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In the Vault

Candid Answers to your most Candid questions

A Safe Place to Ask Candid Questions


Every professional - entry level, mid-career, and experienced - faces situations where they wish they had someone they trusted who would listen to their challenge and thoughtfully suggest solutions or offer a new way to consider the situation.   In the Vault is a safe, anonymous space for you to submit questions and receive candid practical advice from Sophia Confidential for even the most sensitive of issues.  


WHO IS SOPHIA CONFIDENTIAL?

Sophia is an experienced professional who has worked in a variety of fields. Ask her anything. Sophia is not HR, your boss, your lawyer or your therapist. But, she IS the person who will tell it to you straight, even if it’s difficult to hear.

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Submit your question or situation anonymously, and our team of experienced international educators will post it with our best answer.

Watch  this space as well as LinkedIn and our e-newsletter for your answer!


SOPHIA SAYS....

  • 16 Feb 2022 2:30 PM | Anonymous

    Dear Sophia,

    I recently entered the world of contract work. I have been offered two assignments and one had me sign a non-compete agreement. I want to be very careful of the work I'm doing and not break the non-compete, the work is different enough, but I'm also concerned it may be a bit too similar. How do I navigate this? I would like to do both assignments for the sake of building my skills in consulting and also for the financial aspect of things. This is all new to me and I would love some ideas as to how to handle this. 

    Sincerely, 

    Contractually Confused

    Dear Contractually Confused,

    Congratulations on being offered two assignments! But yes, please try not to get into legal trouble before you even get started in the world of contract work. Let’s break down your options.

    Since you feel strongly about completing both assignments, hopefully you can clarify the terms of the non-compete agreement and be confident that you will not be in violation.

    What does the agreement state? Does it limit the subject area, or list specific organizations or geographic areas in which you cannot work? Be sure to refer closely to the agreement, and consult with an employment lawyer if needed. It may turn out that it’s less limiting than you think.

    If the agreement is still unclear, or you’re not able to speak with a lawyer independently, you may want to consult with your employer or someone in the legal department to get more details about the limitations of the non-compete they had you sign. Without giving too many details about your other assignment, I think you can inquire. Make it clear that your ultimate goal is to complete the assignment and to be sure you aren’t creating any issues for the organization.

    Most importantly, be sure your motives are clear and trustworthy. You want to help both organizations succeed, causing no harm to either. If you get any sort of gut feeling that you may be crossing a line, listen to that and step back. I think deep down we often know the terms and conditions inherently but we don’t always trust or listen to that. So be honest with yourself and be willing to forego one or the other if it doesn’t feel good. 

    In the end, you may feel it is too risky to complete both assignments. If that’s the case, pick the one you like best and know that there will be many more opportunities to learn (and earn) with future assignments, and with no legal risk to you.

    Confidentially Yours,

    Sophia

    P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have for Asking for a Friend? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!

    Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.

  • 02 Feb 2022 12:30 PM | Anonymous

    Dear Sophia,

    It's 2022 and it feels like we are still facing one crisis after another. I have colleagues that are going through some difficult times but I don't know how to support them beyond just saying, "I'm so sorry to hear. I'm here if you need anything." What can I do to support someone in need?

    Sincerely, 

    Want to Lend a Helping Hand

    Dear Want to Lend a Helping Hand,

    It really is 2020 - too, huh?! Sorry, couldn’t resist saying that. Some levity is nice these days as we head into year three of whatever it is you want to call this. I can’t even count how many times I’ve talked about this ongoing pandemic and its impact on people. But thank you for asking this question, because it’s something I’m sure many of us are struggling with.

