Category Archives: Business

Get creative with your business travel

Back in 2007, I had a job that required me to travel extensively. I was at a conference one time, and I spoke to another attendee who was more accustomed to business travel than I was. I told him I enjoyed the opportunity to go to new places all the time. He said something to the effect of, “So you’re still at the point where you see the travel as a perk? That won’t last.” He was apparently a salty old veteran of the jet set lifestyle and had become disillusioned with it.

It’s understandable. If you have a family, you don’t like to be away from them for long. Plus, air travel can be uncomfortable and inconvenient — especially with today’s security restrictions. It can be disorienting to try to find your way around a new place when you’re on a tight schedule. But I still relish it as an opportunity, and I try to make the most of it.

After a long hiatus, I’m back in the saddle of business travel with my current job. I don’t travel all the time, but I do it just enough to satisfy my need to go to new places. Unfortunately, I don’t find myself in the best financial position personally, so the only opportunities I get to travel significant distances is if someone else is footing the bill.

I recently spent a week in the Los Angeles area for work. It was a great trip. Sure I did a lot of work while I was there, but I also made time to play. I never once ordered room service in the hotel. I went out to eat at different places almost every time (a legitimate business expense because you have to eat somewhere). And, on my own dime, I also attended a Clippers game at Staples Center with my boss and spent an extra day traveling around with my camera to go to places I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to go.

Here are just a few of my favorites:

So, even after all these years, I still see business travel as an opportunity. I try very hard to take it all in and come back with some good pictures.

Check your ego at the office door

I’m going to start this off by acknowledging one of my more significant flaws. I am not particularly good at being “self aware.” That is, there are a lot of things I do that I don’t even realize I do.

Additionally, I often make decisions without regard for the specific people involved. (This doesn’t mean that I don’t have regard for others or I dislike the people involved…merely that I don’t differentiate much between one person and another when making decisions.) I’m going to go about my business and do what is right, regardless of what people will think.

This is far less impressive than it first sounds. After all, most of our decisions are not big moral judgments but small, mundane tasks. For example, today I sent what I thought was a perfectly polite e-mail full of pleases and thank-yous asking for feedback from a manager of a different department (his name is Mark). I was on a tight deadline, so I added, “please respond ASAP.” It seemed reasonable enough to me, especially for a simple request. This was related to a conversation I had just had with my manager Cathy (who actually sits at the opposite end of the building from me), so I copied her on the message.

Within one minute, my phone rang. It was Cathy. Now Cathy is very polite and easygoing, but she was calling in a less-than-giddy tone to tell me that my message had the tendency to go over like a lead balloon. I must admit, I was puzzled.

Apparently, the request to “please respond ASAP” made the message sound like the recipient worked for me when really the relationship is the other way around and I was asking for a favor. He could have sent me that message in perfect decorum, but not the other way around.

I don’t have any evidence that Mark was actually offended, but Cathy said that I needed to be more careful for the future because I could have unintentionally damaged the relationship between our two departments. I don’t think this was a major problem, but I would like to avoid even the minor ones if I can…they add up.

I must admit this is not the first time I have been caught making this type of faux pas, but I honestly didn’t see it coming. I can’t imagine myself being offended if the roles were reversed, but I am not Mark. I cannot project myself because I am not like a lot of people in the business world. For one thing, you have to try pretty hard to bruise my ego. I don’t know of anyone who has offended me by accident. I plan to get a Ph.D. some day, but I refuse to be one of those people who gets angry when someone calls him “mister” instead of “doctor.”

That makes it all the more critical that I make every word I communicate at work as deliberate and careful as possible. Life can be a minefield that way.

Gray area is just a nice way of saying minefield

The Berlin Wall was a pretty imposing and horrible structure. On the east side of the wall sat East Berlin: a place gripped by poverty, despair and totalitarian government. On the west side of the wall sat West Berlin: a modern, affluent, democratic society. People were maimed and killed trying to climb over from East Berlin to West Berlin.

Still, with that wall there people always knew which side they were on. There was no room for interpretation and ambiguity. There was no gray area, and that wall was more or less impenetrable.

But what if, instead of a wall, there was an unmarked Berlin Minefield? Would you try to cross it knowing that either you could run to freedom or die instantly depending on where you stepped?

In my life I have dealt much better with black and white issues than with gray areas. In a gray area you don’t know where you stand. You don’t know who may be offended by your actions. You’re left to feel things out and guess, and I am a terrible guesser.

So if you’re dealing with me, please do me a favor and be crystal clear about what you expect…because otherwise there may be some unfortunate accidents.