dranthonysblog

October 30, 2012

A Teddy Bear Tale

What you are about to read is believed by the party involved to have happened.  The person is completely credible and the story is unusual.  I have altered some of the details at the request of the person involved though, aside from that, what you are about to read is the story as I understand it.  It is up to you to decide how it happened…

Cindy lived with her two terrier mix dogs in a townhouse she rented in a trendy area of southern California.  She was 28 years old, college educated, and worked as an Office Manager for a mortgage company.  Her commute to work took nearly an hour each way, but she did not care because she enjoyed where she was living.

Her life to this point was fairly typical and according to Cindy she had no history of anything strange ever really happening to her.  Her parents were supportive and she was close to her brother and sister, though they lived in another part of the state.  She dated occasionally, though she had no one steady in her life at the time.

One day in October, she believes it was a Friday, she came home after a long commute and walked upstairs to her bedroom to get comfortable.  As she passed the spare room that she used as an office something seemed odd.  She continued on to her bedroom and as she put on her shorts and walking shoes, but she could not shake that feeling that something was not quite right.  Before she took the dogs out for a walk, she retraced her steps and stopped in her tracks when she looked into the spare room.

As she looked into the office she saw that the bed was still made and nothing was on the floor.  She also noticed that the closet door was closed just as she had left it that morning.  In the far corner, her desk chair was exactly where she parked it under the small table that served as her desk. So far so good she thought to herself.

However, when she looked on the desk, her heart pounded, her hairs stiffened, and goose bumps appeared instantly.  She froze and just stared at her desk for a long while.  What she saw, was really nothing much at first glance, but to Cindy it was surreal and not possible.  Her small brown teddy bear was standing on its head in front of the inbox, perfectly balanced.  The problems with this were several and they were exactly what had unnerved Cindy so much.  The first problem was that Cindy did not leave the bear that way and the second was that she knew it probably could not be done, at least not without glue, strings, and/or some other manner of support.  Lastly, all of this caused her to want to scream, though she held back.

Being a practical person, she spent a long while just studying the 12 inch, 8 ounce, toy with a bean filled body and stuffing filled head and appendages. She did this to confirm that there was no way that this pose was possible without support.  She looked for thread, wires, and glue and found absolutely nothing.  She then stopped and quickly checked the rest of her townhouse for signs of someone having been there.  Since she was a very neat person she would have spotted anything out-of-place in an instant, but she found everything in perfect order except for her bear.

She went back to the office, sat down, and finally grabbed the bear taking it from the unnatural position that it was in.  She then thoroughly checked it over for anything that could explain what had happened.  The bear was a little dusty, but otherwise in like new condition and, as far as she could tell, completely unaltered in every way.  She thought to herself that perhaps she was wrong and that an earthquake had made the bear fall and land on its head and that maybe just maybe it could somehow be posed in that way after all.  She spent the next half hour trying to repeat the pose but the bean bag torso and stuffing filled appendages would not allow it.  The bear simply could not be posed on its head perfectly balanced the way she found it, no matter what she did, even by leaning it against the wall for support!

Two people had access to her apartment, her landlord and her ex-boyfriend, who still had not returned his key.  The next day she explained the weird situation to both and was told flatly that neither had done it.  In fact, her ex-boyfriend was at work from the time she left that morning until well after she returned home that night, so he could not have done it.  Her landlord, who was also a neighbor, was honest and not one to break rules.  He told her that it is illegal for a landlord to enter without some compelling and urgent cause, like a fire, or without advanced notice being provided to the tenant, in non-urgent situations. He then reiterated to her that he did not do it, though he agreed the whole thing was very odd.

That day she felt uneasy, but she still loved the toy and did not want to get rid of it.  Her mother understood that her daughter loved antiques and had a fondness for bears.  So, when her mom spotted the vintage teddy bear in like new condition, at a local street fair, she bought it and gave it to her daughter for Christmas.  Cindy immediately loved the bear and put it on top of her inbox in the office.  The bear had been in the same spot for nearly a year, and only moved when Cindy picked it up to place unpaid bills underneath or pull them out to pay them.