    A lot of people are experiencing difficult situations involving loss, poor emotional or physical health, or diminished security and, honestly, sometimes the most important thing someone needs to hear is, “I”m so sorry to hear. I’m here if you need anything.” It’s important to open up the line of communication with a person in need, to use active listening, and validate how someone is feeling. That unto itself is a huge and very underrated activity in a period of overwhelming uncertainty for all. Of course, you want to make sure you mean those words and are actually going to be there for them if they do reach out for support. Leave space for the person to reach out when they are ready to ask for what they need. Check in and be present with them, but don’t push yourself onto anyone that isn’t ready. When they are ready, offer the shoulder, the advice, the validation, the caretaking, whatever they are making clear to you they need most. Again, be sure you are able to give it. Be mindful of what you are comfortable and able to do. I know many people who give so much that they forget to take care of themselves in the process and you don’t want to find yourself in that situation either.

    I also want to acknowledge that a lot of us don't actually know how to ask, or feel comfortable asking, for help. So what do you do in those situations? Maybe you support by offering to do things that may be small (or big!) for you, but super helpful for others without necessarily overtly asking. For example, maybe you volunteer in place of that colleague to complete certain tasks or work on certain projects. Or help take on some of their existing work to give them a bit of respite while they deal with whatever they are facing. Another easy thing to do is to give your colleague the benefit of the doubt if they aren’t able to be present or produce like they may have in the past. This can apply to non-work related situations too. Maybe you drop off a meal, take a pet for a walk, offer to do some work around the house, or babysit your friend’s kids so they can get a small break. Consider what your friend/colleague enjoys (coffee, sweets, flowers, funny memes or videos). Make a plan to bring it to them knowing it will give you a good reason to check in on them and to show them you are thinking of them. I know I’ve appreciated even things like a text with folks checking in with me to say hello. So not necessarily asking me how I’m doing because that can be overwhelming to respond to, but a quick “Hey. Was thinking of you. Just wanted to say hi!” With a message like this there’s no expectation to respond but an underlying message that you care, which goes a long way. 

    The key here is to understand the person a bit and what they may need but also to know that the littlest of things tend to go the furthest when it comes to supporting those around us. Added bonus, these acts of care and kindness impact the giver as well as the receiver.  

    Confidentially Yours,

    Sophia

    P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have for Asking for a Friend? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!

    Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.

  • 19 Jan 2022 11:00 AM | Anonymous

    Dear Sophia,

    I work for a large public research university. I truly love my colleagues and the contact I have with students. However, when it comes down to it, faculty call the shots. And, frankly, since this is confidential, they don't know what they are doing. It is discouraging and disheartening to have people in power who no one can stand up to because they are tenured and have power and powerful titles. What do I do? I am planning on leaving the field because of this, but part of me doesn't want to. P.S. I don't want to get my PhD! I just want to be able to be seen as the expert that I am/respected to make decisions.

    Sincerely, 

    Peace out

    Dear Peace Out,

    Sigh, I don’t think it really matters what type of university you work for these days, a growing number of professional and administrative staff are openly sharing they have one foot out the door due to an array of struggles and organizational dysfunctions. Maybe your experience is just a case of not finding organizational fit. Maybe your experience is related to a toxic organizational culture stemming from faculty, even some who are well-meaning, who are protected by tenure and who expect their voice to be the most prominent in shared governance. Read the headlines in the Chronicle, Inside Higher Ed, and Diverse Issues in Higher Education among others, and you’ll see the Great Resignation is happening in higher education too. Staff are feeling beat down and fed up because their commitment, their expertise, and their contributions to the institution are not being valued. Administrative leaders are continually adding new responsibilities and workload and faculty can sometimes be quick to place blame or create barriers to long overdue organizational changes. There are entire social media groups for “expatriates” to support each other to leave higher education.

    Now hearing all of that can leave any one feeling discouraged and disheartened, so what can you do about it? First, it’s important to examine the feelings you are having and understand what is driving you away. Is it just the dynamic with faculty? With the administration? Is there more to it? While faculty tend to have a more elevated role, not all faculty are horrible and on power trips. In fact, I’ve worked with many faculty that are amazing and try to support both students and staff. Once you have a better understanding of what you’re looking for, you’ll be better positioned to switch departments or institutions or pursue an industry change. Be sure to do your research and ask about power dynamics and other concerns you have during the interview process so you can avoid jumping from one toxic environment to another as much as possible. There are plenty of other spaces in higher education that have a healthier balance and relationship between staff, faculty, and the administration; you just may have to look with this in mind.

