Friday, March 5, 2010

Answering Reader Mail: How to Be A Great Gatekeeper

A friend of a friend wrote the following email. "I've been working for my boss for 4 years and he is very happy with me. Yet, there is one thing that has been brought up for a couple of years now and I seemingly have not mastered that yet. I need to learn how to be a better gatekeeper. In the beginning my boss had an open door policy, but that seems not to be suitable anymore. The workload has increased and my boss can't be constantly interrupted. If you could give me your insight on that particular issue that would be great."

Dear BH,

What a great question! Here is my advice to you.

1) As an executive assistant/gatekeeper, you should always know where your boss is and what they are doing. Your number one goal is to constantly be aware. To be a great gatekeeper you have to be informed and alert. When people start walking anywhere near your desk or your boss's desk, always look up from the computer and make eye contact or give a verbal acknowledgment. This should start as soon as anyone is about 5ft away. Granted, you'll sometimes look up and people are just walking by, but if you don't start engaging someone before they get too close you'll find they will walk right past you and walk into your boss' office since they are used to the open door policy. So it is your job to look up, say hi, maybe chat a little, and ask if they need your boss. If they do and you know your boss can't see them say any of the following:

I'm so sorry. He's:

on a conference call.
wrapping up a meeting.
on a deadline right now.
in the middle of a project.
not available right now.
visiting/checking in on his direct reports.

Then ask:
How much time do you need? 2 min, 10 min, 30 min or an hour?
How urgent is it? Can he get back to you this by the end of today, tomorrow, the week?
What is it regarding, which project?

And get back to them as appropriate. Even if you don't have an answer yet feel free to write an email three days in a row saying:

I haven't forgotten about you. I'm still finding your answer/a good time to squeeze you in. Feel free to check back with me frequently.

2) To be a gatekeeper, you should be at your desk as much as possible especially when you are still training your co-workers and colleagues about the new unspoken closed door policy. The only time you should leave your desk is for lunch, to use the restroom, and for any requests your boss makes of you directly. The more often you are gone for 10 min here or 30 min there the more chances anyone can walk into your boss' office because they think it's still okay.

3) If you find that your boss is very busy and doesn't want to see someone a good tactic is getting into the habit of escorting people around. What I mean by this is slyly physically blocking or encouraging someone to take your lead and follow you where you want them to. For example:

Say you know a particular person can be quite pushy. As soon as they start walking toward your desk or your boss' office get out from behind your desk and start walking toward them to greet them. Try to make them stop and engage them to talk to you by saying, "Did you need _________?"

If they say yes, tell them "Give me a second and let me go see if he's free" and hopefully they stay put.

Even if they try to follow you or barge in, still go into your boss' office and announce their presence even though that person is standing right next to you. Say, "_________ is here to see you. Is now a good time?"

And your boss can say yes or no.

If your boss says no it's now your job as the MESSENGER/ESCORT to say, "Why don't you follow me to my desk and I'll try to find a better time for you," thus leading them out of your boss' office.

The goal is for YOU to be the FIRST AND LAST person anyone ever deals with regarding your boss. This can be as minute as saying hello and goodbye and walking them to the front door or hallway. This trains anyone that you are the gatekeeper.

Escorting also helps you get more face time with your boss to get answers you need when he already has a packed schedule. A good tactic is to walk him to and from scheduled meetings. That usually takes 2-5 minutes and you are able to ask questions as you walk and talk. It should go without saying that you should not follow your boss if you think he may be going to the restroom or coming back from the restroom.

4) Always be humble, apologetic, and validate the other person's request to see your boss, especially if the meeting has already been set and you have to cancel. Oftentimes, being a great gatekeeper means having to say "things changed," "not right now," a lot or even no, but without making them feel less important or saying no outright. To do this always be firm, but full of sorrow and regret. You can say the following.

"Oh I'm so sorry. I know you're really busy too and you need _________. Let me see if I can move things around."

Sometimes you can, sometimes you can't, but you want to communicate that you will try.

"__________ isn't available right now, but I'll be sure to tell him you stopped by. I hate to have inconvenienced you. Many apologies."

"There's been a last-minute change in his schedule. We feel terrible."

5) When all else fails and your boss is really on a tight deadline, he or you should close his door for a set amount of time - an hour, three hours and the both of you should discuss who he can be interrupted for. If your boss doesn't already have a VIP list of people who ALWAYS have access to him, start drafting that now. It can include anyone such as his boss, investors, his family, or specific people that are working on the same project he is.

