Insensitive, Divisive, or Self-Serving? Taking on Problem Behaviors | “You” Power

You experience them. You may even mention them–things that are done and said at work that aren’t right.513020382_756c859892_m

We don’t do our jobs in a vacuum. We have to interact with others. The attitudes and behaviors of our bosses, coworkers, and customers contribute to the culture of the workplace. They make it  consistently positive, negative, or a bit of both.

So what happens when you see and hear insensitive, divisive, or self-serving words and actions that don’t sit well with you? Do you:

  • Keep silent (a signal of consensus)?
  • Report it to the boss or HR for action?
  • Complain to coworkers who feel as you do?
  • Take action in your own way?

The power to affect change comes from within you. It takes a plan and committed, sustained action. The power of “you” can be formidable.

“You” Power

We often think that only management can fix what’s wrong with a company’s culture, even  when they’re a part of the problem.

We may think that sexism, bullying, antagonism between labor and management, and an everyone-for-themselves performance mentality are behaviors we have to learn to live with.

Sadly, that’s why these behaviors continue and escalate.

We all have positive role models we try to emulate. Now it’s our turn to be that positive example at work,  one day at a time.

We can each contribute to turning negative behaviors around by:

  • Becoming a conscience for what is right
  • Setting an example by what we say and do

It’s not for us to get on a soapbox necessarily, but simply to intervene, one-on-one in most cases, to call attention to a more positive way to communicate and act.

Consider personal objectives like these:

1. ) Increase awareness of language and actions that have overtones

When you hear language that’s sexist or ethnically insensitive, suggest a more appropriate  choice of words to the individual speaking or writing. Suggest that certain assignments be balanced between women and men.

In the hurry of the workplace, some coworkers may not be aware of the stereotypes they are promoting through their speech and assignments. Serving as a conscience has real power.

2.) Refuse to gossip

There’s always news that spreads throughout the workplace, but much of it can be hearsay, personal, undermining, and counterproductive. When we listen to or contribute to gossip, we become its agent.

Each time we decline to participate and offer our rationale for why, we influence one or more coworkers. That may lead to some to gossip about us, but it sets the right example, furthers your cause, and may also counteract some bullying.

3.) Discourage “us” v. “them” attitudes

Blaming can become rampant in organizations. It can target employees (us) versus management (them), employees in one group versus those in another, or you versus someone who, you believe, has made you look bad. Nothing good comes from blaming.

If you  believe in personal accountability, as I do, then you can wield personal power by always owning the outcomes of your work, being unwilling to enter into the blame game, and expecting others to also own their work. When they don’t, that’s an opportunity for you to raise their awareness.

4.) Quell complaining and venting

If coworkers know you will listen to their complaints, they will continue to unload on you. If, when they start, you say you’re too pressed for time to listen or call attention to what they did to create the issue, they will likely stop.

A great many complainers fill their days dumping their load on anyone who will listen. If you reduce their audience by one, others may follow suit.

A matter of time

 Making a difference takes time. The more ingrained the insensitive, divisive, and self-serving behavior, the more difficult it is to change. You have it in your power to influence other people. Whether it’s one or many, it just matters that you do what you can to have an affect.

Every action you take has the potential to inspire someone else to follow your lead or tap into their own “you” power. What could be better?

Photo from F-2 via Flickr

 

Invested in Your Job or Just Doing It? 7 Acts of Ownership | Embracing Crises

crisis 7836782464_fd003c0198_mSome days our jobs feel mundane. The work has become repetitive, our colleagues predictable, and our roles unchanging. Our don’t-rock-the-boat boss gives us less and less room to be creative or engaged beyond our daily tasks.

When this happens, it’s tempting to just put your nose to the grindstone, follow the job description to the letter, and lower your career expectations.

Deep down, you know this strategy isn’t good for you.

It’s your job, so work it.

