Need Talent? Ask the Right Best Questions

The New Year brings with it resolutions to make this year better in some meaningful way than last year. You many have exciting goals, challenging objectives, and positions to fill with new employees.

What should you be on the lookout for?

 

Ouch or Ahhh
A good fit should not be underestimated. You should look for someone who will fit well and add to the effectiveness of your team. Do you know what your team lacks? Someone who is a bit different can cause others to stretch but if they are too different from everyone else, it will be jarring and possibly unproductive. Know the culture and norms of both the workplace in general and your team in particular.

Do It
Can they do the job? While a resume shows people in their best light, your job as manager is to determine if they ca actually do what they say they can do. You want to verify strengths and explore areas that need development. I’ve always been a big supporter of hiring for fit and training for skill. But some skills reveal fit.

  • Have they solved problems without guidance or support? How did they do that?
  • Do they know how to create a budget? What are the steps they take for any large project implementation?

These are not things that will be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Listen to the story they tell, if they really answer what you’ve asked about, and how much detail they provide. If they talk about ‘we’ rather than ‘I,’ it may be that they were on team that handled things and they didn’t actually have the responsibility.

Stress-Hardy
How do they handle pressure? Every job comes with some stress and you want people who can rise to the occasion when things go from calm to challenging.  Asking some questions that create a bit of stress may reveal useful information.

  • Why do they think they are good at this job?
  • What do you think is the most stressful situation you’ve ever had to handle? How did you rise to the challenge? What did you learn about yourself?
  • What kinds of people were challenging for you to work with in your last job? How did you manage that?
  • What did you think of our website? What suggestion do you have for how it could be better? Not only does that put them on the spot about a suggestion for improvement, it will let you know if they’ve done some homework about your organization.

If someone tells you they don’t experience stress, they like and get along with everyone, or they think your website is perfect as it is, I’m betting that they wat to keep you from the truth. Dig deeper!

Forget finding a ‘plug & play’ employee. The person who can already do the job is NOT looking for this job/your job, they are looking for the next level of opportunity. Hire the person who wants to learn and is looking for a manager who wants to develop talent. Stop hoping for someone out there who will make your life easier by not requiring you to manage them, develop them, or foster engagement.

Ask the right best questions to find the person who will strengthen your team and then manage their development so that they can

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Are You Resolved?

Are you hoping to make resolutions for 2017 that actually come to fruition? Then I suggest you take out the list of resolutions that you made for 2016. How did you do?

I’ve read that while 50% of us actually make resolutions for the New Year, 88% of us fail at keeping them. Not encouraging data, but I know how we can do better at the kept-resolution rate.

Keeping a promise you’ve made to yourself takes discipline, a skill much like any other muscle in your body. It needs exercise and conditioning to be in shape. If you want to get better at it, you have to practice, practice, practice. If you don’t have much will power, calling on it to suddenly be in terrific condition on January 1 may be asking too much.

Vague promises are not useful. Managing stress is fuzzy and not the same as developing the specific habit of turning the email off after 7:00 pm. While many people include eating better, losing weight, quitting smoking, cutting back on liquor intake, and having better work/life balance as goals for the coming year, creating a specific goal can make you 50% more likely to actually accomplish your resolution. Rather than focus on self-improvement you might want to focus on professional improvement and meet with employees every other week for performance management. Make the new resolution something that is important to you with a benefit that is tangible and observable.

If you want to increase the likelihood of successfully keeping your resolution, try following these simple steps:

One Not Some – Choose one thing to do differently. Stack the deck in your favor by putting all of your energy into accomplishing one key change in the coming year. Rather than disperse your energy and willpower, focusing on one major change in your life will increase your odds of success.

Build on Small Wins – When a doctor admonishes you to lose 20 pounds, you might laugh in their face. But when asked if you can lose 5 pounds, it’s a much more doable target. Start with easy victories to build on.

Share – Tell others about your resolution and enlist their help or support. It can make all the difference between failure and success. Other people can have a tremendous impact on your behavior. Sometimes, writing it down and keeping it visible can help you keep your focus on what you want to do. Seeing how you are moving toward achieving your goal can add to your overall happiness.

