people, you can say any of these: “We’re not interested right now, but thank you.” “We’re not in the market for that currently, but thank you.” “It’s not a priority for us currently, but thank you.” “It’s probably not the right fit for us, so would you take us off your list? Thank you.”

For nonprofits asking for donations: If this is something you often want to say yes to, create a way for them to apply that doesn’t involve calling or meeting with you. If it’s not something you want to regularly say yes to, say, “I wish I could help, but we get a large number of these requests and unfortunately can’t accommodate them all.” You could also add, “We pick a small number of charities each year to support, and you’re welcome to mail or email me information on your work if you’d like to be considered for next year.”

For salespeople or nonprofits wanting to “build a relationship”: “My schedule is very tight right now so I have to decline, but thank you.”

2. What am I allowed to do during work hours other than my core work?

I am new in the work environment and I try my best to avoid doing things that are not “directly” related to my work. What can I do during my work hours besides my direct work related stuff? For example, can I talk to HR regarding my paychecks or other issues related to my work during my work hours? Can I meet with a representative regarding my retirement savings plan to help me elect my benefits and help me choose a plan that’s right for me during the work hours? What about meeting with other researchers (networking)? Attending company events? (The hospital I work at sends out email about all the events going on and some of them are very exciting. Is it okay for me to attend these events during work hours?)

I know these seem like small stupid questions, but I want to know what my boundaries are in a working environment.

They’re not stupid questions! This is exactly the sort of thing that people often don’t know when they first start in the work world and which no one really sits you down to explain.

You can generally do anything that stems from work/your job during the work day, even if it’s not the actual “work” of your job. So:
* Meeting with people in other areas of the organization, like HR? 100% yes, no question. (A good litmus test which will make this one clear: Would you need to be having the meeting if you weren’t employed there? If no, then it’s job-related and counts as work.)
* Meeting with someone to help you figure out your benefits? Yes. (Although to complicate matters, you can do this with the retirement plan rep, but not with the trainer at the gym where your company provides free membership.)
* Meeting with other researchers for networking — the more senior you are, the more this is a clear-cut yes. If you’re junior and not fully managing your own time yet, it depends on the nature of the meeting and the nature of your job. Your boss is a good one to provide guidance on this since it’ll come down to specifics.
* Attending company events: Depends on how often. Occasionally is fine. Constantly — like weekly — is probably not, because that would probably significantly cut into how much time you’re spending on your actual job. But this can vary by company culture, so your boss is a good one to ask on this too.

3. My new job’s commute is messing with my health

I was job-searching for almost a year when I got my current job, which I started about four weeks ago. Overall, I really like it – the pay is decent, I like my coworkers and my supervisors, the office environment is pretty comfortable, and the work is something I find interesting. It’s also temporary – the contract is only until September, which is actually really good for me, because I’m hoping to move away around that time.

There’s only one problem: the commute. It’s just a (reliable) bus, a train, and an eight block walk – it’s usually a bit less than an hour, which I’d usually be quite happy with. However, I developed asthma a couple years ago, and it’s making the commute really hellish, particularly in the afternoon. Cigarettes and marijuana are particularly bad triggers, and both are super, super common.

It’s really messing with my health. I get home wheezing almost every night, and I’ve had to take medication several times that makes me pass out for 10+ hours and leaves me groggy and sad the next day. My stomach has been so off that I’ve had to take a day and a half off (on separate occasions), and I just generally don’t feel well. I haven’t seen my doctor recently, but this isn’t a new development, and I’ve seen them about this before.

I have no idea what to do. They’re very flexible with hours, which is great – but the afternoon is busy from 3pm-ish onward, and even the morning isn’t terrific – just mostly okay. I don’t know how to talk to my boss about this. I don’t even know what I want, barring teleportation. Do you have any thoughts or suggestions? I’m at my wit’s end here.

I think the first thing is to figure out what you want. Do you want a different schedule? (Would the “mostly okay” conditions of the morning be workable?) To work from home some or all days (if that’s possible with the position)? To leave the position but with good feelings on both sides? I know you said you don’t know what want, but I’d spend some time thinking through all the possibilities so that when you talk to your boss, you know what to say. Otherwise your boss will probably be pretty unable to help — but if you figure out which of the various possibilities is the least bad and the one you want to try for, she’ll be able to tell you yes or no, and then you can figure it out from there.

(Also, don’t be afraid of asking for an accommodation just because you think there’s no way you’ll get it. Sometimes people get surprised. Sometimes they don’t, of course, but you won’t know until you ask.)

4. Are management and leadership two different things?

I’m in school in a mandatory class on leadership. They’re asserting very forcefully that management and leadership are different things, and that we shouldn’t be talking about management in this class because it’s about leadership. That does not make a lot of sense to me, because I thought that leadership is about working with groups to get things done in a way that advances a goal that matters. Which is also what I think management is? Do you think there’s any merit to making a distinction between the two?

Ugh, yeah, like you, I don’t think they’re so easily distinguished from each other. I like this line from the brilliant Bob Sutton’s Harvard Business Review piece arguing that true leaders are also managers: “A leader needs to understand what it takes to do things right, and to make sure they actually get done.” And that’s management … so, yeah, they’re intertwined.

I also like this HBR piece from Linda Hill and Kent Lineback, who note that “both leadership and management are crucial, and it doesn’t help those responsible for the work of others to romanticize one and devalue the other … Take care not to conceive of yourself as the glorious leader always blazing new trails while leaving the gritty, mundane details of making it all work to lesser beings.”

5. I thought I was about to get an offer, but …

I’m in a bit of a strange situation. My best friend put me up for a job at her company and the interviews went really well and I loved everyone, but the offer ultimately went to someone with more direct experience in the field. A day after I saw online that the position had been filled, I got an email from the hiring manager asking me if I’d be interested in another job at the same level (with some differences in functionality) that had just been approved. I jumped at the chance and told her I was interested, because I really do love and want to work for this company. We scheduled a final-round interview with the heads of the department that I hadn’t met in my previous interviews.

The final round went fantastic. I thought I had it in the bag and have just been waiting for a call. I get along so well with everyone in the office and the hiring manager even said to me when I sat down, “…and the fact that Lindsey (my friend) loves you and says great things…it’s pretty much over for me. I’m done with this search.”

Today, three days after the final interview, my friend sends me a message saying this: “I don’t know what this means yet, but I just heard that the internal candidate who had originally been offered this job and declined has put her name back in for consideration, so it will take a little longer for you to hear back. The manager told me how much she loved you and feels so awful about this whole mess.”

How likely would it be for them to re-extend an offer that had previously been declined? I had heard before that the reason she declined it was because the final-round interview with the head of the department intimidated her and scared her off. Now that she’s reconsidered and is internal, am I out of luck on a job and team that I was really excited about?

Possibly, yes. It wouldn’t be unusual for them to allow her to change her mind and accept the offer. Internal candidates are given a lot of leeway on that kind of thing — they’re known quantities and therefore generally preferred if they’re known to be good, and their internal back-and-forth is often more easily understood and candidly discussed. Ultimately, it will probably come down to whether they want you or her more (if they choose her, it’s no slam on you — they obviously really like you) and probably a bit of internal politics too.

{ 182 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Wendy Darling

    LW3, in addition to working on some kind of accommodations with your work, I think it would be worth going back to your doctor and discussing how this is affecting you. Maybe your asthma is as controlled as you can get it, I obviously don’t know your health history, but if environmental triggers are causing you daily problems IMO it’s time to revisit your treatment plan and see if you can’t do better. I really, really don’t think “be able to walk 8 blocks in town” is a big ask!

    Reply
    1. Another Emily

      I agree Wendy. LW3, could some kind of filtering mask such as those worn by painters or by surgeons be an acceptable temporary solution until you work things out with your doctor?
      Or as Allison said, an accommodation like working from home.
      It can sometimes take a while to find the right medical solution and I’d hate for you to suffer in the meantime.

      Reply
      1. JessaB

        Seconding the mask idea. I know it’s not as popular in the US or Europe as it is in Japan, but for me the semi rigid ones (the ones that fit over your nose and mouth but are like pressed layers of paper (with the small metal tab near the nose to fit it better) rather than the surgical style) do work for me if I’m in a smoky area.

        I do find the surgical style (either paper or cloth) to not be as good at keeping me from breathing in smoke, as they don’t actually stay as close to my face and tend to gap some. But they may work for you.

        And if you really like whatever style you try, there are multi use ones that you can get if you use them a lot. Also if you don’t sneeze all over them, or get them wet, you can usually use the same one a few times (don’t if you’re ill, obviously.) I have one by my cat’s box because I’m sensitive to the smell and if it’s not grungy or the cat hasn’t decided to make a cat toy out of it, it can last me awhile before I have to toss it.

        But definitely also talk to your doctor, there are additional meds you can take that might control things more.

        Reply
        1. Zillah (OP3)

          I actually just got a mask! It helps to some extent – it’s pretty good at dealing with the dust and smog, but it’s less effective with cigarette smoke and not really effective with marijuana at all. :/ The latter is probably the biggest deal overall – we’ve found nothing that can stop me from reacting to it.

