Understand yourself before you try to understand others
In order to build excellent, effective relationships and understand others, it is important that you understand yourself first.
Here are four things you can do to make sure that you have the most positive attitude possible under any circumstance. They will also help to reduce stress and to build effective relationships:
- Focus on the future (rather than on the past), whatever challenge you face, including conflict. Instead of worrying about who did what and who is to blame, focus on where you want to be and what you want to do.
- Focus on the solution whenever you’re faced with a difficulty. Do not waste your time and energy reflecting on the problem, whose fault it is or why it happened. Solutions are positive and problems are negative. As soon as you think in terms of solutions, you become a positive, proactive assistant.
- Look for the good in things and the positive side of any situation.
- Look for the valuable lesson in things; if something goes wrong or you make a mistake – what can you learn from it?
To help build effective relationships, gain respect and encourage people to listen to you, it is important to act professionally and look professional. The image you portray influences the way you are perceived by other people (which may not always be the way you perceive yourself to be!). You need to manage the way you are perceived by managing your image, as the way you look and act is an extension of who you are and how you feel.
Good manners as well as polite, attentive and courteous behaviour will help build effective and satisfying relationships.
Key attributes, skills and knowledge that bosses look for in an assistant
“A good assistant is your public face and your representative, so their style and the way they project their image needs to mirror yours in terms of customer service, values, work ethic.”
- (Carol Ritchie, finance director)
- To display excellent interpersonal and communication skills with the boss, with clients, all levels of staff and fellow assistants, whether face to face, on the phone or by e-mail.
- To be trustworthy, confidential and loyal.
- To be a confidant.
- To be wholly committed to doing the job right and to the best of your ability.
- To have the ability to understand the boss’s thinking and management style, so that you can make decisions without needing to check with him or her.
- To use active listening skills (the assistant is often the only person the boss trusts!).
- To take ownership: be proactive and anticipate problems and try to solve them.
- To be able to sort out difficult situations and problems without asking your boss to sort them for you.
- To keep cool, calm and effective during very busy and deadline-driven times – be like a swan! Even if you are paddling like mad under the water (to get everything done in the right way in the right time), be calm and serene above the water so everyone around you perceives that you are in control.
- To be full of energy and enthusiasm.
- To be organized, with a flexible attitude.
- To be persuasive and assertive.
- To take on more responsibility wherever the opportunity arises.
- To provide empathy and support.
- To be a team worker – helping others and delegating effectively.
- To forgive your boss for being less than perfect, and not to dwell on the negatives.
- To motivate each other and bounce ideas off each other.
- To have a sense of humour.
“To succeed as an assistant, the most important thing is loyalty!!! Both to your boss and of course to the company. You also need to be social and develop your own network within your company and outside. Look after your health, work at a high speed, be creative and always be in a good mood and ready to challenge yourself!”
- (Marie Voss, Winner of the ‘The Golden Paper Clip’ award at the annual Office Professionals Day 2011, Sweden)
Be proactive, anticipate needs, be prepared and exceed expectations
To be a successful assistant you have to be willing, able, flexible and proactive. Think ahead and plan, carry out tasks before they are required, anticipate problems and try to solve them. Use quieter periods to pre-empt requests. Be organized and prepared in advance (including updating and organizing paperwork and files). A successful assistant deals with as much as possible to prevent it landing on the boss’s desk, and endeavours to always exceed expectations.
“Whenever a VIP programme was under way, it was almost a rule that you expected something unexpected. To avoid problems I would organize as much as possible in advance and provide for every possible contingency, by having IT staff on standby and so on. Then when something unexpected cropped up I could deal with it calmly and effectively.”
- (Liz O’Farrell)
“Eighty per cent of your boss’s headaches come from 20 per cent of activities and everything else runs along smoothly, so get rid of that bottom 20 per cent and you will be perceived as a super assistant and your boss will be a lot happier. Give solutions not problems – answers not questions.”
- (Bill Docherty MBE)
To generalize somewhat, male bosses often prefer to focus on one solution at a time rather than having to choose between a range of options. Female bosses, on the other hand, may prefer to be given several options to choose from.
Know your capabilities and don’t promise anything you cannot deliver. It is especially important to be proactive when you are working for more than one boss and if you are working to a deadline. You should inform your boss(es), without having to be chased for information, and report back if you think you are not going to make deadlines they give you (but try to get help from colleagues first). Let your bosses know in good time as they may be able to extend the deadline, and being forewarned enables them to do something about a problem.
Try to make your boss look good and never show disrespect for him or her in front of anyone. Produce high-quality documents and presentations, and meet deadlines. Make sure you return calls as promised, and remind your boss of what they have to do on a timely basis. If you have any problems that need solving, address them. Contribute new ideas and suggestions.
To help you to be prepared you should check the diary for the coming week and month, making sure that you have prepared all the necessary papers for each meeting. You should also prepare maps if required and diarize time for any preparation work, as well as organizing any travel that is required (arranging hotel bookings, visas and foreign currency, making sure passports are up to date and so on). When booking travel, make sure you know any preferences your boss has (eg aisle or window seat preference). You should also note any allergies that your boss may have when booking restaurants and meals in hotels, and know what type of accommodation is preferred.
Being proactive is also about grasping opportunities when they arise, such as volunteering to take responsibility for projects that you realize can save your boss some time as well as giving yourself a challenge and a chance to increase your skill set. You should take ownership of your work and projects and add value to your boss and your company. By assuming more responsibility for tasks, projects and processes, you will become an increasingly valuable asset in the relationship between you and your boss.
Trust, respect and discretion are really important in any relationship. You both have to be able to trust each other and this has to be earned over time by doing what you promise, by being honest and open in your relationship, by communicating effectively and by owning up to mistakes.
Bosses should be able to trust you to get on with your work even though they are not there, and be confident that you will follow all the correct procedures and policies and be as productive as you can. Quite often they don’t know the policies themselves and if they can trust that you are well informed and know what you are doing, then it’s something less for them to think about.
- not laying any blame;
- producing the results expected;
- providing honest feedback;
- discussing problems directly;
- not talking behind people’s backs;
- doing a fair share of the work;
- meeting agreed deadlines;
- sharing information and knowledge that you need;
- giving credit where it is due.
If someone ‘betrays’ your trust – check your assumptions. ‘Betrayal’ implies that someone either intentionally did something that you did not expect or failed to do something that you did expect. If you believe a colleague has disclosed confidential information, for example, you should check your assumptions: did you clearly state that it was not to be discussed?
Keeping promises helps gain trust and respect. If you promise to call someone back by a certain time, then do so. They will remember you because few people actually do that.
The author of the aboved writing: Sue France