Remember how important it was to get your job and the effort it took? Whether your job is one of a kind or one of many, it’s a specific area of the business that’s in your care. The way you perform matters.

If your job weren’t important, the company wouldn’t be willing to pay you for it. While your job description states the duties, you, personally, bring your standards, commitment, and honor to the work.

Recently, some terrible tragedies have been in the news. In the U.S., there was a devastating hurricane and an unfathomable mass shooting of elementary school children and their educators.

No first responder or school teacher has a job description that includes duties to perform when threats to human life fall upon him/her in enormous and unanticipated scale.

Most of us don’t have to face life and death situations in our jobs. But there are situations that we won’t/can’t tolerate–circumstances that call us to action.

It might be:

  • Bullying, bias, or discrimination of coworkers
  • Business decisions based on faulty or incomplete information
  • Product defects, known or suspected
  • Unsafe equipment or procedures
  • A sudden calamity in your work area, a stricken coworker, or destructive weather

When we’re faced with such situations, we discover how invested we are in our jobs based on the actions we take.

7 intervening actions

Owning our jobs in a crisis is not about being a hero or heroine. It’s about responding in ways that align our strengths and capabilities with  needs.

The teacher who steps in front of a gunman to protect her students and the first responder who wades through waist-deep water to save a life follow an inner drive compatible with the calling that drew them to their jobs.

We have a calling too. You may know today how far you would go to intervene in a crisis while others of us may not know until we’re in that crisis moment.

Here are 7 actions to consider. One or more may be what you’d be prepared to do:

  1. Step forward–Take charge; lead others; put fear aside and do what you believe is right
  2. Buy time–Deflect incoming negatives; implement stop-gap measures; negotiate options
  3. Steady the ship–Follow established procedures/protocols; create stability through regimen; reduce panic by reliance on routine
  4. Provide comfort–Keep a cool head; settle others using calm counsel; meet the emotional and physical needs of others; rally optimism
  5. Gather forces–Foster collaboration; collect and share input needed for decision-making; engage others able to help; create community
  6. Test solutions–Pilot test potential remedies; get feedback; fine-tune the fixes; build on successes; capture lessons learned
  7. Communicate relentlessly–Develop and deliver credible messages; keep everyone in the loop; listen and address questions/concerns; reduce the stress of not knowing

I’ve always felt like I owned the responsibilities stated or unstated in my jobs. If I saw a workplace injustice, I spoke up and then tried to do something about it. When people were upset about major workplace changes, I offered perspectives that would help ease the worry.

We all have some kind of help to offer in a crisis.

Embrace the moment

All crises are not created equal. No matter how big or small, when things go wrong, those affected are off-balance, fearful, uncertain, and even confused. That’s probably you too. But you have a chance to embrace the situation in your own way, using your skills and instincts to help fix things.

Please take a moment to think about your job and your investment it. What do you think you’d do in a crisis? I suspect it will be something very good.

Photo from mycos2012 via Flickr

The Art of Making Your Point–Avoid Getting Lost in the Sauce | Smart Communicating

Take a listen. There’s a lot of “noise” out there. Words fly around indiscriminately. We phone, we write, we text, and we post. We’re yak, yak, yakking, almost non-stop.

Communication is a discipline that has potent impacts on our careers. What we say and how we say it is an indicator of our:

  • grasp of business issues and objectives
  • commitments and loyalty to the team
  • ability to see beyond our own self-interest

We may want to think that some things we write or say at work will be taken with a grain of salt, but that would be naive for employees and bosses alike.

What’s the point?

It’s easy to get lost in the onslaught of information, data, and voices that pierce the quiet we need for clear thinking. When we do, we allow ourselves to get distracted from what really matters in our work.

If you want to stand out as a real asset in your career, you’ll get serious about zeroing in on bottom line messages that convert confusion into clarity.

The biggest complaint that leaders have about managers and employees in their organizations is that they don’t have a big picture perspective that drives their performance.