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          1. Ella

            I was going to suggest a mask too. Even if it doesn’t help to filter out cigarette smoke, it might prompt smokers to give you more physical space and that might help.

            If you’re not already, you might also try taking your meds (not the one that makes you fall asleep, obviously, but maybe your rescue inhaler or asthma meds) before you leave for your commute, rather than waiting until you’re in discomfort. I have asthma and found that preemptive action often works better than waiting.

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          2. Case of the Mondays

            Are you referring to second hand smoke or third hand smoke? Second hand being someone smoking it right near you. Third hand being the person themselves smells of it because they smoked it earlier. Where are you mostly encountering it? On the public transit or your walk? If it is a bus you take everyday, could you talk to the bus driver about reserving you a seat in the very first row that way no one is in front of you?

            Reply
            1. Zillah

              Both. I have tended to take the same bus every day, but it’s often a different driver (I’m not sure why), and I don’t think a seat could be reserved for me – it’s just a city bus, so most of it is standing room and people are constantly getting on and off.

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          3. Stranger than fiction

            Just curious, where are you that cigarettes are allowed on the bus/train? Or are people just sneaking? And, is marijuana is legal to smoke on bus/trains where you are too?!?

            Reply
            1. Zillah

              Oh, no – you absolutely can’t smoke on the bus or the train. I’ve seen it happen a couple times, but that’s over many rides – it’s not common at all. However, people are often smoking right outside the station/bus stop, and they often get on smelling quite strongly of it even if they weren’t doing it right outside.

              And, of course, it’s very common on the street. I live in NYC.

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          4. JB (not in Houston)

            In case you haven’t, you should read up on the different ratings of masks and what they are designed to filter out. You might be able to find one that does a better job (but obviously if you’ve already done that, never mind).

            Reply
            1. Zillah

              I’ve tried to do that, but I probably could be more thorough – it’s just so demoralizing. :( once I get a new dr, I’m planning to ask if they have any suggestions.

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    2. Soupspoon McGee

      Echoing this. Your doctor may be able to prescribe a daily asthma control in addition to a rescue inhaler. If environmental triggers are allergies and not just particulates, you may be able to get something to help there as well.

      Reply
      1. 42

        Yes. First thing I wondered is if the OP is on a long-acting inhaler (a “LABA”?). They give steady maintenance, and then a rescue inhaler for break-through wheezing. If the OP is easily triggered, this might be worth investigating anyway, regardless of the 8-block walk.

        Reply
        1. Zillah (OP3)

          I was for awhile, but then it wasn’t necessary because I wasn’t working and doing a lot less moving around the city. I’ve started on it again, and hopefully it’ll start to help soon. It was never effective at controlling some of my triggers, though, which worries me.

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          1. Homemade Hedgehog

            I’m so sorry you are dealing with this, that is awful. :(

            I’ve never used it so I can’t vouch for the efficacy but, if you are interested in wearing a mask and don’t want it to be noticeable you might want to check out this website. They sell scarf wrap things with filters built in to keep germs and pollutants out. I think its called a Scough if you google it. I’ll include a link separately in case it gets caught in moderation.

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            1. Chinook

              On the same idea of wearing a scarf filter, there are face masks that are created for bicycling in cold weather that filter out the cold air so the rider doesn’t freeze their lungs. If you are in a warm climate, you would have no reason to have seen anything like this, but I see them all the time on the dedicated bike commuters who insist on doing this in -40. It might help filter out the tiny particles that come from marijuana smoke (which must be quite fine because I can smell in my apartment when the people two floors down light up).

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          2. DLB

            I also have pretty severe asthma triggered by similar things, and it took years to find a solution that worked for me. I take Singulair (montelukast is the generic) every day and boy does it make a difference, in addition to a steroid inhaler as well as a rescue inhaler. It makes an obvious difference if I even miss one day of the Singulair. Might be worth looking into.

            Reply
            1. Been there done that

              I have to second the Singulair (generic – who has insurance anymore that allows the real thing?) and one of the following (Zyrtec – Claritin – Allegra). I have very similar severe allergies to smoke (cigarette & other) and one had an asthma attack from just standing behind someone at the grocery store checkout who reeked of the smell.

              In my case, Singulair & Zyrtec was the combination that worked. For my SO, he takes Zyrtec in the a.m. and Singulair & Allegra in the p.m. because Allegra & Claritin seem to work better on outdoor things like pollen. According to my Family DO you can do both Zyrtec and either Allegra or Claritin daily – 1 at night and 1 in a.m. (12 hrs apart).

              This combination has worked so well for me that I can have pets (lots of them!) again in the house. We have 3 dogs & 6 cats but none are allowed in the bedroom at night when we sleep). I also have a Dyson (purple one for pets) that is used at least 3 times a week.

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            2. Renee

              Singulair worked great for my asthma and allergies but exacerbated my anxiety disorder like wow. Anxiety is a known potential side effect. It’s definitely worth looking into, but if you have anxiety issues, be wary.

              Reply
    3. MK

      I agree with all the above. Also, I think it will count in your favor with your boss if you consult a doctor and explore options before you talk to her, show that you have genuinely tried to find a solution that won’t disrupt your work.

      Reply
    4. super anon

      Yes, this! I have asthma that was horrible as a kid (I was hospitalized many times due to it into my teens), that is now controlled as an adult with a combo of 2 different inhalers that I take twice a day. I was even able to live in Korea during yellow dust season and didn’t have any attacks or difficulty breathing – which is a major win for me.

      If you’re having difficulty walking 8 blocks it’s very likely that your asthma isn’t well controlled, and you should see your doctor about updating your treatment plan and seeing if there’s something that can work better for you. Smoke is one of my asthma triggers and before when my asthma wasn’t as well controlled just walking by someone smoking could trigger an attack. Once I found a treatment plan that worked those issues went away (I’ve even been able to smoke a cigarette without any ill effects, although I wouldn’t recommend doing that to anyone with asthma).

      Oh, and one last thing – it could also be possible there’s another reason for the shortness of breath that isn’t asthma. The last time I had trouble with my breathing I could barely walk 5 feet without having serious trouble breathing. I went to my doctor to change my treatment plan and it turned out that I was actually severely anemic.

      Good luck op – I know how badly not being able to breath can suck.

      Reply
      1. Zillah (OP3)

        Oh, it’s horribly controlled – I absolutely agree. Tbh, I’m not thrilled with the care I’ve gotten for it and I’m in the process of trying to find a new doctor because my current one (who I switched to because I wasn’t thrilled about the care I got when this started a year and a half ago) doesn’t return phone calls, send in documentation for medication the insurance company doesn’t want to cover, or send in refills. Health insurance is the worst.

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        1. JB (not in Houston)

          I feel your pain on that! It’s so hard to find a good doctor, and when you have to deal with insurance, it makes it even harder. From your letter, I’m guessing you don’t live in the Dallas area. If you did, I could recommend a doctor to you. :(

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      2. GigglyPuff

        Anemia is the worst, it can totally sneak up on you. Even when I knew I had it, I had two separate occasions where I had to go to the doctor’s for chest pains and it was low iron both times. The first time I knew it was probably anemia because of the stairs I took every day, started to feel like I walked a mile instead of one flight. Unfortunately the second time I honestly thought it was something else because my body skipped right to chest pains. Fun times.

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      3. Case of the Mondays

        Good point. My shortness of breath turned out to be untreated sleep apnea. When I treated the sleep apnea it mostly went away. It took for ever to get diagnosed because in the words of my doc “I don’t look like someone with sleep apnea.” I’m young, female and my weight is on the low side of normal.

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    5. Sparky

      Could you possibly get a ride for those 8 blocks that you’re walking? If you were to come in and leave an hour earlier would that make any difference to the amount of outside irritants?

      Good luck!

      Reply
        1. Zillah (OP3)

          Unfortunately not – I don’t think anyone even drives to work at all. The parking is awful and we’re closeish to a lot of subways.

          Reply
      1. Zillah (OP3)

        I can’t get a ride – cabs are too expensive and not foolproof. I am looking at a bus, though, and there’s one avenue that’s a bit less traveled that I’m getting a little success with.

        When I leave makes a huge difference, which is most of why the mornings are generally okay. The schedule is flexible so I’ve been getting to work pretty early. Unfortunately, there’s not really a corresponding low traffic time in the afternoon – first kids are getting out of school, then everyone is getting off of work… Etc. If my commutes were all like the morning they would be totally doable, but the afternoons are just the worst.

        Reply
          1. Zillah

            That’s an idea, but the idea of getting home at 8 every night is just so exhausting – I’d feel like I had no free time, you know? If it’s what I have to do, though, I might try it. (Though my experience is that unfortunately smokers are out at all hours. Ugh.)

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    6. TootsNYC

      The asthma triggers come from the commute.

      So about the only thing that the workplace can do is to adjust her schedule so that she’s traveling at a time when people aren’t smoking pot (?!?) and cigarettes on the bus or train.

