the blog

Read the Room

My friend, Rachel, told me of a recent experience. She had been working in a fairly high-responsibility position for about 5 years at the same company when she started to get strange vibes. It was difficult to put her finger on it because everything was going so well: The company was doing great, its stock price at record highs, everyone was making good money, getting promoted and generally being treated well. The workforce seemed motivated and happy, as did management. Still, something was not right. So, rather than ignore her feelings, Rachel decided to put out feelers to get a read on the employment picture.

After a couple of months of looking, Rachel had lined up something new and settled into the idea that she’d be leaving the company. She gave her notice and two weeks later she left. The following month, the news broke that the company had been sold. Headquarters were going to be relocated to another city resulting in significant layoffs including her former boss. Top management was out, new management was taking over. Rachel was stunned. At the same time, she breathed a sigh of relief as well as marveled at her prescience.

This ability to feel when it’s time for a change especially when there seems to be no obvious reason for it is one of the most interesting phenomena of human communication. We tend to know when things are going well or not, even if we haven’t been told. Things may look great on the outside, making us question our feelings and assume that we are, perhaps, being paranoid. How do we know? Certainly, it’s not some supernatural power that we have or ESP. It’s not feminine intuition. In fact, it has more to do with subtle changes that take place on an almost unconscious and therefore, undetectable level. We can, however, become more attuned so that instead of ignoring warning signs, we pay attention. We read the room.

The next time you get a feeling that change is afoot, ask yourself some questions:

  • What’s different now? (Exactly what is bugging me?)
  • Has the behavior of my bosses or anyone else of significance changed, even in a small way
  • What have I been reading in the business or trade press that can provide clues?
  • Have I heard anything over the past 6 months to a year that worried me but that I chose to ignore?
  • Is there anyone I can approach to discuss this with?

Questions like these help to concretize your feelings and thus give them credence. Most of the time, you’ll be able to get some answers (though insiders may be reluctant to share, which is a hint in and of itself). You may not get 100% confirmation, but once you’re satisfied it’s not paranoia after all, you can take control of your future like Amy did.

By the way, it’s a good thing Rachel paid attention to her feelings. Once the news got out, there were quite a few suddenly out-of-work people who flooded headhunters with calls. 6 months later, some are still not back to work.

Copyright 2007 Ruth Sherman. All Rights Reserved.

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