Tag Archive for conflict

Recognizing and Coping with the Saboteurs in the Workplace

If you have been in the workplace for more than about two minutes, you are bound to have encountered saboteurs.  You may just want to ignore them and hope they go away. That’s understandable, it can be unnerving to think about taking these people on.  They come in several forms:  employee saboteurs; peer saboteurs; and boss saboteurs.  If you get nothing else from this article, hear this — ignoring it is self-sabotage.  You must act!  It’s the variety of ways you can act that can be confusing yet gives multiple options.  Remember, while saboteurs are doing their dirty work, the dirt is flying around and landing on you.  Saboteurs are everywhere.  Right now, I have four clients dealing with this issue and they each come from a different type of workplace:  large corporation; small business; non-profit; and government sector.  No one is safe. 

Saboteurs come in three general flavors:  1) Employees; 2) Bosses; 3) Peers.  Let’s look at how the problem shows up with each and different ways to handle it. 

  1. Employees – Imagine you have hired a new employee that you believe is going to do a great job, plus you like her and suddenly she is acting like she wants your job. Another scenario is that you become the boss of people that were once your peers. Either way, let’s say she believes she could do your job better than you do.  One way she may proceed is to spread lies about you, to get your job or to retaliate if she thought she should have been chosen.  What to do?  Your inclination may be to do nothing, you are her boss, after all.  Do not be naïve, this type of coup does happen. You may want to protect yourself by doing the following: 
    • Document everything immediately.
    • Act fast by having a one-on-one, putting her on notice of the behavior you have observed.
    • Get your name on all ideas and reports.
    • Let your boss know about her shenanigans.
    • Curtail her power.
  1. Bosses – Do not be surprised when a boss feels threatened by you and decides to keep you in your place.  Maybe the boss is older, and you come in with fresh ideas, enthusiasm and energy.  That can strike fear in many people. What are the signs that you have a boss saboteur?  If your boss keeps you out of meetings that would be appropriate for you to attend, that’s a sign.  If you are left off emails that are pertinent to you, that’s a red flag.  If you have a duo presentation and he tells you he will do your part, at the last minute, that’s a tip-off.  Now what do you do?
    • Get a mentor and or sponsor who can advocate for you.
    • Keep important people abreast of your work progress and successes.  These successes are often customer success stories, new sales figures or other news that your thumbprint is on.
    • Bring this behavior to your boss by framing it something like this: “I am somewhat confused that I was not included the budget meeting, especially since I had done a deep dive into the numbers that were that be presented.”
    • Don’t blindside the boss!  Making the boss look bad because she wasn’t informed of something you did, can rachet up saboteur behavior by the boss pretty darn quick. 
  1. Peers – These can be the worst saboteurs of all.  Usually, you have little control over peers.  Peers may want you to look bad, so they look good.  They may try to take credit for your work.  They may try to get a leg up by sucking up to the boss and cutting you out.  They may try to undercut you because you have a better relationship with the boss than they do.  How to proceed? 
    • Don’t be gullible, expect this behavior to happen and be thrilled if doesn’t.
    • Don’t share your ideas if you haven’t presented them to the boss yet.
    • Don’t complain about them to another peer!  I promise you; it will make you look bad.  If you need to process this, go to an outside trusted person like a coach or wise family member.
    • Call them out, not in a nasty way but let them know you are aware of their actions and antics.

What you probably notice about this entire article is that acting is the key.  The sooner you address this behavior the better. 

Does the prospect of addressing saboteur behavior scare the pants off you?  Would you rather do anything else?  You are not alone; many people would much rather hide from the entire mess.  I get it.  Would having someone aid you in navigating these pitfalls ease your mind?  That is what I do with my coaching clients.  Let’s discuss the situation.  High-Heeled Success offer 45-minute complimentary telephone consultations.  Email Kay@highheeledsuccess.com or call (513) 561-4288 to get the ball rolling.

Sexual Harassment and Navigating Workplace Holiday Get-Togethers

Each week brings the announcement of another man or even multiple men who have taken advantage of their power and influence to sexually harass someone in the workplace.  While there have historically been times when this issue has been in the spotlight, many are hopeful that this will be a watershed moment for women’s claims to be taken seriously and men’s actions to have consequences.

From Hollywood to the boardroom and beyond, what’s happening is nothing new.  These stories about newsworthy men behaving badly represent everyday reality for some women in the workplace.  Clients share their struggles regularly during our coaching calls and, particularly during the holiday season, they share concerns about how to navigate the upcoming holiday work party.