      And I would think they’re not required to do that–it would be great if they could, but I know that I wouldn’t feel much of an obligation to help someone with that if it was a huge inconvenience–I don’t control the buses and trains.

      That said, I *have* adjusted someone’s schedule so that they came in later, because their commute was hellish at rush out, and beautiful just 30 minutes later. So they came to work at 9:30 or 10 instead of 9.

      So the mask idea is probably useful.

      Reply
      1. Zillah

        Just to be clear, virtually no one is literally smoking on the train or bus – just outside or on the street in general. However, they do often get on smelling strongly of it – and while it’s not most of the time, at least with weed, it only has to happen once or twice a week to just leave me completely demoralized and drained, particularly since there are a lot of other triggers.

        My job actually is already good about that – I’m not public facing or anything, so they’re totally fine with people setting different schedules, and when I get in is really flexible. That’s helpful in the morning, but there’s not really a similar gap in the afternoon – and it’s difficult to escape the smokers regardless.

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    7. Katherine

      Hey LW –

      I wonder if you could also ask your boss if there might be someone in the organization driving past your home? Obviously this depends if the organization is large and where you live, but it’s possible.

      It might not be a big deal for you to carpool with someone, especially if that means the driver would have access to carpool lanes or if the organization has carpool benefits, but you also might find folks for whom “my coworker is getting sick from taking the bus, I don’t mind going a couple blocks out of my way to help them” is totally fine. And you could always offer that person what you’d spend on your bus commute or whatever you can afford.

      If you work in a very dense urban area, you can also carpool with folks who work at nearby companies.

      Good luck!

      Reply
  2. INTP

    #3: It’s not an ideal solution but until you work something else out, consider wearing a filtering mask. You can buy special activated charcoal ones, but even ones you buy at the drugstore are better than nothing. Even pulling my shirt up over my nose helps for a few seconds when I have to walk by a smoker. If anyone gets weirded out by it, just explain your health reasons loudly for the smokers to hear.

    Reply
    1. Zillah (OP3)

      Yeah, I’ve been trying a mask – it helps with a lot of triggers, but not with smokers, particularly not people smoking weed. :(

      Reply
        1. Zillah

          Cross my fingers and hope no one is smoking. They typically only require walking a few blocks, though, as opposed to my much longer and more heavily traveled commute to work.

          Reply
  3. Kathy

    #1 I have this same issue. Vendors drive me crazy. Last time I was at my doctors office, I noticed them telling a drug rep that they only see 4 reps per week. I decided that was a good plan for me, so I started telling vendors that I only see two per week, and I didn’t have any openings for three weeks. It gets the vendors off your back, but doesn’t bog down your schedule.

    Reply
    1. Artemesia

      You never have to see a vendor unless directed specifically by the boss. It is easier to have categories that you just never see — and develop a response so you can take as little time as possible messing with this.

      Reply
    2. Otter box

      Cold callers are so obnoxious. I sit at the front desk of a small nonprofit and get these all the time. They’re pushy, rude, and only want to listen to me if I’m the “decision-maker” on whatever type of product they’re selling. I’m under explicit orders from my boss to decline them every time (“we’re not currently in the market for X”) but half the time they won’t take my word for it and keep calling back insisting to speak to my boss. They will sometimes pretend that they’re buddy-buddy with my boss as an attempt to trick me into letting them through (“oh, Bob and I go way back! He’s expecting my call – can you put him through?”). I finally put my foot down with a particularly egregious one a couple of weeks ago and insisted, over his protests, that Bob explicitly told me he was not interested in the guy’s services and the guy acted so butthurt and offended and still implied he didn’t believe me (“wow. Um. That’s VERY surprising. I don’t think Bob would do that”). I’ve also had cold callers just show up at the office asking for a meeting with Bob or other senior management people.

      I’m always happy to humor salespeople by letting them pitch their services and then say “we’ll keep you in mind if we’re in the market for X” because you never know when you will actually need something they sell. But I don’t bother with in person meetings – I always ask for their information in email form and tell them that we’ll reach out to them if we’re interested. And I only bother with salespeople who are nice and respectful. I’ve got no patience for these slimy lying ones.

      Reply
      1. NJ Anon

        I work at a nonprofit and one of my co-workers came up with a brilliant response, “Sorry, we get all our (insert whatever it is they are selling here) through a grant from the county.” I actually had one person ask for the county’s phone number so I gave it to them. Of course, we did get a few things from the county but not everything but they didn’t need to know that.

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      2. Not Today Satan

        I work in a small suite that doesn’t have a receptionist. Recently a cold caller came into the waiting area of my suite. I practically leaped from my chair to meet him in the waiting area to avoid him coming into my office. Yet when I was only 3 feet from the door to the waiting room, he just walked right into my personal office. I was livid tbh! I admit I’m particular about personal space, but I can’t deal with people who walk into my office uninvited. Normally I humor sales people but I just told him to leave.

        Reply
        1. Stranger than fiction

          Do they completely ignore No Soliciting signs? Years and years ago, I worked for a small start up and the owner had us all take turns passing out our catalogue to local businesses, and he had enough sense to tell us to adhere to those signs, or it makes us look bad.

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      3. Yetanotherjennifer

        I can definitely relate! One of my bosses had a very common name that could be easily shortened, like Raymond to Ray, but he went by Skip. It was funny when people would call and try to imply a relationship by asking for Ray.

        I was the gatekeeper and took my job seriously. One guy accused me of being ex CIA because I just wouldn’t let him through and would never even promise to have my boss call. I would only promise what I had control over: delivering the message.

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        1. Ama

          Heh, my dad goes by his middle name so we always knew when it was a telemarketer because they’d ask for him by first name.

          At an old job we had a couple of pushy (by phone) vendors. One guy was trying to get our exhibition department to work with him on something and every time a new exhibition would open he would call the main number repeatedly (as that was the only publicly listed number for staff), going down the list of the people in the department. I finally just told him he was wasting his time calling all of them because all the calls routed through me, and if they decided they were interested when I passed on his message they would call him back.

          The other guy was a movie producer (I looked him up on IMDB to verify, although he mostly seemed to make low budget horror movies) who really wanted to talk to our director about making a movie set at our school. He was super rude and definitely expected people to fall all over themselves because of who he was. I got permission from the director to “take his number” and then basically throw it away, but he would call every six months or so. He was so awful I actually left a warning about him in my notes for my successor.

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      4. Princess Buttercup

        Our receptionist gets that all the time – callers acting like they are friends of me or the President or CFO. She is really good with (politely but assertively) finding out if they really are or if it’s a cold call. Then she tells them we aren’t available but they can email the details and if we are interested we will get back to them. And she gives a general email address, not our individual emails.

        We have had a few over the years that were super aggressive, calling constantly and being very rude to the receptionist. I finally took the call and flat out told the person that we would NEVER do business with him due to his behavior, and that in future our receptionist would immediately hang up on him.

        Reply
        1. Not the Droid You are Looking For

          I’ve never understood this behaviour! I had a rep who used some horrific language with our receptionist who literally had no option but putting people through to my office line and hoping I would pick up (she had no idea of I was in).

          Why do you think I would buy your product if you are a jerk?

          Reply
          1. Charity

            They probably think that you respect your receptionist as little as they do, or else they’re hoping that you won’t find out how they were behaving before they reached you. It’s kind of like going on a date and being rude to the server.

            Reply
          2. Donna

            I’ve had that happen too–vendors who are rude to office staff, or they start bad-mouthing my bosses because they haven’t purchased from them in the past. I can’t imagine why they think that would be effective!

            Reply
          3. I'm a Little Teapot

            I don’t get it either. When I did reception, I was polite until the caller got rude, at which point I got blunt and, if need be, nasty right back. One caller insisted on speaking directly to the CEO of the large, well-known hospital system I worked in a small office of, after normal business hours, insulting me in the process. I literally laughed at him.

            Reply
      5. Otter box

        One other question I’ve been wondering – are the moving company calls legit but sleazy, or flat out scams? I get called about once a week with: “hi, we’re just calling to confirm some details about your upcoming office move.” Considering we’re not moving, this strikes me as very suspicious. I also get the copy machine scammers, and I’m wondering whether this is the same type of thing or if it’s *slightly* more legit.

        Reply
    3. Hillary

      My company’s wonderful receptionist blocks anyone without an appointment – depending if she knows I don’t know them she may not even tell me they’re here.

      I’ve gotten in the habit of taking enough time on cold phone calls to learn what their business is, and then I have a couple standard responses. 95% of the time I tell them we’ve either completed the RFP for that service this year or we’re not looking for additional partners, but I always offer to take their information over email. The other 5% are promising enough that they occasionally turn into partners we want to work with.

      My least favorite ever are the “consultants” who run one-man shops after they retired from X big company. They tend to be incredibly pushy and have zero metrics about how they can add value, but they all promise 10% plus savings.