Whether or not you have that perspective shows up in what you communicate and how.

Consider these two scenarios:

1.) As the boss, you regularly communicate to your work group how you continue to track data on group and individual output compared to industry and national norms, assessing how effective the team is in terms of corporate goals and achievement. (Wow, that’s a mouthful!)

The boss gives no clearly stated reason for crunching all these numbers. As a result his/her manager and employees are left to draw conclusions about the boss like s/he:

  • Is a control freak
  • Doesn’t have enough to do
  • Wants the “mystery” around this data to drive employee performance
  • Is using this analysis to avoid leading
  • Has a secret plan for the future

It isn’t unusual for supervisors who are more comfortable with data than people to believe that gathering hard data will give them answers to otherwise “soft” problems. So they allow themselves to get lost in that sauce.

2.) As an employee, you’re asked to explain to your boss or colleagues what took place at a project meeting you attended as the group’s representative. Your explanation is about agenda items, who was there, what certain individuals said, what you said (if anything), and when the next meeting will be.

This kind of summary is essentially a data dump where the details and not the point of the meeting are what’s communicated. The result is perceptions that label you as:

  • Lost in the details and boring
  • Unable or unwilling to identify what mattered
  • Lacking in summarizing skills
  • A weak team representative

If, instead, you are able to separate the wheat from the chaff at that meeting, it is a sign that you do the same when it comes to your work. That’s how you build your communications credibility.

Look past yourself

Too much time spent in the sauce can drown a career. That means, to improve your communications effectiveness, you need to avoid:

  • Getting caught up in the details for detail’s sake
  • Getting lost in the drama of workplace relationships
  • Keeping book on what others have said or done
  • Keeping score on who’s got a leg up on whom

Refocus yourself so you can see how your work makes a difference, no matter how big or small, by:

  • Explaining your work in terms of its impact on the company
  • Offering your ideas as ways to improve things
  • Telling your boss/employees/coworkers about concepts and processes you’ve learned that can help the team
  • Summarizing the input and feedback swirling around and suggest actionable next steps

At work we all need someone who can turn the clutter of words into a clarity of understanding we can act on. So avoid getting lost in the sauce. Instead become the strainer!

Photo from Marken Phreely via Flickr

Leading Employees Who Don’t See Things Your Way | Handling Disagreement

Leadership is no cakewalk. It takes guts, resilience, clear-headedness, and sensitivity. Okay, it takes lots more too. But the real challenge for leaders is their employees. 

Each one has their own set of expectations. They want their leader to create a work environment that suits them by solving problems, removing obstacles, resolving conflicts, ensuring fairness, and minimizing disruptions. 

The harsh reality is: Every employee can’t have exactly what s/he wants. 

Disagreement triggers 

Like it or not, business needs trump employee wants. That can be hard to swallow if employees don’t understand the big picture their leaders see.  After all, a leader’s first responsibility is to keep the business going so we can keep our jobs. 

Savvy leaders anticipate decisions that trigger employee disagreement and are quick to defuse it. 

There are all kinds of causes for those disagreements: 

  • Someone else was promoted and they don’t understand why.
  • A work process was changed without their input.
  • Work was outsourced, threatening their job security. 

Even though, you, as the leader, didn’t necessarily create these situations, you are expected to own them. Remember: you are the company’s agent even while you’re an employee in your own right. (Hey, no one said this role was easy!) 

Leaders need to identify signs of employee disagreement before they become flashpoints by being alert to: 

  • Non-verbals: No eye contact, silence, avoidance, negative body language
  • Verbal barbs: “I don’t think that’s fair” or “That’s not my job”
  • Actions: Work slow-downs, huddled groups venting, non-compliance 

Resistance to new policies/processes, reorganizations, or increased performance expectations notoriously starts small and then takes on a life of its own. 

It’s tempting to ignore what might appear to be trivial employee disagreements. But they provide value insights that every leader needs to take seriously and reposition. 

