“50 Shades of EA”

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“You don’t need to be a “Christian” to do a good job although it does help immensely to have faith and confidence in yourself and your abilities. Confidence can be seen through your body language so make sure you stand straight, hold your head high, shoulders back, take deep breaths, breathing slowly from your abdomen and remember to smile – it’s contagious and people like to be around positive and confident people.

The role an Assistant plays can be exciting and extremely satisfying for many reasons. It’s your attitude that is important and you can choose the attitude you wish to have from the minute you wake up!

Warning: some bosses have inner demons but there are ways and means of dealing with these different personality types using your emotional intelligence. For example, if you have a bully boss or even a peer who is bullying you, it is important to stand up to them in an assertive manner. However, sometimes being assertive is not always the best choice to make and sometimes it is more suitable and appropriate to use submissive or aggressive behaviour depending on the circumstances – choose the behaviour that helps you to be at your most persuasive.

Bosses may be extremely controlling at times and to help you with a controller boss you should always keep them informed before they feel the need to ask you. It is also a good idea to keep a shared document that is a schedule of your work which is similar to a “to-do” list but with columns stating information that you are waiting for and whether it is completed etc. They will be able to access it any time they feel the need to know where you are up to with your work and thereby preventing them from interrupting you all the time.

Some bosses have quick tempers so we need to understand that their temper is not always aimed at the Assistant but that they are just letting off steam. Try to not take it personally, although I know this is not always easy to do. Sometimes it is a matter of keeping out of their way until they have settled down or alternatively being their sounding board and confidante by just listening to them until they have got it out of their system. You should aim to have rapport and a good working relationship in order for bosses to feel they can tell you things they would not tell anyone else.

Sometimes your colleagues may flirt with you even if it is only banter – remember to be careful with what you say in return, making sure you do not add “fuel to the fire” or give the wrong impression. You can use humour to brush off flirtatious colleagues but if this does not work then tell them straight that you do not appreciate the way they are behaving with you and they must stop. If this does not work then you should take the matter to HR and possibly embark on a grievance procedure.

We all see “red” and feel pain at some time when responding to the actions and behaviours of others in this multi-skilled and time-bound role which can be difficult but at the same time an extremely satisfying role, therefore it is important that you empathize with others and try and see it from their point of view and try and feel what they are feeling.

You should have an unwritten contract between you and your boss in that if you promise to look after them – they will look after you. Remember the law of reciprocation! Similarly, when working within a team, if you help others first and they say “thank you for helping me” – remember to say to them “That’s okay as I know you will do the same for me”. At the same time you should be nodding and they are likely to copy you and nod back, thus setting up an unwritten contract for them to help you when you need it.

Copying body language is known as mirroring and matching which we all do naturally when we have a bond with someone. We can help to accelerate rapport and relationship building by moving in similar ways to the other person using subtle movements.

We all like to have some power and to be able to make decisions and act upon them. A good boss will empower you and give you permission to make decisions and they will also protect you if you should make the wrong decision. In order for this to happen you have to show you are willing, eager and responsible and you need to give feedback and keep them informed as, ultimately, they are accountable.

If you want to make sure your boss sits at their desk and answers your queries you don’t need to get a whip out but simply make it quite clear how important it is that you speak with them making sure they can see the situation from your perspective. Let them know what time or money may be lost if the don’t spend time with you. People react more to what they might lose than what they might gain. You should only take the time it needs to get the information you want to get on with your role effectively and not waste any of their time.

Time is of the essence and making sure you save your own and your boss’s time is paramount to being effective and efficient. Choosing the right time to speak to them whether it is to ask questions, give messages, work on a project together or have your daily catch-up session, could make the difference to whether they are willing to speak to you or give you the time you require.

It is important to listen to others and especially your boss, and to do what they ask of you. We all have selective hearing at times, we all stop listening and sometimes start feeling defensive and start thinking about what we should say next – and we all have times when we could listen better. Active and focused listening will help stop miscommunication and misunderstanding as well as saving time and heartache.