The office party provides an extra layer of networking on the job – the key words are “on the job.”  Remember, you are at work, so be aware of your surroundings, watch what you say and how much you drink.  While sexual harassment is not the victim’s fault, you have the power to control circumstances that can keep you safe.  Unfortunately, the office holiday party can bring out the very worst of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviors.

Then there’s the after party, which is like playing golf with your boss and can be the most advantageous networking opportunity, as long as you stay smart and stay safe.  Please do not buy into the conference syndrome where you’re offsite, so you rationalize an isolated incident.  This is work, not Las Vegas.

Regardless of whether you’re at the office or elsewhere with co-workers, you cannot control what others do.  If you are the victim of sexual harassment, inappropriate advances or worse, you need to feel empowered to speak up right away.

I always recommend that you speak up and say something to the perpetrator first and keep ongoing documentation of what’s happened.  Say something to the individual a maximum of three times before taking the situation to your superior or the human resources department.  If you’re not satisfied with action taken at this point, it’s time for you to engage an attorney.

Whatever you do, do not be silent.  I understand there’s a fear-factor with speaking up and speaking out against someone, most likely someone who is higher on the corporate ladder, in the workplace.  There’s a reason for the fear – women have been demoted, fired and passed over for promotions based on what they do or don’t do in these very unseemly circumstances.

With everything that’s been in the news lately, I’m hopeful that women will continue to feel empowered by the #MeToo movement.  So, please, go to your office holiday party, enjoy yourself and network.  If something happens there or any other time, speak up, because having no voice is the greatest risk of all.

In speaking up, you are joining with other women who also refuse to continue to permit such behaviors.  Further, your voice helps forge a new path for the younger generation of women who will hopefully one day be able to collaborate and work in environments free of fear and harassment.

If you are eager to make a greater impact in your career, it would be my honor to be part of that process with you.  Please give me a call at 513-561-4288 or connect with me via email at kay@highheeledsuccess.com, so we can empower you to achieve that goal.

©Copyright 2017.  Kay Fittes.  All Rights Reserved.

Can You Hear Me Now? Are You Listening?

It’s important to be heard, so much so that we go to great lengths to do it; finding the right ‘spot’ for our cell phone connection, posting on social media, repeating ourselves, even yelling at times!  Companies use commercials, coupons, online ads and all sorts of media in order to be heard.  But, is anyone really listening?  Are you listening?

It’s no secret that our digital age attention spans have shortened right along with our patience.  What I don’t think most of us realize is that our listening skills have withered as well.  In fact, sometimes we can’t even remember ‘where’ we ‘heard it’.  How many of you have told someone a story, and finished with; “I think I read that on Facebook, or Google news, or maybe it was in the paper.  I’m not sure, but I heard it somewhere.”?

Likewise, with online digital consumption, are you really ‘listening’ to what you’re hearing (reading), or mindlessly partaking in a time-wasting habit?  We only have so many hours in a day, and frankly, so much time on this Earth.  Listening, and being really present when you do it, is very important for our own development, and the building of relationships with others, but more on that later.  Let’s get to the nuts and bolts of listening.

True listening entails many factors, but I believe at the heart of it is a combination of true desire and compassion.  I have a whole toolbox of techniques and skills to share with you about how to listen, but first you must desire to be a better listener.  You have to ask yourself if you really want to listen to your relative, neighbor, co-worker, family member, or if you’re just waiting to respond and talk.

Active listening begins with a blank slate.  If you truly desire to be a better listener, and receive the message or words someone is trying to communicate, you have to first let go of many things:

  • Your preconceived ideas
  • The urge to talk
  • Surrounding distractions
  • Your agenda
  • Time

After letting go of these barriers to truly listening, you begin to realize it’s like an art form, much of which centers around the eyes rather than the ears.  Intentional use of our eyes, our body language and our mouths, are the three physical components comprising an active listening mindset.  You can really improve your listening skills (and many relationships) by really hearing the person talking to you.

An active listening mindset includes effectively using:

Your eyes –

  • Give your undivided attention and focus.
  • Look the person in the eye.
  • Avoid looking at a clock.
  • Don’t fidget with something or doodle.

Your body language –

  • Use positive body language to affirm the listener; a nod of the head, a smile, an expression that matches their emotion.
  • Let the person ‘see’ you listening as if you’ll be tested or quizzed on the conversation.
  • Make mental notes (or physical) to which you want to respond
  • Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes as you listen.
  • Really think about your response before talking.
  • Keep your facial expressions in check.