When employees don’t see things your way, they act in either an overt or covert way. Some employees will be upfront and open about their disagreements; others will lie low and stoke the disenchantment of others. The leader needs to understand the root cause of these disagreements and tackle them head on. 

Defusing pushback 

Leaders tend to look at disagreements as pushback against their authority, which often isn’t the case. Too often, they are tempted to push back harder, using their organizational clout to make sure employees keep doing things “their” way. That only works for a short while and often makes matters worse.  

There’s real risk in failing to address employee disagreements like: 

  • Declining morale and motivation
  • Reduction in productivity and quality
  • Inability to enact change successfully 

Leaders of all stripes need to moderate employee disagreements, resolve legitimate issues, build understanding, and keep lines of communication open. 

When employees disagree, they want to be heard. Sometimes this is all they need, an opportunity to go on record with their point of view. Other times, it’s the starting point for ongoing dialogue, helping the employee and the leader to resolve the disagreement. 

Here are basic steps for conversations with employees who don’t see things the leader’s way: 

  • Understand the employee’s issue and its source
  • Ask what the employee wants changed
  • Be clear about your position and what you are able to give (if anything)
  • Be prepared to explain your/the company’s rationale in words the employee will understand
  • Confront the employee about their resistance (if any), its impacts and consequences
  • Summarize what’s been discussed and state the next steps each will take 

The leader is not always right and the employee wrong. Effective leaders get important insights when employees disagree. 

Take the high road 

Disagreements are important for business growth; they constitute feedback. It’s the way disagreements are handled that separates great leaders from mediocre ones. 

Opening yourself to employee viewpoints and inviting them is key. Not every point of employee disagreement is valid or doable, but each should be heard and considered. 

Photo from stuant63 via Flickr

Breaking the Ice—A Priceless Communication Initiative

Getting conversations started can sometimes be a challenge. It’s mostly when we don’t: 

  • Know someone well
  • Don’t want to say the wrong thing
  • Feel intimidated or awestruck
  • Are feeling self-conscious 

Being willing and able to talk to people is the centerpiece of a successful career and profitable business. 

We need to develop the ability to talk to all kinds of people under wildly different circumstances in an effective way. 

It can be difficult to start conversations with a boss, coworker, or customer who isn’t particularly willing or interested in talking with you. That’s when you need to break the ice. 

Why bother? 

It would be easy to just blow off folks that don’t want to talk. We might think it’s their loss, when, in fact, it’s more likely ours. 

When we get people to talk to us, we learn things. Often what we learn is unexpected—an inside look, a new perspective, an opportunity, or a tip. 

This week I had errands to run, so I made the rounds. Since I live in the country, I patronize local businesses. At each stop, I made a point to start a casual conversation with whoever was at the counter. 

Here’s what happened:

At the feed mill, I chit-chatted with the clerk about how my horse had a breathing disorder exacerbated by the pollen. She owned horses too and told me about a new dustless bedding product which I then bought. (Learned something new

Then I went to the butcher shop. The butcher’s wife, Susan, who works the counter, is generally cold and standoffish. The customer before me was a native Italian who owned the local pizzeria. He purchased three spleens. (Yep, spleens!) When he left, I asked Susan what anyone would use a spleen for and she answered, “I don’t know and I don’t want to know!” We had a good laugh. (Warmer relationship

The next stop was the bank. While the teller was doing the paperwork, I asked what was new in the neighborhood. She explained how several local teenagers had been apprehended after a series of robberies. She gave me details on the sting that nabbed them, information that wasn’t in the paper. (Insider information

Multiplier effect 

Ice can refreeze, so our initiatives to keep the ice open need to be ongoing. 

Think of the people you work with who try to keep you at arms length or are uncomfortable sharing their knowledge, points of view, or personal side. 

You do yourself and others a huge favor by making it easy for them to talk to you. It’s how you build bonds. 