Sometimes you may feel like your hands are tied and there is nothing you can do about a certain situation. When you feel like this you have several options such as “mind-storming” and thinking “out of the box”. Ask others for their opinion and advice, call a meeting and brainstorm ideas, search the internet for ideas and start a discussion on a LinkedIn Group for the advice of Assistants worldwide. You are all very welcome to join my LinkedIn group – Tips for Office Professionals Worldwide with “Sue France Training” where you can share tips as well as ask for advice.

You might be amazed what you find out on the internet and it’s a perfect research tool. For example whenever your boss is meeting someone new or attending a networking meeting you should research the people who will be there as a little knowledge about others can be a powerful way to impress and build rapport quickly. Social media is also a powerful tool and, used in the correct way, it can be really useful and many Assistants use it in their daily work such as Tweeting for the boss, whereas others use it only for personal use. You should be careful with what you put online either professionally or personally, whether it’s words or pictures as you never know who is watching so always think about what the consequences could be! Remember to Google yourself and see what is being said about you. You can also use Google+ and include words and phrases so that you receive emails whenever they appear on the internet. For example you could put the name of your company and be the first to read what is being said about your company and you may need to alert your boss whether it is good or bad information. Of course, you must adhere to your company’s rules on using social media.

Emailing each other most of the time has become the norm and I am on a mission to try and get people talking more to each other. How many of you email people who are sat in the next department and even at the next desk? I know we all want proof of what we have asked or stated but please think twice about whether it is appropriate to email or to get up and communicate face to face. It’s also good exercise and gets the blood circulating around your body distributing oxygen to your brain and enabling you to think and act better. Also, we should never enter into any kind of conflict on email as it will only escalate the situation as emails can easily be misinterpreted and if we are already feeling negative we will read the email in a negative way.

There should be no surprises – especially at appraisal time – if you give feedback or receive feedback, which is negative, then this message should be given at the time it happens – not six months later at an appraisal. If you receive any negative feedback then make sure you also ask for specific examples to ensure it is not just hearsay.

Trust is the basis for all effective relationships. You need to be able to understand the difference between being the “eyes and ears” of your boss and being a gossip. If you gossip you will lose trust – when you lose trust then it is impossible to build effective relationships. Trust is paramount in any relationship and therefore you have to be honest even if it means owning up to mistakes and speaking your mind (in an appropriate way).

We all need to come to work everyday and show love, pride and passion for what we do. It is natural to resist change but it is imperative to strive towards excellence. We can only do this by embracing change and having an attitude of open mindedness.

We need to take the attitude of lifelong learning and continue to learn at every opportunity. We can all learn from each other in the University of Life or from an academic learning centre and whilst networking with like-minded people as well as the myriad of media, books, workshops and conferences. We should also learn from our mistakes and never make the same mistake twice.

We all need a role model in our lives and it is worthwhile choosing a mentor who you look up to and can confide in and gain advice. You could also take on an internal and external coach to help you improve your skills and expertise in all areas.

Finally, but certainly not least, make sure you remain absolutely professional and ethical and true to yourself and your beliefs at all times as well as making sure you enjoy your role whilst striving to reach self-actualisation.

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About Author

Sue France

Sue France FCIPD FInstAM INLPTA Trainer, coach and conference Chairperson, Neuroscience enthusiast. Creator of the ‘Workation’ training. Author of award winning “The Definitive Executive Assistant & Managerial Handbook” and “The Definitive Personal Assistant & Secretarial Handbook 3rd edition. Qualified FCIPD Learning & Development Practitioner and coach, Certified Neuro Linguistic Programming Master Practitioner, The UK Times Crème/DHL PA of the Year 2006, Certified TetraMap® Facilitator, Editorial board member of ‘Executive Secretary’ magazine. Contact Sue at [email protected] or call +44 (0) 7747 118914

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