    Ultimately, if you really don’t think higher ed is the space for you and you no longer feel seen as an expert, can’t see the positive impact of the work you’re doing, or able to find joy from focusing on the things you can control in your work, then leaving for another sector may be a path you want to pursue. I recommend talking to friends or family who work in industries you are considering. Attend free webinars or events led by organizations that interest you and begin to expand your network. You may even find you know people who worked with you in the past in higher education who are now working in the private sector. Many industries are feeling the pain and offering big referrals to employees who refer qualified employees to open positions. Update your LinkedIn profile and ask for recommendations from colleagues who can speak to your transferable skills. Finally, there are lots of great professional coaches out there who can guide you as you embark on a new path.  

    Remember, every organization and every field is going to have some sort of hierarchy and power dynamics. Leaving a field doesn’t necessarily mean you’re leaving that behind. Difficult relationships are going to be a reality so consider doing some research on how to work within difficult power dynamics through training, books, or coaching. 

    The turmoil of the pandemic has taken a heavy toll on everyone. Those who are changing jobs, becoming entrepreneurs, or leaving the workforce altogether have a desire to recalibrate and focus on where their values guide them. While a change in organizational type may be just what you need, it also doesn’t hurt to be prepared for the metaphor “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” to be a possible reality. 

    Sincerely,

    Sophia

    P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have for Asking for a Friend? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!

    Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.

  • 05 Jan 2022 3:30 PM | Anonymous

    Dear Sophia,

    I've worked in the study abroad field in both the US and abroad, and I find it harder to stay connected to the field while living and working abroad. How can I stay connected to the networking opportunities, trends in study abroad, and professional inspiration while based at an overseas provider?

    Sincerely, 

    Seeking Connection

    Dear Seeking Connection,

    At the risk of sounding like a marketing pitch, I’d start right where you are with the Global Leadership League! The whole purpose of the League is to provide professionals such as yourself with a platform and arena for community, knowledge, and dialogue. It is set up to be a vibrant space for you to learn from other colleagues in the field and even advance your career no matter where in the world you’re working. So while I am admittedly biased, I think this is the best place to start. Take advantage of opportunities like the Career Connections, Mentor Circles, League social and networking events, etc. I know so many people that have found these spaces a great way to stay connected and to meet new colleagues.

    From there I’d think about what aspects of international education you are most interested in and then explore organizations that are in those spaces. So for example, if you are looking for a space that provides standards of practice, The Forum on Education Abroad is great. If you’re looking for something that is perhaps more location specific, there are organizations such as International Education Association of Australia (IEAA) or the Japan Network for International Education (JAFSA). The Association of International Education Administrators has a great list that you can find here. A majority of these organizations have working groups that you could join, or volunteer opportunities with which you could engage remotely. One benefit of the pandemic is that remote engagement on boards and working groups is far more common and acceptable now. Use that to your advantage. Not only will participation help you stay connected with colleagues and up to date on current trends, but these are all great professional development opportunities. It’s a win-win really!

    Many of the organizations I mentioned above also have accompanying conferences, which are great opportunities to connect and grow. Yes, they can be expensive to attend but you can make a professional case to attend just the way you can to join organizations. Presenting at a conference is one of the easiest selling points for an employer. It’s harder to say no if you are going to be representing your organization and presenting on a topic that is moving the field forward. And a conference proposal is a great excuse/reason to reach out to colleagues around the world and to work with them on a much more intimate level. 

    How about tapping into your local city networks? We sometimes forget that a lot of places have local meet ups and organizations that are industry specific for colleagues in finance, law, etc. So for example in the San Francisco Bay Area there is the Bay Area Young Professionals in International Education (BAYPIE) which meets regularly for social events and workshops. Look around to see if there is something similar right in your backyard! And if there isn’t, maybe you start one! 