These conversations help you figure out what’s really going on around you. By being an ice breaker, you discover that you will: 

  • Build a broader base of relationships
  • See things from different sides
  • Get a heads up when you need it
  • Feel gratitude and appreciation for and from your coworkers 

Early in my corporate career, I worked in marketing where I needed to procure a truck and a 32-foot trailer outfitted with interactive displays. Working with the purchasing department required jumping through a lot of procedural hoops held by agents being chomped on by managers across the company.

To purchasing, my project was small potatoes and I was a nobody. Russ was the agent assigned to handle my purchase, and I suspected this wasn’t something he was keen on. I asked to meet with him, so I could better understand what he was up against and what I could do to make it easier for him. That ice-breaker conversation created in an ally I could count on for the rest of my career there.   

Take the time 

The avenue of least resistance can turn into the highway to nowhere. Everyone has something of value to say. We just need to take the time to break the ice that’s in their way and ours. Now flourish your ice picks! 

Photo from elefevre7 via Flickr

An Employee Funk Rescue Tactic–Watch ‘Em Work. | Tailored Motivation

Motivating employees should be high on a supervisor’s to-do list. Too often, though, what’s tried falls flat.

Not every employee needs or wants:

  • A go-team pep talk
  • Artery-clogging donuts at staff meetings
  • Certificates for weekly productivity achievements
  • Public praise for a job well done (Many dread this)
  • Brown bag lunches with the boss

That said, employees do want and need reasons to stay motivated.

No easy formula 

One-size-fits-all motivational techniques either don’t work or don’t last. They assume that each employee works based on the same drivers.

Motivation is a function of aspiration. If you don’t know what your employees want from their careers, then you can’t tailor motivators to fit them.

There are two ways to figure out how to motivate employees:

  • Ask them what gets them energized to do more
  • Watch how they work, taking note of what gets them going or stalls them

Once you know what motivates each employee, tailor your actions to their needs.

Take mental snapshots of your employees when they’re in gear and when they’re not. Think about what you can do to help and then take action like in these scenarios:

1. Mary is a staff engineer in a mostly male work group. She gets bogged down in the details when given repetitive assignments but becomes highly engaged when working on a team. That changes, though, when she gets the notion that her ideas aren’t being fully considered. If that happens, she disengages and becomes despondent. 

Watching Mary work offers a clue to what motivates her—work that provides her with visibility and recognition. When those aspects are absent, she loses energy and interest. One remedy is to schedule opportunities for Mary to showcase the results of her routine work and periodically assign her to be a team leader. 

2. Brian is a crackerjack IT troubleshooter, interacting with coworkers at every level, answering user questions, fixing glitches, and installing new software. He’s considered humorless and indifferent by some, cavalier and impatient by others, only when the workload gets overwhelming and coworkers are impatient.

Observations of Brian reveal changes in him when under stress. Instead of coming across as energized and enthusiastic about providing these expert services as usual, he comes across as resentful. Just like us, Brian has a stress threshold that, when reached, brings out negative reactions and attitudes. To keep Brian motivated, his supervisor needs to keep tabs on his workload and the conditions driving it. A weekly conversation with Brian on ways to manage his workload can become a strong motivator.

3. Martha, a physical therapist, was promoted to manager of a hospital-based exercise center. Her responsibilities include scheduling, recordkeeping, supervising professional staff, equipment maintenance and purchases. Her workday is full but not always fulfilling. She often stops to watch wistfully the client care being given.

Martha was promoted because of her technical capabilities and commitment. She’s wired to do an exceptional job no matter what. Although motivated to excel as manager, she misses those one-on-one caring interactions that she left behind and very likely is concerned that her skills will erode. Her manager can fix this by scheduling Martha to fill in for physical therapists when they’re out or by assigning a limited number of clients to her schedule and delegating some administrative duties. 

The price paid 

Poor motivation is contagious. Other employees catch it easily. When it becomes epidemic, productivity and quality suffer.