Rewards Matter – The goal is to keep the resolution for the year but rewarding yourself along the way can keep you motivated. While enjoying desert after losing weight seems counterproductive, a small serving of a favorite sweet won’t add back all of the weight you’ve lost. OR you could reward yourself with something that has nothing to do with calories. A massage has no calories.

Don’t stress too much if your path to success is not straight and true. Setbacks can happen.  Unforeseen circumstances make the future impossible to predict with 100% accuracy. Strong willpower is a learned skill, not a personality trait. You can get better with practice.

You’ve got a year to make your success happen. If the past is any indication, it  will be here before we know it

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How to Stay Upbeat

When times are especially challenging, there is an extra emphasis on positive psychology. In fact you can get a degree in positive psychology!

There is no magic to positive psychology; it’s a focus on the things that improve people’s lives. Good old Abe Maslow might be the first person to use the term back in the 1950’s, although Martin Seligman is the guy who gets the modern day credit. But as long as there has been the study of psychology, its’ practitioners have examined people’s aspirational goals, intelligence, creativity, curiosity, imagination, and peak performance.

When times are tough the field of “positive psychology” gets extra attention. Many people try to balance the continuing deluge of bad news with an optimistic outlook. Given today’s headlines, a difficult workplace climate, or hard personal challenges, our ability to find hope can certainly be tested.

stones-451329_960_720Happiness feels better than anger or depression. There are studies that actually measure the positive effect an upbeat attitude can have on the bottom line. There is research that suggests that being happy at work can improve revenue, employee engagement and retention, customer loyalty, and even creativity. I don’t advocate acting as if a bad situation isn’t happening but I do think it makes sense to focus on what you CAN do, what you are good at doing, and what brings joy into your life.

Take Action
Upbeat professionals and optimistic organizational leaders behave in ways that generate positive energy. Apply some of these tactics at work when you feel things dragging you down:

  • Communicate positive stories from customers. Not only are you focusing on the people who support your firm, you are providing reinforcement feedback to employees who want to know that what they are doing matters to the recipient of the goods and services of your firm.
  • Acknowledge someone who made you more effective. Gratitude and attention improves productivity.
  • If someone’s strengths don’t align with their job responsibilities, see if you can adjust the job. People like to ‘go to their strengths’ and tend to solve problems faster when they are feeling capable of doing so.
  • Hire for fit rather than skill. Skills can be taught but a good cultural fit is worth more to your firm in terms of positive energy and emotional strength, both critical attributes in tough times.
  • Focus outward rather than inward. Helping others can be empowering and keeping your attention on what may be going wrong tends to drain. Complaining may be the default mode of choice, but it IS a choice. Choose to concentrate on ways you can take action or support others.
  • Do something that is fun . “Wacky Hat Day,” “Ugly Sweater Day,” or even a scavenger hunt won’t change the business climate, but they are the kinds of things that can create an opportunity to lighten up, have some low-cost fun, and help people focus on having a good time. Smiling can be contagious and the physical act of laughing is an exhale that relaxes the muscles.
  • Take time to inspire and create. Retreats that focus the team on their work can keep them focused on how their contributions fit into the larger purpose of the organization. When the retreat is over, you’ll be poised with new ideas, strategies and a fresh focus.

Hope can vanish if left to flourish on its own, so doing nothing at all can make the workplace a drain on people’s psyche. If you want to impact climate in a positive way, be intentional about it. Your goal should be to help folks stay focused on doing what they CAN so they will be more upbeat. Since each person is unique, employees will define happiness at work differently from each other. There is no ‘one size fits all’ but there is an outlook that communicates:

It can be better, it will be better, and we can do it together.

 

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Will You Fight of Take Flight?

aanoyedWe all have an internal sense that there is a binary choice when confronted with a threat or an uncomfortable situation. This is known as the fight or flight response.  When feeling threatened by people or things that create a sense of danger, we choose to fight and take on the threat or depart – to live another day.