Your mouth –

  • Don’t interrupt.
  • Refrain from asking about small details while someone is talking – save it for later.
  • Begin talking only when the person is done, or at a natural pause.
  • Resist the urge to ‘relate’ by sharing a similar story that is the same or ‘better’.
  • Allow the person to finish their own thought rather than completing their sentence.  You may be surprised at what they say versus what you anticipated to hear.
  • Respond with conversation that reinforces what you heard.
  • Don’t criticize or demean the person with negative feedback.

Active listening is challenging.  We all have a story to tell, and want to be heard. However, the payout is great on many levels.  On a basic level, you will truly receive and process what you hear, and benefit from it either professionally or personally.  The upside could make your job easier, or help you understand a friend better.

An often unanticipated benefit of true listening is the incredible validation you offer to the speaker.  Providing undivided attention; making a facial or emotional connection to their words; and speaking words that affirm what they said are all gifts to the listener.  Together, they build trust with the listener, create a positive foundation for new relationships and bolster existing ones.

Another positive product of active listening is self-growth.  The discipline it takes to actively listen will make you a stronger person, enable new learnings, and promote strong relationships and friendships.  Combined, these benefits contribute to an overall healthy lifestyle, both on the job and on your own.

I encourage you to choose one thing to let go of, and one thing to engage in your next conversation and discover what the benefits have to offer.  After you’ve tried it a few times, let me know how it went.  I promise, I’ll listen.

©Copyright 2016.  Kay Fittes.  All Rights Reserved.

Relationships with Women in the Workplace

What was your relationship like with your mother when you were growing up?  I bet a flood of memories just came to you.  Whether good, bad, somewhere in between, or perhaps absent, many women forge relationships with other women based on the dominant female relationship in their formative years.  The struggle to develop a full sense of self and separateness from “mother” stays with us for a long time, extending into other relationships.1  Friendships, romantic relationships and professional relationships are all affected by this phenomenon, without even realizing it.  The top three struggles between women in the workplace revolve around blame, battles and boundaries.  These struggles happen either between peers, or in the subordinate/manager relationship, and are as complex as they are varied.  Let’s explore.

Women who struggle in relationships with their female colleagues tend to view other women through one of two lenses:  as a competitor, or as someone to be questioned and counseled.  The competitor lens is common between women who work at the same managerial level, or have similar responsibilities.  They either connect with the other woman and become allies, or view the woman as a threat or competitor.  If the colleague is seen as a competitor, a woman will often feel threatened about the security of her own position, or her performance.  The variety of perceived threats are many, but the most common fears women express are:  being undermined, criticized, or feeling inadequate or ineffective.  These fears are borne out of the competition associated with the lack of high-level positions.  Many women vying for the same open spot often creates rivalries between competitors.  These struggles can result in the blame game.


More commonly referred to as criticism, the blame game can be the equivalent of grade school bullying.  When women gang up on a co-worker and either gossip about them, or outright criticize them, the results can be devastating.  Even to the point of having a solid employee quit.  Often the catalyst for criticism is jealousy or fear toward the woman receiving it, because she is actually doing a superior job.  Conversely, it can be that she is doing a poor job and getting away with it.  Some workplaces even have an office sniper.  This is a person who makes snide remarks and leaves just before the recipient has a chance to respond or engage.  Many consider this ‘hit and run’ behavior, and it has the same effects.  It damages without recourse – but it doesn’t have to be that way.

The most productive response I have seen to a culture of criticism over the years is to create an environment of credit and praise.  Beginning with yourself, whether you are in a co-worker environment, or manage a team, be the change you’d like to see.  Here are just a few ideas that have produced dramatic results:

For Managers:

  • Develop a “Wall of Fame” where people are given credit and praise for a job well done.
  • Conduct strength development training, either in group settings or one-on-one.

For Co-Workers:

  • Initiate peer crediting.  Openly praise another person’s work in a meeting, or in front of a sniper or office bully.
  • Manage self-talk.  Be good to yourself!  If you are the object of criticism, (sometimes self-criticism is a huge issue), don’t join in on the conversation.  Remind yourself of your strengths and embrace them.
  • Likewise if someone is putting themselves down, share your positive observations about their work.

Battles and Conflict

Conflicts, and less frequently battles, will exist in any working relationship at some point.  It’s inevitable, and can even be a good thing because the resolution can bring about stronger relationships, and excellent problem solving opportunities.  Conflict happens between peers, and with managers and their direct reports.  Common catalysts to conflict include:  gossip, burnout, triangular communication, and viewing the manager as “Mom”.  Key symptoms or reactions to conflict can include eruptions, physical symptoms, burnout and in some cases tears.  If a coworker or direct report is exhibiting these behaviors, do not make the mistake of assuming the cause.  It is common to write off such behaviors as maturity issues or personal problems.  Instead, take a step back and assess.  Take some time with the employee to understand her situation.  If you learn that a conflict indeed exists, taking swift steps to resolve it is essential.  The first step in resolving the situation is to acknowledge the issue or conflict, and to focus on the issue, and not the personality of the individual.  Then, resolve the conflict:

Set the ground rules for the resolution – Select a neutral, third party mediator, and have that person explain the rules of engagement.  Typical examples include stating the desired outcome at the meeting onset, not interrupting, not judging or over reacting, and acknowledging the other person’s feelings and concerns.

