Monthly Archives: May 2014

Are You Part of the Walking Dead at Work?

2014-05-28 12.45.34Employees—over the years—have come to my office to express their work-related concerns.  Though many of their gripes are legitimate problems needing HR’s attention, some aren’t so legitimate.  Some concerns—though couched in complaints about bosses or systems—are just symptoms of the employees not liking their work or being in the wrong positions.  And no amount of HR intervention in the world can help improve the situation.

Some companies have addressed this problem by paying employees to quit (Amazon, Adobe, Zappos).  But most companies endure this group of disengaged employees—whom I’ll call the walking dead.  They are the eight and skate folks who drag the company under with turtle performance and profit-snatching behaviors.

I’m not here to judge because my guess is that most of us have had positions in which we, too, were part of the walking dead.  Back in the day, we referred to it as being “burned out.”  If you’ve reached this point, you’re not only making yourself miserable; you’re likely not adding much value to your employer.

Maybe all you need is a nice long vacation—or maybe you just need different responsibilities or a new workspace.  A month-long break can do wonders for someone on the verge of calling it quits.  But maybe no amount of time away or shifting of responsibilities can change the way you feel about your job.

Ask yourself these questions to determine if this is true about you:

Do you start to become agitated and upset about work around 3pm on Sunday?

Do you stretch out your breaks and lunch as long as possible?

Do you need diversions—like food, strong coffee, and candy— to get you through the day?

Are you bored beyond belief? 

Do you fantasize about other types of work or another job for your entire shift? 

Do you feel repulsed from the moment you arrive to work? 

Do you sigh hard with each new assignment or every time the phone rings? 

Do you grumble under your breath during staff meetings?

If you answered yes to two or more of these questions, you might want to consider making your fantasy about new work a reality because you’re not doing yourself or your company any favors by sticking around.

Let me caution you, however.  If at all possible, even if you can afford it, keep your current job while looking for another.  You are twice as employable if you are already employed.  Plus, you won’t be as desperate and will therefore be less likely to take on work you don’t like again—a cycle I’ve seen way too many times.  I’m sure you’ve seen it, too, people going from one job they don’t like to another they hate even more.

But let’s say you can’t take another minute.  You pack up and leave today.  If this happens, start hunting for a new job now.  The shorter the gap between positions, the better opportunities you will have.  The better the opportunities, the happier you will be because you will have choices.

The important thing here is that it’s okay to quit an unsatisfying job.  It doesn’t indicate weakness.  In fact, if you know what you’re good at and what you’d really like to do and end up doing these things, you will once again walk among the living.

Big Dreams are Nothing Without Small Plans

I’m not a stranger to working to live rather than living to work.  I don’t think very many people are.  Most of us have had a job that just wasn’t our cup of tea, but we did the work in order to earn a paycheck and pay our bills.  I like thinking about all the jobs I’ve had in my life and how they led me to now.   In high school, I cleaned houses.  I’d ride around on my ten speed with all my cleaning supplies, looking a lot like that woman who stole Dorothy’s little dog in the Wizard of Oz, and earn as much as I could scrubbing toilets, mopping floors and dusting the type of curio those who can afford a housekeeper like to buy.

After that, I worked with developmentally disabled adults on and off for several years.  Meanwhile, I had a stint at modeling lingerie and was also a clerical worker for a temp agency.  I answered phones, typed up reports and filed documents.   In between, I entered data for a major health insurance company—one of the “blues.”  I can’t remember which one.  When I finally went back to college, I started a small entertainment event business and had about eight part-time employees.  I also read tarot cards, worked at a stained glass store, blew glass for one day and ultimately worked at the library.

In graduate school—though I was a Teaching Assistant and English composition instructor—I worked at Longs Drugs one particular summer and will never forget trying to match up the barcodes on the lipsticks to the sales flyers. Ugh.  I also served cocktails and waited tables.  Oh, I almost forgot about the summer I worked as a line cook.  Actually, I really loved that job.

