January 20, 2022No Comments

Don’t Tell Me: The Rebellious Need for an Employee Handbook

What is it about rules that just rub many of us the wrong way? The idea of someone or some institution telling me what to do is akin to sandpaper on skin. It’s not good. As a young, obedient boy, I spent most days doing what I was supposed to do. I followed the rules. I didn’t like the idea of being outside of the lines. Once high school hit, I pushed those lines in more reasonable ways, but still not way out of the park. And then there was college…I pushed hard against rules and rule-makers. I was sick of it. In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, pushing against the status quo is a core movie plotline. Seniors in high school breaking rules, trying to corrupt younger students and taking risks beyond their ability to rebound make up a large part of the drama. The consequences are realized with plenty of fights, heartbreak and depression throughout. And while our workforce is not a teen drama, we may have some of those rebellious, angst-ridden new hires who want to buck up against those rules, i.e., the handbook. You know, the handbook. That dreaded document that our attorneys and liability insurance carriers require us to have (some of you are also those rebellious employees who won’t do the handbook because those entities are telling you to do it).

It’s necessary. There, I said it. It’s necessary. However, the premise for its existence needs to be shared better with the teams receiving it. It’s a both/and document. How so? It’s both a compliance/employee guideline document as well as a deliberate view of the organization’s hustle and flow.

For any organization, there are federal, state and local laws that have to be shared with our employees. Our teams need to know what rights they have and what access to resources are available. They need to know where to go when things are great, terrible or awkward. They need to know how to activate the benefits that are part of their employment. They need to know about the employee experience at your organization.

And while there are components of the handbook where the language is prescribed by law (not leaving much room for creative writing), there are other opportunities for an organization to give insight into their vibe. Are you including a welcome to the company? How about including the mission, vision and values of the organization? Are there messages from leadership throughout? Think creatively as to how you can offer employees a context into what the organization is like.

Handbooks may not be the most appealing part of HR, but it is a guidebook for the team. Because of that, the team has another resource at its fingertips. Should they really have to call one, two or five people to find out how the PTO policy works? Should they have to wait until business hours if they want to see the policy on taking leave? Let your team have the resources needed to find out the answers to their questions whenever they’d like.

An employee handbook is a way to offer corporate perspective and a respect of the rights of employees. Even your most rebellious employee will appreciate a level of self-sufficiency and independent access to this guidebook. If staff think it’s just a book of rules, start to change that dialogue. Share the heartbeat of the handbook in orientation,

touch on points of it in weekly meetings and refer to its resourcefulness through other company outlets and platforms. Keep it updated and relevant to your team. After all, “Things change. And friends leave. Life doesn't stop for anybody.”

Madonna - Don't Tell Me (Official Video)

You're watching the official music video for "Don't Tell Me" from Madonna's album 'Music' released on Warner Bros. in 2000. Buy/Stream the 'Music' album here...

January 5, 20223 Comments

Me: Taking Perks to a Specialized Level

“The perks, baby. What about the perks?” Ah, just love those candidate questions during an interview. Yes, that’s verbatim from an interview I had some years back. I understand the desire for perks. I like to have them myself. But what perks are the perks to percolate? (See what I did there?) It’s bound to be different for different organizations filled with a varied population.

When Fern (Frances McDormand) takes her role as a temporary employee at Amazon, one of the perks is the lot rental for her RV. Now while a lot fee being paid for by your company may not seem like a desired perk, it is for those whose daily lives are connected to their RV. Nomadland was a film inclusive of a few uncommon perks for workers while it showcased the geographic subculture of RV living. For the nomads involved, those perks meant so much.

When companies in metropolitan areas offer commuter benefits to employees, they are often influenced by law much more so than by having an eye towards the needs of their team. Mandated perks aren’t perks of the company; they are entitlements legislated by local officials. Think about health benefits. If your organization has 50 or more Full Time Equivalents working and it’s offering medical benefits, they are doing so out of compliance to the Affordable Care Act. They must provide the option.

