Friday, April 24, 2015

Is it funny - or "mean girls" at work?

When you laugh you bring out the child ego state that
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is often hidden in the workplace. Laughter and lightness of spirit 
unlock creativity and open the mind to learning. But attempts at humor in the workplace reveal different perceptions and perspectives among colleagues that create some risk for the humorist. You are not alone if you have had a joke (or ten) fall flat on its face from time to time.

Our local newspaper columnist, Mike Argento, receives weekly (maybe daily) hate mail from readers. His fans say his column vacillates between thought provoking and belly laugh producing. But his satirical tone is lost on some of his readers, and since he presents his ideas in this public forum, folks upon whom his style of wit is lost verbally thrash him in the letters to the editor. 

Times have changed in what is acceptable humor on the job. When the Boomer generation first entered the working world people were still telling ethnic jokes without repercussion. The formula was simple - fill in the slanderous comment with the ethnicity of your choice and wait for the laughs. Of course it was only funny when you weren't of the ethnicity being skewered. If you were the butt of the joke/insult you were being identified as part of the "out" group just because of stereotypes about your country of origin, skin color, religion, etc.  Nowadays it takes some fairly large measure of insensitivity to go there, and the jokester might receive a phone call from human resources after doing it.

Interpersonal digs and put-downs are identified as characteristic male communication style by social linguists, and the best practitioners of it can take it as well as they dish it out.  Humor is used as a means to establish relative status among men.  (If you don't believe us, read Georgetowne University professor Dr. Deborah Tannen's work.) This type of humor is not characteristically female, although women working in "male" cultures can be effective in those environments when they have skill with this type of humor.  Constant shots across the bow tend not to go over well, though, among groups of women unless enough positive relationship is built that its intention is clearly recognized as friendly and not mean.

It's a slippery slope from situational humor to "mean girls at work".  Although you might find the foibles of the people around you hilarious, sharing your observations with others can create hard feelings.  You know, though, when a good-natured gig has crossed the line into insult.  It's easier to notice when someone else is the transgressor. The trouble is that sometimes when you push it a bit too far you don't realize until afterward that what you meant in jest was taken to heart and hurtful to the object of the joke.

Our friend (a blonde) tells blonde jokes regularly, and they go over well with people because they're self-deprecating rather than making digs at somebody else. Self deprecating humor can be tricky, because although it can be funny you also run the risk of reinforcing a negative habit of thought about yourself that's better not reinforced. If your "I'm fat" jokes are your best material you might not be easily successful at changing your body shape if you decide that you want to at some point. Your repetition of the fatness mantra, even when humor is your intent, creates habits of thought that will have to be overcome to support new behavior that is consistent with your new goals.

A number of years ago we ran a tongue in cheek blog post for supervisors and manageres about how not to get employees to crawl over glass and nails for you. We adapted it and submitted it for a trade association publication. The editors softened the column's ending because they were concerned that their members would be offended by the last sentence: "If you do these behaviors don't die in your office, because everyone who works with you will be a suspect in your demise."  Now how is that NOT funny??

Sometimes it seems that we've gone too PC with humor. Yes, we agree that the impact of a joke can be far more negative than the intent behind it ever was. We certainly don't want people to be uncomfortable as a result of our trying to create a light atmosphere. But hey - maybe we're all taking ourselves a bit too seriously. Shared jokes are bonding agents.  Maybe we're throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water and missing some great opportunities to establish rapport and interpersonal glue.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

You've been dealt a blow - now what?

Everybody experiences them at some time or another -
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the loss of a job, or a loved one, or a separation or divorce.  Personal tragedy and/or crisis takes many shapes.  And when you're at the bottom of the well of grief it seems (for a while) that you are going to be stuck there forever.  But that need not be the case.

Processing time
You need a period of time to assimilate whatever it was that just happened.  This is a grieving phase.  Even if whatever came before the ending wasn't all that great, you were accustomed to it.  You knew how to behave. People and things were daily touchstones that provided order in your life.  No wonder that you feel empty without them there where they are supposed to be. It's disorienting.

You feel how you feel, even if it's mixed up and complicated and changes from day to day, moment to moment.  You may know that the ending was bound to happen - it's just that it wasn't real before now.  Give yourself some time.  There isn't a specific appropriate ending date for grieving.  It will come and go as situations stimulate certain memories and feelings.

