Yesterday, I conducted a “Positive Workplace” program for a large organization. I know what you might be thinking: either “Ugh, another one of those programs” or “Isn’t it enough that I work 50 hours a week? Do I have to be nice and ‘positive’ as well?”
I suspect the participants felt the same. I started off the program asking “How many people drive? How many people obey the speed limit ALL the time? How many people perceive the speed limit to be the speed limit plus 10 miles per hour over it?”
The point I was trying to make is that most of us consider ourselves to be law abiding and contributing members of society. And most of us also believe we are safe drivers. Yet, at one time or another, we violate the speed that is safest for ourselves and our fellow motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians. Likewise, while most of us perceive ourselves to be positive and productive colleagues, all of us need reminders.
Next, I asked if anyone had ever experienced a time when they felt that their values were being violated in the workplace. Up popped a hand, in record time.
Dorothy said, “Before I came here, in the place where I used to work, when a spider or an ant was on someone’s desk, they killed it! They didn’t take the time or effort to return it to nature. They just killed it! They killed one of God’s creatures and they felt no remorse. I had to leave that place.”
So, I have to tell you, I am of the spider, ant and fly squashing camp. My only consideration is trying not to leave bug juice on the wall when swatting. It was an effort, a lot of effort, to hide my surprise.
But, through Dorothy’s experience, I was reminded that each of us has different values and standards of what is appropriate at the workplace. Likewise, it’s in everyone’s best interest to create workplaces where differing values are respected.
When a colleague tells you that your jokes are offensive, your pranks feel like bullying or your music is too loud, find compassion, understanding and a middle ground. It takes courage to speak up and those that voice their needs deserve to be heard.
Yes, those that speak up need to be heard and we create better workplaces when we hear them.
I was driving my daughter Katie when she was about six years old. Along the way — with a facial expression that communicated “I am very upset” — she exclaimed, “Why are you drinking that?”
It was true that in the afternoons, when I was feeling exhausted, I sometimes drank Coca-Cola. It would give me a much-needed boost to make it through the remainder of the day. It was hard juggling a career, three kids, and a busy household. I explained to Katie that although the sugared and caffeinated drink was not healthy, it was helpful so that I could drive safely. I felt guilty, but what else could I say?
I could tell that my answer didn’t win her over. Since Katie was my third child, and since I work with employees who are often unhappy, I admit that I was accustomed to giving unsatisfactory answers. I didn’t think much more about it.
A few days later, I brewed a cup of my favorite herbal tea, Bengal Spice, and savored the strong cinnamon aroma. I was looking forward to sipping it on the way to a client’s office. Before backing out of the driveway, I carefully placed my 16-ounce white thermal mug in the cup holder and put on my seat belt.
Katie, from the backseat, piped up, “Why did you bring that in the car?”
It was rather full indeed, and perhaps I had made a mistake in not taking time to find a lid. After all, it was likely that some of it would spill, but with 16 ounces I would still have plenty to drink. Plus the car was getting older, and it was nothing that a Clorox wipe couldn’t handle.
I told Katie that if it spilled, we had wipes and I would clean it up. In the meantime, I was enjoying the scent filling the car. Katie was not pleased with my response, and I was not pleased with her policing the condition of my car. She got out of the car and headed in to school with an attitude.
We didn’t even make it a few days more when I got in the car with an open can of seltzer. This time, Katie, on the verge of tears blurted, “Mom! Why do you keep drinking and driving?”
Finally, a light bulb went off. “Angel,” I said, “What have you been taught about drinking and driving?”
Katie shared with me that she had learned that drinking and driving causes accidents and lost lives. That was about all she knew as a six year old. I gave Katie a mini-lesson on alcohol and its effects. As you can imagine, we both felt great relief after our chat.
Clearly, Katie and I had been miscommunicating and upsetting one another for days. But it wasn’t just because Katie was a young child that the miscommunication occurred. Miscommunication happens in offices, in meetings, in cubicles, all day, every day.
Last week I was coaching a senior leader, Paul, in a government agency when he explained his version of a new department initiative. Paul saw it as a way to further develop his team, to challenge one of his star employees with a stretch assignment, and to uncover some personnel issues that were previously obscured. I left the meeting thinking it was a brilliant move for all concerned.
Within hours, I was working with the director, Sandy, whom the new initiative would impact most significantly. Sandy was furious! She was certain she was being “picked on” due to her lack of tenure with the agency and because she was an over-achiever. She felt that she was being given “the impossible team” to manage, and that her director did not want her to succeed because he hated women. She was headed straight to her EEO office to file a grievance, but luckily she ran into her friend Diane in the hall.
Diane truly was a good friend because after she validated Sandy’s feelings, she encouraged her to stop and think before she went to EEO. Diane encouraged Sandy to wait a few days and calm down and then go back and talk to Paul and share her feelings. Sandy did that and Paul was willing to put his own agenda aside and listen. After a couple of talks and brainstorming, the two decided that white papers coming from that office would have her name which would give her the recognition she deserved. It was a classic example of how communication, coupled with openness and brainstorming, can change perception.
Sometimes, employers and their employees have different intentions. Other times, it’s simple miscommunication. Usually, it’s a bit of both.
I can’t say that I am proud of the way I brushed off Katie and her concerns all those years ago. In our work groups and in our families, when we can see that someone is upset, it serves us and our organizations well to take the time to probe and hear, really hear, the other points of view.
Please take the time to share with me one of your examples of miscommunication, and with autumn upon us, treat yourself to a warm cup of aromatic tea.
|My husband and I had the pleasure of taking our daughter, Katie, on college tours last week. The campuses were lovely with both young adults and spring flowers sprouting and growing.
And yes, we are one of those families that actually sits through the tours and listens to their advice. One of the Admissions Deans shared that admissions officers desire grades improving during the high school years in an upward trajectory, though sometimes that is not the case. He continued, telling the students, if your grades take a dip, just tell us “why”. He said that the students may have had a long illness or perhaps their parents divorced, or a beloved grandparent died…any number of things could have happened that the admissions team would want to know.
He continued by saying, “Explain, but don’t complain.”
That applies to many of my coaching clients, I thought. They need to “Explain, but not complain.” Sometimes my clients feel puzzled about what to do when a project they are working on is over budget, or won’t be completed by the deadline. They realize the problem, but they don’t want to tell their superiors “just yet.” They put off reporting for months, the problem continues to worsen, and when their superiors learn about it, they are furious.
Other clients are unsure about what to say when a colleague, or two or even three, aren’t pulling their weight.
As a responsible employee, it’s imperative to let colleagues, and especially superiors, know when things are going awry. It’s not a matter of “if” they should be told, but more a matter of “how.” That’s when “explain, but don’t complain” is so valuable. Practicing explaining the situation without even a hint of complaint is what will make you a shining star in your work place. It’s how high school seniors are being taught to write and it’s valuable at work too.
My very first manager at Bay State Junior College used to say, “Come with the problem and at least one solution.” So, that would be “explain, don’t complain and then problem solve” … but that’s not nearly as catchy.
For my readers, first person to come up with a rhyming phrase to integrate “come with a solution” with “explain, don’t complain,” will win a prize.
And even if you don’t win a prize, the ability to explain without complaint or blame will take you very far during your college essays, your first job and all other endeavors.