That’s why in today’s market, candidates are looking for the extras. The extras often tell them about the values of the company without having to read the values of the company. If a company has an option for life insurance, pet insurance, adoption support, student loan repayment or one of many other creative options, that may be an indicator as to what a company cares about or is like. It is not the only way to understand an organization; it is a way.

Is your organization open to specialized perks? With the difficulty in finding qualified candidates for open roles as well as the roller coaster of the COVID pandemic, businesses have every reason to be creative in perks. Think about what might matter to your staff. In addition to considering those things, ask your team. It’s ok. You can ask them.

Some business owners and executives get a bit nervous about surveying or asking employees about desired perks. The worry is that if we ask and don’t deliver them, they’ll become disgruntled and disengaged. Yes, that could happen, but the way to best handle that is the upfront context. Let the team know there can’t be a guarantee that the things shared will be implemented. Part of the information will assist in future spend and budget planning, but part of it may influence picking one perk that can be offered sooner. You should be ready to do something, but not everything. There is a difference. It’s not an all or nothing setup as long as you really set it up.

There is no way anyone can know what everyone would consider a perk. For some, it’s an extra day of PTO. For some, it’s an expanded EAP. For others still, it could be daycare cost assistance. It can vary based on preference, season of life and interest. This is an opportunity to be creative and considerate simultaneously.

Oh, what happened with the candidate who wanted to know about the perks? He wound up being the candidate we offered a role to which he accepted. He then excelled at his work and entered the management training track where he built a talented team that upped performance by 16% for the department. The perk he liked best? A covered parking spot. He didn’t want rain to hit his car, baby.

December 21, 20216 Comments

Have a Heart: Understanding that a Label isn’t a Solution. It’s a Barrier

With a heart two sizes too small, the Grinch struggles to understand Christmas. There were other theories that Dr. Seuss offered, “But, whatever the reason, his heart or his shoes, he stood there on Christmas Eve hating the Whos, staring down from his cave with a sour, Grinchy frown at the warm lighted windows below in their town.” Hating…rough.

We would be remiss to not identify the truth for many this holiday season, which is that it’s not happy, merry nor bright. Whether Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa or Festivus, it’s not celebratory. There are plenty who cannot see family for a second year in a row due to the pandemic and its related travel restrictions. There are those who do not have others with whom to rejoice; yes, that still happens. With a socially distant existence for many, relationships have suffered. It may not be true for you, but that does not make it so for others.

On more than one occasion, I have heard one person refer to another as a “Grinch.” We are desperate to label. If you don’t fit into the paradigm I want, then I must find a way to categorize you. Truth be told, most labeling is about the labeler feeling better/authoritative/powerful over another. We label to bring ourselves some faux sense of position to quell the unsettled churning within us. Too broad? Think about it in your own life.

When we find out the story behind why someone is responding as a Grinch, we may have the opportunity to jump into action as an advocate rather than as a bully. It’s our A-B testing. Once a valid story is heard and mildly verified, we decide to keep name-calling or to assist in making the holidays better for that person.

Many moons ago, there was a manager who was a curmudgeon during the holidays. Mind you, this was a retail setting which gave everyone working there a reason to loathe the holidays, but this person was exceptional at being unhappy. People gossiped about him and what size pole must have been inserted during his childhood. When I had an off-handed opportunity to chat with him while we were handling a stockroom issue, he shared that the holidays made him miss his mom greatly and he didn’t like being reminded about Christmas all day every day at work. He was skilled in the core components of his job, but the environment, at least seasonally, drove him inward. When I encouraged him to try to enjoy those still with him today while affirming the beautiful memories he had of his mom, tears filled his eyes. He didn’t want to feel like this. As a hugger, I embraced him, and he melted into a puddle.

I became an advocate for him and would not allow others to minimize him. Was he a Grinch? Perhaps, but he had a reason. And it was not a reason unlike what some others face. At the time, I was young in my profession and did not know enough about mental health and support, but I knew enough to care for someone hurting. Today, there are more resources available to those needing support. And we can offer them without the need to label anyone.

