Archive: Two career situations to avoid — from the Career Opportunities Podcast

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At the best of times, our career is a succession of good work and good ideas, for which we are rewarded a good salary. Your work can progress along without too much fear, angst or anger. Still, there will be times when trouble can occur. Often, though, these are situations that we can avoid, if we learn to recognize the warning signs. After 20+ years in the workplace, in both corporate and small businesses and as an independent consultant, I have collected a number of situations that almost always lead to trouble.

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A Distorted Golden Rule

Treat others as you would like to be treated. It sounds like such a simple rule, but there are some people that can fall into a distorted practice of the rule. At first, it might seem like they are irrational, but in their own heads, there is an odd sort of logic.

People who treat others with disrespect expect exactly the same behavior in return. They treat any sign of conflict as a call to battle and expect you to respond in kind. They expect you to try and damage their reputation, their business, their life – mainly because this is exactly what they would do in your situation. This is why their response to conflict often seems extreme and out of control. They are prepared for the worst because they often give the worst to others.

As you can see, dealing with people such as this is almost impossible. Trust and thought are thrown out in favor of fear and retribution. It should be clear that you would be better off working with almost anyone else. If not, you might find your own reputation smeared as those around you attempt to salvage their own reputations, even if you don’t intend to respond to their attacks. After all, it matters little what you intend to do. They will always assume you will attack using the very same methods.

A Family Business When You’re Not Family

There is another, sometimes related, situation that can also yield career problems – working in a family business when you are not a member of the family. Family businesses, much like families, each hold their own, unique issues. Family issues can intrude on the business and vice-versa. Decisions can be made for family reasons, instead of business success and there are seemingly a hundred and one ways for you, as an outsider, to be caught in the fray.

When business is good, and family relations are at their best, business often precedes as usual. Employees and managers treat each other with respect, business decisions are made in a logical fashion and everything advances smoothly. Unfortunately, it only takes one small issue, in the family or in the business, to wreak havoc.

Unknown to you, outside of the familial loop, trouble could be brewing. Disagreements over business issues, family quarrels over unrelated topics, divorces and other disagreements can quickly show themselves in the office. Suddenly the president can’t get the finance department to sign any checks. Equipment starts to disappear. Family employees are absent for days at a time and you have no idea why they are – or why they aren’t docked any pay when they return.

The worst thing you can do in such a situation is try to act as mediator. It is often said that factions will war among themselves until presented with an outside threat to unify them. If you get involved in the conflict, the warring parties can come to see you as an enemy. It requires no imagination at all to see what will happen to your job if this occurs. In the midst of a confrontation like this, every action you take, every word you say will be weighed. With which faction do you agree or disagree? Are you supporting your boss or your co-workers who happen to be his children – or in-laws? In the end, family will always take care of themselves first, so your job security is at risk at all but the most successful times.

These are only two situations that can lead to career trouble, but two that I have personally seen in action. Your career needs to be judged on the basis of the quality of your work, your thinking and your integrity. Becoming involved in situations over which you have no control can only lead to stress, conflict and career problems. If you see yourself becoming involved in these situations, you need to quickly find a way out. Otherwise you may be risking your entire career.


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