The co-worker who insults and bullies their way through conversations and situations can viewed as a threat to our peace of mind.  A boss who berates members of the team regularly to prove his or her point in team meetings can cause us to feel nauseous about the climate they are creating at work and the concern over the possibility that we might be their next target. As creatures with nervous systems triggered by a pituitary gland that has been honed by thousands of years of evolution, whether we are gearing up for a battle or looking for the nearest exit – those feelings are bound to cause a physiological reaction.

However, your choice of being proactive or reactive, can positive or negatively change the trajectory of your career as well as your heart rate.

Granted, there will be risks associated with your choice, whatever it may be. When you were younger and you spoke your mind at home or in elementary school, if it meant that you and your siblings were grounded or the whole class had to go without recess, you learned about consequences. You may not have been the most popular kid that week, but you chose to take a stand.  The more educated, thoughtful, and strategic you are about the risk, the better you can create a plan of action that is most beneficial for you.

Below are a few tips that I use to help frame up the situation for the best outcome possible.  Choosing just one can help you successfully navigate uncomfortable conversations and situations:

  • Not everyone will like you: this is something my mom always told me. As an adult, taking the high ground and choosing the option that you know is the right thing to do can help you build a career bridge to better things. However, knowing when to speak up and when not to open your mouth is a key skill. If staying silent and not speaking up directly impacts you, step up to the plate with confidence and courage.  Have the courage of your convictions.
  • It can be all in the delivery: How you deliver the message can matter as much as what the actual message is. Being able to respond in a professional and tactful manner even if you are coping with an internal and possibly emotional response at the same time is necessary for the workplace.  It is a good rule of thumb to be courteous and respond “I would rather not have this conversation,” and walk away.  Basic courtesy in the face of negativity will give you the power to maintain control.
  • Tell the truth: Be aware of your timing as well as who is in the room. Tact and digression are useful skill sets when communicating honestly. Being tactful and discreet means having a sense of how your message will land with others.
  • Be aware and prepare for the consequences of speaking up: Taking action should also require you to forecast the cost. There can be some political fallout. Don’t let it take you by surprise or derail your efforts. Anticipate both the up and downside of your words and actions. Ask ‘What is the worst thing that can happen if I do/say this?” And then plan accordingly.
  • Timing is important: While not everyone is patient, everyone can develop patience. When you are thinking about what acting might cost, think about what waiting might cost as well.

When the impulse to fight or flee comes on, that actual moment can be measured in nanoseconds.  Develop the habit of pausing and take a deep breath before speaking (S.A. Suck Air). You can’t talk when inhaling and the pause allows you to remember your strategy and the words or actions you want to use at this moment.  Be intentional when deciding whether to stay or go.

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What Do Stress Hardy People Do?

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Stress = Pressure –  Adaptability

Stress is the gap between the pressures brought on by life’s events, and our ability to cope with them and adapt. One stressful episode may not be difficult to handle, but over a period of time, built-up stress from several different incidents can contribute to problems such as heart disease, ulcers, colitis, hypertension, psychiatric disorders, and decreased resistance to disease. And it should be added that resentment and guilt are stress-related illness!

Given the algebraic nature of the equation – to manage stress more effectively, you need to  either reduce or remove the pressure or increase your ability to adapt. So if quitting the job, leaving your partner, or selling your kids off seems like a goofy way to reduce the pressure in your life, you must review ways to increase your ability to adapt to the life you are living.

STRESSBUSTERS 

Luckily, the news is good! There are ways to make yourself more ‘stress-hardy’ so that you develop the resiliency to manage stress more effectively.  While the following strategies may not be intuitive, these are approaches that can help alleviate feelings of pressure and tension and can be learned and practiced until you become a Master.

 Open to ChangeA degree of open-mindedness and flexibility can help your effectiveness when coping with change. Few things are “written in stone”. One of the few things you can count on is that things will not stay the same. Think of embracing change and planning for it, rather than resisting it.

Feeling InvolvedThe stress-resistant person is emotionally committed to work as well as work relationships. They have goals that they are working towards. Eastern philosophies believe that there is only now. Know what you value, and then spend time doing it. Have goals for 5, 10, and 15 years from now – and work toward them.

 Feeling In Control – If you feel like a victim and you find yourself blaming others, you are not taking responsibility in your life; you are giving up control. Identify where you do have power, and then take control!