After much thought, Cindy, who was raised Catholic, though she did not attend church, made a decision.  She grabbed some holy water that her grandmother had given her and sprinkled it on the bear.  She then said a brief prayer to herself.  After that she looked the bear in the eyes with a clarity of thought and absolute intent and said out load if he ever moved even millimeter or so much as gave her a creepy feeling again, she would immediately burn the bear to ashes and scatter what remained over a wide area.  When she was done with her statement to the bear, she left the room and went on with her life not thinking much about it again.

That was well over a decade ago, and according to Cindy, he still sits on top of her inbox, in her office. He has not ever given a repeat performance, though Cindy still occasionally wonders how, and why, it happened and she still says it is the oddest thing that she has ever experienced before or since.

January 14, 2012

Management by Anger

How many of us have seen, heard, or been on the receiving end of a supervisor, or manager, yelling or losing their temper at work?  Based on my experience working for all types of employers, I am guessing the number is very high.  Since many employers today are more leanly staffed, with correspondingly high workloads, it is probably happening even more now than in the past.

The reason I bring this up is because I do not think it is talked about near as much as it should be.  Yelling or losing your temper at work in many instances probably does little to correct whatever behavior triggered the response and indeed may needlessly create other, likely larger, problems for all concerned.

When someone yells or “goes off” on you, how do you react?  Are you inclined to be more introspective and say or think “gee, I really screwed up and need to correct myself?”  Or is your reaction more likely to be “wow (fill in your bosses name) is really acting like a (fill in your favorite cuss word) today?”  I am guessing that more would agree with the latter than the former.  Since most people have probably figured this out when they were young, why do many of us still use anger when managing others?

Without getting into the psychology of it, which is far better left to those with clinical backgrounds, for whatever reason they are doing it, and it happens a lot!  An example of what I am talking about occurred when a young Army officer became upset with a seasoned subordinate soldier because she failed to follow a process correctly.  The officer yelled at the soldier who became so upset that she cried and he angrily dismissed her.  She left his office, visibly upset, and was called into the Commander’s office as she walked by.  He asked her what was wrong and she said that she just spoke with her supervisor and he yelled at her for something that was done by another soldier. He was so upset that he did not allow her to explain that important detail to him.

The officer ended up being “talked to” by his supervisor, the Commander, which could have been avoided had he simply not allowed his anger to control his actions.  The soldier he yelled at also lost respect for her supervisor, which negatively effected office morale.

Another example of management by anger happened when an assembler in factory accidentally dropped some expensive precision bearings on the ground that he should not have moved in the first place.  The manager yelled at the employee who then yelled right back at his boss!  Unfortunately, for both, the general manager was in the area and overheard much of the exchange.  Both manager and subordinate were severely disciplined as a result!

In another situation, a supervisor in a sales division yelled at an employee for being late the minute he stepped into the office in front of several other staff members.  The employee had already been talked to and disciplined once for the same offense and the supervisor really needed him that morning.  Unfortunately, the employee later told a friend what had happened and he told his neighbor who was at that time considering doing business with the company.  The neighbor decided, in part due to the incident, to take his business to another “more professional” organization.

Unfortunately, I could provide many more examples, but regardless of whether the employee deserved it or not, the majority of the outcomes were negative for the organization as well as the individuals involved.  What truly amazes me is that, though most of us know this, the behavior of managing people by anger continues in organizations everywhere.

In managing employees, the goal should be to simply correct undesired workplace behavior, whenever it happens, and encourage productivity, however that is defined.  Managers and supervisors should not take advantage of an employee’s inappropriate behavior to unload on her or him, however much they feel it is deserved.  Even if it is deserved, and we all know this, the behavior really will not get fixed that way!

When faced with these situations, managers and supervisors who are really upset at an employee should do the following;

  • Be sure to get all the facts before to talking to the employee (this is often not done but can make a big difference in your understanding of the situation!)
  • If it can wait, delay having the conversation until after you have calmed down
  • If it cannot wait, do what it takes to calm yourself down first, or have someone else talk to the employee instead
  • Once you do speak to the employee, ask them to tell you what happened and do not assume, even if you think you have all the facts, that you know why or completely how a certain situation happened (i.e., giving anyone a chance to explain their actions, will almost always help in successfully resolving situations)
  • When they speak be sure to really listen to what they have to say and reserve your judgment until after you have completely heard and understand their explanation
  • If it is a complex situation, take whatever time you need to fully understand it, so you will be able to come up with the best solution
  • Lastly, even the best employee has an off day, so when you are thinking about how to respond to a situation, be sure to take that into consideration as well!

