Category Archives: Relationship Management

Running Into Angry Arms

Have you noticed that the presidential race is fueled by anger?Screaming people

Tuesday was primary election day in Maryland, and I voted for a losing candidate. He isn’t angry about the right things for enough people. People of all stripes feel that their rights are being violated and declare, “it’s ‘s not fair!”

It’s difficult to be angry about the same things as everyone else because people are mostly angry with others who are angry with them.

Frustration, anger, and bitterness know no bounds.  We all carry and nourish them everywhere we go—home, work, and to the ballpark, and it is easy to see the havoc they wreak.

Somehow we have deluded ourselves into believing that politicians are responsible for and capable of making life fair and for ensuring that our “rights” are never violated.  So, we “run” to politicians who share our brand of anger, huddle with like-minded malcontents for affirmation, and harden ourselves against “them,” whoever “them” are.  We run into angry arms for justice.  To me, that is inane.

The unyielding insistence on being treated “fairly” is foolish.  We ourselves don’t always treat others fairly and cry out for understanding when we don’t.  So, really, we don’t always want fairness. We don’t want our just desserts once we realize what they are.

The “fairness economy” is a losing system; it feeds self-centeredness, bitterness, and resentment. Humans have a penchant for distorting reality and esteeming themselves more highly than we ought to. Psychologists even have names for our distortions, e.g., self-serving bias, self-enhancement bias, self-confirming bias, and the ultimate attribution error.  When others don’t treat us in accordance with our rosy self-portraits, it feels demeaning, and our anger is aroused. Then a battle ensues.

What if we didn’t make “getting our due” the supreme rule in life? What if we pursued a more noble cause in our businesses?

The apostle Paul commended people to live in the “servant economy” when he wrote:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Can patriotic American capitalists make this a guiding principle instead of “getting my due”?  Would that be contradictory? I think not.

  • When salesmen count their customers more significant than themselves, the customer is helped, sales are made, and loyalty is won.
  • When leaders consider their staff’s needs above theirs, people are treated with dignity and appreciation; they grow; they take risks and support their leader and his/her goals.
  • When team members look out for their boss, the team tackles problems, overcomes challenges, and meets their goals.
  • When colleagues look out for each other, trust is built, people learn, and the work climate is positive and productive.

If we would esteem others more highly than ourselves at work, we would take a giant step away from anger and towards reconciliation.  “If” is a big word though. There is a reason why people turn to politicians for justice.  It’s easier to toss the burden on someone else rather than to carry it personally.

I want to live in the servant economy.  How about you?  Which economy do you want to live in – fairness, servant, or another?

 

Is Employee Appreciation Day Coming Up?

gift box on wooden table on natural sunny background

gift box on wooden table on natural sunny background

Christmas and the end of the fiscal year are fast approaching. That has a lot of people thinking about “employee appreciation.” Visions of parties, bonuses, promotions and sugar plum fairies are dancing through senior managers’ heads.

Parties can be a lot of fun, especially when people already feel good about each other and the company. Bonuses and promotions are fantastic, but they can be as elusive as sugar plum fairies as well. That’s okay because while parties, bonuses, and promotions are nice, they don’t always speak “I value you,” as much as you might think.

So, what can a manager give to show appreciation?

Give SUVS

Managers, or anyone for that matter, can always give the gift of SUVS. It doesn’t cost much, if anything, at all. In honor of Employee Appreciation Day 2015, the Kronos Workforce Institute commissioned a survey of U.S employees. They found that what most people want in their workplace stocking is recognition for what they do. More than anything else people want others to see and appreciate that they are: 1) doing a good job like 90+ percent of the time, and 2) that their valued talents are contributing to the company’s success.

The Key to SUVs is:
See the people around you notice how they are made and what they contribute to the work community. This is easier said than done. The busyness of work and preoccupation with our own wants are formidable barriers to noticing others.

Understand: Study people to learn their motives, values, talents, and their Languages of Appreciation. Be curious about what you notice and explore it rather than glossing over it.

Value: Many of us are inclined to critique others, especially when they are not like us. Since there are about 7.3 billion people in the world, this is an inherently flawed approach. We have generational differences, gender differences, personality differences and dozens of different differences! While there are most certainly things that are morally right and wrong, good and bad, better and worse, many of us confuse our likeness as the standard. It is far wiser to look for the beauty in those differences.

Savor people like a fine wine. Just like fine wine, I am told, people are complex. There is much to enjoy about them if you take the time to dwell on their fine qualities.

The great thing about SUVS is that you can’t give it just at the Christmas party or just on Employee Appreciation Day.  It takes time to See, Understand, Value and Savor people, and when you do gratitude will flow naturally from you. Hopefully, you will be able express it in a Language of Appreciation that people understand!