Seeing the HumorUnder stress, your sense of humor can go right out the window. That is too bad, because laughter can be a great way to cope with stress. Physically, you are releasing tension by relaxing muscles and exhaling. Even a brief smile can relax you and serve as a reminder to keep your perspective.

Keeping PerspectiveNot having a good Wi-Fi connection when you need one is pretty annoying. A project deadline moved up two weeks can be infuriating. But think about what your life would be like if the person you cared most about suddenly died tomorrow. Instantly, your perspective changes and these other things are not so important anymore. Life is short. Channel your energy into those things that are really important to you.

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Maintaining Focus

focusOne only need to turn the television on or receive an email or text on your PDA to become distracted.  In today’s world, the distractions inside and outside of the workplace can be too numerous to list — heated office gossip, political rhetoric, or the latest hacking scandal compete with ‘do you have a minute’ interruptions, sudden emergencies, and last minute revisions. The obvious question becomes, how can you maintain focus and productivity for employees in a world that at times can have distractions at every turn?

It can be easy for what was once a casual conversation over coffee before the morning meeting to turn into heated discussion that can carry on throughout the work day or leave an after taste that lasts for the rest of the week. Productivity dips, egos may be bruised, and professional relationships can suffer.  How can you maintain and foster a healthy workplace for your employees in today’s world of a two second focus?

I suggest sticking to the basics.  Just because the world may feel like it is spinning off of its axis doesn’t mean you, your colleagues, or your employees have to respond to every little thing that competes for your attention.

Here are my tips:

  • Rally People Around Organization Goals. It is easy to have the annual goal setting meeting, but it is essential to check-in and measure against those goals throughout the year.  This is a time to remind people of their roles and responsibilities and how they support the larger vision for the department and ultimately the company. It can also be a good time to assess and get input about what is working and what is not.
  • Develop and Build Your Team. Periodically step outside of the traditional work day and do something different and fun that allows people to connect in a more personal way.  People can experience a different side of their leaders and team members when work is not the focus. Create new engagement pathways that allow folks to possibly shake-off or work through any negativity or awkwardness from work related situations. Connect the dots to back on the job application so people understand that it’s not just entertainment on company time, it is another way to develop an effective team.
  • Encourage Breaks. Give everyone a chance to clear minds and recharge. Not only are you making an investment in the wellbeing of others, you are communicating that you value and respect others. There are several studies that indicate that employees who feel valued or more willing to invest and put effort in their work. Pay attention to the clues that stress or focus on one thing for too long is taking a toll.

Don’t confuse ‘focus’ with ‘mindfulness.’ Mindfulness is about meditation – the ability to achieve a mental state of complete tranquility. It’s a great stress buster and it would be terrific if every workplace provided opportunities to teach and engage in the practice of meditation. Focus is the ability to fix your attention on an object or idea for a long period of time. In today’s over-stimulated environment, it’s a skill that can be taught and encouraged.

It is estimated that on average, we have approximately 60,000 thoughts per day — That equates to one thought per second.  And that does not include the external distractions.  On average you spend 40+hours each week with your co-workers in one week, which can translate to approximately 1,520 hours per year.  Fostering a healthy workplace is not just essential – it is a must to ensure productivity and engagement and maintain focus.

I’m hoping you were able to read this entire blog post in one sitting without any interruption. If not, perhaps we should talk!

 

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Why Not Refresh Your Brand Now?

social-1148035_640A few of my clients are re-energized this month, and it’s not because fall is in the air. They took a step back, did some creative reflection, and re-branded. How many of us think about making a pivot to refresh and re-calibrate in order to connect to clients and customers in a new way?  You could create an updated and fresh message that connects more powerfully that produces an actionable response on your customer’s part to buy!

If you find yourself wondering about how you might re-engineer your business, division, department, team, brand, or even your own personal professional brand to bring new clients to your door, why wait? Now is a great time to consider a few strategies to employ so that you hit the ground running sooner rather than later.

Listen to an Invested Focus Group – Gather a group of your best customers, prospective customers, coworkers, employees, mentors. Ask them for ideas about how to revamp the brand. Are there ideas that require little or no money? It can be a nice surprising to hear ideas that are small to implement and garner a huge improvement.