And then I became a teacher and writer.  I also had a children’s theatre for a number of years.  And then I became a corporate trainer and curriculum designer. And then I became a Human Resources Manager.  And then I became an executive in Human Resources who writes and speaks about how to make the world a better place to work.  Now that I’m looking back at it all, it’s no wonder I’m obsessed with work.   Plus, I can honestly say, I now love to work because it doesn’t feel like work.  It feels like living.

All that said, I can recall a few of those jobs above that were simply the pits.  And when I say the pits, it could be the case that the job would have been fantastic for someone else; it just wasn’t for me.  Let’s take the data entry position.  I’m not a big fan of monotonous and tedious assignments. I can do it, sure, as I certainly pay attention to detail.  But, it’s not relaxing to me, as it is to others.  In fact, I remember being so unhappy and anxious during the eight-hour shifts, I felt like my brain was being pickled in a jar.  I would actually weep with joy at 5 o’clock, which never came around fast enough.

Incidentally, this was a great paying job with plenty of opportunity.  I just couldn’t hack it.  It was the only job I walked off of.  I remember the day.  I just got up, packed up my cubicle and walked out.  Before I left, I bought a Snickers from the vending machine and ate it on my drive home.  If I had been in a similar situation today, I probably wouldn’t be so quick to vamoose.  I’m a zillion times more responsible, for one.  For two, I have more bills and a family to support.  I would feel doomed to enter that data forever.

Sadly, I think that’s where a lot of workers are.  I can see it in their faces.  In light of our recent recession, I’ve seen it more and more.

But I’m telling you that you have options.  You are not trapped, and you can become your own personal life coach and develop your life brand so that you can work a job you love with people you like without undergoing financial ruin.  Believe that you are free to do what you love, and then commit to a practical plan in order to achieve your goalBig dreams are nothing without small plans.  And because our jobs make up a big chunk of our earthly existences, we’ll need to plot and plan in order to transform our lives.

I, personally, want a staff who wants to be there.  All business leaders do.  And I want to live in a community of healthy and happy individuals who whistle on their way into work, rather than grimace and groan.  I want innovation, and I want laughter.  Our society is a sophisticated one brimming with talented and intelligent folks. It’s time we free ourselves “from mental slavery,” as Bob Marley so aptly sang in his Redemption Song.  It’s time we start enjoying our daily existences. birdwindow

 

Weighing in on the SHRM Mayhem

Last week when SHRM announced its HR competency exam, upending current practices and startling both HCRI and current certificate holders, I was happily headed toward my son’s college graduation ceremony.  He’s just earned his BA; and when Pomp and Circumstances came over the speakers, I wept with pride, joy and a few emotions I didn’t even know I had.

Now that I’m back, I wonder if I would have felt the same way if he’d earned a certificate—especially a certificate that might be compromised by financial gain—as is the suspicion with the SHRM announcement.     And the answer is no.  I would have chucked up a “well done.”  Or maybe I would have said, “Good thing you studied.”  Emotions wouldn’t have come into play.  Certainly, I would have helped him update his resume, as this would have—in all honesty—been his sole reason for taking the expensive exam and earning the certificate.

Of course, after hearing about the changes, I did wonder if my profession was finally getting some respect, what with its own “competency model.”  But after a few seconds of wondering, I feel almost disrespected.  What other careers have “competency models?”  And does this indicate that before now we’ve been incompetent?

Though my undergraduate and graduate degrees aren’t in Human Resources, I strongly feel that my nine years spent at university prepared me more for my current position as HR Director more than any certificate prep program could.  And for those actually studying HR and getting degrees in HR, I would prefer your formal degree over a certificate if I were to hire you on my staff.

Ultimately, the real controversy here isn’t whether SHRM did HRCI wrong, it’s whether HR certificates are worth their salt.  Having toyed with the idea of getting a SPHR for years, I was finally dissuaded by my employer, who happens to like the fact that I challenge traditional HR operations—which I would do, incidentally, with or without the letters after my name.  Other companies feel the same way as my employer.  Netflix, for example, wants nothing to do with you if you have an SPHR.  That said, I know plenty of certified folks who are inventive and talented professionals and have undoubtedly done their fair share to bring HR into the 21st Century.