    Finally, I have to, of course, mention social media which has its issues but also a lot of pros. I would consider a focused engagement on LinkedIn or other platforms. On LinkedIn, make time to read through posts and connect with people in your field who you think are writing about interesting things. Post your own insights and repost other ones. Consider Slack as an alternative. There’s a great channel called “All Things International Education'' which is a great way to chat on a variety of subjects in the field and meet people you might not otherwise. Social media is ever expanding so I’m sure by the time this post goes up there will be ten other apps to connect with folks. Be open to it!

    In the end, it’s going to take a concentrated effort on your part to reach out and engage remotely. And while it may feel like you are whistling into the void at first, you will find that eventually your connections and engagements will snowball. No matter what route you take, never forget that you have valuable experience and a lot to offer to the field. Don’t be afraid to jump in and let people know that you want to connect.

    Confidentially Yours,

    Sophia

    P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have for Asking for a Friend? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!

    Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.

  • 15 Dec 2021 3:30 PM | Anonymous

    Dear Sophia,

    I have a new manager who has come in with a different management style. I am trying to be open-minded and adapt, but it's hard not to miss the way things were. What tips do you have to help me navigate the transition?

    Sincerely, 

    Retrospective Rose

    Dear Retrospective Rose,

    Things just keep changing don’t they? As much as we may want them to stay the same, they inevitably change. This can be exciting but also anxiety-provoking as newness typically brings uncertainty, and we humans don’t do well with not knowing what’s to come. Unfortunately, this is the pandemic-driven state the entire world has been in for almost two years. Adding to this change, what may have previously been a stable and predictable aspect of your life is undoubtedly going to be a transition. So, how do you get through this?

    First, acknowledge the loss: You lost your old manager and possibly a friend. You’re missing the way things used to be, so I’m assuming things were good. So let’s just take a minute to accept all of this and to give you space to grieve. You’ve experienced a loss and that is something you should allow yourself the time to process. I feel like we treat the workplace very differently from our personal lives, but the reality is you probably spend more time working than you do doing other things, so it’s important to acknowledge the change and its impact on you.

    Once you’ve done that (or as you’re doing it because it may take some time), I would treat this new manager and the change it brings for what it is – a new relationship and a new opportunity. It’s like when you start dating someone new: yes, we inevitably compare them to our ex, but we also know that we shouldn’t because the dynamics will be different. We need to learn how to navigate this new space together. So just like you would with anyone with whom you’re building a new relationship, get to know them. Try to understand where your new manager is coming from, what their work/management style is, what their goals are, and in turn, help them understand yours. What do you need in a manager? What do you need to be successful in a workplace? If you can take time to have this conversation with your new manager, then you’ll be better situated to go into this new working arrangement with a better understanding of how things will move forward.

    Now, this baseline conversation will hopefully help you better understand your manager’s style, which you’ve mentioned is different from yours. Maybe you’re used to being able to take lunch whenever and now you have to set a particular time. Or you’re used to working more independently but now your manager wants to be more involved. Whatever the difference may be, you may need to make some adjustments to the way you used to do things. Maybe some of these adjustments are a good thing and, though different, will help you and your team. Others may not be so great in your book, but it’s important to try to at least understand the “why” behind the situation. If you’re not sure of the “why," then ask. Don’t go in with a “this is not how we used to do things here” mentality, but more of a “hey, I would love to understand more about this.” Hopefully your manager will be able to provide this insight.

    It’ll definitely take some time to adjust and there may be some awkward moments or misunderstandings along the way– that’s normal in any new relationship. As long as you’re willing to be open and honest about how you feel and address the situations and differences as they arise, that will hopefully ease the transition. Also remember, this person is also going through a transition and probably more so if they are new to the organization. So take your level of discomfort and amplify that to try and understand theirs as well. That’s something you share and can work on together. You’ll need to give each other the benefit of the doubt and hopefully over time learn how to work together in a way that best serves you both.

    Confidentially Yours,

    Sophia

    P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have for Asking for a Friend? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!

    Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.