      Reply
  4. Jillociraptor

    OP #1, as someone who spends a lot of time thinking about building relationships for my (side hustle) non-profit, let me assuage your guilt! If the people aren’t coming to you with a really clear proposition of value for the partnership, you should feel completely fine about turning them down. I don’t mean things like “you probably have computers, and we do stuff with computers!” or “you have money; we need money!” but rather outreach that shows that they really take your business needs/mission seriously and have something to offer to partner with you. Those are the relationships you might want to spend time cultivating.

    It might help if you took half an hour or so to think about the relationships/services your company is most in need of having pipelines for. Maybe even bring that to your boss for validation. That could help you quickly evaluate each message, and feel good about the calls you do choose to take.

    Reply
    1. Stranger than fiction

      Great point. And, if it is something of interest to the company, there’s nothing wrong with scheduling the meeting or call down the road a bit. If they’re serious, they’ll wait. And it shows them how busy you guys are.

      Reply
  5. Jen RO

    #4 – I am sure someone more eloquent will come along, but for me managing and leading are definitely two different things. You need leadership skills to be a *good* manager (but you can still be one without them), and you don’t need to be a manager to be a leader.

    Reply
      1. Irishgal

        I believe they are very intertwined as AAM says however IMHO while every leader also needs to be a manager not every manager can be a leader.

        Reply
        1. Not an IT Guy

          This…because a leader would take responsibility for his or her shortcomings, whereas a manager won’t hesitate to throw someone under the bus for their flaws and mistakes.

          Reply
        2. Stranger than fiction

          You hit the nail on the head. There’s a lot of talk these days about how all managers are not leaders (or at least good ones; often just someone promoted out of seniority and lacking the extra skill). I think that’s why all these leadership trainings are a big thing right now.

          Reply
      2. hbc

        My reading of the first is that he doesn’t deny the distinction but is calling out those in management positions (primarily CEOs) who think they can get away with only relying on Big Picture Leadership. But I would argue there are some roles that basically only require leadership (the Dalai Lama comes to mind) and some that only require management (just about any low level management position.)

        So I don’t think there’s any harm in focusing on your leadership skills if you’re otherwise awesome at managing people and projects, or focusing on your management skills if you can inspire but not actually get things done. You need both to be great at almost any job where people are below you, but not all, and you can be pretty decent at some jobs when only strong in one or the other.

        Reply
        1. Kyrielle

          Yes. I worked for years with someone who was a Leader but not a Manager, and he was brilliant and awesome. He gave us technical direction and inspiration, came up with amazing ideas, kept us going, etc. Notice that I worked with him, not for him – no one mistook him for a manager and he wasn’t one. He wasn’t good at the nitty-gritty of managing and no one was asking him to do that, they were asking him to inform the big picture, give direction, etc. He worked *with* our manager, who did the managing.

          Reply
      3. Jen RO

        I’ll admit I haven’t read them yet, but I took on a “leader” role in my team long before I ever became a manager… I wasn’t managing anyone (and not even managing a lot of processes), but I was told that my attitude towards work inspired people and made them look up to me. I also had a lot of informal authority, meaning that my suggestions were taken into account more than other people’s, despite the fact that we were on the same position in the org chart. On the other hand, I’ve known managers who were definitely not leaders, because they could not inspire people, just give assignments. Does this make sense?

        Reply
        1. Doriana Gray

          It does to me – I was coming here to say the same thing. I’ve had leadership roles in just about every job I’ve been in, and I’ve never managed a single person (and don’t want to). I like being the person with the ideas that other people implement.

          But I do agree that good managers are good leaders. The two things just don’t necessarily have to go together. (Or what AZ said.)

          Reply
        2. NYC Weez

          To me, leadership is a key function of a good manager. But leadership is also achievable at any level in an organization even when you aren’t officially managing anything. Even if you are an intern, you can drive whatever projects you are given in level appropriate ways. Example: Our temp is asked to maintain certain spreadsheets. She’s taken ownership of them and looked for opportunities to improve the functionality for everyone. In that sense she’s acting like a leader in her position instead of simply doing what is asked of her. This attitude is definitely noticed. (We’re trying to get her brought on as a FT employee right now)

          Reply
          1. Stranger than fiction

            If all it takes is taking ownership of some spreadsheets, then I’m a great leader. Now, if only people would listen to me.

            Reply
        3. LBK

          I think they can be more easily separated when your role isn’t defined as being a manager, but in the context of the question I think it’s referring to people who actually do have manager titles but that rest on being “leaders” without doing any of the stuff a manager has to do that isn’t necessarily part of “leading” (like performance management and high-quality hiring).

          Reply
        4. Chinook

          Jen RO – your distinction makes complete sense. I can see someone as being either a manager or a leader as both are not required to do one or the other. On the other hand, the best type of manager is also a leader and vice versa. I think the articles AAM references seem to be focusing on the fact that a person should strive to be both if they want to succeed. I think it is also possible to be natural at one of these and struggle with the other. But, more importantly, it needs to be recognized that “leadership” and “management” are not interchangeable terms.

          Reply
        5. OP #4

          That makes a lot of sense. Leadership can be done from any point in a hierarchy, whether or not you’re managing anyone.

          OTOH, I feel like informal authority also requires management skills, even if you’re not the manager. Because informal authority is still authority.

          Reply
      4. M from NY

        No I’m not. Without seeing the syllabus for the class your articles (& the OP) are assuming the worst. Management & Leadership may work together but in planning or goal setting require different approaches. Maybe the point of the class was for participants not to be so focused on what they do but learn to think broadly about how/why they do it in order to set strategic plans or other “big picture” goals. Both of your articles make leadership sound like a bad thing. If OP isn’t resistant to the idea of what makes for good leadership he/she may leave class with new tools to improve their own skills.

        Reply
        1. OP #4

          I’m not resistant to the idea that leadership is important. I’m skeptical of the idea that organizational leadership can be separated from management.

          Reply
      5. Aardvark

        One of the classes I took in grad school lo those many years ago explored the relationship of leadership and power, independent of management. One of the theories of leadership presented was that leadership can be viewed as power and that power can come from different sources: “legitimate” power (someone saying “you are the leader, go forth and make decisions”), subject matter expertise, referential leadership, like being influential like you leading us hordes of informed job-havers/wanters), and meting out rewards/punishments.
        Ideally a manager would have multiple types of power, but not all non-managers need all types. Managers would use their leadership power to manage–and you can’t effectively manage without using multiple types of leadership, because different team members need different types of leadership at different times. Non-managers lack legitimate power, but they can still use other forms of leadership to get things done. Developing the traits from yesterday’s article on getting help from coworkers, especially the part about relationship building, corresponds to referent leadership. Exploiting (in a good way!) the positive self-worth subject-matter leadership bestows on others by explaining why you want a team member to do a task is a way to leverage power in the workplace without being a manager. Thanking people is providing a reward, which is a type of leadership as well.

        Reply
      6. TootsNYC

        Actually, one of the quotes you cites actually defines them as being distinctly different things:

        “both leadership and management are crucial, and it doesn’t help those responsible for the work of others to romanticize one and devalue the other …

        I think they’ve got a lot of overlap, and someone who’s REALLY good at one of them has to be passing good at the other.

        Reply
    1. AZ

      I think they are overlapping but not identical skillsets. I also think leadership is more of a big picture approach, and management is more about strategy and implementation. Leadership decides the direction and the purpose, management makes it happen.

      Reply
    2. Yetanotherjennifer

      Leader seems to be new management buzz word. My husband is clearly defined in his company as a leader, not a manager, but he has a good sized team of people who report to him. They don’t even like the word “manager,” I get corrected every time I use it. I wonder if manager has gotten some negative connotations and so businesses want a kinder, friendlier word to designate a boss. I haven’t worked for a big company for a while so I’m not sure of the official distinction.

      Reply
    3. Frances

      I agree. As many have mentioned here, I’ve seen leadership as the ability inspire, see the big picture, and draw out ideas and actions from others. Management to me is more about supervising people, projects, and departments. This can include leadership skills but doesn’t always (I think great managers are both leaders and managers). I think management is not as “sexy” as leadership but I think it is more important. You need a functioning team for the organization to succeed in the long run. You need to have clear expectations, deadlines, communications, etc. to make things work. This is what a good manager does.

      The articles AAM points to highlight the importance of leaders not pooh-poohing the value of those management roles. Theoretically I think that idea is spot on and wonderful. Unfortunately, I think many folks (at least in my limited experience) see leadership as some sort of visionary hero, separate from the lowly manager, who does the grunt work of making the vision happen. That is where I think things can fall apart.

      Reply
    4. NavyLT

      I agree. While management and leadership are often related, it might help to think of managing as allocating and directing resources–so, you’ll have Group A work on one thing, Group B work on another, and so forth. Leadership is getting those people who form Groups A and B to work on and succeed in their respective projects, whether that’s through mentoring or coaching or leading by example, and you can do that without being a manager.