When it comes down to it, those I know who have the letters after their names chose to go through the expense, prep and exam because they wanted to secure an executive position in HR.  In short, it was all about the job hunt.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  I’m sure some will say they did it to become an expert in Human Resources.  Maybe that’s true for some.  Mostly, I think that people do it to have some sort of proof of this expertise.

Whatever the reasons, I personally wouldn’t hire someone into my department based on a certificate alone.  Also, it wouldn’t give them an edge over another candidate.  Now that we have some legitimacy and conflict of interest concerns, I might even question a certified candidate about his or her thoughts on the matter.  After all, HR is the gatekeeper of these sorts of things, right?

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Five Ways to Become More Likable

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Whether you’ll admit it or not, most of you care about whether you are liked by your co-workers.  It just makes life easier if you get along with the people you spend time with.  Plus, work gets done faster.  Though there will always be people who see the world differently than you, becoming more likable will not only make work easier and more fun, you will have better opportunities as you go forward in your career.

But can you really become more likable?  Sure.  Consider practicing the five techniques below.

1.   Like others. Generally speaking, if you like other people, they’ll like you back.  Even in the trickiest personalities, there’s usually at least one quality to like.  This “like” must be genuine, of course.  You can’t pretend to like others and get away with it for long. 

2.   Talk less. Listen more.  If you become a listener, an honest-to-god active listener, people will want to be around you.  Often, people think it’s the opposite.  They believe that the more they talk and share, the more people will like them.  Not true.  If you are interested in others, showing this through listening and asking questions will invite others to share more about themselves with you.  And they will like being around you because you make them feel good about themselves.  Aren’t you bored with your own stories, anyway?  And isn’t it fun to learn about others’ lives and aspirations.  

3.   Share.  What we learned in Kindergarten applies today.  If you want to be well liked, a spirit of generosity will help.  This is not to suggest you give away your money and belongings; I’m suggesting that if you have something to share—be it cookies or staples—share it.  If you have time to give, give it.  My mother, though she never had much money—is the most generous person I know.   I’m careful not to compliment her earrings or clothing because she’ll give them to me.  “Here, you like them, you can have them.”  If someone’s hungry, she’ll bake them a pie, using apples from her backyard tree.  Using scraps, she sews dolls for the neighborhood kids.  And if you need her, she’s there—she’s always there. 

4.   Be considerate.  This seems old-fashioned to some, but please and thank you go a long way.  So do things like helping others clean up after a meeting or event.  Small acts like pushing in your chair or filling up the paper in the copy machine go a long way, too.  What about holding the door open?  I’m not referring to men doing this for women; I’m saying we should all do this for everyone. 

5.   Be available.  It’s hard to like a mystery woman or man.  If no one knows you, and you don’t return phone calls or emails, how can people like you?  Be available, greet others, and be a positive force in your workplace.   

Three Simple Ways to Maintain Composure at Work

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Unless you work in some back room without anyone else around you or expecting much from you, you’ve undoubtedly had situations in which your composure was tested.  When I say “composure,” I’m talking about your ability to stay chill (I am writing this from an office in California) inside a hot box of stress and pressure.

I bet, like us all, you’ve snapped a time or two.  Or maybe you just out and out “lost it.”  Maybe you had a fit to end all fits and haven’t worked since.  You know, the “take this job and shove it” kind of deal.  I’ll never forget that story about the flight attendant on JetBlue.  Does anyone else remember how he grabbed a couple of beers and announced his resignation over the PA (not very politely, I might add) and then deployed the emergency chute and slid himself right out of a job?  Some people actually thought this was a great move and were cheering him on.  I didn’t.  See, I happen to think it’s a lot harder to stay composed during moments of adversity.  Here are three ways to keep from becoming like the unemployed flight attendant above.

1. Remember the big picture called life.  What’s happening in the moment won’t be  happening in the next moment.  And you’ll have plenty of better moments in the bigger picture called your life.  I might be having a stressful situation or confrontation, but I have lots of un-stressful and non-confrontational situations, too.  My life has had peaks and valleys, as most lives do.  So maybe you’re in a valley and way below sea level.  So what.  You won’t be forever.  Remember that your life is bigger than one moment.