Low motivation among employees is a drag on the collective energy of the work group. It gives employees an excuse for not giving their best effort, fully participating in teamwork, delivering on their commitments, and believing that they have a future with the organization.

Remember the last time you felt unmotivated? Did your supervisor help pull you out of it? That’s a big part of a supervisor’s job. It’s important to pay attention to the motivational needs of your employees and give each one the unique support they need. Time to get motivated to motivate.

Photo from KaiChanVong via Flickr

Grumbling About Work? Get Over It!

It’s become a pastime, a bit of on-the-job sport. Grumbling starts out innocently but can become all-consuming, taking on many forms like: 

  • Harping about the boss’s annoying habits
  • Whining about boring work
  • Complaining about your cubicle location
  • Obsessing over how long it might take to get promoted 

The more we grumble, the more we grumble. It’s not a cure for anything, but a perpetuator. 

Who’s guilty? 

All of us. Grumbling per se isn’t the issue. It’s whether or not we take it to extremes, letting it interfere with our path to success. Here’s how it can play out: 

Bosses complain about their employees: “Every quarter I fall short of my goals because my employees don’t care, especially Alyssa and Adam. I could tell them a hundred times how our production process works, and they’d still find a way to screw it up.”

Employees whine about their bosses: “My boss is a creep. Every time I say anything s/he cuts me off, acting like a pure know-it-all. I try to explain my idea or report on my work and get a snarky comment or a bored look. I’ll never get anywhere working for him/her.”

Employees grumble about each other: “I hate being on teams with Eric and Paula. They never contribute anything, making the meetings drag on with all their stupid comments and annoying questions. They’re nothing but a load, and I end up having to do their stuff so we wouldn’t miss the deadline.” 

Why do we do it? 

  1. We do it to vent our frustrations, believing that we’ll feel better afterward. Do we? Maybe for a short time, but serial venting doesn’t create lasting relief.
  2. Grumbling builds on-the-job community. Oh, the joy of shared grumbling! We enjoy a kind of validation when others are complaining about the same stuff that aggravates us.
  3. Complaining becomes habit. We can easily wire ourselves to see the downside of any situation, making our first reaction negative—the easy road.
  4. We just join in. When everyone is complaining, it’s a snap to pile on. Chances are we have our own tale of woe to add to the mix. When we do, we’ve become part of the chorus. 

Truth is: None of this is good for you.

 Where does it get you? 

Nowhere, actually. At first, it may seem like all this noise is somehow revealing useful insights about the workings of the company. That may be true for a bit, but after a time, it can actually blur reality. 

Grumbling can lead to career damaging behaviors like: 

  • Excuse making
  • Defeatism
  • Anger and anxiety
  • Declining self-image
  • Inaction 

The more you stay connected to negative perspectives about your boss, your coworkers, and the company, the more de-energized you become and the more inclined you are to under-produce. 

Get over it! 

If you’re in this pattern, it’s time to break it. If you’re not, here’s how to avoid it. 

You don’t need to crawl under your desk and avoid your colleagues. The solution is about managing your involvement. 

Believe me, I engaged in my share of grumbling about some of my bosses and company decisions I thought were ill-conceived. You just need to know when to “get over it” and move forward. 

Here are some suggestions when the grumbling starts: 

  • Weigh in, if you feel the need, but don’t belabor it (hey, you have work to do)
  • Articulate positive remedies like ways to deal with that boss who won’t listen and those teammates who don’t deliver
  • Mobilize the grumblers in an effort to affect a change that you’ll lead
  • Avoid complainers and seek out can-do colleagues as often as you can
  • Develop a serious career action plan for yourself and stay focused on it, positioning yourself to navigate around negativity and into solutions environments 

The business world is full of chronic complainers. You don’t need to be one of them. When you’re the one with the ever-present, can-do attitude, you’ll be reaping well-earned rewards.

Photo from VanessaO via Flickr