  • 01 Dec 2021 8:00 AM | Anonymous

    Dear Sophia,

    I have been criticized for overstepping my role but the organization is a huge matrix and lines are often blurred. I want to talk to my co-workers about building trust and clarifying roles but am not sure how to approach the conversation. Can you help?  

    Sincerely, 

    Stepping up without Falling Over

    Dear Stepping up without Falling Over,

    It seems so obvious, yet why do organizations fail to realize that a lack of clear roles and reporting lines is a recipe for disaster?! When lines are blurred it is a constant challenge to stay on course, do your job according to manager’s expectations, and develop trust with colleagues. Ideally, your organization would have defined clearer roles for everyone. Unfortunately, not all organizations have their act together! I suggest tackling the lack of clarity head on. 

    First, have conversations with stakeholders. Work with your supervisor(s)and colleagues to outline the concerns you all have based on your experiences. Whenever possible involve human resources and consider how your efforts will be presented to leadership. Come up with a list of concerns and possible solutions before approaching management as it may help get them on board! While you should mention your concerns, stay focused on the positive effects that clarifying roles would have, rather than the negative of the current situation. Ask your peers if they’ll join you in drafting this list—there is strength in numbers and having multiple perspectives will demonstrate the scope of the issue.

    Next, work with your team and/or management to edit existing or develop new job descriptions. What was listed in the job posting before employees were hired may be a starting point, but often job descriptions were never created, or the reality has deviated a lot from the original plan. You should establish a detailed job description for each staff member that reflects what they actually do, or what the company wants them to do. This will be useful to refer to down the road if anyone veers off course. Be sure to include breakdowns of teams and how each member fits into the team. For example, you could include a description of what all team members do, then list what the team lead and secondary members each do. Job descriptions can also be used to simplify performance reviews (your manager may appreciate this!). They could also help to demonstrate the need to hire more staff once you realize what exactly everyone does and where there are gaps, or where it would make sense to divide roles differently.

    A tool that many project managers use and may be helpful in this situation is a RACI chart, which for all intents and purposes is a roles and responsibilities matrix. While it typically revolves around projects, you can expand it to represent general responsibilities. RACI stands for:

    • Responsible

    • Accountable

    • Consulted

    • Informed

    For every task, project, etc. in an office, someone takes on one of these roles. So for example if your organization sends a newsletter, perhaps you are responsible for creating it, your supervisor is accountable for it getting done (i.e. they don’t have to create it but if it doesn’t happen, they would get some heat), and perhaps other staff members should be consulted around content and then another group just needs to be informed that a newsletter exists and is moving forward. This is an overly simplified version but one that hopefully gets the point across and may be helpful in getting a better understanding of your team’s roles and responsibilities. This could be a great visual tool to recommend and perhaps an exercise to do together as a team.

    If you can show your colleagues that you’re trying to improve things, with any luck they will appreciate your effort instead of accusing you of overstepping. 

    Confidentially Yours,

    Sophia

    P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have for Asking for a Friend? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!

    Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.

  • 17 Nov 2021 6:00 PM | Anonymous

    Dear Sophia,

    I have enjoyed working from home since Covid 19’s various lockdowns and the expectations of me to travel for work were one of the few benefits of the pandemic. Now that travel is resuming for holidays, I'm worried that the day is coming that travel will resume for business and for work again. I have a young family and quite enjoy being at home and not having to travel to the office or travel overseas for work. Should I start thinking of how to manage these expectations to once again travel so that I am ready when this might happen again?

    Sincerely, 

    Happy at Home Working Mother

    Dear Happy at Home Working Mother, 

    There seem to be two camps when it comes to traveling these days: Those that can’t wait to get back out there and get away from the places they’ve been stuck in for the past year and a half, and those that are quite content with the lack of travel and would like things to continue as they are. In your case, you have an extra layer of a young family which typically requires a bit more time, attention, and support. It’s completely understandable that you would want to limit your travel in the future. So how do we set expectations here?