Bonnie Raitt - Have A Heart

Bonnie Raitt - Have A Heart

December 13, 20214 Comments

Rock Lobster: Combining Innovative Ideas into a Business Offering

The first time I heard “Rock Lobster” by The B52s, it was a cathartic experience. I had not heard sounds like that before. I had not heard sounds put together like that before. I found these four people speaking a language to me that I was unaware I knew how to speak. They defined a creative genre for me that I still listen to today. 

Creativity is a business imperative, and it’s not going to change anytime soon. Percolating ideas has often been encouraged in our business environment. We’ve been encouraged for years to ideate and to foster innovative work time for our staff. How often have you brought those people together to consider their ideas as a combination or layered approach? 

Do you remember the old Reese’s Peanut Cup commercials? “You got your chocolate in my peanut butter!” “You got your peanut butter on my chocolate!” And we are led to think that this fortuitous accident led to the best chocolate candy ever made (not my view, but what I have been told). Look within your company – Where is there a Reese’s product waiting to be born? 

When Amazon initiated ideation time within their organization, separate ideas around improved delivery experience, logistics streamlining, and inventory controls were happening. Creative approaches to each of those areas led to cost considerations as well as concierge service value proposition (What would it be worth to a consumer to have delivery control?). Once those creative approaches were brought into the same room, Prime was born.  

Various departments at Amazon were brought together. The red tape was cut. Bravado and positioning were laid aside. The freedom to be creative and collaborative was real, not just a value listed on the wall. If your organization is to venture more deliberately into shared creativity, the rub is usually the politics, not the innovation. Is your environment one of “keeping your toys” or distrust? If so, don’t launch this idea until you address that. 

From a viewpoint standpoint, the business culture we’re in right now is the most opportunistic. Many organizations have more people working for them who live in other parts of the world due to the opportunity for remote work. These last two years, while difficult in a variety of ways, have allowed for new perspectives and experiences to be offered. Life in Pakistan is different than life in Poughkeepsie, but for the first time, you may have employees working together from both locations. That is gold for ideation. 

Lead through those new environments. Bring resources and people together with ideas they’ve already been encouraged to work on. Allow those Zoom Happy Hours be more productive! Use breakout rooms to foster a dynamic problem-solving session. Whiteboards can be real or virtual; use both! Enable resources to bring the creativity necessary for business growth, relevance and opportunity. That is part of a leader’s role. 

It can’t be just an idea; it must be activated. Your organization needs this to happen. So, get some peanut butter and chocolate and get going.  

November 23, 202168 Comments

I Ran: Stepping into Developing Others and Walking Away from Territorialism

The idea of developing people is a profoundly appealing desire. No matter the background, people like the opportunity to share what they know with someone else. We get immense value from being a resource, some help, an information leader to those around us. We do. And yes, we don’t always feel like being this or doing it, but in the grand scheme of it all, we like it.

A few years ago, Steve Farber wrote an article for Inc where he shared ideas about improving your life by giving things away. Sounds reasonable. I mean, do I really need to take that unopened electric skillet with me on another move? But Steve did not only focus on stuff, but the intangibles as well.

It's perfectly natural to worry about your turf, your ideas, and your position in the world. Of course, you don't want to give away all your successful techniques and habits. But if you do, you will find that you have gained, not lost, in the exchange.

Notice that he zeroed in on “want.” You may not want to give away those secret sauce tricks, but by doing so, you’ve increased the opportunity for others to succeed. You’ve, also, increased the innovation curve. Building upon the strides you’ve made is a business imperative. Think about the history of your techniques. Were they 100% original? Not likely. They were built upon someone else’s efforts, expanded upon and developed further. That’s a good thing. Now, let someone else do the same with what you’ve done.

If we’re serious about developing others, then we must accept giving things away. And at the heart of it all is an understanding that I don’t need to own it all. It’s all been a gift to me and it’s my joy to hand it off to the next crop of curious minds. Can you get behind that philosophy?

Some of you have been burned. Yes, it’s true. Either you’ve tried to give away what you know, and it’s been rejected by the audience you had. I’m sorry for that, truly. It’s a shot to the esteem to have what ought to be willing recipients turn out to be critical doubters. The call to action, however, ought not to be forgotten; it’s just that you had the wrong people to develop. They didn’t want it, fine…now find those that do. They’re there. Look for them.