2. Breathe and relax your tensed muscles.  I know I sound like a yogi.  I’m not, by the way.  I just know that I’m energetic and excitable, so I’ve had to learn physical methods to calm myself.  I breathe slowly in through my nose and out through my mouth at least five times, and I raise my shoulders toward my earlobes then drop them down until my neck and upper back are relaxed.  If you’re in a room with people, just focus on slowing your breathing and relax your jaw.  

3. Focus on a detail and the physical world around you.  If you’re about to lose it, you need to change your own subject and shift the focus away from what’s upsetting you.  Sometimes, I can just look at tree outside my office window, or I can count lines on paper or even the freckles on the back of my hand.  Whatever it takes and whatever’s available.  Focusing on something else will ground and calm you.  You are essentially engaging in the act of self-distraction. 

How to Develop Grace Under Pressure

Think of a stressful situation you’ve had at work and try to remember the actual feelings you enduredThat’s right, feelings.  Here are a few examples:  panic, anger, fear, anxiety, resentment, shame, helplessness, hopelessness and frustration.  The list goes on, but these are the standard.  And we don’t enjoy feeling any of them.  What’s more, we don’t enjoy the fact that these feelings—the ones we fight so hard to control at work—manifest into undesirable behaviors.  And it’s these behaviors that smash our ability to have grace under pressure. Let’s take each negative feeling and identify typical behaviors.  Afterwards, we’ll discuss ways to control them.

Panic.  Not being able to act or acting too quickly.  For example, you might become catatonic and still.  Or, you might run—literally or figuratively.

Anger. You might lash out and yell.  Or you might start crying.  You might slam a door and pack up your belongings.  Or you might engage in some sneaky passive aggressive behavior when no one’s looking.  You might go on a gossip tirade, ranting and raving to anyone within earshot.

Fear.  You might become silent and incapable of performing even the simplest task.   Or you might lie or hide information.  You might delete entire banks of emails.  You might go on an obsessive quest to mine information out of co-workers.

Anxiety.  Real anxiety comes in many shapes.  In the extreme, it can feel like you’re having a heart attack.  In milder forms, you can’t speak properly or articulately.  You make mistakes and become forgetful.  Accidents happen more often with anxiety-prone individuals.

Resentment.  Cruel and career-bending gossip can happen as well as outright insubordination.  Also, you might slip in gibes every so often or find yourself slow to do assigned work.  You become negative and unpleasant to be around.

Shame.  You find yourself avoiding others or hiding in your office.  Or you find yourself in a constant state of trying to make up for something, trying desperately to prove yourself worthy to others.

Helplessness.  Empowered employees take ownership of quality; helplessness breeds apathy and an inability to lead or follow.  You become quiet, reserved and do as little as possible.  You are not attached to the work and just want to get through the day without making waves.  You don’t think of new ideas and stick to what you know, whether it works or not.

Hopelessness.  You dread coming to work and drag your feet when completing tasks or assignments.  The days are depressing and long, and you give up on any projects that might move the company forward.

Frustration.  You lash out at your co-workers and supervisors.  You send nasty e-mails and can engage in sabotage. You vent to others and create a toxic environment, where nothing’s easy anymore.  Everything seems difficult and impossible to you.

Do any of these behaviors sound familiar? My guess is that we’ve all experienced more than one of them at work.  But in our efforts to make work a better place, we need to control these behaviors.  Understanding how emotions steer behaviors is our first step in having grace under pressure.  In fact, the only way to control our emotions is to control our behaviors.

If you’re experiencing any of the emotions above, first ask yourself what caused you to feel the emotion in the first place.  If you can identify the cause, it will help you manage the behaviors.

Event = Emotions = Unwanted Behavior

Event:  You didn’t get a promotion, and it was given to someone you felt was less qualified.

Emotions:  Resentment, Anger, Frustration

Behaviors:  You gossip, procrastinate on assigned work, cry and send a couple of nasty emails.

