by Marshall Goldsmith
Anita Bruzzese has been writing a nationally syndicated workplace column for Gannett News Service for nearly 15 years. She has a newspaper readership of 8 million, not counting her online presence. Her newest book is 45 Things You Do that Drive Your Boss Crazy – and How to Avoid Them. Here are edited excerpts of a recent chat we had.
Anita, over the years, you must have received thousands of letters and e-mails from your readers. What type of letters are the most compelling for you?
I’m most moved when I read a note from my readers about a specific issue from my column that has affected them personally. For example, I might write about workplace bullying or toxic bosses. These topics bring letters from people saying things like, “Thank you for addressing this issue. I thought that I was the only one going through this.”
Letters about people’s work life are sometimes a bit heartbreaking. People can feel isolated and discouraged by their workplace environment. A letter from one woman alarmed me so much that I actually contacted local authorities to check on her health and welfare. I never found out what happened to her, but it brought home the fact that a bad work situation can really have an adverse impact on someone’s life.
A lot of people feel trapped. They find themselves in difficult situations and don’t think they have any power to do anything about it. Like you, I try to offer advice from different experts. I would never feel comfortable thinking that I have all of the answers. I try to get input from lots of different sources, so my readers can get the best help available.
From all you’ve learned from both experts and readers, what’s the greatest need in the workplace?
There’s a great need for better communication. I was baffled that some of the most basic workplace blunders seem to be tripping people up! For example, I have received letters from people who are absolutely stunned that they got fired or reprimanded “just because” they called a co-worker a bad name or spent hours on e-mail at work chatting with friends or got caught snooping in private files.
This prompted me to put a plastic milk crate under my desk. Every time I read something that showed me that people were just not getting it, I’d toss it into the milk crate. After six weeks, the milk crate was overflowing with stuff! There were stories about people revealing company secrets on their personal blogs to stories about married employees having affairs with co-workers and sending love messages through the company e-mail.
What I like about your new book is that it doesn’t support victimhood! You’re encouraging people to take a hard look at their own behavior and take responsibility for changing themselves.
Most people don’t take responsibility for their own career problems. Either they don’t see the behavior as a problem or they think that it’s someone else’s fault.
What have you learned from bosses?
Bosses tell me of their daily frustrations. There’s always a lot of publicity about bad bosses, about the “ogres” who make everyone’s life miserable, but bosses have their perspective to share. They make comments like: “You can’t believe what I have to put up with every day. Maybe I’m not perfect, but you should see what my employees are doing!”
That’s when I decided to write a book about basic workplace blunders, and why they matter. As a journalist, my job has always been to look deeper into an issue. The “I said so” rule doesn’t work with children, and it doesn’t work with adults in the workplace.
But in talking to bosses, I realized that they felt the demands on them from all different areas were so great that they just didn’t have time to sit down and explain everything to workers. They didn’t want to take the time to tell someone why it was important to attend a company-sponsored function or why someone needed proper manners to attend a business lunch or why good, clear writing was so important. Bosses believe workers should come equipped with a lot of this understanding. The problem is, of course, that they don’t.
And the result of all this is your new book, 45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy – and How to Avoid Them.
Most people laugh when they hear the title, because I think it just hits home with everyone. I can’t tell you the response I’ve already had from bosses who say, “You want to know what drives me crazy? Just let me tell you!.” And, I think a lot of employees who may have been clueless up until now are going to start to recognize their blunders in this book and finally understand why the boss cares.