Choosing to create
In an ending like a job separation, a move, or a divorce, think of the situation as a clean slate.  There's room for you to write or draw whatever you want on it.  At first the expanse of blank space might feel daunting - where do you start?  But the point is to start.  Draw a line, a dot, a circle, a letter, and see where that takes you. Perhaps you made choices before based upon the limitations in your former situation.  Perhaps you ruled out possibilities because you couldn't relocate, your spouse wouldn't like it, Now those options and possibilities can be placed back in play.

Creating something new is a choice.  You can sit at the bottom of the well and allow your personal tragedy to define you.  But that's not really you.  You are not defined by what happens to you.  It's only a way station on your journey.  There is something that you can learn from it, but it's not intended as your destination.

Expanding your thinking
What do you consider the "givens" in your situation?  What are your assumptions about what is or is not possible for you? Now challenge those assumptions.  What if those assumed limitations aren't real?  What if you could change your story from the standard ending of the same old plot to a whole new screenplay?  What if you chose not to continue to live in your same house?  What if you chose to take  your career in a whole new direction?  What if you went back to school to create a whole new direction for yourself?

You are the creator of your life.  You can't control everything that happens in it, but you have choices about what you do next, and next after that.  Embrace your choices.  Make peace with the past, and then move forward to create a future that's in alignment with the person you want to become.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Symptoms of being spread too thinly

Perhaps you're a person with many roles - worker,
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parent, youth sports coach, community volunteer, active church or temple member, etc.  Perhaps you're a helpful individual who has difficulty saying no when somebody asks you for help.  Or maybe you're interested in a lot of diverse arenas, and you are excited to learn more and do more in any and all of them.

However it is that you got to where you are, you may be at risk of being spread too thinly.  You may have too much on your plate- too much responsibility, too much time commitment, too much to do. Is that a problem?  You tell us.  But take a look at these symptoms and you might have your answer.

  1. Your response time is slow or inconsistent.  You have so many things pulling you in so many directions that you may forget to return emails and/or phone calls.  You might take 2 weeks to complete a task that only requires 2 hours in elapsed time.
  2. You get your calendar confused.  Where are you supposed to be tonight?  How about tomorrow night?  Is this the one week of the month without the meeting?
  3. You have a hard time finishing things.  This is because a variety of people and tasks are pulling at you, and one is distracting from the other.  It becomes difficult to discern what's important to do first, next, etc. And when you're interrupted it takes time to remember where you were in the task you were trying to complete.
  4. Your sleep is disrupted.  Sometimes this is because you're out and about early in the morning and/or late in the evening.  Or it might be that the pressure of all of your competing priorities is causing you to have trouble falling asleep, or waking you at ungodly hours while your brain runs in circles.
  5. Your family members are upset.  They might not always show you this in the form of outright arguing or yelling.  Your kids might be acting out, and your spouse might be giving you the silent treatment.  It's easy to assume that time with family will "always" be available to you after everything else is done.  But is the everything else ever going to be done?  And will your family truly always be there, or is there an expiration date on your time together?
In the desire to do more, to be more, quality of life is often placed at risk.  Do you really want to be this busy?  Is this what you signed up for in the first place, or did these various responsibilities creep into larger and larger scope?  Did you have a hand in growing them?

If you are experiencing some of the symptoms listed above, you have one of two decisions to make - that is, if you want to be more effective in your various roles:
  1. Narrow your focus by letting go of some things so you can be more responsible and more consistent in the ones that are most important to you.
  2. Hone your time management and organization skills so you can handle the plate of work that you have committed to do.
Yes, it is that simple.  It might not be easy to tell a person or a group that you have to back away for a while or for good.  But disappointing one is better than disappointing everyone.  In addition, as it relates to volunteer involvements, the manner in which you handle your volunteer activities is the manner in which it will be assumed that you handle your work life.  If you are using volunteerism as a method by which to become known, you will hurt your business reputation if you don't handle your workload effectively.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Wasting sales time with Seymour