      Reply
    5. AndersonDarling

      Our Leadership team and Management teams are very different. The Leadership team is a group of our highest executives who make the decisions that guide our organization (Mission, Vision, Strategic Planning). The Management teams execute those directives.
      From an organizational standpoint, Leadership and Management are different. But on a personal level, these “qualities” may be interchangeable. Leaders need management skills and Mangers need leadership skills.

      Reply
    6. Not So NewReader

      I agree that managing and leading are two different things but I think that they are intertwined and it is not possible to just do one.

      My bias is I believe that if you do not understand what your people do, they will not follow you that well. In order to understand what they are doing you have to be a manager as well as a leader. The problem comes when a person can seem to be leading a group, and this can go on for quite a while. And people can appear to be following that leader. But it won’t hold the test of time, something goes wrong. A leader who refuses to look at what is going on in the daily/weekly work life of her company will eventually fail.

      These are not my words, but I can’t remember where I found it:
      “What kind of a leader are you? Well, look at your people. Are they following you OR are they chasing you?”
      My own addition to this is “are they chasing you with rocks?” Are you so far removed from your people that you inspire them to pick up rocks and clubs as human beings did in the caveman era? Granted that it is an extreme form of bad leadership that provokes such a primitive reaction. But it is also through thinking about extremes we are better able to see which end of the spectrum we actually are at vs. where we think we are.
      The more disconnected you are from your people and their work, the less apt you are to be able to lead them.

      Reply
    7. finman

      My first job out of college was in a rotational program that changed its name from Management Development Program to Leadership Development Program because they are very different. The company expected us to become leaders way before being managers. Being a manager means you have at least 1 person working for you. One can be a leader without actually managing someone.

      Reply
    8. Angela

      I’m definitely a leader, but I have never been someone’s manager. I actually have very little desire to ever manage people. I manage many things throughout my day, but not people. I coach people. I offer guidance. But I am not their manager. However, I am definitely a leader and am responsible for getting things done.

      Reply
      1. TootsNYC

        My little brother was a leader when he was in junior high.
        He sure wasn’t managing that group of boys!

        He manages AND leads now, bcs he’s a Chief Warrant Officer in the Army.

        Reply
    9. LBK

      There’s a graphic that goes around every so often with one panel where a person is being carried on a sled captioned “boss” and then another where the person is at the front of the sled helping the team pull it captioned “leader” (will post a link in response).

      Personally, I hate the implications of this image, because a manager’s job isn’t to be helping the team with their work. They should be facilitating, directing and chipping in if needed, but the whole reason you have a manager is to oversee, not to participate. You need someone who’s looking at things from a macro perspective, who’s delegating and distributing work, and who’s doing the other things that make a team successful in the long run like hiring and performance management. There’s obviously elements of motivating and driving the team that are part of “leadership” rather than pure management, but that’s not mutually exclusive from also being the boss whose job is to make judgment calls and yes, sometimes that means telling the team what to do rather than go along with them.

      Reply
    10. Vicki

      True leaders may be managers. They may also be excellent individual contributors, such as technical leads or scientists.

      Many managers are not leaders, no matter how many people they “manage”.
      A square is a rectangle. A rectangle is not necessarily a square.

      “Take care not to conceive of yourself as the glorious leader always blazing new trails while leaving the gritty, mundane details of making it all work to lesser beings.” — this would be a typical company manager. Not a leader.

      Reply
  6. AnotherAnon

    Re #5: This can go both ways. I had an experience where I was waiting to hear from an interview, and was eventually made an offer; my wife had one where the process dragged out for 8 months (!) and then she was told that the relevant department was being closed altogether. Your case sounds more like the first, but as Alison says, there’s no offer until there’s an offer.

    Reply
    1. OP5

      I’m hoping you’re right and they don’t overlook how enthusiastic I’ve been throughout the entire process. Both hiring managers seemed so excited about me but now I’m second-guessing it all and wondering if that was just because they lost their initial candidate and were hoping to reel somebody in really quickly. I’m just going to feel so defeated if I had something in the palm of my hand until somebody else decided they wanted a take-back on their final decision. Doesn’t seem fair to give it to somebody who was so quick to run away just because the head of the department was a little intimidating (I sat through the same thing and was never swayed!)

      Will definitely give everyone an update if/when I hear anything!

      Reply
      1. Kyrielle

        Remember too that if you do lose out on it, *they still liked you a lot*. That means, as long as you’re professional if the outcome isn’t what you want, that they are likely going to remember you again the next time an appropriate position opens up.

        Which is not as good as getting one now, but is still good.

        I don’t think you need to second-guess yourself at all; it sounds like you did *really well* here, and it’s all down to whether they decide this known quantity’s potential value for the role is enough to trump that. It doesn’t change how you did, or the impression you made, at all.

        Reply
        1. OP5

          Thanks for that encouragement, I do need to remember to keep it in perspective and not take it so personally. The whole hiring process really does end up leaving candidates feeling helpless, I wish there were a way for hiring managers to be more upfront and transparent…though I know that’s a bit unrealistic given their liability and potential unforeseen circumstances.

          Reply
          1. catsAreCool

            The fact that they liked you is great. I know someone who got a job on his 3rd or 4th try at a company – the company liked him, but until the last time, someone else was always a bit ahead of him. But they encouraged him to keep applying, and he did get the job!

            Reply
        2. TootsNYC

          I agree w/ Kyrielle.

          in fact, if you don’t get this job, the individuals involved will probably feel like they owe you a little bit. So don’t feel bad about asking them to remember you for any future openings, but also for mentioning you to anyone else they know who is hiring, even if it’s elsewhere. “Of course, I’d far prefer to work at your company, but if nothing ever works out, I’m still interested in moving up in our field.”

          Reply
      2. regina phalange

        I am angry on your behalf! If she was that intimidated by someone, I would be very weary of the change of heart and would question if she wouldn’t do another 180 down the road. I really hope you get the job. Internal politics are the WORST.

        Reply
        1. OP5

          I’m glad somebody else sees it as frustrating as I do! I understand that in reality companies do need to show loyalty and support to their tried-and-true but this particular instance is just so aggravating because the interest and commitment clearly wasn’t there before when mine was. I kind of wish I could talk to this girl doing the 180 and make her understand how unprofessional and damaging this is to other people. Even my friend who works there mentioned that it’s a really inconsiderate thing to do at this junction since she’s putting all of the hiring managers in a bad position. She thinks they were as ready to hire me as I was to start working.

          Reply
        2. Kyrielle

          I wouldn’t be angry yet. They may have to consider her, but unless they’re foolish, her being intimidated will presumably factor in their thinking.

          (And as far as being intimidated, we really can’t know what that means or what happened there – what we have is what OP5’s contact at the company knew, which may or may not be accurate and accurately conveyed, and may or may not include all the contextual information. It could be everything from ‘she bailed under pressure for no reason’ to a misunderstanding to an actual ADA-accomodated condition…all you can do, without full knowledge, is hope that the hiring committee considers all the facts they have.)

          Reply
      3. Stranger than fiction

        Op, I’m not clear if the person who changed their mind was for the first position you interviewed for or the second?

        Reply
  7. Irishgal

    #3 – as an occupational health specialist (who advises employers on how individual employees health affects their ability to work) when you talk to your boss I’d strongly suggest you also say you are getting your medical care fully reviewed to ensure you are on optimum treatment. Asthma care is being fine tuned all the time and most cases can be brought back under control with adjustments to the treatment regime (which will also be better for your long-term lung function too).

    Reply
    1. Treena

      I’d suggest this only for a month or two while you’re working with your Dr. to manage the asthma or if it can’t be managed with masks and other less intense options.

      If it’s reasonable to even have a car (parking available on both ends of your commute, costs, ability to drive, etc.), check out long-term car rentals. They can be as low as $10/day, excluding insurance (which you can then get liability for yourself and use a credit card with coverage to get yourself adequately covered).

      Reply
    2. Elysian

      This was my thought, too – if OP has a car, maybe asking the boss if the company can arrange for parking/free parking/discount parking could work. If not, maybe something like zipcar is an option. Or on particularly bad days, maybe taxi/uber to go the last 8 blocks?

      Reply
      1. Yetanotherjennifer

        Yes. Most weather apps include allergy and smog levels so the OP could have some help anticipating the best days to drive. Unfortunately, no app can predict levels of cigarette and pot smoke.

        Reply
      2. Zillah (OP3)

        Unfortunately, the most significant triggers really are the smokers, and I can’t predict for them… Which leaves me scrutinizing everyone’s hands as I walk and playing musical spot on the subway.

        Which also makes me feel weird in general, because then I worry about looking rude and weird and depending on who I’m moving away from, sometimes xenophobic and/or racist.

        Reply
        1. Elysian

          Aw, of all the things you have to worry about I wouldn’t worry about appearing xenophobic/racist, or even rude. It isn’t your responsibility to mitigate the potential disproportionate impact of your respiratory health on minority-race cigarette and pot smokers. Just move away and try not to feel bad about it. Not that you need it, but I 100% give you permission to appear rude or weird or racist or whatever you need so that you can breathe. It’s public transit in what I assume is a big city, I’m sure people see much worse than rudeness. You don’t need to worry about what other people think of you w/r/t this stuff.