On the other hand, some of those burned may have suffered by systematic changes. What you’ve done is obsolete. Technology or process improvement may be occurring at the same time you’re ready to give away what you know. And now what you know isn’t so great. May I say that’s not true. The advancements have come off the back of the truths you’ve been living and performing. Let not the history of evolution in work be lost. Your connection to the story is incredibly important to the development of others. They need to know that where you start may not be where you end up – as a process, as a procedure or as a person.

McFarland, USA, tells the story of a coach who didn’t want to invest in the role that he had with the students he had in the location he was working. He was unhappy. But when he caught a glimpse of the talent to be developed, his willingness changed. He got involved, very involved. His passion then motivated the students who took what he taught them and exceeded his expectations. That’s the beauty of developing others. It’s often better than you could envision. You just have to be willing to do it.

November 8, 2021181 Comments

Get Back: Finding Common Ground to Push Meeting Goals

Common ground is a viable tactic in relational development and advancement. Whether just meeting someone or working to deepen an existing relationship, areas of commonality help. I can remember sharing a locker in 7th grade with one of the tougher guys in the school. Now, shocking as this may be, I was not considered as tough. I didn’t tip the scales that way at all. So, when we were going to share a locker, I thought, “well, here we go. Getting stuffed into a locker might not be as bad as I think.” A couple of weeks later, when I pulled out a bottle of vodka from the top portion of the locker as I searched for a textbook needed, I knew that this assigned relationship might be a strain. As I worked up the courage to speak to my locker buddy about my find, and my concern about getting caught, he was gracious and kind. He shared that he understood and probably shouldn’t have brought that into school. He was kind, but more so, we found common ground.

You see, he couldn’t afford to get into trouble. He had been in enough of it. He would have to explain at home, again, why he was in detention or suspended. I didn’t want him to be in trouble anymore. And I told him that. I meant it.

We had a moment. A common ground moment. We didn’t want to get into trouble. Whether it was anymore or any at all, we could agree that avoiding trouble was the goal.

There are real pathways that illuminate once you look backwards. Wait, what? When common ground is found, it is easier (not easy…there’s a difference) to work backwards in order to respond to that common desire or outcome. Get back to that goal (prepare to remind everyone a few times along this journey of what that goal is). If, however, the goal differs, then there is not a place from which to start. There is a division straight through it all. And many of you have spent hours, weeks, years trying to align a path towards success when there is no common ground to act upon. How can there be a way forward?

Often, when I see the effect of a lack of common ground, I call it out. Just share what is observed because if you are wrong, those involved will tell you. They will have to tell you what they perceive the common ground is. And the others involved will have to do the same in response, in either agreement or clear disagreement. And I like being wrong in these situations. I want those involved to fight for common ground. They are more willing to relent some innocuous minutia that they’ve been hanging onto which has served as a distraction.

If it’s been a while since you’ve used the common ground technique, dust it off. If you’ve never used it, it’s a relatively simple one to try. And if there’s some anger on behalf of a participant or two, be gracious. They may have been ready for an argument, not a peace accord. Your solution moves everyone towards a center with the illumination of options appearing as a result. It can be very difficult for those who have had to fight to get where they are or for an organizational communication history fraught with staunch rhetoric and positioning to evolve.

People evolve and so do organizations. My locker buddy and I are still connected to this day. Vodka didn’t divide us. It helped bring us together. Huh, never thought I’d write that.

October 18, 202151 Comments

Easy On Me

When my 20-year-old daughter said she would want to rent a place in Greece, I told her that sounded great. Wait, what? Send one of the two beautiful, brilliant, kind daughters I have across the world? Absolutely.

Opportunity is all around us. Over the last fifteen years, experiential options have improved greatly. Whether it is studying in Iceland while participating in once-in-a-lifetime outdoor adventures, creating an ecommerce business while backpacking through Europe or taking a few years after college to live in a yurt and design websites, the flexibility of work, of commerce, truly, of life is unlike any time in history.