Hopefully you already answer the phone for your boss and and all meeting requests automatically come to you. As gatekeeper, you should control the flow of communication and time management of your boss' schedule with his input. Oftentimes, as the gatekeeper, you have even a larger portion of control with what's going on because only you know the minute details of what's going to happen later in the day or next week. Mutual trust and cooperation between you and your boss are key to finding the right rhythm and style for the both of you. I hope this helps, BH!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Chatroulette as a Tool for Self Discovery & Introspection

I started seeing articles about Chatroulette a week ago and started skimming them over. It wasn't until Ashton Kutcher started using it that I decided to take a peek based on the article wondering if he could do for Chatroulette what he did for Twitter. Before I delved in, I read a couple more articles and finally jumped in. (For anyone unfamiliar with Chatroulette, the novelty of it is to be paired up with random strangers all over the world for webcam and text chat sessions. It's a bare-bones operation. The only function there is, is the ability to hit "NEXT" to move on to the next stranger. Also be warned, it's not for minors - there's too much unnecessary nudity whether as pranks or purposeful.)

I was sick all weekend and figured now was the time to try it since I had nothing to do and was extremely bored after being a homebody. It was quite an interesting and even jarring experience. This is what to expect and what I learned about myself...

1) If you're extremely cautious, Chatroulette might not be for you.

To use your webcam, you have to realize people may take screenshots or record the chat sessions. So as soon as you are connected to someone they have access to your image, voice, and video - even if only for those 5 seconds before either one of you hits next. Funny or odd chat sessions end up pasted on the web for the world to see, fortunately or unfortunately.

2) It's a test in rejection and patience.

When I first logged on, the first few people had video cameras but the screen was all black either because the camera hadn't kicked in or they were really sitting in the pitch black. All those people I just nexted since I couldn't tell if it was a technical glitch. I started seeing way too much nudity so I would hit next as well. And then, I started to get rejected. And I would wonder - is it my looks, does my babyface make me look younger, do people think I don't speak English because I'm Asian? LOL (I only saw a handful of Asians online.) So when you realize this is how it works, the first five seconds you're connected to someone new, both parties usually just sit there blinking and staring back. And I realized we're both waiting for the other person to either hit next or finally say hi. LOL

3) Chat sessions vary in length and are pretty mundane.

When you're not hitting next for 15 minutes, you finally land in a chat session where someone wants to chat. My longest session was probably 15 minutes and it's the typical - where are you from, what time is it there? It's very much a Seinfeld episode.

I once chatted with 4 college boys and they jokingly started the session by saying, "Herro." I laughed and said, "I speak English! I'm in Cali" and it turned out they were from Santa Barbara. It was an okay conversation. Chatroulette is very much a novelty item that wears off after trying it for a day or two.

4) The connection is a bit unstable sometimes.

Be prepared to have a nice normal conversation and then your webcam freezes or your text box won't work anymore. And then you're forced to hit next or visit the home page again thus losing the connection. And once that happens, there's no being able to find that stranger again. That wasn't such a big deal because I didn't really see the need or have the desire to keep in touch with random strangers, but I realized I felt SO BAD thinking they thought I rejected them or just outright ditched them mid-way thru a conversation.

5) Be mindful of what your webcam can see.

During a session when my webcam worked, but my text field didn't, I resorted to writing something down and then showing my pad of paper to the camera so they would realize I was having technical difficulties. I'd write things like, "frozen" "can't type" and eventually "bye? :(" A minute later, I realized the pad of paper I chose was my old work stationery that had my full name on it and (old) work phone number. Granted, the likelihood of that guy saving our chat session or seeing that information is unlikely, but it gave me pause to what else might be in the background of my webcam. Luckily, I was at my dining room table so the most comments I got were "nice microwave" because that's all they could see.

These are the thoughts that went thru my mind during my experience.

-You look young. If you look or are under 21, I don't need to talk to you.

-Am I one of the oldest people on here? Everyone looks like a teen or a college student. I'm defintely not.

-Will I find someone in Los Angeles, someone I know, or get paired with a celebrity?

-How many non-English speakers are on here?! (I spoke to some people in China who couldn't really understand English although he could type "You are very cute." So we chatted in Japanese. He was also married and his wife and friends were in the room so I waved hello. LOL)

-Even if you ask nicely, no nudity here.

-Where are all the normal non-drunk, non-high people?

-I think I'm too boring for this site. Or maybe it's because I'm sober.

So try Chatroulette for fun if you're really bored. And listen to all the questions you ask yourself quietly when you hit next, or when the stranger decides to skip over you.