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EA etiquette: Eliminating our insecurities to strengthen our community

I know I’ve written quite a bit about EA etiquette in the past and perhaps you’re thinking, ‘not another blog on etiquette!’ but unfortunately I feel the need to revisit the topic once again and open our eyes up to some behaviors that just should not be tolerated. In a profession that is tough enough as it is – with the negative stereotypes that have attached themselves to our roles; the lack of respect we can encounter from those around us; and the skewed perception of what we do and the value we add – it often surprises me when I see EAs isolating themselves from their respective EA communities and facing off against each other, rather than encouraging, supporting and building each other up, as a strong and connected EA team should.

I literally find myself gob-smacked at some of the stories I hear and instances I witness of assistants going out of their way to attack and bring each other down in the workplace, rather than helping and encouraging each other as a united team and community. When I hear of these accounts, even experience them myself, I stop and think – seriously? What are you gaining by doing that? Did it make you feel good about yourself? Did it make you feel more senior? Did you put them in their place? Did you make sure they knew who’s boss?  Because at the end of the day, I feel like that’s what it’s all about…….hierarchy. And sure, there will always be different hierarchies of assistants, different seniorities and different levels, based on who we support. But after everything is said and done, I must remind us all, WE ALL ACTUALLY DO THE SAME JOB. The only defining factor is who we support. But even then, just because the manager you support may be all the way up the corporate ladder, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re up there with them. Regardless of your position in the company, how long you’ve been in your role for, or how many years you’ve been an assistant, we’re all there trying to achieve the same thing. It’s completely unnecessary for us to cement our position in a company by bringing down the fellow assistants around us. Are we that insecure about our ourselves and our roles? You’re probably getting the picture here, but this is something that literally drives me (and you, no doubt) nuts.

Now before I move to my advice around countering this rife issue in our profession, I want to give you some examples of these behaviors so that we all are on the same page. And hopefully the examples are enough to alert those that might be conducting themselves in these ways, and perhaps without even consciously knowing that they’re doing it. So if any of these scenarios seem way too familiar to you, it might be time to have a really good look in the mirror:

  1. You feel the need to correct behaviors of other assistants, intentionally drawing attention to their errors or misjudgments by emailing them and copying in their manager, along with other senior executives or members of the team.
  2. When new assistants start in your business you don’t bother to welcome them by email or face to face, and are too busy to take them for a coffee to introduce yourself.
  3. When other assistants request ‘urgent’ time in your manager’s diary, you intentionally be difficult and only offer times that are outside of the deadlines that they’re trying to work within. Further to that you don’t bother to move any (movable) meetings to accommodate their urgent requests.
  4. When other assistants organize EA/PA meetings or arrange special EA social events, you don’t bother attending, or worse still, you accept the invitation but then don’t show up because you’re ‘too busy’ or are ‘tied up with your boss’.
  5. When another assistant suggests changing a process or implementing a new policy that is different to what you’ve been working within, you cut them down and trash their idea without fully exploring the upsides or benefits to what they’re suggesting.
  6. You decline meeting invitations sent by other assistants with no explanation or follow up email, just because they didn’t check availability with you first.
  7. You intentionally don’t answer your phone to other assistants because you just can’t be bothered dealing with them.
  8. When you need something off a certain manager you intentionally bypass their assistant and go straight to them instead….as heaven forbid you’d deal with their EA on anything!
  9. When another assistant desperately request the use of your manager’s meeting room because all the other meeting rooms in the office are booked out, you tell them it’s unavailable, even though it’s not being used.
  10. You treat new-comer EA’s into your business as being inferior to you because you’ve been there longer and are clearly more superior and experienced than them.

Do I need to go on? I’m sure between us all we could come up with thousands, if not tens-of-thousands of examples of ‘bad etiquette’ behaviors that none of us should have to tolerate, especially not by our own kind. So what can we do about it? Well apart from hopefully bringing this to everyone’s attention again and brining it to the fore-front of our minds, there are some other things that we can do to eliminate these behaviors and put these ‘difficult’ assistants back in their place, so to speak.

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander
If you constantly find yourself on the end of emails from that one assistant who likes to correct you, tell you off, or point out your errors, all whilst copying in your manager (and the rest of the team too!), I say just give them a taste of their own medicine! Now I’m not saying to get all petty here, but sometimes all it takes is a dose of your own medicine to realise how bitter it can taste. It may make them think twice about crossing you again, as you may in fact retaliate one day when they drop the ball and stuff up. Pretty simple psychology here, but remember don’t make a habit of this…’re trying to strengthen your EA community, not isolate each other further.

Flash that smile!
If you find yourself constantly coming to ‘blows’ with a certain assistant, or find a certain assistant very difficult to engage with, it’s time to turn up the friendliness! Be super-professional, super-nice, and super-polite on every engagement with them, even the not so nice engagements. This will just enhance their negative-ness and difficultness towards you and essentially make them look like nothing but a b*tch (dare I say it!). Never let them rile you, or let them get you hot under the collar. Just keep yourself cool, calm, and collected, all with a big smile. If anything they’ll probably feel stupid once they witness your reaction to their behavior and rethink their approach next time.

Engage, engage, engage
If you constantly feel ‘up against it’ with a failing EA community that just won’t connect or engage, my advice is to just keep on persevering. Those that distance themselves and put themselves on a pedestal from everyone else will end up completely isolating themselves from the rest of the group, especially if you do start to make some leeway with the rest of the group, connecting and building on their community. If that one ‘difficult’ EA is the only one that doesn’t turn up to the EA meetings you organise, or the social gatherings you plan, they will be the one that looks stupid and after a while will probably bring themselves back to the group for fear of complete rejection.

Break the ‘click’
Ever worked in EA teams where there is a distinct ‘click’ of girls/boys that are separate to the wider group? Better know as the ‘cool kids’, this is the small groups of assistants that distance themselves from everyone else because they think they’re either ‘better than everyone else’ or ‘more senior or superior’ in some way. With that air of ‘highschool-ness’ about it all, it’s best to take a different approach to what you would have done when you were a teen. So rather than just bitch and gossip about them, try inserting yourself into their group the best you can. Sit down and engage with them when you see them having their morning coffee, meet with them individually to get to know them better, and praise them to their colleagues and managers so they see the engagement with you as a positive one. Park the bitching, gossiping and avoidance tactics and try that bit of reverse psychology instead… can work a charm.

Lead by example
It’s not rocket science to see we all just need to lead by example. Be the assistant you want every other assistant to be, in the hope you’ll inspire and encourage those around you. So embrace those EA etiquette rules and be accommodating of everything! Be flexible, be personal, and act with respect. Always make an effort and offer assistance always. I probably don’t need to go on here, you all know the way we should behave, so  just do it.

I’ll finish by saying this today, and hopefully you’re all not thinking I’m beating my drum too much, but treat others as you would have others treat you! If you’re intentionally going out of your way to be difficult, hurtful or malicious, and all because it makes you feel like a big senior EA, it’s probably time for a very hard look in the mirror. Leaders make senior EAs. Managers make senior EAs. Don’t diss on everyone else trying to make your way to the top. You’ll make it by behaving like a leader, like a manager, like the best assistant you can be. And if you feel insecure about yourself and your role then perhaps you need to embrace your fellow EA community for support and advice?! What goes around comes around, right? So we should all do our best to be there to support each other and to prop each other up with whatever each of us needs. We must remember, we’re all there delivering the same thing at the end of each day, all with the same title, performing the same duties, with the same challenges……so let’s unite together and bring back our sense of community.


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