Slow Down, Motor-mouth!

It was 6:45 p.m. more than a decade ago, and I’d just met for coffee with the board president of a New York organization where I was helping assess the prospects for a turnaround.

She had 20 minutes to spare, but I had at least an hour of details to hammer through. Staff to be paid. Deadlines to be met.

At 70 m.p.h, I relayed budget numbers and donor strategy, program results and marketing plans, government funding gaps and vendor relationships.

How to Conduct a Professional Conversation

Too fast!

At about 10 minutes in, she took a sip of tea, blinked, and asked me to slow down.

“What?” I thought. Here was the general counsel of a New York hedge fund. Couldn’t she keep up?

I slowed down and we spent the next ten minutes profitably.

As we parted, she leaned in: “You know I like you. But if I’d just met you, I wouldn’t have been impressed during those first ten minutes.”

Call it New York. Call it the lawyer in her. Whatever. Call it right.

What she saw was this:  Continue reading

How to Handle a Professional Bully

This is for all the young professionals in the house.

I remember the first time I was screamed at by a professional authority figure. A board member, in fact.

Years have passed, and I still draw on the experience when working with young professionals in tricky spots.

The tirade was over the placement of a bookshelf. Clearly not about me. It was my first day on the job, and the contested bookshelf relocation had been authorized by my boss, the executive director.

The board member and I hadn’t even been introduced yet.

Already, reporting relationships and professional decorum meant nothing. And already, this board member was literally cursing her way into my life.

So began three years of a mostly joyous directorship, colored by acute bouts of misery, as this same board member bulldozed everyone in sight.

It was also where I learned one of my most valuable lessons as a young professional, foremost being how to diffuse a bad situation before it escalates.

It’s surprisingly simple.  Continue reading