    I would first assess how much travel you are willing and/or able to do and second, the amount of travel your role has typically required. This second piece may be a bit more difficult to answer as we are living in a very different world now, but start with what it used to look like. Once you have that, think about how much travel you think is really necessary now? Pre-pandemic, many business trips were required as they were key to building relationships. In this post-pandemic world, however, this isn’t necessarily the case. While an in-person meeting, in my mind, will always trump a virtual one, that doesn’t mean that EVERY meeting needs to be in-person. Every organization is reimagining what business travel looks like. The ability and what’s become almost second nature of connecting virtually for many fields is making it so organizations can save not only money but also time. It’s much easier and efficient to jump on an hour-long Zoom call, than to fly for 5 hours, rent a car, spend a night at a hotel, expense meals, risk exposure to COVID, etc. for an hour-long in-person meeting. I would say you could make quite the business, financial, and health case for not traveling in certain situations.

    After you have done some basic analysis, try to gauge the direction that your organization is going in. Do you think the expectation is that travel will ramp back up again? Talk to your supervisor about what they think. If the organization is really going to limit travel then that’s a good sign and will hopefully work for you. If they aren’t, however, or if they haven’t decided, it’s going to be really important to start having discussions about what you would like sooner rather than later. Explain your situation and how you would like to reduce the amount of travel. Are there practical ways to reduce travel because of the remote space we naturally find ourselves in? Perhaps another colleague is willing or even eager to take on some of that in your place. Is there a way to adjust your official role to have less travel? Perhaps now is the time to consider other roles within the organization or outside the organization if it isn’t meeting your needs. The key is having a clear understanding of what you’re willing to do, what your role entails, and to communicate with your supervisor around this. Ideally, you will be able to make a case for an adjustment and if not, then you’ll have to decide what your priorities are and potentially adjust your expectations to jumping back onto a plane.

    Confidentially Yours,

    Sophia

    P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have for Asking for a Friend? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!

    Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.

  • 03 Nov 2021 4:00 PM | Anonymous

    Dear Sophia,

    I know someone who is facing a problem with the return to in-person work. While everyone was remote, the teamwork on his team was amazing and the team functioned very well. Now that there is in-person work, however, he notices that unhelpful and destructive chatter has returned. It's like everyone was mission-focused while remote, but now that they are seeing each other again, the focus is sometimes on the team members/on interpersonal issues instead. Those chattering don't think they are gossiping and they don't think they are behaving in toxic ways. They think they are discussing work matters with people they trust and would reject the notion that they are engaging in toxic behaviors -- but they are. He knows he can't change others, and that lecturing his colleagues won't be productive. What can he do to improve this situation for himself and for the whole team? 

    Sincerely, 

    Don’t Want to Work with Toxicity

    Dear Don’t Want to Work with Toxicity,

    I’m glad you’re writing on behalf of “someone you know” but I hope you don’t mind me talking to you directly on the off chance that someone happens to be you (wink wink). No matter who is asking this question, it’s relevant to any of us who have ever had the delight of working in an office setting with other people. Let’s start with the basics. Offices are made up of human beings. Human beings are naturally social creatures. We connect and interact on multiple levels in numerous ways throughout our lives, both personally and professionally. So, it’s no wonder that sometimes the lines get blurred in personal and professional boundaries. But the pandemic  laid down a clear demarcation between the two. When we entered a Zoom room at work for a meeting, it was clearly business. If you called a colleague to catch up on their latest family vacation, that was personal. Working from our little bubbles, we kept everything in the separate lanes because there were no accidental interactions.

    But as you rightly point out, going back to work in person means we are jumping back into the lawless frontier of office politics. Now keep in mind, what you might be seeing at this moment is an almost frantic overload of human connection where everyone is so hungry for socializing that the balance is heavily skewed towards chatter. That will settle out eventually as we all get back into the routine of normal work behavior so perhaps a bit of patience is called for here.

    That said, there is a difference between engagement with colleagues and toxic gossip-mongering. I’d like to think that as professionals we all know the difference, but that would be naïve and clearly you are witnessing this firsthand. So, here’s what I’d suggest: Jump into the fray. Trust me, I know this is not the answer you wanted, but the reality is, if you want to change the environment in your workplace to one that does not promote this kind of disruptive and damaging behavior, you’re going to have to get your hands dirty.