          Reply
          1. Case of the Mondays

            I’m triggered by perfumes so I have to move at times too. If I sat somewhere long enough before I realized it that it would be awkward to move I just tell the person “sorry, I’m allergic to perfume. Nothing personal.” And then move. I’ve done that on a plane too. I had the flight attendant swap me with someone. The lady next to me’s perfume was lovely, just one I’m allergic to.

            Reply
        2. jlm

          As a smoker, I can definitely tell you its okay if you move away! We totally get it and I would probably assume that you’re moving away because I smell like cigarettes way before I would assume you’re moving away because I’m a minority

          Reply
    3. Zillah (OP3)

      Unfortunately not. I actually do have access to a car, but I only recently got my license, which makes me less comfortable driving into the middle of the city. There’s also literally no parking – this is very much a public transportation city.

      Reply
  8. newreader

    LW#3: It sounds as if it’s using public transportation that puts you in contact with triggers for your asthma. Is there a way to find other transportation to work? Are there any coworkers with cars that want to carpool or ride share organizations in your area? I’m assuming purchasing or leasing your own vehicle isn’t feasible, though that’s another option.

    I don’t have asthma, so am not as familiar with symptoms, triggers, and nuances. But if environmental factors are triggers, it might help to change the environment you’re in during your commute. One way to test that, if it’s not cost prohibitive, might be to use a taxi or car service to commute to work for a few days to determine the impact to your symptoms.

    Reply
    1. Jen

      Agree. If this job doesn’t work out, there will be another and it just might have the kind of commute that is a bus/train/walk. You should work to get the asthma under control with a doc, and if you are at max control, look at a car option. It almos to sounds medically necessary at this point unless you’d like to permanently have work from home roles?

      Reply
    2. Kelly L.

      Yeah, I’m wondering if the cigarette and pot smokers might be regulars on the bus, rather than something she encounters outside. I ride the bus, and occasionally there are folks who really seem to have marinated in their smoke before getting on the bus (the same goes for Axe, actually), and you’re in a small stuffy box with them for a loooong time. I’m sure that if a particularly smoky/cologney person happened to ride the same route as OP every.day., it could get troublesome fast.

      Reply
    3. Zillah (OP3)

      I actually have access to a car that’s rarely used, but the part of the city I’m commuting to makes that not an option for a couple reasons – nobody drives here. That would be the ideal solution and will definitely be how I commute to future jobs.

      Reply
    4. Not me

      I also don’t have asthma and might be completely off-base, but I would wonder about carpooling with friends or coworkers or something like Zimride.

      Reply
  9. newreader

    LW#4: I think it’s great that you’re questioning and researching what you learning in class. It’s important for students to hone critical thinking skills and not assume everything they are told in class is fact.

    One differentiation between managers and leaders can be perspective and focus. Leaders are often looking long-term at where the company or organization needs or wants to be and broad ways to get there – making the plan. Managers then help with implementing and sustaining the plan on a more operational level. But I agree with Alison that they are intertwined and any really good manager or leader has some traits of both roles.

    Reply
  10. Newbie

    LW# 2: To expand upon Alison’s last item regarding attending company events, I would add that it’s important to consider the purpose of your attendance and the impact (if any) on coworkers. Events that directly relate to your position or skills are beneficial to attend as those can be a form of professional development. Events that are personally interesting but not linked to your role should be minimized on work time if it means others have to cover for you when you’re attending.

    I work in higher ed and we also receive announcements for all events, lectures, and presentations that occur. I’ve had coworkers that attend as many things as possible, even if they don’t relate to their role, as a means of getting out of doing their own work.

    Do talk with your manager about expectations and the culture around attending these events. Of see if there is a possibility to adjust your schedule if there is an event that you really want to attend from a personal perspective that’s occurring during work hours – coming in late, shortening lunch, or staying late. Also, ease into attending events not directly related to your work over time. Your initial focus should be learning your own role and responsibilities. Once you have a proven track record as a solid performer and if you ensure that your work isn’t suffering and coworkers aren’t negatively impacted, it will be easier to attend more events not directly related to work.

    Reply
    1. DuckDuckMøøse

      I would ask your manager their view on the “not related” events – they may see more connections to your actual job, since they have been there longer. Even if it is just a matter of getting a bigger picture of the organization, the time may still be well spent, if they think it’s worth it. Fresh out of college, my manager encouraged us to attend as many seminars and briefings as possible, even if they didn’t have direct impact on our current job. You really need a little guidance from your manager, until you get a better feel for which events will benefit you and your job.

      Reply
      1. Chinook

        “I would ask your manager their view on the “not related” events – they may see more connections to your actual job, since they have been there longer. Even if it is just a matter of getting a bigger picture of the organization, the time may still be well spent, if they think it’s worth it”

        I want to second that. I have actually given company wide presentations about a computer program developed for our Integrity program that, from the outside, looks like it should be of no interest to anyone outside our department. But, we had people from every department attend and, as a result, both we and them made connections about our work that never would have happened before (in other words, we were breaking down the work silos). By taking time to learn about things outside your scope, you can learn what resources the company has available internally and maybe also how what you do could help others (by possibly reducing duplication of work).

        Reply
    2. Graciosa

      I think you raise an excellent point about not losing sight of doing the job for which you were hired.

      The more interesting question for me, however, is usually a variation on something in between 1 and 2 – how many meetings do I attend that are completely and totally business meetings in my area, but which take up more of my time than I want to give. In this category are some multi-day strategy meetings, operational reviews, etc. where all the information is useful, but not necessarily immediately critical.

      Deciding how much of which meetings to attend is a bit of an art. It is not at all unusual for me to have at least three competing requests for a particular slot on my schedule (this is not an indication of my supremely high status – the leaders above me routinely have five or six). I think it does say something (annoying) about our culture, and I wish I could convince the rest of the company to choose one day (or even afternoon!) a week during which no internal meetings will be held so we could all visit our desks and do some work during business hours.

      The letter writers in 1 and 2 will be juggling the need to assess the business value of the use of their time for the rest of their careers, and need to take Wakeen’s advice below to always do so remembering it is an asset of the company.

      Reply
    3. Artemesia

      I would think attending any company event that was not specifically focused on your role would be something done rarely and then only with your supervisor’s permission. I would be really annoyed as a boss if people I was counting on to get the work done were traipsing off to lectures, health fairs, and other ‘events’ put on by the larger organization without clearing it with me. This is so obviously mostly a work dodge. I’d have no trouble if they came to me and said ‘Dr. Phil is going to be here to lecture about bunions and I’m really interested in hearing him.’ But if a person was constantly heading off for every even that comes along, I’d view them as a shirker.

      Reply
      1. LQ

        This is interesting. We have been doing a range of other events for our …medium sized (about 500 or so) staff area about things that are related to the work, but not every day things you can apply. Mostly about the broader view of the program, etc. While we have some people who are clearly trying to get out of work (they come multiple times to the same session and never seem interested in the topic at all) most people who attend a lot of these are seen as people who are are looking to be in line for a promotion. Attending several of these and showing interest is a very good way to catch the attention of the leadership here.

        So I’d say YMMV based on your org and what those “other” things are.

        Reply
    4. Not the Droid You Are Looking For

      I completely agree with the speaking to your manager about attending the “other” events.

      I am a firm believer in gaining any kind of knowledge, as I think it always helps the creative process. However, if someone is attending a lot of these events and it’s impacting their work or their coworkers work that’s when I’ll step in and say something.

      I know other managers who will limit their staff to one of these types of months every couple weeks, and some who won’t let people go until they’ve “proven themselves,” so it’s good to check in.

      Reply
    5. Hillary

      The kind of event also makes a difference. If it’s a lunch & learn or scheduled for 4:30 or 5:00, I’d have zero issue with it if you’re exempt (check with your manager if you’re non-exempt since those kind of events can impact your hours).

      Reply
  11. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.

    #1

    You are so shiny and new, you make me smile. :) I am old and with the sort of job title (marketing) that is crushed with meeting/just a minute of your time requests from the universe. If I took all of the meetings/had all of the phone conversations that I marginally even want to take, I’d have zero time to do my actual job.

    Please reset your thinking.

    Your job is not to take meetings or have phone conversations because someone outside your org wants you to. They are not paying you and they are not your job.

    So dial all the way back and think about what your job is and what you are paid to do. Then view any outside requests through that lens, do they further your personal mission?

    Allowing other people to misspend your time is *you* misspending company money (your paycheck). You think you are being nice but what you’re doing is running yourself and your time into the ground and that’s a misuse of resources.

    I don’t answer my phone, a lot, but if someone catches me on the phone, I size up quickly if they might be of use to us and then continue the conversation OR tell them to send me an email summary that I can keep on file if our needs are longer range.

    Look in the mirror: My time is valuable to my company! *I* control my time. Outside people do NOT control my time.