All your co-workers and supervisors see is the behavior.  They can only guess at the inciting event.  So it’s the behaviors you’ll have to curb.  Knowing your resentment, anger and frustration might result in these behaviors will allow you to have a voice in your head telling you not to engage in them.  In fact, try opposite positive behaviors in their place despite your emotions.  Try speaking highly about whomever you resent.  Try getting the work done faster.  Try laughing.  Try a few positive complimentary emails.  The opposite behaviors can often result in positive emotions and events—thus, reversing the cycle.

Behaviors = Emotions = Events

Behaviors:  You support others, complete to the highest quality assigned work, you radiate joy and positivity

Emotion:  Excitement for others’ accomplishments, happiness, enthusiasm

Event:  You get promotedaspire to inspire

How to Work with Tricky Personalities Without Losing Your Mind (or Your Job)

They’re everywhere, and you can’t change them.  You can complain to your supervisor or HR, but tricky personalities can only change themselves, just as you can only change yourself.

So what are your options, then, besides losing your mind or finding a new job?  Here are a few tips on how to handle difficult co-workers.

Control freaks.  First, don’t freak out.  I mean it.  Control freaks have a way of making the rest of us feel guilty.  Seriously, they’re trying to guilt us out.  They’re generally martyrs, taking on more work than needed, not trusting others to help out, on and on.  You’ll be leaving for the day, and they’re still in the office—a messy one, probably, because they usually have issues with organization and time management.   The best thing you can do is take a deep breath and leave.  You might have the urge to ask them if they need help.  Stop yourself.  They won’t take your help.  They’ll say something like, “It would take me longer to show you how to do it than to do it myself.”  You know the drill.  The only person who can help control freaks is their supervisor, who’ll need to examine their workload and divvy up tasks to others if indeed they’ve taken on too much.  Also, a good time-management course is always helpful.  Sometimes, a control freak needs to be reassigned to another position in order to have a fresh start with fresh projects. If you work with a CF, never linger in their offices to chat about anything that’s not work related.  Also, throw out a work-related compliment now and then, so they’ll start to gain confidence in their abilities.  These employees are typically insecure and are constantly trying to prove themselves.  Don’t ask who they’re trying to prove themselves to because no one knows.  They probably don’t even know.

Those who do just enough.  You might be staying late because someone else is doing just enough.  Rather than getting frustrated and gossiping about how lazy so and so is, just do the work.  I can tell you from experience that those who work hard generally get ahead.  So, if you’re saddled with extra work, welcome to life.  Even in school, teachers plunk kids into groups and expect them to work together.  Typically, one or two kids do all the work, and the rest goof off.  You can thank your teachers for doing this because it gives you a nice taste of reality.   But you can’t resent the goof-offs.  Actually, it’s an advantage to be you.  More work is like getting a plum role in a movie because it allows you an opportunity to shine.  And higher-ups do eventually notice, by the way.  Just take it in stride, and think of the “just enoughs” as less competition for that position in management you’ve always wanted.

Those who think there really is an “I” in team.  All for me and one for I! So, your best bet is to avoid projects with this person because they have no interest in working with anybody.  They are not collaborative and are therefore incapable of compromise.  But let’s say you’re forced to work with them.  Make sure to stay assertive with your ideas and document via email, etc. your contributions.  If a presentation is involved, volunteer to be the presenter—or even co-presenter.  Also, be vigilant when it comes to communication.  Stay involved and on your feet.  If there’s no need to collaborate, just let this person work on his team of one and avoid judging them.  However, be extra careful not to give this person any ammo.  Since they don’t care about anyone but themselves, you never want them to have something they can use against you.

Sneaks and secret squirrels.  When you don’t trust someone, your safest route is to trust this instinct of distrust.  Make sure to avoid emails that can be used against you as well as conversations behind closed doors.  But this is the person you want to be polite and civil with.  Being any other way is further reducing your ability to control the situation.

The debater.  This one’s easy.  Someone who likes to argue is looking for an opponent.  Simply avoid being one.  If they give an argument, don’t argue back.  Just say thank you and move on.