A lot of solid research has been done try to understand human behavior, and misbehavior, especially within organizations.  Nonetheless, the art of managing people in professional organizations is still very much in its infancy, so when you are practicing your particular craft the golden rule still applies!

June 30, 2011

Job Interviewing Tales

Unless you were born into lots of money, you have likely had to interview for a job at some time in your life.  Many of us can recall without too much effort how we felt about the experience with nervousness being a common theme along with nausea in some extreme cases.  Whatever your experience has been few of us would probably say that it was fun or enjoyable; even those who consider themselves good at it!

My father, having started his professional career in personnel, would help his friends and members of the family by setting up mock job interviews.  We would later hear afterwards how these really helped the person to overcome some of their anxiety about the process and do well on it.  Many people prepare in this way or study the organization and review questions that they believe may be asked with varying degrees of success.  Numerous articles and books have been written about it as most of us recognize the importance of doing well in what amounts to an oral examination to get offered a job.

Some people, however, do little preparation and essentially leave everything to chance.  These individuals either have lots of experience, great confidence, or both.  The outcomes in these situations depend very much upon having significant amounts of both present to be offered a job.

Interestingly, there are also those who probably do none of these things and actually, for whatever reason, show up for an interview and do crazy, or irrational, things.  The outcomes for this group are as varied as their approach and are the subject of this bit of writing.  The below tales are from personal experience, though the names and some of the details were changed to ensure they remain completely anonymous which is important for reasons that are probably apparent once you read them.

Inseparable?  – It was an overcast fall day when I received a call from Mrs. Jones.  She said that she was calling for her husband who was scheduled to be interviewed for a senior management position next week.  Spouses sometimes call in my experience, so I was not too concerned when she started asking questions about benefits.  When asked what she should wear to the interview is the precise instant I knew something was not right.  After recovering from my shock at her question, I explained that interviews were done with just the job candidate present and members of the interview team.  She would hear absolutely nothing of that and insisted that she be allowed to sit in on his interview.  I told her I would have to get back to her as to whether we could allow it, but that I was sure that she could not.

My second shock came when I consulted with the hiring manager, a very senior person in the organization, and he said he would allow it.  When I explained my many concerns about allowing a spouse sit in on any interview, he patiently listened and then said that the candidate could significantly help the organization (in English – he had an extensive industry specific Rolodex that the organization wanted) and for that reason he would allow it.  At this point you can probably guess the outcome and so yes he was eventually offered the job.  He helped the organization as predicted but he also caused, in my opinion, far more problems than he fixed!  His wife continued to be as involved as she could, much to the employee’s detriment, though I am sure he does not know that to this day!

Pass the mustard – It was late-morning when a professionally dressed candidate showed up a little early for his interview.  The position he was interviewing for was a mid-career professional job and over the last few days the organization had interviewed several good candidates for the position.  He was in his mid-30’s and well-mannered.

I invited him in to the room and we began the interview.  He detailed his background as it related to the job in effective manner as I listened intently thinking at this point that he may be a good fit for the organization. Everything was going well when he casually pulled out a sandwich from his briefcase, un-wrapped it, and took a bite before I could say anything!  While he was chewing I explained that we could have a better discussion if he would hold off eating until after the interview.  He offered no explanation and did not get the message and so we continued the interview and he continued to eat!

After we were done he went to the hiring manager and her staff to be interviewed by them.  Afterwards, I was told that they would like to bring him back for a final round of interviews until I explained the behavior he exhibited during interview.  Once they heard that, they decided that the lack of judgment could be a liability and so he was not brought back in for another interview and he did not get the job.  I must admit the sandwich looked good but probably not worth losing the opportunity that he did over it!

Party time! – I knew something was wrong with this one when I saw the candidate run for the restroom, covering her mouth the whole way.  She emerged a few minutes later looking slightly green.  I invited her in and when she shook my hand it felt clammy.  When I sat down I made a mental note to wash my hands after the interview as I thought she might be ill.  I asked her if she was feeling OK and added that if she was not we could always reschedule.  She said that she did not sleep well last night but that she would be fine for the interview.