Create a forum for conflict management – Once the ground rules have been established, select a proper spot for the discussion, and provide details of how the process will work.

Creative solutions – Often a discussion session or series of sessions, perhaps with HR involved, can resolve a conflict.  Sometimes it takes a little creativity. Consider the following options some of my clients have implemented: changing seating arrangements or offices; role reversals (where two people swap jobs or responsibilities); scattered work schedules where the two parties work at different times or from home; or force an agreement.

Some conflicts cannot be completely resolved, but can be mitigated through a forced agreement.  If the two parties cannot come to a resolution, you can suggest that they agree to disagree.  This approach should accompany the suggestion that focusing on the work at hand rather than the other person is the priority.  If one party is the clear offender, the resolution may be eventual termination after proper cause is established with the necessary documentation.


Boundary issues typically occur between a manager and someone on their team.  A common dilemma is when a subordinate that questions authority, manager decisions and actions, or worse, is a chronic advice giver.  This often occurs when a subordinate is older than their manager, but not always.  Boundary issues can even go so far as the direct report trying to usurp managerial power, and attempt to create a role reversal.  Actions surrounding boundary issues are a product of the desire to keep the playing field flat by women who want to create a “we’re all in this together” atmosphere.  Establishing clear boundaries from the beginning of taking on a managerial role, or after a boundary ‘dispute’ is essential.  Calling together your team, or creating a survey to identify staff wants and needs is a great first step.

In doing so, you establish several things:

  • An atmosphere of trust
  • A willingness to understand
  • The opportunity to establish standards

When your team feels you are interested in and care about their input, it builds trust.  Further, enabling your team to express their wants and needs helps them feel ‘understood’.  Done correctly, this exercise can boost morale considerably.  While some of the wants and needs may be unrealistic, collectively they will paint a picture of the underlying reasons boundaries are being tested.

Once you assess their responses as a whole, you can then establish standards for boundaries.  You may find there is a common theme in the responses.  Some responses may give you pause, and the opportunity to self-examine if the issue hits home.  If the main response pertains to the team rather than your management style or a policy you’ve implemented (for example), the approach to establishing a standard can take a couple of different forms.  It may be quite simple, with a clear fix that is easily identifiable.  In this case, you can implement a standard to eliminate the boundary issue.

Say, for example, a co-worker is reluctant about providing a due date or details of an assignment that is part of a bigger project.  In her nebulous response, she projects superiority to the group members and comes off as being in charge.  This response is a boundary issue because she is trying to be above the group, when in fact she is a member of the team.  One solution could be to implement a timeline with clear expectations of weekly updates and solid due dates.  The timeline would be team created and approved, and be the new standard.  Whatever the case, the solution lies in digging in to find the issue, resolving it together as much as possible, and making the new standard, which resolves the conflict, known to all.

On the other hand, the boundary issue may be more personal.  You may have a subordinate that tends to challenge you in different ways, offers unsolicited advice, or even goes around you to circumvent your authority.  Recently, a client shared that a team member had submitted a project update to a senior leader in her company without routing it to her first for review.  The incident caused dissension between upper management and my client, and the need to establish a clear boundary with her subordinate.  Yet, she was reluctant to address it.  Worse yet, this was not the first time this behavior happened.  However, my client realized she now had to address it in order to protect her own reputation and possibly her position.  The issue was that this particular team member had a volatile personality and my client was has a calm management style.  I armed her with the following techniques to tactfully and successfully correct the situation.

1)    Acknowledge the conflict. Calmly tell the person with whom you’re in conflict that you’d like to set up a meeting to discuss the incident.  State that you realized you both have a different view or opinion, and you’d like to reach some common ground.

2)    Focus on the issue, not the personality.  My client had to accept that her employee might indeed become angry or flippant, but was ready to bring the conversation back to the issue at hand.  She was ready to say, “I understand you’re upset, but we need to discuss the process,” instead of; “you’re over reacting, calm down and let’s talk.”  After your subordinate has expressed her rationales, concerns or frustrations, be sure you understand them.  Repeat back her concerns to convey you have heard her.  Perhaps you can assuage them, and perhaps not (if company policy or procedure prohibits it), but the act of hearing her out will go a long way toward correcting the issue.