Are you doing a lot of sales activity and not getting
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enough yes decisions?  You might be squandering opportunities by wasting sales time with Seymour.  One of the biggest time-wasters for sales persons who are out in the field actively making contacts is to invest too much time talking to someone who won't be making the buying decision. Getting to the right person can be a challenge for several reasons:
  1. With widely varying company structures it's not always clear what job title would describe the person making the decision.  And in team-based businesses, there may be a process that includes multiple people.
  2. The salesperson might know an insider in the company and attempt to leverage the relationship to gain entry. When this happens the salesperson carries the contact's political capital (or ballast) with him or her. In addition, the quality (decision making authority) of the lead is limited by the level of the insider's contacts.
  3. The salesperson's self-image sometimes creates hesitancy to reach out to a top-level executive - they are concerned about rejection and feeling "qualified" to be there.
  4. The individual in the company may position himself or herself as the decision maker, but there is only one decision he or she can make - no.  There are many people who can say no, but far fewer who can say yes and commit budget dollars without risk of being vetoed.  And the "opportunity filters" get their backs up if the salesperson implies that there is someone he or she would rather speak to.
As the salesperson plans his or her contacts to achieve the highest ratio of sales to meetings, it's important to be aware that there are several categories of decision makers:
  • The information gatherer - This person is referred to as Seymour in Selling to Vito: The Very Important Top Officer by Anthony Parinello. Seymour is the filter, the gatekeeper. He can't say yes, but his job is to say no or to gather enough information that a) he can cover himself when passing you along and/or b) you will get frustrated enough to go away and save him the trouble. When you hear "I'd like to see more _________," you're dealing with Seymour and not the decision maker.
  • The decision influencer - The influencer is often behind the scenes and might not meet with you. But they will be consulted by the decision maker, either because they will be the one(s) ultimately to use your product or service or because they hold the company wallet. In closely held companies this might even be someone who's not formally in the company structure - a spouse, for instance. Buying from you might mean no vacation, no new car or no fur coat for them this year, so they're a stakeholder.
  • The egalitarian - This individual might be the top officer in the company, but uses a decision making style that formally includes the decision influencers in the process. The most extreme egalitarian won't make the call himself or herself, but rather will take a vote or poll the group to determine whether it's a buy or no-buy situation. For the egalitarian, the relationship among the decision team is at least as important as the result of the decision. So the salesperson might have a half-dozen individuals to win over if he or she wants to make the sale.
  • The analyst - The analyst is willing and able to be the sole decision maker, and he or she is going to be evaluating in hard terms whether the purchase can be considered an investment with a measurable return rather than an expense. He or she is going to want to know specific outcomes of using the product or service and is going to want to link the outcomes to dollars or other readily measured and valued factors.
  • The visionary - The visionary has a goal, and their key concern is whether this product or service is going to get them closer to the goal. The goal might not be fully tangible, or the visionary might not yet know what form it will ultimately take. But they have a distinct direction, and they are open to opportunities that will take them in that positive direction. They might be looking for alignment more than on an exact ROI calculation as they determine whether or not they are going to buy.
If you're the salesperson, even if you're only selling an idea internally in your company, it's crucial to understand the person or persons with whom you're dealing, and to adapt your process to fit them. Otherwise, you're likely to find yourself feeling very busy, but not achieving the results you want and need.

Monday, April 20, 2015

How do you dream?

One of the early assignments in our professional
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development groups is to create a dream inventory.  We issue the challenge to come up with 50 dreams, unlimited by conventional concerns like spousal approval, money, time, etc.  Some people struggle with the task, so accustomed to their current (often self-imposed) limitations that it's difficult for them to see beyond the present.  But in every group there are a few people who are energized and excited by the process of contemplating possibilities and what they would really want from their life.

How do you dream?  Not the nighttime variety over which you have limited - or no - conscious control, but the daytime variety when you engage your creativity and reach?

The Pragmatist
The Pragmatist is probably best described by a quote from a friend and client (now deceased) who said, "I never write down anything that I'm not willing to commit to do."  Her dream list wasn't super long, but she stood behind every entry she made.  This woman did accomplish a lot during her life. She was a business owner who was also active in volunteer and charitable activities, oriented toward community development, and always up for a fun social activity.  She didn't invest a lot of time in thinking about what might be, but rather got busy and did what she thought was important to do.

Been There, Done That
The BTDT individual thinks that he or she is done already. Sometimes this is because the individual has already charted a long list of accomplishments and experiences, but many times this is a person who thinks that he or she is at an age or stage in life where they are supposed to be "done". What do you see as the expiration on your opportunity to pursue more?  Is it when you turn 40?  When you lose certain physical capacities? When you retire from your career?  Sometimes the BTDT dream list is short because of his or her internal editing and habits of thought about life stages and aging.  But sometimes a person who has thought he or she has "been there, done that" can stretch through the exercise of developing a dream list and become reinvigorated by attaching purpose to the next stage of life.