    You’re correct that lecturing colleagues will not be effective. So instead of lecturing, join in the conversation, engage in the circles, and elevate the dialogue. When topics veer into gossip, gently suggest, in a good-natured, light-hearted way, that perhaps we don’t want to go down that road because “hey, Charlie’s a good guy deep down and it might be that he’s just really overloaded right now…” You can also jump in with suggestions for improvements like “yes, it does sometimes feel like Monique creates a real bottleneck in projects, but I don’t think she means to—I wonder if there’s a productive way we could work with her on that?” You see what’s happening here? You are being called upon to be the bigger person—to guide others away from the toxic cliff to more stable and productive ground.

    If that feels like too onerous a task, then I would suggest you take the complete opposite approach and find a way to reframe the environment for yourself. Eckhart Tolle talks about situations being completely neutral, neither good nor bad. He says it is only your own thoughts about it that make it positive or negative. Perhaps this is an opportunity to hone those skills and simply remove yourself from letting it get to you, creating an environment where you simply expect the best from your colleagues, clearly communicate what you need from them, and if you don’t get it (because they are too busy gossiping) you can suggest to your supervisor or your team that a renewed focus on efficiency and productivity would be helpful.

    Either way this is going to involve a choice on your part. You can’t fix other people, but you can model the behavior you’d like to see and/or you can move yourself into a Zen space where you’re not distracted or irritated by the world around you. No matter which you choose, these are life skills that need practicing but will serve you well forever.

    Confidentially Yours,

     Sophia

    P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have for Asking for a Friend? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!

    Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.

  • 20 Oct 2021 11:00 AM | Anonymous


    Dear Sophia,

    I have a friend who was told by her boss (the director) that certain organizational changes are coming down the pipeline - mostly a restructure of reporting lines. Next she had a candid conversation with another colleague who shared that the director had told her that a restructure of reporting lines was coming but the details of who reports to whom was different. Then she spoke with another colleague candidly who had yet a third version from the director. There are no cross-team meetings, and no general staff meetings to somehow bring these 'discrepancies' up in 'public'. What should she do?! 

    Sincerely, 

    Asking for a Friend

    Dear Asking for a Friend,

    Ah, a classic game of telephone: office edition! I have been there, too. I was once told that I would be appointed to take over for my boss in the interim after she resigned, while at the same time her boss was telling everyone that she was going to take over that job. In the end I was appointed, but had barely started when my new boss took over the interim role after all, despite having less context than me to do the job. It seems this was her plan all along. Two years later, we still haven’t hired someone permanent for that role, and leadership did not explain their reasoning to me. I will probably never know what went on behind the scenes and that’s what’s important to remember in a situation like this.

    At this stage, it’s impossible for your friend to know what the final plan is in her office, and the truth is, leadership at this organization may also not know what the plan is. In my mind, there are at least three possibilities for the different versions of the story your friend is hearing:

    1. The director is deliberately telling different stories as some kind of strategy to confuse employees. This seems unlikely.

    2. The director honestly doesn't know yet what changes are going to be made so they’re throwing out ideas which are being interpreted as more of a certainty. Each employee is inserting their own interpretation and distorting the story further. 

    3. Communication is poor in the leadership team or between the director and their reports, so each staff member has a different idea of the restructuring plan. This is the most likely scenario. 

    With the full understanding that one may not receive clear answers, it never hurts to try to open the lines of communication. Office restructuring is nerve-wracking for everyone, so employees have a right to be concerned, and, hopefully, provide feedback on any major plans before they’re finalized. Your friend can state openly to her supervisor that she’s heard a few different things around the office and would appreciate being included in upcoming planning for restructuring. It could be that this conversation sparks better communication from the director or within the leadership team, if they realize how differently staff members are interpreting the plan. I am a strong advocate for open communication, so I hope this may help! 