The person who likes to make things twice as hard as they should be.  I always try to listen for the valid points with this employee because they usually can help prevent troubleshooting later.  However, if you have a simple plan for executing an idea, make sure to write the 1, 2, 3s of how you will execute it.   Be prepared, is what I’m saying.  Absolutely prepared.  It’s hard to complicate a rock, which is what you should always bring to the table with this co-worker.  Say, “Here are the nuts and bolts, and here’s how we’ll get it done.”

The jerk.  This comes in so many different forms, but you know what a jerk is.  It’s the person who simply doesn’t understand professional behavior.  Or maybe they understand it and delight in torturing others.  The way to deal with this co-worker is to remember this:  “Don’t wrestle with a pig.  You’ll both end up covered in mud, but the pig will like it.”   That’s something my grandmother used to say, but I’m sure she didn’t make it up, as I’ve seen the same saying in different forms.  Another thing she used to say was, “Always take the high road in a flood.”  I’ll add that you should stick to the high road in dry times, too, because it will protect your reputation during the rainy season.  A solid reputation is difficult to harm.  If you have a reputation for being beyond reproach, then the jerk will have a hard time hurting you because no one will believe what he says about you.  No one.  And they’ll defend you, too.  Actually, your good reputation is your best shield against any offensive workplace personality, and building a solid one is your best protection against the tricky co-workers around you. 2014-04-12 16.49.41 (550x640)

Who’s Who in Difficult Personalities

Maybe you think you’re a breeze, a real picnic to work with.  Who?  Me?  Have a difficult personality?  Never.  It’s all those other folks who have the problem!  Or maybe you don difficult traits to protect yourself. Perhaps you think being difficult is necessary in your position of power.  You’re wrong on that.  Very wrong.

The fact is, I don’t think anyone’s perfect, including myself.  And we all have a few personality traits we need to tame at work.

But let’s list the who’s who in difficult personalities here, as these folks make for some un-fun co-workers.  Understanding their personalities helps you manage them.  And you do have to manage them even if you’re not their manager (heck, they might be your manager).  I always say it’s easy to say you get along with everyone when everyone’s easy to get along with.  It’s when you’re tested with the characters below when things become tricky.

The Control Freak

You’ll notice that she’s always busy and seems to have way more work than anyone else.  This is because she refuses to ask for help or delegate duties—mainly because she doesn’t think anyone can do it as well.  Still, she won’t hesitate to talk about how much work she does or how many hours she works—and she also likes to complain about how little everyone else does when, in fact, other people are probably just better at managing their time.

The Just Enough

The work gets done, but it’s just enough—he never goes above or beyond and looks for ways to avoid complicated projects or tasks.  At staff meetings, he stays quiet and never volunteers for extra duties.  Often he is paid as much as someone with twice the workload.  Work, to him, is drudgery to be endured.  He is disengaged and going through the motions in order to collect a paycheck.   He may be in the wrong line of work or may have a deep aversion to risk.  On the other hand, he might simply be afraid of failure.

The It’s All About Me

She jockeys for the best days off and shifts.  She’ll toss people under the bus without a thought if it will help her climb the ladder.  If she’s in a leadership position, she exclusively chums around with those at the top and refuses to acknowledge or even greet line-level employees.  If she is a line-level employee, she won’t give a thought to the team or the team’s needs.

The Sneak

No one knows what he’s doing.  He also believes that information is power, and he or she will refuse to share information unless forced to.  He takes matters into his own hands and makes decisions without consulting leadership.  He generally has no succession plan and believes that if no one knows his job, he’ll have security.

The I’ll Argue About the Color of the Sky

If the sky is blue, she’ll argue that it’s really green.  She’ll argue about anything, really.  You might need a simple question answered, and rather than answering, she piles on more questions and argues with you about something you weren’t prepared to talk about.  She likes to qualify everything she says with, “I hate to play devil’s advocate, here, but…” 

The Complicater

You have a plan.  It’s a simple and efficient, but in comes someone who feels the need to make the process as hard as possible.  Rather than untying knots, he ties the hardest knot possible.  What was once simple now seems impossible, and ideas end up hanging in the air with execution rare.