If I Can’t Be Divergent, I’ll be Candor

480px-Tumblr_lyjq7pBlbH1rorhaao1_500[1]

Last weekend I went to see Divergent, a movie based on a trilogy written by Veronica Roth.  Most of us read the series and were eager to be disappointed because, well, the movie is never as good as the book.

Our seats hadn’t yet warmed when the conversation began.

Jennifer: Which faction would you be?

Me: Who me, why I’d be Divergent of course.

Gail: No, you can’t be Divergent. You have to belong to one of the factions.

Me: Then I would be Candor.

All: Ahhhh yeah, of course. What else?!

I am candid person; I know that healthy and productive relationships depend upon it. And right now, I am feeling the love.  A few days ago I reunited with a client over lunch. When the conversation turned to my ponderings about my brand, she gave me some welcome and flattering feedback.

What stands out to me is how well you ‘speak truth to power.’ You have the ability to speak the truth in a way that people can hear it. Not everybody can do that, and I really admire you for that.

It was music to my ears and warm fuzzies for my heart, but just how valuable is this kind of Candor? According to Ed Catmull, President of Pixar, it’s brought in about 10.3 billion in the box office from its fourteen films – from Toy Story to the current smash hit Frozen. In an interview with Fast Company, Catmull previews his book Creativity Inc. and attributes much of Pixar’s success to the candor practiced by their “Brain Trust” in quarterly meetings.

A hallmark of a healthy creative culture is that its people feel free to share ideas, opinions, and criticisms. Our decision-making is better when we draw on the collective knowledge and unvarnished opinions of the group. Candor is the key to collaborating effectively. Lack of candor leads to dysfunctional environments.

Dysfunction has its costs: it cuts off communication, impairs decision-making, stifles creativity, kills productivity, and annoys customers. Let me say that again: it really annoys customers.

That’s why I press my clients to say what needs to be said – in healthy, productive ways.

So, I am proud to be from Candor. How about you? What is your faction and are you proud of it?

FACTIONS[1]

p.s.
I still truly believe I am Divergent.  I wouldn’t be Candor if I didn’t tell you that.

 

 

 

 

My Fianceé is Engaged, But I’m Not!

Although organizations consistently talk-up employee engagement, we know that only three in ten employees are engaged. That leaves another seven in ten people withholding the best of their energy, ideas, and talent from their employer. This trend persists despite the commonplace knowledge that engaged workers produce more, are happier, and drive profitability skyward.

I think I know one big reason why…

It’s because (some) managers talk like they want a fianceé but act like they are unwilling to be engaged to her! They want, even expect, employees to give their all, but they don’t make a reciprocal investment! Just think about it. What do engaged lovers do and engaged employees do?

Engaged lover Engaged employee
  • gives her all
  • focuses her attention on the relationship
  • put her partner’s interests first
  • make plans for the future with her man
  • spends a lot of time with her man
  • goes over and above what is required
  • applies talents, time, energy on work
  • is mission focused
  • pursues the organization’s long-term interest
  • spends spare time on work

Reciprocation Required

An engaged lover expects her partner to reciprocate. When he does, they remain engaged. An engaged employee wants, and needs, the reciprocity from their manager—the person who represents the company to him/her. But when that doesn’t happen, she will “fall-out” of engagement. It’s a perfectly reasonable and healthy response, don’t you think?

Boundaries Keep us Healthy

Healthy people have boundaries—they don’t over-invest in people that don’t give back. In contrast, it’s unhealthy and unreasonable for a manager to expect employees to engage at work without engaging them personally.

Employees give more than they have to when they:

  • are connected with other people doing important work,
  • are free to use their talents creatively,
  • feel appreciated by people who are important to them,
  • know that they are making progress, and
  • are being challenged to learn and grow.

The Manager’s Job

The most significant relationship an employee has in the workplace is with his manager. Approval and appreciation from the boss is five times more important than from peers. As important as peers are, it’s the boss’s job to:

  • connect people using their talents for the same cause,
  • communicate genuine & personal appreciation,
  • ensure that people make progress and can see it, and
  • stretch people beyond themselves.

This all takes time, thought, and energy, which many managers don’t have because they are busy preparing reports, reading emails, and responding to their boss, etc. In other words, managers are often engaged to people and things that take a higher priority than their team members. (We have a name for that in marriage—it’s called cheating.) And if that is the case, who is engaging team members? No one, that’s who.

Is it any wonder that 70% of people are not engaged at work?