When I read Time Magazine’s recent article, “Gen Z and Millennials Are Leading a 'Great Reshuffle,’” the focus on both sides of the work experience was explained by Ryan Roslansky, CEO of LinkedIn:

Right now, all companies, all CEOs, are rethinking the way their company works. They’re rethinking their culture. They’re rethinking their values and about what it means to work at their company. And on the other hand, you have employees globally who are rethinking, not just how they work, but why they work and what they most want to do with their careers and lives.

So why do so many businesses get upset when employees leave to pursue their next adventure? Perhaps more to the point, why do managers get mad at staff who quit?

Displacement – the upturning of a department is an annoyance. Even if the organization has done a proactive work in knowledge management and cross-training, the finality of someone leaving does change things for a department. There is comfort and familiarity in communication with the current employee; a new employee will require effort and finesse in getting to know nuances and cues. The team left behind has to navigate this new relationship. It’s not terrible, but it does add work to the remaining employees.

Discovery – before the new employee ever walks in the door, you have to find him/her/them. And the talent market today won’t go easy on you. There will be great effort and creativity in sourcing required. Time that you will argue you do not have will be spent. Resources that are already strained will be tapped. Knowing that this will happen, prepare. Build a continuous candidate pool, gather pertinent interview questions and market your employer brand regularly.

Dejection – when you are rejected, it’s natural to feel dejected. Most managers and supervisors have not been taught how to do deal with departure. It may very well be personal. The knee-jerk response may be to tell a supervisor to be mature about it and not take it to heart. Well, if an employee is leaving, based upon an exit interview or some shared information, because of a manager, then why would you not want a manager to contend with how that feels? The dejection can serve to change behaviors. A mature manager will want to say, “I don’t want to feel like this again. I need to do differently.”

If we have cultivated a level of fear about employees moving on, then we short-circuit our abilities to deal with loss, to encourage a wider view of personal growth and to act critically for the sake of both the employee and the team. It’s not easy, but it can be deeply beneficial.

When I was 20-years-old, I would have been discouraged from heading to Greece. I would have been discouraged from heading outside of Philadelphia, truth be told. But seeing what those adventures can develop within a person makes me excited when someone wants to walk forward towards a new opportunity. It’s powerful.

And my Greece-seeking daughter has not booked her flight yet, if ever, but she already has time in China under her belt. She and her siblings will be bringing that worldwide experience to bear on some companies yet to come. I hope they’re ready.

September 16, 20211520 Comments

You Will Be Found

I am a crier. It’s not a secret. Anytime there is something emotional happening on the television that my family and I are watching, they turn ever so slightly to me to see if the tears are forming. And 90% of the time, they are (the other 10% is when I have already wiped them away without their notice). Movies, shows, commercials – I am an equal opportunity crier.

When I first saw the trailer for the Broadway-show-now-movie, Dear Evan Hansen, I knew I was doomed. You see, I knew what the story was about having read up on it. I avoided seeing it on Broadway for years. I knew I would be a blubbering mess. Wearing a raincoat into the theater would have caused some stares to come my way (actually, it is New York City, so maybe not). As I have gotten older, I realize more what it is that causes me to respond this way (I should mention that I don’t think it is a problem – to my fellow criers, carry on). It’s brokenness.

The first time I had to sit with an employee who shared that he was going to die from cancer, I wept. I sat in the moment with the person and just listened and shared in the heartbreak. This employee wanted to keep working as long as he could and did not want his team to know that he was facing this, at least not right away. He wanted to lead his own story and not have “HR” take the reins. I didn’t want that responsibility, so I was happy to let him lead. What I could do, however, was take the lead in checking in with him and being broken with him.

It's in that compassion that our work has depth. Were my policies great for leave management should he need to use it? Of course (spot on, actually). But the humanity needed took precedence and should have. And while that may not seem earth-shattering to you, there are varying types of brokenness that people face. Are we as adept in offering compassionate consideration despite thinking that the issue at hand isn’t that deep?