The Ass

Every workplace has one. Or two.  She’s inconsiderate and generally annoying.  She appears not to understand what an appropriate social interaction is and ploughs through the day clamoring about and creating a wake of sighs and irritation.  With her onslaught of outright rude behavior and bullish comments, she makes life hard in any business.

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The Nuts and Bolts of Conflict Resolution

Everyone has conflict, both at work and in our personal lives.  How well we resolve conflicts will determine how well we’ll do in our careers (and lives).  Let’s take a fictional conflict and apply the following tools in order to come up with a resolution.

Fictional Conflict:  Vince is manager of a petting zoo.  He has always served his four pot-belly pigs high-grade feed.  Recently, he was directed by the owner to cut costs on the feed for the animals due to budget constraints, and the fact that the zoo’s profits went down by 10%.  Vince sees that the pigs aren’t as healthy, as they’re sluggish—even for pigs—and their digestive systems aren’t regular.  Two of the pigs aren’t interested in being pet anymore and hide in the shed when the children come. 

You win.  I win.  This is going into any discussion without thinking someone is going to win and someone is going to lose.  This is making an effort to devise a resolution that will benefit everyone.  At work, you are not opponents.  You are not on separate teams.  To understand this better, think of those conversations you’ve had with those determined to “win.”  Their conversations generally involve a scowl and a “no.”  They don’t know how to have a conversation, actually.  They don’t listen and have their highways mapped out in their heads.

Vince and the owner need to come up with a different resolution that will be beneficial to the profits, the pigs and the zoo as a whole.  This could be that they find good homes for two of the pigs and resume the high quality feed for the others.  Or perhaps they find another area of the budget that can be shaved.

Turn problems into occasions for creative ideas.  Go off the grid with your resolutions, especially if you have differing goals.  You want one resolution, and they want another.  Coming up with a shared resolution that might not reflect either original resolution is a brilliant and successful way to resolve conflict.

Both the win-win outcomes above are occasions for creativity.  Perhaps when they look into other areas for cost savings, they find that they’re spending too much on the fencing and end up saving even more than they ever thought they could.  

Build rapport by listening and through empathy.  Some people don’t care about having rapport with people.  Or maybe they pick and choose who to have rapport with depending on how much that person can help their careers.  Building this involves two simple things.  First, become an active listener.  Whatever they say, paraphrase and repeat it back to them.  Ask questions that encourage them to explain more.  Conversing with empathy can be learned.  It’s the act of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.  Rather than cramming your agenda down someone’s throat, consider what they’re saying and how the problem is affecting them.

If both went in to the conversation with the intention of not budging, the owner would simply demand the manager continue with the cheap feed, saying that the pigs “will get used to it.”  And the manager might get emotional explaining how unhealthy the feed was for his pigs, demanding to go back to the higher-priced feed.  Neither would listen to each other, and the conversation would end badly.  However, if the owner truly listened and had empathy, and the manager listened and understood the constraints of funds, a creative solution would arise. 

Be properly assertive and focus on the problem not the person.  Focusing on the problem—never the person—and having strategies in place to solve the problem is the best way forward in mastering conflict resolution.

So, rather than the owner telling the manager he was too soft and cared about the animals too much, the owner needs to empathize with the plight of the pigs and understand how it affects his business.  The manager, on the other hand, shouldn’t think that the owner is a cold-hearted money grubber who’s a pig-hater.  Vince must understand that the zoo needs to make profits for any of the animals to have a good life. 

Consider cooperation a superpower.  Never go into these conversations thinking you’re going to overpower the other person.  Go into them wondering how much power the two of you can have together!

Once Vince and owner collaborate on the best way forward, coming up with a solution for the health of the pigs and the profits of the zoo, they have bonded and committed themselves to a better tomorrow.  If they continue to be at odds over the feed, they’ll quickly find other things that they are at odds on, disempowering them both.   

