April 7, 2017

Is Your Workplace Laughing Enough?

We always had a copy of Reader’s Digest at home when I was growing up. The monthly publication had several humor sections, including my favorite, “Laughter Is the Best Medicine.”

There is a lot of wisdom in that title, especially in today’s workplace, where stress is a huge problem.  Do a mental look around your workplace right now. At any given time, would there be a larger percentage of workers smiling and laughing, or frowning, studious, or with knitted brows? Your answer tells you two things about your culture.

Companies that foster lighter cultures with real laughter in meetings and hallways are likely to have lower levels of stress. Two reasons why their stress is lower are:

  1. When people are laughing together, they are bonding. One measure of workplace stress is how much social support employees feel. When laughter creates bonding, it also creates social support.
  2. Laughter is recognized as having strong health benefits. The Mayo Clinic says that over the short-term, laughter causes you to take in more oxygen, which stimulates your heart and brain. It soothes tension in your muscles.  And it cools down stress responses. Over the long-term, Mayo says that laughter can improve your immune system, mood, personal satisfaction, and even relieve pain.

If we did one of our workplace stress assessments at your organization, do you think you’d find that your employees have plenty of social support? In other words, are they laughing enough?

Let me know if you want to find out for sure.

March 7, 2017

Wait … What Did You Say? 

When was the last time you zoned out in a meeting? You know, you found your head bobbing you awake? Surely we have all done it at one time or another. If you are discovered zoning out, the consequences can range from mild embarrassment to something more severe, like agreeing to something without knowing what that something is.
Portrait Of Sad Business Team

Indulge me as I make a Friends reference. After spending a long night at the hospital with a friend, Chandler Bing actually dozed off during a team meeting.  He snapped to while being asked whether he agreed with the proposal on the table.  With everyone looking at him, he responded “Yes” so as not to admit he didn’t have a clue what they were talking about. To his surprise, he just agreed to move to Tulsa to head up a company office.  A huge commitment that wasn’t going to sit well with his wife.

Managing the “Zone Out”

It’s clear, Chandler should have ‘fessed up.  He could have apologized for his temporary lapse in attention and asked to have the question repeated. But he chose to protect his ego, perhaps because of the stories he told himself about what would happen if he confessed.

The stories we tell ourselves about others, the stories we bring into every interaction, damage trust. They cause us to prejudge how people will react to our failings. They cause us to put up walls.

Imagine that your head has just bobbed you awake and everyone is looking at you expectantly.  What stories immediately go through your head? Are you comfortable enough, trusting enough in your team, to admit your attention lapse? Or do you have to protect your ego?

February 7, 2017

A Clash of Perspectives? 

Man looking through someone else's glassesIn every single interaction we have every day, in and out of the workplace, there is always the unspoken factor of our perspective — and the perspective of others. We bring so much into our interactions. Obviously, this includes our mood of the moment and how well we are dealing with our existing stress level.

But there is so much more involved in entering into even the simplest of exchanges.  As a rule of thumb, we bring in the stories we tell ourselves about the other person. We bring our history of experiences with similar people or similar situations.

Our Perspective Includes

We also bring in our personal history of communication. That includes how we communicated in the homes where we were raised, especially around inquiry and conflict.  Were we allowed to question others’ statements and thoughts? Did we address conflict directly in our family, or was conflict swept under the rug and left unresolved?

And most certainly, we bring in both our personal style of communicating (e.g., fast or slow, people-focused or task-focused) and the values through which we filter our decisions.

That’s a lot of stuff, huh, when you consider how many people you interact with in a day, a week, a year?  What do you do with all of that?  You start with self-awareness.  Be clear about your own “baggage.”  When you understand what you are really bringing to the table, it becomes easier to recognize that we all have perspectives that color our communication.

January 25, 2017

Role Model Leadership

Leadership starts at the top, right? In a successful organization, every front line employee knows a couple of things:

  1. How their job and their goals line up to the overall mission and goals of the organization
  2. Who’s running the show

Imagine that you encounter a customer service problem and you aren’t getting satisfaction from the person, or the people, you are dealing with on the front lines. You decide you want to speak directly to the leader of the organization to outline your problem. So you ask the front line person for an email address or mailing address to reach the leadership of their organization. You absolutely do not want that employee to respond, “I don’t know.”

That sort of response is not only horrible for the organization’s brand, it also indicates that the leadership is not effectively role-modeling that the organization values strong customer service. Not to mention the level of disengagement that must be occurring if an employee doesn’t know how to reach top leadership.

This is a major failure up and down and across the leadership structure.

No matter where you are in the leadership structure, take a minute to look up and down the leadership chain and ensure that everyone is connected so that if asked how to contact company leaders, no employee ever has to say, “I don’t know.”