3)    Set the ground rules.  Once you have addressed and answered her concerns, establish the ground rules going forward.  Be very clear in the details of the process and your expectations that she will follow them to the letter.  The key here is your delivery, which needs to be calm, and matter of fact.

One of the most common boundary issues occur when a woman from a peer group becomes manager of that same group.  I counsel clients in this situation to take some serious time, maybe a weekend away, to consider how they will approach their new role.  A successful step-up transition includes having a plan to implement the following.  Understand that you will need to:

  • Break the rules of the ‘flat plane’.  You are no longer part of the group.
  • Lead by collaboration and directives.  Get group input if necessary, but in the end, you call the shots.
  • Change your relationships with former peers.  This tends to be the most difficult for women.  You need to strive for an atmosphere of friendliness versus friendship.
  • Know that some will find the new situation “unfair”, and plan a response to it.
  • Endeavor to take issues less personally, and develop a shield.  This will involve some level of detachment from the situation.  In other words dealing with the situation at hand, and leaving the emotions behind.

If you are currently challenged in the areas of blame, battles or boundaries and need some additional counsel, please give me a call to set up an appointment.  I would love to help you become your best self in the workplace.

1 Women and Self-Esteem. Sanford and Donovan, 2004

©Copyright 2015.  Kay Fittes.  All Rights Reserved.

Get Conflict Under Control

Did you miss the High-Heeled Success® workshop, “Kick Conflict to the Curb” on November 1, 2014?  It was a power—packed, career-changing day for all the participants.

Here are just a few of the useful strategies you missed on coping with criticism:

  1. Weigh It!  How you respond should be based on the critic’s motivation.  Was the intent to assist your growth, or was the critic “out to get you,” or worse yet boost their own lagging ego?
  2. Delve Into It!  If they really had your best interest at heart, look for the kernel of truth and internalize it/act on it.
  3. Ditch It!  If you determine the intent was malicious, or just to boost the critic’s ego, ignore it and refuse to let it into your psyche.

Putting these three tips to use requires the discipline skills of listening objectively, being open to growth, and focusing on the positive or what’s important.

The ability to openly receive feedback begins with being a good listener.  Do you truly listen to advice, opinions and guidance from a co-worker/manager?  Spend some time really thing about that.  As the famed author Steven Covey once said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”  Could this be you?  If so, remind yourself during a potential conflict to stop and truly listen.  Listening is a challenge for many people in our age of lightning fast news and social media.

Finally, look for that silver lining in any interaction.  Whether the words you receive from a co-worker are true feedback or criticism, they must be processed with a filter.  If after hearing someone’s input, you determine it to be useful feedback, look at is as an opportunity to refine your actions or work process.  If the intent was malicious, know that there are powerful prevention and coping skills to cope with saboteurs (some of my future events will reveal them.)

Actionable tips and techniques like the one’s I’ve shared here are takeaways from all my events.  If you didn’t make Kick Conflict to the Curb on November 1st, don’t miss out again!

The next High-Heeled Success® public workshop is on January 24, 2015.  Join us for “A Woman’s Guide to Powerful Presentations.”  One of the fastest career advancement catalysts is the ability to be a powerful presenter, and to have the ability to talk so people will listen, and more importantly:  powerful presenting is an essential skill for women in corporate America, female entrepreneurs and women in the non-profit arena.  Everyone can benefit from this exciting workshop.  Here is one short testimonial from a woman who previously attended my event in June this year:

“The program was very informative, fun and useful.  I came away with a great outline for an effective presentation for my direct sales business,” Amy Elberfeld.

If the thought of speaking in front of a group makes you weak in the knees, look beyond the event and concentrate on the positive outcomes of a powerful presentation instead.  Being a powerful presenter, will enhance your visibility with key individuals.  In some cases this could impact the course of your career by becoming more memorable to those who can directly influence its direction.  Enhanced presentation skills will open doors which were previously closed, so much so, you’ll be surprised to find yourself walking through them!

It is empowering to take control of your career direction versus being driven down an uncertain course because of fear.  Take charge of your career path and register today for “A Woman’s Guide to Powerful Presentations” on January 24, 2015.  I promise that you will walk away armed with tools and the confidence you need to be a Powerful Presenter.  Here are just a couple of tips to implement now, and a taste of the good things to expect at our next event:

Open with a bang!  That means, never start another presentation with, “Good Morning!”

Close memorably!  Make your last words so potent that they ring in your listener’s ears.

©Copyright 2014.  Kay Fittes.  All Rights Reserved.