The Dabbler
The Dabbler is interested in a lot of things - it might seem like everything.  There is no challenge in creating a long list - for this person the task of creating the list itself is rewarding and absorbing.  The Dabbler sees tons of possibilities, and might not feel any urgency to commit to one or any of them.  Although the Dabbler's commitment to any one of the dreams isn't as deep as it is with the Pragmatist, this doesn't mean that the Dabbler won't take action on dreams.  It is more likely that this individual will spend less time on each and want to cover more.

The Discoverer
The Discoverer is surprised when he or she reviews the newly created list of dreams and finds that some of them would be achievable in less than 2 years, maybe even less than 1.  All that's needed is a decision to pursue a particular dream, to convert it to a goal and take action. Once the Discoverer notices the link between dreams, goals, and the fulfillment of dreams, new worlds open up.  The Discoverer becomes an active force in creating the life that he or she wants to live.

If you haven't done so before, or haven't done so lately, try this.  Challenge yourself to make a list of at least 50 dreams.  What would you like to do, or to have, or to become? Who would you like to meet?  What books would you read, and what hobbies would you pursue?  What would you like to do with family and friends?  What would you do to become more valuable to yourself?

You never have to stop dreaming, and we hope you'll make a point to keep doing it.  It's better for your physical and mental health if you continue to see things out in front of you, things that get you out of bed in the morning and energize you.  That's our dream - to see the people around us invigorated to create in their own lives and in the world.  That's unleashing human capacity - and that can be incredible.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Friday Favorites - Ghosts versus zombies at work

Professionals typically come to Summit for coaching
for one of two
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major reasons:  
  1. managing stress and balance more effectively, or 
  2. boosting personal  effectiveness and productivity. 
One of the key coaching approaches toward improving either - or both - of these areas is structure - creating reliable, intentional and repeated actions toward a desired end.  But this is one of those situations where too much of a good thing can be a problem. Sometimes the goal is not to create a track as it is to emerge from a rut that's not producing the results that the coachee wants. So let's see where you are on the continuum - are you more like a ghost?  Or a zombie?

The Ghost - who knows where you'll be next?
Imagine the ethereal character in the movies, appearing in one place and then another.  You don't know where they will show up and when, but you know that when they do you'll be startled.  The ghost has no structure - in body or in behavior.
When you have too little structure, too little routine in your day, every activity is a new decision, so every move you make has to be based on a consistent intention if you don't want to waste energy or compromise your outcome. If your overall intention is not clear, or if you aren't certain that you're truly committed to whatever your goal is, you're less likely to be faithful about taking action.
Difficult changes often respond better to a higher level of structure, like short term goals and action steps.  They also benefit from shorter-term progress evaluation.  Monthly assessment might not be enough - you might need a weekly, or even a daily check-in to make sure that you are on track.  

Some leaders resist delegating work because they are concerned about letting go, worried that the person to whom the job has been assigned won't have the foundation (structure) upon which to make sound decisions.  Rules, guidelines, codes of conduct, decision making principles - these are all tools that can be used effectively to give shape to the ghost.  Using these umbrella criteria can help a developing leader handle delegation more effectively.

If you want to be less like a ghost and ensure that your Quadrant Two (not urgent but important) items are being addressed before they become crises, create structure by entering official time slots for them in your planner. You make the decision and the commitment ahead of time so your most important tasks are less likely to fall victim to the latest crisis or popular activity.  Just like a budget is to make sure you allow room in your finances for important investments and expenditures, your planner helps to make sure you have reserved room in your life for the things that are important to you.

Does this sound obvious to you?  It might be.  But far more people know to do this than actually do it.

Zombie syndrome - too much structure
Structure gives order and predictability to the day. When you get up, get showered and dressed, eat breakfast and head out to work in the same sequence every day you're often halfway to work before you actually have to think in a conscious fashion.  You don't wake up in the morning and decide, "Well, I think I'll go to work today" because going to work is a foregone conclusion.  You're on autopilot, executing preconditioned behaviors, a beneficial capability of your brain that frees up your conscious mind for other activities. Your stress level is relatively low because you're not having to make any decisions other than perhaps what to wear.

While structure can help reduce stress and establish beneficial habits by setting up automatic action, too much of a good thing can result in your brain being chronically disengaged from the task at hand.  You become like a zombie, just going through the motions.  