January 18, 2017

Why Didn’t You Tell Me?

airport terminal

Terminal B at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport was my overnight host Sunday night. It was almost midnight Sunday night before I finally heard the words “cancelled flight.”  It was really bad weather, and I was on one of 67 flights that got cancelled.

Many of us sat at the gate from 6:30 until we heard those fateful words at nearly midnight.  And as we watched the departure time change roughly every 15 minutes, we all started to get a bit angry. Finally, one young man almost lost it. All because there was no communication from our gate agents.

Building relationships

In a crisis situation, clear, consistent, and frequent communication is critical. When you don’t tell your people what is going on, they fill in the blanks with frustration, negativity, anxiety, and lots of other negative emotions.

Fortunately, most of  us had weather aps on our phones, so we knew when a tornado warning was issued.  The gate agents didn’t tell us.  They also didn’t communicate about the mechanical issue or that the pilot was concerned about the route because of the weather.  We knew all of this because an experienced traveler continued to go to the gate and ask questions. Then he would share the info with folks around him, who would share it with folks around them.

Imagine if the gate agents had put themselves in our shoes, or had really treated us like a part of their family, like so many large companies tell us we are.  If they had acknowledged our frustration and stress by simply sharing status updates regularly, even to say we don’t know anything new, they could have built trust and relationship with us for their organization. Instead, they filled their time joking with each other, talking among themselves, and ignoring us.

As a customer, you want to be treated with respect, with dignity.  That night, we all needed a little warmth and compassion, a little empathy, some real customer service.  But that night, it didn’t exist.

November 16, 2016

Keeping Everyone on the Same Page

I keep coming back to the value of communication.  It underlies everything we do.  The success of every task, every project, every goal, every interaction depends on how well we communicate with each other.  "What if, and I know this sounds kooky, we communicated with the employees."

Following are three things you can do to ensure that you are communicating in a way that keeps everyone around you working on the same page, toward the same outcome.

Same-page communication

1. Share. It’s time to put the mind-reader expectation to rest, everywhere.  Every time I try to read someone’s mind, I fail.  How about you?  But there is a workaround.  When we can’t read the other person’s mind, and when they can’t read ours, then we have to share what we are thinking as clearly as we possibly can, and we have to encourage others to question us for clarity. We have to build a climate within our team or group that really makes our employees and co-workers understand that the only stupid question is the unasked one.  We start that by role modeling, by asking questions ourselves, especially in front of and with our employees. When everyone feels comfortable with asking questions, you have a much higher chance of having people on the same page.

2. Listen. Successful communication depends as much on our ability to listen as it does our ability to clearly explain.  We have to listen and hear. To listen effectively, you have to stay focused on the other person.  That means being present with them. Maintain eye contact, observe cues about the emotion behind the words (pace of speech, tensing of body language, glazing of eyes, etc.). People can tell when you are thinking about yourself (your next answer, your defense, etc.) instead of encouraging them with questions and clarifications. The minute you find your mind wandering away from the other person, stop and get back in the moment with them. That way, the two of you stay on the same page.

3. Agree. As managers, or as members of a team, we too often fail to agree about what we should communicate about our decisions to others and how we should communicate it. See if you resonate with this situation.  The management team is meeting about some important issues.  At the end of the meeting, nothing is disclosed to you. But the manager of the production team shares what he heard in the meeting, and you get that information secondhand.  Similarly, the manager in purchasing shares with her team, and you hear about that in the breakroom. But you get two different stories, and neither have all the full picture. Because the management team didn’t agree what they would share, when they would share it, and how they would share it. Now, rumors and misinformation have begun and you can’t trust any of the information because much of it is contradicted.  If only they had agreed upon which decisions to communicate and how to share them, everyone could be on the same page. Wouldn’t that be an engaging way to treat employees?

October 26, 2016

The Problem with Silence

silencenotgoldenThe adage “Silence is golden” doesn’t always apply in the workplace. For managers, when it comes to dealing with unmet expectations or broken commitments, going to silence is the wrong thing to do.

According to the authors of VitalSmarts Crucial Accountabiity, often, when managers are faced with issues that require accountability conversations, they too often move to silence, or even violence. What does that look like?

Imagine that you have asked an employee to complete a critical task that affects your ability to finish a project on deadline. It doesn’t happen. When you inquire, the employee says that something came up, as in another manager asked them to do something else. What do you do?