    In the end, your friend may just need to wait to see how things shake out, and hope that next time the director will have a clearer plan before sharing it with the team. 

    Confidentially Yours,

    Sophia

    P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have for Asking for a Friend? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!

    Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.

  • 06 Oct 2021 10:30 AM | Anonymous

    Dear Sophia,

    One of my colleagues has made it widely known that she supports the former presidential administration. During the January 6 insurrection at the Capital, she expressed sympathetic views for the rioters and while she didn't directly make these comments to me, I heard from several others, which makes me increasingly uncomfortable. Should I mention anything to my manager (who is also my colleague's supervisor)?

    Sincerely, 

    Reconciling Ideological Differences

    Dear Reconciling Ideological Differences,

    I imagine most Americans reading this response, and even those living outside of the U.S., have at least one or more colleagues, friends, or family members who openly support the past President Trump and his  administration or some of its views. We’ve all likely had situations over the last 5+ years where we had to decide the best course of action to address ideological differences with a person we don’t know at all or that we’ve known for a long time. Some choose to end contact all together, others seek to deepen their relationship and seek greater understanding or influence, others ignore or distance themselves, and many do some combination. With this in mind, my question for you is: what is your goal in reporting your discomfort to your supervisor?

    You shared that this colleague has made statements to others- not you- which show sympathy for the January 6th rioters. While you, and potentially others, are uncomfortable to know the views of your colleague, I encourage you to take a step back and take a moment to ask yourself if and how knowing her views is harmful to you or your work. How does sharing political views (regardless of the ideology) align with or in conflict with company policy and culture? Consider that the colleague may be sharing her views to gauge support from others or she may feel it’s safe to convey her beliefs knowing that the company is one that seeks to create an environment for civil discourse and include diverse perspectives and identities. 

    If your company has made statements or has policies which limit political discourse or behaviors which create a divisive environment then you may decide to talk with your supervisor about your concerns. You may even recommend professional training to engage colleagues in civil discourse, create intergroup dialogues, or introduce story circles. Above all, if you decide to report her, avoid demonizing the beliefs she has and stick to concerns directly about how the person is sharing political views inappropriately or creating discomfort in their discourse about polarizing issues. Do this with an understanding that your supervisor will likely do their own investigation and since you don’t have firsthand knowledge of statements made, you could end up on the wrong end of this stick. Of course, if you or others have heard this colleague make statements which are threatening or discriminatory toward others based on race, color, national origin, or sex (includes pregnancy, gender identity, or sexual orientation), then you definitely can  report this behavior which is unlawful under Title VII and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  

    Having a visceral negative response to President Trump and his policies, especially for anyone who perceives them as in conflict with their own views, is expected. Don’t lose sight that your colleague is a whole human being and much more than just her political opinions. She, like you, has had experiences and relationships that form her current worldview. In the workplace, she, like you, is looking for relationships, to be validated, to contribute, and to create outcomes at work. Assuming an employee with different political beliefs doesn’t belong in your workplace is a problematic take and one that doesn’t bode well for a company that promotes civil discourse and differences of perspective and identities or for the stability of our country. 

    Having ideological differences in a workplace isn’t new. What’s relatively new is a focus many companies have to promote inclusive workplaces and welcoming cultures during a period of increasing polarity. It also likely means managers are likely fielding staff concerns like yours more often. Does being inclusive include ideological differences and welcoming civil discourse around those differences? I suggest it should. I worry about unhealthy behaviors (across all communities) being taught and learned that dehumanize individuals across our differences. I fear this puts our society, workplace teams, and families at risk due to unproductive or disruptive conflict and harmful acts (including the events of January 6th). As an international educator, my personal ideological views push me to seek greater peace through increasing understanding, reserving judgement, perspective taking, and showing compassion while also calling out behaviors which actively discriminate, create barriers, attack, or harm others. I encourage you to reflect on your own goals for working in this field and consider how you’re living out the values in your work and personal life.

    Confidentially Yours,

    Sophia

    P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have for Searching for Safe Partners? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!

    Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.

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