Remember the old Dunkin Donuts commercial where it's four a.m. and the donut man sits up suddenly in bed, wide-eyed but unseeing, and trudges off to get dressed for work, muttering, "Time to make the donuts..." After a while under too much structure you might find yourself partway down a routine cow path and not remember why you're doing it this way. The routine might no longer be the most desirable or the most effective method, but because it's in your structure you're doing it without evaluating it.

Too much structure can also lead to inflexibility and thereby negatively impact your interpersonal relationships. Remember, zombies can lose their body parts quite easily!  If you find yourself saying (even just inside your head) "yeah, yeah, yeah - hurry up so I can get on with my day," when a colleague or family member is talking to you you're probably placing too much focus on yourself and/or your own tasks. You might have your daily run scheduled for 4:00 p.m., but your eight-year-old might not have scheduled her nosebleed around it.  If you find yourself resenting coworkers or loved ones for imposing on your day, you're treating them as objects or obstacles and dehumanizing them.

You also might benefit from letting go of your structure temporarily when current conditions are outside the status quo. For example, if you're feeling ill, you might feel better faster if you choose to go ahead and sleep in for a few extra minutes. If your child is upset, stop what you're doing and just listen or give them a hug. If it's a holiday, take some time off and get a change of scenery - do something fun.

Ghost or zombie behaviors are preferences that can be extensions of your behavioral style and your values.  But regardless of your default preference, if you are a leader you're charged with accomplishing results.  You will be most effective when whatever you're doing, you are doing it on purpose. Be aware and make conscious decisions. Sometimes that means invoking more structure and sometimes that means tossing your routines aside.  You'll know you've made progress when you get closer and closer to achieving your goals.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Finding common ground in the midst of conflict

Interpersonal conflict can make even the best job
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miserable to do.  It can wear you down day to day, interfering with your willingness to engage fully in your work.  At its worst it creates turnover, costing both the company and the person who leaves because he or she can't take it anymore.  But how does one get around it, through it, maybe even find some peace with it?

Leadership guru Stephen Covey would say that you should "Seek first to understand, then to be understood."  He would tell you that it's incumbent upon you to try to understand the other person first, whether they are doing the same for you or not.

The following descriptions of sources of conflict might help you to sort through and understand what's really going on in your workplace.  

  1. Behavioral style differences - One of you likes to hear only the high points, one likes to tell stories, one is slow and methodical, one is obsessed with being right and analyzing the details.  When you and that other person have different, even incompatible, behavioral styles you can reduce conflict by "translating" your information and presenting it in the way that they prefer. 
  2. Values differences - People are motivated differently from one another, and they find different things important.  Your company can help this situation by identifying certain values or decision criteria that they expect all employees to share.  But even with the common ground of shared company values, one of you might think autonomy is important.  One of you might be focused on helping other people, One of you might be motivated by learning, or by harmony and balance.  You can reduce conflict when you understand what's important to the other person and find the connections between your information and their values.
  3. Aptitude differences - Some people are "interpersonally tone deaf" and simply don't realize that what they are saying and/or doing might be highly upsetting to other people.  There's a segment of your company that naturally intellectualizes about things, and sees potential rules to be established - and they follow existing rules to the letter.  A few of your colleagues have a talent for knowing what to do about a situation, even if the circumstances aren't ideal and the materials and/or methods have to be improvised.
  4. Cultural differences - Cultural difference might be reflected in values; certain cultures are more oriented toward extended family, for instance, than are others.  Culture is demonstrated through a group of shared values and behaviors that people do by habit, without thinking about them.  It's just "the way it's done."
  5. Differences in information - Sometimes the parties engaged in conflict don't have access to the same set of data.  If they did the evidence would likely send their thinking in a more similar direction.  The problem with this source of conflict is that if people are already shutting down in their communication as a result of conflict, they often aren't disposed to sharing information.  Some people won't be willing to talk at all.
Disagreement is never going away in the workplace, nor should it.  If everyone in the business is a "yes man" important factors can be missed in decision making.  Bad decisions can be made if individuals suppress disagreement, thinking that no conflict is always the goal.  Disagreement need not be disagreeable.

If unnecessary conflict is going to be resolved or at least minimized, someone has to be willing to come to the table first, and the only person you can control is you.  Is this fair?  Perhaps not, but ultimately you need to determine what's most important - is it your status compared to the other person or a "win"?  Or is it more appropriate to be focused primarily on the company's goals and your customers' needs? When you perpetuate a conflict it's possible that you're making it about you, your preferences and your ego, and that's not an appropriate center for business behavior.