At some point, we all have what my now
18-year-old daughter liked to call “stinky-poo days.” It’s an amusing way of recognizing that sometimes you just have to get over yourself and deal with the circumstances at hand.
In fact, my epic stinky-poo day involved my daughter, that eloquent word-master, when she was just six-months old. It was September 1999 and I was slated to speak to a group of 35 people in New York City. Unfortunately, Hurricane Floyd was also planning a visit to the area. So, even though my breastfeeding daughter usually accompanied me on my engagements, my husband and I decided that I would leave behind some milk and she would sit this one out.
I showed up at the event to an audience of one. We were soon informed that a state of emergency had been declared. So I, and what seemed like the rest of the city, arrived at Penn Station to get the heck out of Dodge. We were stuck there for hours. And while my husband and daughter were prepared for me to be gone all day, my breasts were not! I had to find a way to relieve the situation (my trusty pump), but I needed somewhere to plug it in and, obviously I needed some privacy.
As it turns out, Penn Station’s restrooms do not have outlets. So, I approached a policeman whose only suggestion was that I go to a hospital. Not keen on that idea, I did the only thing I could. I gathered in the waiting area with all the other professionals who were catching up on their work. And instead of pulling out a laptop, I started up my breast pump and covered myself the best I could in my black coat. Now, if you’ve ever been around cows at milking time, you know that pumping is not a silent endeavor! I saw many a quizzical face searching for the source of that “whirr-whirr-whirr” sound. But, I just kept a straight face and breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Finally, we boarded a train and I was engaged in a pleasant conversation with my seatmate when our train came to a halt. We were stopped at a bridge, waiting for the wind to settle down. We waited and waited, and it became evident that we would be waiting a long time.
It was clear that I was not going to make it home without another pumping session. Thankfully, there was an outlet at my seat, but there was the matter of the gentleman beside me. I sheepishly told him my situation, and frankly, he couldn’t get away from me fast enough. Again, I put my black coat into service and, again, that “whirr-whirr-whirr” caused a lot of puzzled glances.
So, what did I learn from my stinky-poo day? Life and business throw us curve balls. We have no choice but to quickly adapt to the situation at hand. Those with the most resilience tend to have the most success in their work. Sometimes you just have to do what the day asks of you — and never underestimate the versatility of a black coat.
You can’t improve if you don’t know what you’re doing wrong. Makes sense, doesn’t it? In reality, many of us complain about underachieving co-workers, but don’t give them the type of feedback they need to do their jobs better.
Let me give you an example: Several years ago, I was the training director for a regional bank. Our assistant, Keri, was an efficiency wiz. Her grammar was impeccable and when she proofed a document, she not only made corrections (in red), she made stylistic suggestions (in yellow) that improved documents tremendously.
Keri handled the workload of six vice-presidents with time to spare, whereas our previous assistant had always been behind. She revamped our filing system (yes, they were paper files back then!), cross-referencing everything, without being asked.
You’re thinking, “What a joy!” right? Wrong!
Within a few months, it became clear that no one liked Keri. All six VPs were avoiding her, and she was being left out of meetings because no one wanted to deal with her.
Roger, one of the VPs, tried to give Keri feedback. He told her that she was grumpy. “You would be grumpy too,” she nearly screamed, “if you were up all night with a toddler, had to get up at 5:30am to get her to daycare, and your life was nothing more than drudgery!”
Well, that was the end of Roger giving her feedback.
We decided Keri needed a performance improvement plan, but what would we write? She was so talented and efficient. My colleague, Laurel, said she would take Keri on as her project and see how she could help.
Laurel asked what specifically Keri did that annoyed us. What made her grumpy?
We weren’t sure. We talked about it for a few minutes. Finally, Juan said, “I don’t like that she grunts when I walk in each morning.”
“I thought she only did that to me,” Gary said. “I think it’s because she’s focused on what she’s working on,” said Bea.
Laurel scheduled a meeting with Keri. She said simply, “In the morning, when each person arrives, please look up from your work and say any polite version of good morning.”
Keri turned red. “It rarely is a good morning!” she exclaimed. “I don’t want to stop what I’m doing. It’s not in my job description.”
Laurel responded calmly, “You are the first person your colleagues and our visitors see each day. It is important that we create a positive work environment. If you would like, we can modify your job description to include greeting your colleagues and visitors professionally.”
The next morning, Keri grumbled a greeting as people entered the office.
Many of us greeted her back and smiled. Each day her greeting seemed a tiny bit more sincere.
At the next staff meeting, everyone mentioned the difference. Laurel said, “Next we will work on asking Keri to keep us updated on her status on our projects.”
Within a year, Keri applied for a role as an entry-level consultant-a position that was a much better match for her considerable abilities. We were able to give her excellent recommendations and she got the job!
So what made the difference between Roger’s and Laurel’s approaches? Lauren modeled direct, supportive feedback.
How can you use direct feedback? Is there someone in your office who is awesome? How so?
Someone lazy? What are the actual behaviors of laziness?
Give us a call if you are having trouble isolating the behaviors, and we can help you figure it out. The more specific, the more terrific!
Pay No Attention to the Pink Elephant.
At a recent retreat of senior-level managers, we started the day with a yoga session. What a positive way to open a meeting, don’t you think?
The instructor arrived early, set up the room, and greeted the participants as we entered. We were doing the initial breathing exercises when she said, “Forget about all the emails piling up in your inbox. If you’re worried about what might happen later in the retreat, let that go.”
Her intention was exactly the opposite of the outcome! When we tell our minds what not to think about, that’s pretty much all we can think about. The experience reminded me of a coach that I had who was keen on neuro-linguistic programming. This coach often says wittily, “Forget about the big pink elephant with white spots.” Well, of course, what do you imagine we think about whenever she says this? Did you picture a pink elephant with white spots, just from reading this? It’s impossible not to think about what’s being described, even if only for a split second.
This is a valuable lesson for coaching employees and for improving performance. Rather than telling employees what not to do, tell them what to do. For example, instead of saying, “Don’t turn in the report late again,” ask, “How will you meet the March 15 deadline?” Instead of saying, “Don’t be cranky with the customers,” say, “Think what this customer means to our business and greet her with a smile.”
It’s a small adjustment, yet it will reap elephant-sized results.