Once, someone sat with me and shared that she was struggling to balance work, pursuing a Masters in the evening and having time for herself (to work out, watch a movie, read a book). At that moment in time, I was working 60 hours per week and had 3 children (ages 9, 7, 5); I was trying to figure out how to be a better partner to my wife in raising the family. And now this person was struggling with all of her “self-centeredness” when I hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in years? I could have said, “You know what? Joe shared with me that he’s dying of cancer. Your difficult schedule pales in comparison to what he’s facing.” To what end would that lead? To make her feel badly? To scold her for facing the truths in her current situation? No. She, too, deserved compassion, and that’s what she got.

For any of us, our frame of reference and season of life influences some of where our brokenness is found. And while the young lady in the previous account was not living the same season as I was, she was expressing stress and strain through tears in that conversation. It was real for her, and she was not sure how to move beyond it. It’s okay for her to feel how she did. In 20 years, she may look back on that time and long for those types of problems instead of what she may be currently facing, just like any of us would and maybe already have. But for that day, she was broken based on what was in front of her.

Compassion can be offered at each of those stages. To an adolescent about to embark into the waves of middle school, to a first-time, full-time worker nervous about what work will be like, to a new mom or dad worried about what kind of parent he/she/they might be, to someone experiencing loss for the first time – in all these situations, we can offer compassion in our listening and in our responsiveness.

When I watch Dear Evan Hansen on the big screen, I will fall into the story. I will feel what those characters are feeling. I will put myself into that moment. And my heart will break for the story being shared. It doesn’t matter whether you are an “emotional” person or not, you can still feel something and tap into that to develop your compassionate responses to others. And in that journey, some self-discovery will take place. You will be found.

September 1, 20211277 Comments

Like to Get to Know You Well

Developing camaraderie at the workplace can be a bit daunting. Think about it from the new employee perspective. What might someone see about rapport development at your department or office? Is it easy to jump in? Is it exclusive? Is there a pecking order?

The great Ed Asner passed recently. Ed was an actor on one of the best workplace comedies ever made – The Mary Tyler Moore Show. As Lou Grant, Ed personified that curmudgeon-softie-boss character perfectly. That cast illustrated an office staff of various personalities working together to produce a compelling daily newscast. Add to it extraneous relations dropping in at Mary’s apartment and deepening work friendships, you create a story of paranoid and problem-solving colleagues making their way through life.

It would be foolish to look to that show as a template for your work environment. It’s not foolish because “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” was, well, a show, but rather, that watching a workplace unfold is very different than being a part of a workplace unfolding. The endearing quirkiness of the show becomes an exasperating annoyance in real life. It’s not cute. The characters aren’t lovable. And the work to build rapport isn’t valued.

So, how do we better approach workplace rapport development?

Firstly, remember those characters you work with are real people. Those real people have real feelings, real issues, real strains, and real expectations. Their problems may not be yours, but they influence your workplace. Ted Baxter’s poor self-esteem took extra time to address on the show. In real life, Ted would likely have not lasted at that job. He was an albatross around the necks of too many hard-working coworkers. However, Ted is an example of how one person’s feelings and issues affect rapport development. Ted was someone to run from when he came into the room; and if you couldn’t run, you could at least roll your eyes and shake your head in disgust. Those reactions set a tone.

One eye roll prompts another. It’s a pattern of acceptable responses learned at the workplace. Truth be told, you will eventually be someone for whom eyes will roll. Whether prompted by a word of praise you receive or your struggle to master a task, eyes will roll.

Consider those real people who are bringing their real traits to the workplace. You don’t have to like them, but you do have to work with them. And unless there is something illegal, a violation of the employee handbook or generally toxic behavior, improving rapport development will benefit you.

Secondly, decide to emphasize the positive. Consider what good someone in the office, in the restaurant, or in the warehouse brings to the table. You may have to stretch your mind a bit (for some, a lot) but chances are there will be at least one thing. Widen the view you have on that particular truth as you relate to that colleague. Bring up examples of  that trait, talk about how it can be applied more at work and tell positive stories to others (within earshot of that colleague) highlighting how you noticed that quality in them. Often, that colleague will also start to look at herself/himself/themselves through a similar lens, at least while at work. That’s a good thing!