Going to Silence

If you choose to do nothing, to move to silence, there are at least three ways you damage yourself and your team. In your silence, you risk:

  • Giving tacit approval. By saying nothing, the other person will assume that what they have done is okay.
  • Appearing to play favorites. If you let the employee’s action slide, other team members may believe that you are playing favorites, especially if you have addressed similar issues with other employees.
  • Reaffirming your internal stories. If you fail to get to the bottom of broken commitments, to find out what the underlying story is, you only affirm the story you are already building in your own head about why the employee let you down.
Moving to Violence

Some managers go beyond silence and move to violence, when your emotions get the better of you because your stress hormones put you out of control and in the land of unprofessionalism. Violence comes out in your words, your facial expressions and gestures, and in your tone of voice. For example, you become:

  • Hypocritical: You have watched other managers handle situations in ways you told yourself you never would.  Suddenly, here you are acting in just that way you always wanted to avoid because adrenaline has overtaken your reason.
  • Abusive: You choose to demean, belittle, or otherwise taunt your employee, or you begin to think of ways to trick them so that you get what you want to be successful. You push too hard, demand more than you know the employee is capable of doing … you get the idea.

If you see yourself in any of these situations, you need to learn more about how to hold accountability conversations. And probably how to deal with stress in more effective ways. Take a look at Crucial Accountability. You won’t be sorry.

September 28, 2016

Check your leadership mirrors

honestyHow do you use mirrors during your day? Like most people, you probably check your appearance before heading out the door, and maybe a few times throughout the day. In the car, you use mirrors to see what’s behind you and to check your distance.

These mirrors are made from reflective glass. But there are other sorts of mirrors we need to be checking every day. By that, I mean the people around us who are constantly mirroring back to us reactions to our behaviors, our decisions, and their ever-evolving opinion of us.

In the next 24 hours, pay close attention to the mirrors that come through facial expressions, watching for even the slightest raised eyebrow, furrowed brow, smirk, or judging head shake. Quietly analyze what you have done/said, or failed to do/say, that elicited those reaction.

A second mirror to watch is the body language of people who you encounter. Do they shrink and become smaller when you approach? Do they open their arms in a welcoming way? Do they step into your personal space in an attempt to display power? Ask yourself,”Why?”

The third mirror reflects through sound, in the tone of voice, inflection, and even pace of speech. Do people rush conversations to get away from you quickly, or talk at a leisurely pace to encourage you to stay engaged? Is their voice boisterous around you, or a halting whisper? Do you detect sarcasm or uncertainty in their speech with you?

Now that you have begun looking in these mirrors, begin to watch for patterns across people. Try to get a sense from these mirrors whether you are inspiring trust, whether people see you as open and approachable, or whether they are uncomfortable in your presence. Then do some self-reflection to determine what changes you need to make to get better reflections in your leadership mirrors.

September 14, 2016

The Art of Communication

COMMUNICATION – the process of understanding and sharing meaning*. Simple definition for one of the most difficult, complex and IMPORTANT traits of a good leader.

communicationIn this current world – we communicate all the time! But, do we really? Communication is a two way process. Today, we are bombarded with constant information, not sure if it is communication. In order to have EFFECTIVE communication, not only sharing is required. UNDERSTANDING is the key word in the definition above.

So how do we do that! WE have to make sure we understand AND have been understood and that takes time and skill. There are tools out there that help us with communication styles, such as DISC, a popular assessment. But one of the easiest and most difficult way is to reaffirm what you heard. In today’s day of texting and email, it is becoming more difficult to do. It can still be done, but it all takes TIME. Here are some tips for good communication:

  • When you have an actual conversation, simply state “This is what I understand you are saying (paraphrase/play back what the person said), did I understand correctly?”
  • In an email or text, it is more difficult, because the emotions are taken out of the words, but you can still paraphrase to make sure you understand.

You will be amazed at the response of the person when you do this. They feel HEARD, RESPECTED and APPRECIATED with this technique. It takes practice, but once you start doing it, as with most art, it becomes easier.

* Pearson, J., & Nelson, P. (2000). An introduction to human communication: Understanding and sharing (p. 6). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.

August 1, 2016

Do you give good feedback?

We give feedback all the time in our personal lives, even if we don’t think of it that way.  “Could you turn the volume up a little?” “I love that color on you.” “Pass the salt, please.” These personal kinds of feedback, even “pass the salt,” are aimed at improving things, making things better for ourselves and/or others. They come fairly naturally to us.Feedback

Workplace Feedback

Why is it then that when we enter the workplace, giving feedback becomes less natural, sometimes even scary? I think it is because we lose sight of what is supposed to happen on the other side of feedback. The goal of feedback is improvement — making it or maintaining it.

When a manager tells an employee, “great job,” that manager is giving feedback that reinforces what the employee did right, the improved situation that now exists thanks to their actions. When managers give feedback that suggests, or even demands, doing things a different way, they are pointing to a situation that could exist, that they want to exist.

Because the workplace and the things that need to happen to create success are dynamic, sometimes changing daily, managers need to be giving feedback frequently. There are always things being done well that need to be reinforced, and things to be done differently, or better, that need to be redirected.

If you are doing that, continually helping your employees to move forward, either with changes or by staying on the same path, you are giving good feedback.

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