    (Side note: We recently purchased services that originated from a cold call to me, which, I don’t think has happened in the history of ever but the caller, who was terrific, caught me at the exact moment that we needed those services and the product turned out to be great and a complete time saving blessing. Saved me weeks of research, planning and outreaches to give her the initial one minute listen.)

    Reply
    1. fposte

      Honestly, I think this is an important lesson across the board, in personal as well as professional life. A request is not an obligation.

      Reply
      1. Kyrielle

        This. Also, people who think *their* request should be *your* obligation, and push/insist on it after you’ve declined the request, are self-selecting out. If you say no and they respond with “But what about the–?” then they are not respecting your time or your choices, and to simplify dealing with their guilt trips / high-pressure tactics / whatever, the answer can never change from no for them.

        Reply
    2. Donna

      When I started my job, I was getting tons of calls from vendors too. I was nice and listened to them at first, but unfortunately what happens is that they try to draw company information out of you. Like, what’s your budget for _________? When I said I didn’t know because I was new, they started assigning tasks to me (find out your budget and I’ll call back next week). That was when I realized I had been way too accommodating in even talking to them!

      My policy now is that vendors are welcome to send me information and I’ll read it if it’s something my company needs. But if they want to show me something or talk to me, then they need to offer something worthwhile to the organization, like a free trial or access to certain research. If they want face time with me, then they should buy me lunch somewhere nice. That way, I’m not taking company time, but I’m also not spending my own time for free.

      Relationships with vendors can be a great thing–but the vendors need to bring something to the table. The more savvy ones know this, and they won’t ram their sales pitch down your throat. Depending on what field you work in, you can sometimes get them to do your work for you and they’re happy to do it. Say for example, you’ve been tasked to gather information on a certain market or line of research. One of your vendors might already have it and be willing to share it with you. (Ask your boss’s permission first, of course. You can inadvertently give out company information just by requesting something.)

      Or if there is something your company is curious about, you can invite a vendor you trust who has experience in that field to come and talk to your company about it for free–as long as you make it clear they aren’t there to give a sales pitch, but rather, information on something they are knowledgeable about.

      Reply
    3. LBK

      Totally agree. One of the most important lessons at work is learning to say no and not feel bad about it. Your time and energy are finite resources and you are not obligated to spend those resources on things that aren’t beneficial to you, your role or your company.

      Reply
    4. justsomeone

      I get so many emails and calls from vendors that we have little to zero interest in. I tried responding to them all with a nice “Thanks for reaching out but we’re not looking for that kind of service right now/we’re happy with what we’re using right now.” email but it just encouraged them. Soooooo I just flat out delete all of them now. No response, just delete. If I need a service, I’ll do some research on my own.

      I do have to accept all the charitable requests though since that IS my job. But we have a formalized application process that I can direct everyone to if they try to cold call me.

      Reply
    5. Noah

      Totally agree with this. I hate when I receive cold calls and some are really sneaky or even horrible to my assistant or the receptionist trying to reach me.

      I ignore almost of them now if they leave a voicemail or send an email. If they get me on the phone I will almost always tell them I’m not interested and simply hang up. I guess that’s rude, but I promise if I’m interested in a product or service I will research the companies that provide it and reach out.

      Reply
  12. BRR

    #1 speaking from the nonprofit side of things we are used to hearing no a lot. I imagine the sales side is similar, hearing no if part of the job.

    Reply
  13. Trill

    #2 At the hospital I used to work with, it was okay to meet with the benefits department during work hours, but non-exempt employees were explicitly told that meetings with the representative from the 403b company (not a hospital employee but would be onsite a few times a month to be available to meet with people) should be scheduled during non-work hours only. So if your situation is similar it would be good to check with your manager about their expectations.

    Reply
  14. Gillian

    #2 – As someone who writes a weekly email of research events happening at a hospital, I’d love to see you go to events that are relevant to your work. Though part of that is an ulterior motive on my part, as it would make the people arranging the events happy that their attendance is going up and less snippy with me about it (I just write the email, I can’t force people to attend lectures they don’t want to).

    Reply
  15. happymeal

    Re #1: I’m in HR and the aggressiveness of agencies/search firms is all encompassing. I can definitely empathize with OP.

    Reply
  16. Sophia Brooks

    I do not understand why people smoke weed outside at bus stops- aren’t they afraid of getting caught? They do it at my bus stops/along the route, too, and although I do not have asthma, the smell makes me nauseated and headachy.

    Reply
    1. Zillah (OP3)

      It’s been recently decriminalized in my state, which has made them a lot more bold. :( I’m not opposed to it being decriminalized, but FFS, a little consideration. It triggers migraines for me as well as the asthma, and I don’t think we’re alone in the headache stuff.

      Though the weed is disproportionately young white dudes, many of whom are probably used to cops turning a blind eye anyway. Ugh.

      Reply
      1. Tris Prior

        I am horribly allergic to weed too and dread the day it becomes legal here. I don’t care if people want to smoke up in their own homes, but once it starts interfering with my ability to breathe, not OK.

        Though, at least people aren’t allowed to smoke here on public transport. Hopefully that rule will extend to weed should it ever become legal.

        Reply
        1. Zillah

          Yeah, I think that’s part of why weed is such a problem beyond everything else – it seems like it’s a genuine allergy as opposed to just an asthma trigger, so we haven’t had a lot of success in controlling my reaction to it even when other things are under control. I’m sorry – it sucks. :(

          Reply
      2. Tara R.

        Someone was smoking on my dorm floor and I wanted to scream. Go outside!!! Now I have to smell that for the next five days!! People are the worst. :(

        Reply
  17. OP5

    Hey all,

    I know mine is one of the longest posts out of the 5 but I’m hoping for a few opinions, if it doesn’t take too much of your time! I don’t know if I should follow up with the hiring managers now that I have this new info to re-assert my interest or something? I did already follow up with thank-you notes the day of the final interviews (Monday) so I don’t want to be too pushy. Any help would be appreciated!!

    Reply
    1. Artemesia

      I don’t think there is anything you can do that will make this better. You have impressed them; you have done the right follow up; you are probably not going to get the job because things changed at the workplace that are outside your control. It would be terribly disappointing, but no job is a sure thing until it is formally offered. I don’t see that there is anything you can do that will help although if another week passes and you haven’t heard, you might do one follow up call — but that is probably not changing anything.

      Reply
    2. Natalie

      I wouldn’t follow up. I know people advise that you should express your interest but honestly, they know you’re interested already. That’s why you applied for the job and accepted the interview.

      As frustrating as it might be, there’s nothing you can do right now to push the process your way. Try your best to put it out of your mind and focus on other things.

      Reply
    3. ThatGirl

      I agree with others — not much you can do now. They loved you, they know you’re interested, it’s really just a matter of them balancing it against the internal candidate. It’s out of your hands and I don’t think there’s anything you can do to tip the scales (in fact, being pushy might tip them the other way).

      Reply
    4. OP5

      Thanks, everyone! Though a bit devastating I’m going to just chalk this one up to be a loss and try to move on. I know I’m out of luck on this and shouldn’t make the situation worse by badgering them, it’s just such a helpless feeling that I hate not being able to control so I was starting to hope for a of saving grace type of gesture. What a disappointment.

      Reply
      1. M from NY

        Don’t be discouraged yet. Focus on what’s good. They liked you enough to bring you back. Even if it doesn’t work with this job the interviewer has a network and may be keen on recommending you for positions you would otherwise not be aware of. It’s OK to be disappointed but you’re clearly doing some thing right so keep your head up.

        Reply
      2. AnotherChelle

        I had this exact situation happen a few months ago. I was warned of a possibility of internal candidates, but if none applied the job would go external. Well the job went external, I applied and had a great interview. During this time period an internal candidate decided to apply and due to their industry knowledge was a better fit for the position. I was devastated by the outcome as it’s a fantastic job opportunity, but I handled myself professionally. The company reached out and let me know they anticipated a few more positions opening later this year and hoped I would apply. So I’m hoping something comes open soon and I’ll have the opportunity to apply and interview again. You have a contact within the company so at least you will have some insider knowledge about future openings and a great reference! Good luck and hopefully another position come up soon!

        Reply
    5. TootsNYC

      I wouldn’t; I’d wait. It’s too soon.
      And you have info that you really shouldn’t have, so you don’t want to do anything to indicate this.

      Just hold tight.

      Reply
    6. Jen S. 2.0

      Agree with others — stand down. You didn’t do anything wrong to end up here, BUT you also can’t do anything to make them see sense. This is out of your hands.

      It’s like in dating, when you liked someone and the date went well but they don’t call again. Running after them trying to find just the right thing to say or do to make them understand that you are perfect for them? Never ends well.

      I hope this works out for you, but next time, don’t get attached like this until there’s an actual, concrete, real, in-writing offer, not promises and hints of an offer. No one has to hire you, and as much as it sucks, the process doesn’t have to be fair.

      Reply
  18. JMegan

    #2, those are great questions. Alison is right – this is the kind of thing that should be explicitly spelled out for people entering the workforce, because they’re both important and not always obvious. Good for you for thinking about things like that!