Managers Embody Company Culture

To be fair, we can’t “lay all the blame” on managers, because it truly is a culture thing. Managers are the face of the company to the employee, and I speak of them here as representatives of the company. More than anyone, managers do what is expected of them. They fulfill the priorities of their bosses. Their bosses do the same, and on and on. It’s a conspiracy of company culture—the values, beliefs, and habits shared by people in an organization.

But…it’s people who invent, obey, and enforce culture.

And…if we invent culture, then we can reinvent it.

And…if we can reinvent, then someone—a leader—must get it started.

What if, you decided right now to be the fiancé to your fianceé. What if you decided to stop cheating and engage the people on your team? How would you do that?

Three Things Managers Say… but leaders don’t

I believe what people say. More than that, I believe the attitudes they express knowingly or unknowingly. When I enter an organization, I pay close attention to what managers say, and I have learned some of the telltale messages of managers who aren’t leading anyone anywhere. Among the worst messages are those that shutdown communication. When communication is blocked, trust erodes and decisions go uninformed. After that, little else matters.

Some of the worst messages I hear are:

I don’t have time for this…
Wow, what a statement! It doesn’t much matter what comes after this because the thought begins in a pool of arrogance and ends in the denigration of another person. But, what usually follows is the dismissal of thoughtful a) consideration of person-centered concerns or b) exploration of the deeper issues involved in a decision. So what the person is actually saying is: I don’t have the patience to even consider this mamby, pamby drivel you consider important. I know what’s what, and you don’t.

MonkeysI am the only one who…
Lonely victims don’t have followers. Managers who think they are only ones who work hard, get it, or care, might want to remove their hands from their faces. It’s easy to cast ourselves as martyrs when we don’t spend time connecting with the people around us. When we spend time with them, however, we often learn that they are with us in spirit, but that they express their passions differently than us.

Why don’t you just do what I tell you to do?
     …It would make my life easier.
    …Then I wouldn’t have to take so much time explaining things to you.
If you want an easy life or to be freed of the burden of explaining things, then don’t take the responsibility of leadership. Step down and let someone else lead. Leaders edify others and make their lives easier, not the other way around. If we want people to follow us, then we have to help them understand things the way we do or to build a new shared understanding together. In other words, we have to meet them where they are and do the hard work of building a shared reality.

Let’s face it, a lot of us have thoughts like this from time to time. That makes us normal people. If we want to engage hearts, shape minds, and move people to action in service of our goals however, we need to guard our hearts from arrogance. High-headed, self-important people often find themselves perplexed when they are ignored, resisted, and undermined. If you find yourself in in that state, then maybe, just maybe, you have these thoughts too frequently.

What do you want to do about it?

Dancing with a Bear

Stepping on Toes

The giant man rose to his feet displaying his 6’8”, 400-pound frame, reached for his coat as if ready to walk out, and asked me “Do you want to know what I think of that?” We had already danced around the room quite a bit, so I bit. “Yeah,” I said. “That’s good, that’s real good. You’re good,” he replied, and then he sat back down and settled in for the rest of the class. It wasn’t exactly music to my ears, but it was close.

As a trainer I had just allowed myself to travel too far down the path, dancing with this bear of a man about his issue with his boss. On several occasions the boss told him, “You are a big guy; that can be intimidating.” But what could he do about it? “I am big,” he told me, “I can’t change that. Do I have to act like a sissy? Why should I have to change? Do you expect me to change?”

Leading the Dance

“Yes, I do expect you to change.” I exclaimed, looking right into his eyes. Then I looked around the room to the other participants. “Yes! Yes, I expect all of you to change. That is why I am here. I am a trainer. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t expect you to change. I am offering you better ways of working and relating with people in your life. You don’t have to adopt them: that is your choice. But if you want better outcomes, then I suggest you consider trying them.” And when I said that, the dance was over. My bear, and the other participants, sat back and listened more intently and ready to learn. The dance was over and our work had finally begun in earnest.

The Magic of the Moment

My words weren’t magic. I certainly didn’t intimidate the man. I didn’t say anything that he, and the others, didn’t already know at some level. So what changed? I believe that it was the simple respect of talking straight and offering choice. He expected me to dance with him, somehow avoiding any intimation that he should change. That would somehow invade his “right to be me.” He challenged me to be truthful. He wouldn’t respect cowardice, nor tolerate an absurd denial that people must change. I spoke an obvious truth, which earned his respect and his ear. If only more people would make this choice.

The Teddy Bear

After the class, the dancing bear talked with me for awhile about his dilemma. He “got real,” and we talked through different conversations he could have with his boss about the real issue. He was a great guy—a teddy bear really (which I pretty much knew all along – despite his pretense). We parted friends, and I look forward to working with this bear of a man again.