Check your emotions at the door.  You start life as one big ball of emotion and learn to control them as you grow up.  Controlling your emotions is one of the key indicators of being a grown up.  That is not to say that you’re dead inside.  It’s just that you know how to calm yourself in moments of stress or conflict.  You don’t cry.  You don’t yell.  You don’t get red in the face or pound your fist on the desk.  To effect change, emotions cannot be reactionary devices.

If Vince breaks down and then shouts passionately, claiming the owner doesn’t care about the health of his pigs, things won’t go well.  In fact, the owner will probably lose respect and faith in Vince as a manager.  If the owner shouts and yells that Vince loves the pigs more than he wants a job, Vince will probably be looking for another job, and he might take the pigs with him. 

Be open and understand your own biases.  Take a moment and list your own personal biases about any conflicts you may be having.  Sometimes they’re territorial—I wouldn’t do it that way!  Other times they are simply deep cultural biases you’ve been unable to hurdle.  Maybe you have issues with authority.  Face up to those issues.  Maybe you have issues with women or men.  Maybe you can’t stand the fact that your boss is younger than you.  Maybe your older boss seems too old fashioned, and you scorn her old fashioned ideas.  Maybe you’ve been burned and have trust issues in general.  Maybe you doubt yourself (the imposter syndrome) and think you’ll be discovered as a fraud—when you’re not.

Perhaps Vince loves animals more than people, and this is why he got into this business.  Maybe the owner is feeling money pressures due to both his children being in college.  Both will need to acknowledge their biases, so they can remain open to creative solutions. 

Be the Marco Polo of conflict resolution and map your way toward a better tomorrow.  Chart how the conflict developed and identify commonalities.  Define the conflict, and ask questions to reach a solid and achievable resolution.  Both parties need to commit to allowing each other to lay out their versions of the conflict and possible solutions while broadening their perspectives.  Occasionally, this requires a mediator, so that the conversation has “rules,’ and nothing heats up.

Vince must be prepared to discuss how the feed affects the pigs, and the owner must present the need for profits, if the zoo is to be successful at all.  As they lay out the events in order, they should come up with a shared goal:  to improve the zoo.  This goal should illicit many questions:  How to raise profits?  How to bring in customers?  How to best care for the animals inexpensively?  And the potential for creative solutions is high if composure is maintained and minds remain open.   

leadership assessments

Why Co-Workers Clash

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Everyone has a different way of seeing the world.  In fact, after a crime, when witnesses are asked to identify the perpetrator, their descriptions can be wildly different.  This is called the Rashomon effect—an expression describing at-odds memories of the same event by different people.   Some may say the criminal was a 6’4” white male in a green T-shirt; others might shave a foot off the height and have him in a red suit.  Really.

So why is this?  It’s because we’re all looking at the world from our own vantage point.  And no two vantage points are the same.  We each have distinct fingerprints, and we each have a different perspective based on our upbringing, cultural biases and experiences.  Even siblings have mostly different perspectives even though they were raised by the same parents in the same home with the same traditions, etc.

So it’s no wonder that we have to work to get along with co-workers we didn’t choose to work with.  I see things one way.  You see them another.  And unless I prioritize conflict resolution, cooperation and compromise, I’m going to be a pain in the rear to work with.

The problem is that we don’t prioritize these three Cs.  We prioritize the work at hand, which is what we’ve been hired to do, yes?

Everyone knows, however, that when there’s staff who don’t get along, it makes coming to work a trial.  So how can you change to make it a better and more productive working environment?

Conflict Resolution:  Learn to talk about work-related issues without making it personal.  It’s not as simple as that, but people often go for the jugular when it comes to what they perceive to be a problem at work.  And going for the jugular results in a bad and stormy atmosphere rife with gossip and ill will.

Cooperation:  If someone needs your help, give it.  If you need help, ask for it.  Also, acknowledge the other person’s perspective even if it differs from your own.

Compromise:  Some people stand their ground even when they’re wrong, and they can be bears to work with.  When you’re right, though, you would think the best way forward is to stand your ground no matter the consequences.  That’s not always the case.  Sometimes the consequences matter more than the ground you’re standing on, and the person who’s mastered the art of compromise will weigh both.