Focus More – Once you have a slew of ideas focus in on the ones that will result in savings for your customers (internal OR external) or provide the best value to them, and what might bring in new customers.

Add Extras – Look at how you can include ‘extras’ that benefit customers and will bring more old and new clients to your door/website/portal. How about a newsletter, a discount for quantity, or a free initial consultation/assessment?

Pair Up – Could you make your brand compatible with another product or service? Can you reduce the time frame if clients are rushed or have a shortened lead time? Can you offer more than one price point so that a customer can buy a basic service/product to start the relationship? Make it easy for customers to use you.

Revamp Your Customer Base – A wider customer base can make up for a sluggish market or the need to create new products or services. Are their potential clients out in the marketplace that might use your service/product if you just tweaked your marketing pitch a little bit? Are there other departments that might make the investment?

We all need to review and revamp from time to time no matter how perfect or well entrenched the brand, product, or service. Giving some though to it now can energize the end of the year, not to mention the planning you will do for 2017. Rather than waiting around, you can be actively getting word out.

 

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The Job Should Fit

Few of us can wear clothes off the rack and have them look like they were custom made for us. And so it is with jobs. There are few (if any) perfect fits when it comes to employment.

download-961797_640Some jobs chafe more than others. While there are lots of skill inventories and personality assessments that can tell you what kinds of things you enjoy, you don’t need a self-reporting test to tell you the things you know. You already know some of the things that you are good at. It’s not fun to spend days doing something you are not good at or don’t enjoy (these often go hand-in-hand).

Some things to remember when thinking about looking for a new job or career:

  • No one was born to do something. People who do well in their jobs are playing to their strengths. They have built upon a foundation of an existing talent. Be honest with yourself about what you do well and get feedback from others about both your ability and your potential for developing that ability.

  • Speaking of feedback – what are you hearing? If you are always receiving improvement feedback or are not getting any comments or reactions to your work, that’s a clue. If you are hearing the same information from everyone, it might be time to pay attention and listen. Look for folks who will be caring AND honest and ask them to be candid and kind.

  • If it looks, sounds, feels, and acts like a bad fit, then it’s a bad fit. A bad fit rarely gets better with time. If you have made a ‘deal with the devil’ and taken a job for the money, or a job for the short commute, or a position because the hours fit your lifestyle, remember that deal you made is getting you exactly what you bargained for. Be happy about that. If you want more that what the bargain was for, it is time to go find a new deal.

  • Is there love? You know when someone is in love because they beam, they talk about the object of their affection, and they are eager to share the feeling with everyone they come in contact with. If you aren’t eager to share information about how you spend your work day with others (other than to complain) you are not really hiding your discontent.

  • Pretending is exhausting.  It takes a lot of energy to try to be something that deep down, you know you ‘re really not. If you have to play a role or hide your authentic self when you are at work, you probably come home drained at the end of the day. That is simply not rewarding. Nor is it any fun.

Maybe jobs really are like clothing:

  • You may have loved it once but it doesn’t really fit well now.

  • Some aspects of it still work quite well (the color, the fit, the style) so it’s premature to toss it.

  • You don’t think it’s so great, but others really do — and they say so — which makes you feel a bit better.

  • If it is a bad fit, (out of style, uncomfortable, in bad shape, uncomplimentary, wrong) it’s time to go.

  • Don’t discard it if you have nothing to replace it – you’ll be either out of work, or naked!

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Are They Laughing?

laughWhen you work in business where communication is an essential part of someone’s success, it is hard not to watch the political candidates with a magnifying glass. We seek out what is working and what is not working, and then connect the dots for clients to back-on-the-job application. The goal is always to capture the attention of your listener. If you can’t find a way to keep your message interesting, people will tune you out.

The use of humor is especially tricky. Humor can unlock an audience’s receptivity. It grabs people’s attention. Touching the heart, the funny bone and the brain improves the likelihood that your message will be more effectively delivered.

But if you have to point out that you were ‘just kidding” or ‘being sarcastic’ – then your joke has missed the mark. Some things about using humor that are important:

Jokes vs. Stories
Leave jokes to professional comedians. Humor at work that is on target and works possess the message of the communicator.

Ask yourself:

  • Does my story provide meaningful commentary?

  • Does it tie into my main point?

  • Is it pertinent?

  • A good story cannot replace the point you are trying to make.

Humor to Avoid
Sarcastic Humor – Humor that brings laughter at the expense of others. This kind of humor can keep people apart rather than bringing them together. Sarcasm can work with close friends equally adept at its use, but it can be dangerous. Sarcastic conversations between friends where there are years of friendship gives a context of trust and caring to the “not so caring” messages. On the job, however, such comments are not appropriate. And the people who overhear sarcasm don’t know the intentions involved.

Ethnic Humor – Bias is too easy to ignite and too difficult to stop. Steer clear.

Laughing at Others – It’s more appropriate to laugh at yourself or at a common experience than to laugh at others. When humor works you laugh WITH others, not AT them.

Strategies:

  • Make your messages memorable – use a prop that can create interest..

  • Open with a shocking attention-getter – an alarming statistic, a photo that drives the point home, or an insightful question.

  • Quote a song as a lead in to a point you are trying to make.

  • Take your listener into account. Who are they and what do they want to hear?

  • Low-risk humor makes sense in business.

  • Keep it brief.

  • Practice telling the story. Don’t ‘shoot from the hip’ – you can shoot yourself in the foot!

  • Use pauses to create interest and relay drama.

  • Don’t be afraid to be silly. A little can go a long way to humanize you.

  • Don’t be afraid to use a good story more than once.

  • Know the difference between public and private humor.

  • If you are going to use gender or regional humor, make it at the expense of your gender or your

  • Use a “humor sandwich”. Tell the point you are trying to make, give it back in the form of a humorous story illustrating the point, then restate your point again in a memorable way.

  •  Develop a notebook, or listing of favorite jokes or quotes. You can find your material everywhere. Adapt and personalize your favorites.

  • Slide a punchline into your memo’s – it catches people off guard and lets you know that they are really reading them!

It’s been said the ‘laugh and the world laughs with you; cry and you cry alone.’ But if your humor falls flat, or worse, annoys or insults, then you could be laughing alone too.

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Mentors/Mentees – Know Where the Line Is

board-784349_640 (1)Few of us can accomplish great things without some mentoring. Whether formal or informal, within your professional organization or between colleagues, mentoring has become more and more common as people look to develop talent and acquire knowledge.

Being a Mentor can be very rewarding. Providing support, suggestions and information to someone who is eager to for it can enrich both your career and theirs. But in an effort to provide assistance, some Mentors go too far. In order to avoid crossing the line, it’s good to know where the line is in the first place.

 

DON’T :

  • Put your money into their business ideas – Investing in your Mentee’s business changes your role; you have now gone from Mentor to Partner. Now you have a ‘not so hidden’ agenda as well as a definite conflict of interest. You are not going to be objective about your advice and feedback when it is your money is at stake. The Mentee can become wary about telling you anything negative because they will be worried about an unfavorable reaction.

INSTEAD: Assure them that you are honored to be considered as a potential investor but prefer to keep the relationship as a mentoring partnership only.

  • Work for them – It really doesn’t matter whether you are hired with or without pay. When you do the actual work, you have become an employee. The work your Mentee is responsible for should either be done by them or they should be hiring someone (else) to do the job. Your role is to work behind the scenes.

INSTEAD: A Mentor can help them determine the best way to get things done or provide feedback, but should not be doing the actual work.

  • Become a personal counselor – While you can (and probably will) discuss life issues and challenges, pay attention to the line between work and personal issues. If the Mentee is coping with a large psychological concern (e.g., overwhelming anxiety, depression or euphoria, divorce, substance use, parenting, aging parents), remember that a Mentor does not give personal advice and counseling. Be willing to listen, but point out that you are not an expert in that personal area.

INSTEAD: Suggest a call to a local or national hotline that deals with the specific concern (or if the/their firm/employer has an EAP, suggest an internal resource.)

It’s not always easy to know where the limits of the Mentor/Mentee relationship are. Having a clear idea of what things are definitely out of bounds from the start can help you identify areas to avoid.

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