    Reply
    1. Puffy

      I agree. When I first started I made some assumptions by looking at what my coworker did during work hours – HUGE mistake. Not only was my coworker making poor decisions for what was work appropriate (even though they seemed okay) but I was the one that was caught doing it and served as the example for everyone.

      Reply
  19. ali

    OP#3 – I don’t have advice, but just wanted to let you know that you are not alone. I work from home most days and am able to drive my own car the days I do go into the office, so I don’t have your situation. But even riding up the elevator with someone who has been out smoking is enough to set me off. I don’t have asthma normally, but am super sensitive to cigarette and especially pot smoke. The only thing I’ve found at all that helps is to be on a constant regime of Claritin.

    Reply
    1. Zillah

      Thank you. That’s enough to set me off, too – it sucks. I never used to have these issues as a kid; they kind of came out of nowhere in my early twenties, and I’m still adjusting to them. It sucks so much.

      Reply
  20. The Grateful Panda (OP2)

    Hi all,

    Thank you all so much for your advice. My only regret is not doing this sooner.
    Thanks Alison for answering my questions and posting them too. I have a very good idea of what I can and cannot do now. I also feel a lot better about my work than I did few days ago.
    Thank you all so much again.
    I don’t really have any advice of my own for anyone at the moment, but I hope I can provide some insight in the future.

    Happy Friday! :D

    Reply
    1. Nobody

      I think it’s kind of awesome that you’re asking these questions. I wish everyone were this thoughtful about the appropriate use of their work hours.

      Reply
  21. Barefoot Librarian

    OP #2, this is a great time to refer to the goals you set at hiring or review time. I work in academia and I tend to get a good bit of downtime/flextime in my day when I’ve technically taken care of the majority of my core duties. To me this is a great time to look at my yearly goals since they tend to be bigger projects not related to my 9-5 work such as build a relationship with X department or submit a paper to an academic journal or find a way to optimize process Y. I don’t know what field you are in but do sit down with your boss and come up with some larger goals for the year that you can work on in those flexible times. Maybe you can even suggest some to him/her yourself. I caution you to be thoughtful about what you select though because a) things often take longer than you expect to complete and b) once you set yearly goals, bosses tend to hold you accountable for them.

    Another thing I do with my downtime is catch up on trade or professional journals. There aren’t enough hours in the day, mind you, to read everything, but I try to read at least one or two relevant articles a week.

    Reply
  22. TootsNYC

    “Many nonprofit or sales professionals want to “build a relationship” and quite frankly I don’t have the time or interest, and my boss doesn’t expect me to take all of these meetings.”

    Who care what they want?

    What does YOUR company want? And, if your company is neutral, what do YOU want?

    It is completely OK to be selfish.

    Alison has tons of language on how to politely say no–but since you’re even asking this, I’d encourage you to look at all of your life, and your assumptions. Do you often have trouble saying no to other things?

    And, if they want to “build a relationship,” remember this about ALL relationships:
    The person who wants the least out of the relationship is the person who gets their way.
    Just as someone romantically interested in you doesn’t get to insist that you go on a date with them when you don’t want to, someone who wants a business relationship doesn’t get to have their way against your preference.
    So if you want them to go away, then that is the proper level of “relationship.”

    And, if someone (a business, or a person) wants any level of relationship they can get, and they DON’T want a negative relationship, you are actually HELPING them if you lay out clearly what level of relationship you want to be in.
    “I don’t really want to date you–I’m happy to [be good friend / get dinner with the friend group / be friendly with you at parties], but I’m not interested in a romantic relationship with you.” And then you can both have a relationship that you are comfortable with–they don’t need to keep trying to make it be a romantic relationship (if they’re sane), and can bow out altogether if they like, or turn their romantic energies toward some place that’s a better use of their time.

    Or, think of it like telemarketers. I get off the phone as fast as I can–“I’m sorry, we’re not interested. Take us off your list.” Why? Because anything else is a waste of time–not just mine, THEIRS TOO.

    So the faster you tell these salespeople (profit nonprofit–bcs that’s what the nonprofit folks are, really) that you are not a customer of theirs, the faster they can move on to make better use of their limited time. It’s really only fair and helpful to them to let them know.

    Reply
    1. BSharp

      As a salesperson, I can’t agree with this more. I have 40 hours a week. There exist people whom I’d be a good fit for. I want to find them. Please help me, either by referring me to Cordelia (who actually handles this category of vendor) or by telling me I’m wasting my time, so I can go do something else.

      Reply
  23. Sarah

    Most places where I work don’t have strict org charts, and managers scope is smaller than you might otherwise expect. Many people are empowered to lead, albeit smaller subsets of the big picture. But even the person leading the big picture of a large project might not have a manager title (although they usually do!).

    Good managers are leaders. Many good leaders become managers, because it is an organizationally effective way to lead. But they are different. This is most helpful for non-managers to think about leadership in the context of their jobs. Managers should be thinking about both, and the distinction is less important in that case.

    Reply
  24. BSharp

    OP #1: As a salesperson who does cold-emailing, please rest easy. Generally, people ignore me for years, and I check in every 3 months with a useful article or an idea for their business. Sometimes that idea is exactly what they needed exactly when they needed it, and maybe I make a sale. But more often they ignore me until they have a need for what we sell, and then they say something like, “Actually, I have to accomplish XYZ, so let’s hop on the phone at (time convenient to them) for (15-60 minutes depending on the topic) and I can tell you about my problem. After that you can send me a proposal that I can bring to my boss, about how your firm can help us with this.”

    If our skills and our solution is a fit for their problem, then maybe I make a sale. But my job is just to be visible, so that they know what we have to offer, and so that I’m around when they do have a business problem I can help with. Also, what I sell is an unusual take on a commonly-used business service, so I’m happy to jump on the phone and tell them about this category. That occasionally leads to a sale if the timing is right for their business problem. But it always leads to a better relationship. I offered them something that was useful to them, and they got value out of it. You can feel free to use potential vendors for information. That is legit.

    If you never want to hear from them again, say: “Please take me off your contact list. We are not a fit for your services. This will not change for the foreseeable future.” If they respond with anything other than a farewell, set up an email filter to send their emails to the trash.

    If you don’t have a need for them now, say: “This is interesting but we have no need for it at this time. Feel free to check in every 3 to 6 months.” If they keep pestering you at too-frequent a rate, set up a filter to send their emails to your archive folder.

    If it actually seems beneficial, but it isn’t urgent, say: “This is interesting, but we don’t have a strong need for it. Feel free to send a deck and I’ll keep your information on file.” They should respond by sending a powerpoint with information for you to review. They may legitimately say, “This works better over the phone, do you have 15 minutes?” and then you can legitimately say, “No, I’m sorry I don’t, but I’ll keep you in mind for the future.”

    If you don’t have time to respond and you’re not sure if you want to hear from them again, just don’t respond. It’s totally fine. You don’t owe them (us) anything.

    Reply
  25. Krystal

    Op3 – I switched from trolley/subway commuting to train because the second-hand and third-hand smoke were destroying my day. Being sick all day sucked.

    I did a few things to make it easier until I could spend more. I sat in the accessible seating, which have me some space from passengers who reek of smoke. . I stopped caring whether I looked rude moving away from people.

    Reply
  26. kac

    I work in sales and I want to affirm what Allison says here. It happens quite often that people are unable to meet with me–sometimes they ignore my request entirely, sometimes they say that it’s a bad time to meet, etc. I never take it personally and I never hold it against them. Meeting with folks is my first priority, but I know it’s not theirs! And I’m always very grateful when folks are able to make the time. So don’t worry about feeling guilty when you have to say no.

    If there is someone who you’re interested in meeting with, but you are feeling overwhelmed, consider asking them to check back in with you in a few month. My customers do this regularly, and I’m always happy to accommodate these requests.

    Reply
  27. pomme de terre

    I love the HBR article on Leaders v Managers! I recently had a run-in with a self-styled Leader through a volunteer org. He wanted to all the fun visionary stuff and assumed that everyone else was picking up the managerial nitty-gritty. It was the absolute worst, and our initiative fell apart and is now defunct.

    I had an awesome boss about 10 years ago who said something that always stuck with me: “I hate people who say, ‘I’m an idea man.’ Well I’m an idea man too, but my ideas are actually good and functional.”

    Reply
  28. Girasol

    LW1: I get about 25 requests a day hawking equipment or services that might have been useful in positions I left ten years ago. If you’re an Outlook user, “block sender” to send them to junk mail, and for the phone calls, “I don’t do that anymore and I don’t know anyone who does. Please take me off your list.” You don’t want to be rude but you can’t let them take your employer’s time if there’s not a good chance of a clear gain from talking with them. But don’t you get a grin from the pitches sometimes? “We haven’t spoken in awhile and I wanted to catch up.” (We’ve never spoken at all.) “I missed your call.” (I didn’t make one.) “I talked the receptionist and she suggested I call you.” (You thought Bob the security guard was a woman?)

    Reply

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