Midway through the conversation, which was going well except that it was obvious that she was not feeling well, she asked if she could take a short break.  No sooner had I agreed when she got up and walked very quickly (almost ran) for the restroom.  When she was gone I was feeling bad for her as I thought she was ill and was thinking of another way to ask her if she would like to reschedule, when I caught a strong whiff of alcohol coming from the area where she was seated.  Shortly after she returned we completed the interview.  On her way out, I noticed that she tossed a bottle in the trash.

The bottle turned out to be exactly what you would think it was (Vodka actually).  In this case, the interview panel did not select the employee, without even hearing about the above details.

The Auctioneer – John (not his real name) was a well dress man in his late forties was interviewing for a job in sales.  He showed up on time and had a pleasant demeanor.  After I asked him a question, however, he responded with a detailed answer but the rate of his speech would have impressed the most seasoned of auctioneers.  After a couple of more such responses, I gently reminded him that we had plenty of time and to feel free to use it when answering the questions.  He did not get the message and, due to his rapid fire responses, the interview was finished in less than half the time they usually took!

He was otherwise a solid candidate and would have been a good fit for the organization.  Unfortunately, he continued with the same rapid fire responses with the other people who interviewed him and he did not initially get the job.  I say initially, because shortly after the position was filled it became vacant again.  After recruiting a second time, the pool of qualified candidates was such that the decision was made to bring him back for another interview.  He must have received some feedback in between because the second time around, I was told that he spoke at a more natural rate and was offered the job where he stayed for many years and did great work!

Less is more right? – Monique was a 30-something, stay-at-home mom who was seeking to reenter the workforce after a 10 year hiatus.  She had a bachelor’s degree in English and had 7 years of experience working in operations.  When she was brought in to the office she was very professional and had a terrific smile.  When asked questions, her responses, however, were brief and with precious little detail.  When asked if she had anything to add (to try and draw her out) she flashed her smile but declined saying that she felt comfortable with her response.

Regardless of the question asked her responses were always concise and devoid of much detail.  She did not display any nervousness and her answers actually addressed the question but did so in such a way as to leave the interviewer wondering.  An example of this is when she was asked to describe her experience in Managing people.  She replied that she managed 3 staff members in her last job, two manufacturing coordinators and one specialist.  She continued that she enjoyed the work and would not mind being a supervisor again.  On the surface it sounds like a reasonable response but she missed an opportunity to provide information about her challenges and accomplishments.

She did not get a job offer, however, I saw her 3 or 4 weeks later as she was entering the building.  She had signed up for a temporary employment agency and was hired to handle customer service for the organization.  Several months later she was hired into a regular position, though not in the field that she interviewed for.

The early bird catches the worm? – It was just after 9:00 am one morning and I had settled in to work on a project for a few minutes before attending an important meeting.  As soon as I started to work my phone rang and it was the receptionist informing me that Ms. Wong (not her real name) was here for her interview.  I checked my schedule and confirmed what I already knew, that Ms. Wong was not scheduled to be interviewed until 1:00 pm that afternoon!  Showing up a few minutes early was one thing, but showing up 4 hours early was something else.  I asked the receptionist to send her in and that I would talk with her and find out why she was so early.

Moments later Ms. Wong was in my office and we were shaking hands.  I asked her why she showed up so early when her interview was not until the afternoon.  I was honestly expecting her to say that she wrote down the wrong time, when what she said was simply that she always liked to be early for appointments.  I explained that being a few minutes early was always a good idea but that most organizations scheduled interviews as they had other responsibilities to take care of that often could not be changed with no notice.

I informed her that she could not be interviewed until her scheduled time and that she would have to come back then.  She told me that she had no place to go, so I explained that there was a coffee shop and a library nearby as well where she could go.  She left reluctantly and actually showed up a few minutes late that afternoon.  Her interview was unremarkable otherwise and she did not get the job, though not because of her early arrival, but rather due to the fact that there was another more qualified person who was offered the position.

Job interviews are stressful events that sometimes cause people to do crazy things.  If you are ever in a position to interview candidates for a job remember these tales and be prepared to encounter all manner of behavior.  Equally important to note is, if you have a job interview scheduled, relax, prepare as you see fit, and try to behave rationally!

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