And lastly, you’re not that wonderful. Ugh, this one stings. You see, your viewpoint is singular and because of that, you likely see things as they impact you and just you. It’s not intentional but natural. We are self-preserving creatures so labeling and defining others provides security for us and allows us to prepare a conversational response. Understand that your assessment isn’t necessarily wrong, but it is biased. Your personality and your past experiences, including tragedies and other bad circumstances, will influence how you receive someone. Own that and know you don’t have the only right perspective.

There are times factions occur amongst a team. Often, they are born out of shared views of other people. Three colleagues dislike so-and-so, but you and a few others like so-and-so. That’s going to establish sides. The strength of those sides will vary, but they will, at the very least, influence rapport development. Everyone can’t be right, but everyone can be heard. Work through those relational hang-ups and foster basic respect amongst colleagues. You don’t have to be best friends with everyone at work, but you should try to get along!

And while we may never work with a lovable, quirky crew like the team at WDJW on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” we can create a baseline for healthy rapport development. You can find someone to grab a meal with, even a few with whom you can laugh and cry. Whether in-person or virtually, put some spunk into building rapport and make a positive difference in your workplace.

June 8, 20216571 Comments

The Boxer

One of my favorite Great-Great Aunts was Lizzie. She was a spitfire who would curse you out (in Italian, of course) and didn’t miss anything going on…unless she wanted to miss what was going on. As a kid, I couldn’t understand how she would be able to hear some directed requests of her while not hearing others. I was so confused as to how she could overhear the quietest conversations but completely catch nothing in ones that included her. It wasn’t until I was older that I appreciated the practice.

Johnny Depp brought new life to Willy Wonka in 2005 in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And while the Gene Wilder purists didn’t love this version, there were some great one-liners from Depp. “You really shouldn’t mumble” is a line we use in our home often. When Willy did not want to hear what someone else was saying, though he clearly heard it, he would retort with, “I can’t understand a word you’re saying.” For Mr. Wonka, mumblers were aplenty. It was deflection at its silliest.

When we ignore others out of self-preservation, we do so to our own detriment. It’s often out of the uncomfortable that the turning of a new page or a refining process begins. So why do we do it?

Well, that self-preservation piece is tough to ignore. We work hard to be our “best selves.” Take a look at your Facebook feed (if you still have one) and look at all of the memes, sayings and gifs encouraging you to Live Your Best Life, to cut out any negativity, to remove toxic people from your life. And while there is truth behind those mandates, are you prepared to know the difference, truly, between negativity and difficulty? Just because someone is sharing something you don’t want to hear does not make that person a negative force to be cut out of your life. And if social media is guiding that definition, I fear you’re blocking out potential growth opportunities (I, also, fear the depth that SoMe has on your life!).

I remember being told I was a racist. It was actually the only time to date that I was directly called one. I sat across from the Vice President of Student Affairs and he simply, clearly and directly blasted me with that moniker. I was furious. Honestly, if I didn’t have a core respect for my elders, I likely would have introduced my fist to his face. I am not a racist. The one-minute exchange days earlier that he mentally categorized was the entire basis for his labelling despite a two-year history of working with me. And while I know that he was wrong, I can look at it differently today. I didn’t block him out. I didn’t file a lawsuit (though I could have as his label kept an RA position from being awarded to me). What I did instead was ask other people if I was sharing racist views or if people were uncomfortable around me due to a perception of racism. I didn’t want to hear what that VP said, but instead, I chose to listen and take from it what I could to be better.

Choose to listen. As managers, it is easy to be dismissive. We can nod as if we’re listening (I mean, we’ve read enough books and attended enough seminars to know the tricks of listening), but choose to engage with what you hear, maybe even more with those views that differ from yours. The defensive posture of dismissal has a place, but it’s not the first tool to use. Consider the position first. Examine the basis for merit in process improvement, communications or goal alignment. Take the feedback. Listen.

And I know it’s easy to read this and think about the people you’ve done that with and recall the disappointment in those relationships. Not everyone is right in what they ask you to listen to, and you will sift through those non-helpful comments. But taking the step to listen and consider first is fair and equitable. Mumblers don’t abound as much as Deflectors.

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