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Archive for the ‘communication skills’ Category


So you’re a manager or team leader and you’ve dumped on your people and treated them as underlings and ninnies for quite some time. Now you find you’ve got employees who give you lip, call in sick, refuse to do you favours and resist your direction. You know they talk about you behind your back. They’ve complained about you to your supervisor/manager and everything is falling apart on you. Clearly, no one has any respect for you and some don’t even care about the consequences of acting out their anger and frustration. You’ve received your wake-up call but don’t know how to fix the mess you’ve created.

As a bully manager, you are a liability to your company. Your behaviour can result in law suits being filed by employees and former employees. You cause turnover and you also cause people to take stress leave. Your behaviour seriously hampers productivity and causes customers to desert you.

Furthermore, I’ve never met a bully manager who wasn’t all stressed out by their conflicts at work. It takes a lot of energy to be a creep. If you have a history of being a mean-spirited, condescending jerk, then you need to understand that you are bound to have your comeuppance. As Groucho Marx once cleverly said, “Time wounds all heels.”

The process of building trust as a manager is one that takes patience and commitment, so if you’re looking for a quick fix, you can forget it. Naturally, it will be especially difficult if you’ve got a reputation for being a jerk (that’s the polite term). Take heart, though. I said it will be difficult, but it is definitely possible to create a positive environment even when your leadership has been less than exemplary. Here are some tips to get you started:

No Double Standards: If you want your employees to respect you, you need to follow the exact same rules you expect them to follow; and do it 100 per cent of the time.

Respect: You have to give respect in order to get it, so make sure all of your interactions with your team members are non-threatening. Never speak to others in a condescending tone. Ask politely and don’t give orders.

Show Genuine Interest: People naturally like people who take an interest in them. Ask your employees if they had a pleasant weekend; ask about their family, pets and hobbies. Ask about anything that isn’t too personal and take an interest in what they tell you.

Share Information: Share a little personal information and share information related to the business. Openness is an important part of building trust. When you share, others will reciprocate.

Be Helpful: Don’t set up road blocks for your employees. Give them every opportunity to be successful. Encourage them to be the best they can be by offering your assistance and friendly advice. Offer courses, books or whatever else you need to offer to build their confidence and skills.

Be Flexible: Even though rules are important, it is also important to be flexible enough to bend them once in a while for people. If you treat people the way you would want to be treated under the same circumstances, then you will know when flexibility is necessary.

Have Fun: Don’t take things so seriously all the time. It’s ok to let loose and relax with people. Tell a clean joke or a funny story. As long as your remarks are not negative or potentially hurtful to someone, it should be safe to have a laugh.

Don’t Be a Hot Head: If someone annoys you, don’t blast them right away. Cool down and find the appropriate moment to address the behaviour in a civilized fashion. You may find that after you’ve cooled down, that it really wasn’t that big a deal.

Pick Your Battles: Understand that you don’t always have to be right, and even if you are right, it’s ok if you are the only one who knows it. Some arguments just aren’t worth pursuing. If the matter is not really earth shattering, then don’t waste your energy on it.

Don’t Be Vindictive: Never try to get even with people. No one can respect or trust anyone who cannot take the high road. We win when we choose grace over drama.

Don’t Be a Control Freak: Give people credit for having intelligent ideas and capabilities. If things always have to be done your way, then you are doing a great disservice to the business. No one is perfect and acting like you are better than everyone else will only serve to alienate you from the people you need the most: your team.

Don’t Engage in Constructive Dismissal Practices: Constructive dismissal is a sleazy practice that doesn’t escape the notice of the victim’s co-workers. It seriously hampers productivity and fosters an environment of extreme mistrust and lack of respect. If you need to fire someone, then do it as nicely as possible. Civil behaviour is always best.

These tips just scratch the surface. I’m looking forward to the day when companies adopt and actually enforce a zero tolerance policy around bullying and workplace harassment. To date, I have seen a lot of companies who simply pay lip service. It makes me question how people interpret the word, “harassment” and I wonder why some types of harassment are condoned while others are not. Harassment is bad for business, no matter who is doing it or how they are doing it.

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A number of months ago I had my kitchen renovated and a couple of weeks into the project, the designer, “went on leave”. I later found out she would certainly not be coming back. The same company lost its receptionist recently and when I called to follow up on a problem I requested be fixed, I was told she “retired”. Sure! Judging from the dealings we had with this company I am pretty sure that is simply a euphemism for, “she quit”. In fact, I’m surprised she lasted as long as she did!

Geeze! It reminds me of a company I used to work for. Whenever someone got fired an obscure email would circulate saying that person was no longer with the company. It always felt a little weird. Now, I know they can’t very well divulge the details of an employee’s departure, but there is always something a little curious/ominous about the use of euphemisms. