Watching Your Six

by Emily Jasper on July 21, 2009

I’m the daughter of a Navy fighter pilot, so phrases like “Watch your own six” are used regularly. I always knew what it meant, but I actually hadn’t thought about the literal meaning of it until a couple weeks ago. If you imagine you are facing 12 on a clock, 6 is behind you. So…

Cover your ass.

Everyone knows this concept. You may have never had anything come back to bite you, but if you have, you truly know the power of forgetting to CYA. It is never pretty.

The recession is demanding you to spend more time with eyes in the back of your head. Just because the people around you may not care about themselves, you really should. For example, if everyone on your team is looking for a new job, you shouldn’t join in the conversation about it in the office elevator. There could be an executive you don’t know (but knows you), and that kind of conversation can get back to your boss. In fact, you don’t even need that executive: someone else from your team could take it back to your boss as they cover themselves.

That scenario means you could lose a major professional supporter and future reference, all while burning a bridge without you knowing it. You really need to be smarter during times like these.

How do you CYA?

First, don’t be dumb. Really. Avoid stupidity at all costs. The nicer way of saying that is you should think through everything. Take some time examining your personality and habits, figuring out what may put you at risk. If you are really negative right now, looking to do something controversial, or have the potential to put yourself in a compromising position, it is best to be careful about interactions with others. If you’re looking for a new job, you may want to back off Happy Hour with the team if you get loose-lipped. If you need someone for a reference, don’t exaggerate on your resume and ask them to spout everything as true. Fallout from these kinds of activities can be worse in the long-term than being smart in the short-term.

Next, determine what positive things you can do to keep yourself in the clear. This can mean playing ball on a project you don’t really agree with or avoiding confrontation with people. If you were considered the hot-headed person in the office, learn to count to ten to keep yourself from instant reactions. Take on your own personal development in obtaining some technical/functional skills to make you valuable. Get a library card/internet connection and educate yourself with information on your industry, field, and world knowledge. Then share with others what you’ve learned.

Finally, look at your options. You can’t always impact the decisions others make about you, but if you can find your own options, you can protect yourself. If you are employed and want to stay employed, what can you do to keep it that way? Do you have a champion somewhere else in the organization to keep on your team? If you’re looking for a job now, are you doing something else with your time to keep your skills fresh? Answers to these questions impact your attractiveness to current and future employers.

You may not be going to war anytime soon, but you should be prepared on your own front.

The views expressed in my blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

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