Am I A Victim Of Office Politics?... How Can I Stay Awake At Boring Meetings?
By Anne Fisher

(FORTUNE Magazine) – DEAR ANNIE: My boss is obviously disliked and not respected by his boss. The trouble is, his boss is the top guy in our division. This has a tremendous impact on the work I produce, since the big boss likes to find fault with everything the little boss and his team touch. This has already affected my pay and career prospects. Can I get around this? GOODBYE WITHOUT LEAVING

DEAR GWL: I love this "big boss" and "little boss" stuff--it's so Laurel and Hardy. But that brand of slapstick was no doubt way before your time, so here's the new kind: There's only one boss here, and guess who it is. It's you.

You can take your talent elsewhere, of course: a different division, a new company. But let's say you run into the same situation again--and you know, if you keep viewing the world in terms of "big" and "little" bosses, you really aren't going anywhere anyway. Instead, try thinking about what you have accomplished in very specific terms: Whom did it please? (The client, the audience, the tax accountants...) Why was it great? (What did they like about it? If you don't know, go find out.) How much money did it bring in? (If the answer is a negative number, stop right here.) And then: If I try to sell this someplace else, who will jump at it? Exclude "bosses" from your calculations. At this point, they don't count.

Nancy Friedberg, a career coach at the Five O'Clock Club in Manhattan who has heard your story many times, says this: "There are people watching you all the time--people in your business, your peers, your boss' peers, his boss' peers, your opposite number at some competing company. You may know who some of these people are right now, or you may not. But figure it out--and once you do, make sure you meet these people. And then don't talk about the weather."

Instead, come up with an eight-word summary of your best stuff, your latest triumph, your real interest (okay, the ideal is eight words, but 20 ain't bad), and get it out there--over lunch, in an elevator, at a conference, in a trade-association meeting. "Once you have built a reputation apart from your company, your company sees you as more valuable," says Friedberg. "And in fact, you are."

You won't need big and little bosses then, will you? One thing does lead to another. Life is so surprising.

DEAR ANNIE: I am new at managing, and maybe I worry too much about people wasting time, but it seems to me that employees are talking a lot about things that are not work related. Should I try to break up their gabfests, or just let it go? NOT A BAD GUY

DEAR NOT: You haven't given me many details about your employees, so I don't know what they might be up to. (Plotting a coup? Betting on ball games? Giving one another dating advice or exchanging divorce lawyers' phone numbers?) Maybe you wish they would talk more with you. Managing can be a lonesome thing. If it's any consolation--which I somehow doubt--the U.S. Department of Labor and the Center for Workforce Development in Newton, Mass., just released a big study that says 70% of "workplace learning" is informal--meaning that when people seem to be talking about nothing, they are learning how to do their jobs better. Whether or not that is true, why don't you take somebody out to lunch and find out? It couldn't hurt.

DEAR ANNIE: What can you do when a colleague keeps falling asleep in meetings? One of my co-workers usually sits next to me in presentations where higher-ups are sitting only a few feet away talking about things we need to know; but this colleague dozes off every time. Everyone notices, speakers especially. Should I pretend I don't see that he's asleep, or should I wake him up? (If the latter, how?) Either way, I feel like an idiot. Please help; this is no joke. WIDE AWAKE

DEAR AWAKE: I wouldn't dream of suggesting that your question is a joke. And neither would etiquette expert Letitia Baldrige, whose long and varied career has included seats on the boards of Dean Witter, Hartmarx, and the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta--during whose meetings she often fell asleep. "People used to laugh at me, because I'd be running around turning up the air conditioning or opening the windows," says Baldrige. "But this is a real problem. Most meeting rooms are much too warm. And then you sit people down after a few drinks and a meal, and expect them to stay awake. Please." (You really have not heard the word "please" until you've heard Baldrige say it. But that's another story.)

As a former White House social secretary, Baldrige knows a delicate wake-up call when she sees one: "Never wake someone in public. Instead, especially since this person is someone whom you have known for some time, go and see him privately in his office and say, 'I would like to help you with this problem. Either you can sit way in the back of the room where no one will see you, or we can agree that I'll nudge you a little bit with my elbow if you start to nod.' " It also would not hurt to mention that narcolepsy, which he may or may not have, is a neurological disorder that is now treatable with drugs, so seeing a doctor might not be a bad idea. If he has any sense at all, your colleague will thank you. If not, find a seat as far from him as you possibly can.

Note to meeting planners: When Baldrige lectures, she insists that the room be cold, for this very reason. People may need a sweater or a jacket, but they won't doze off. She is also noted for giving the shortest convention speech ever, when she didn't get on until midnight: "It's very late. I'm very glad to see all of you. I'm sure we would, under other circumstances, have many interesting things to talk about. Good night."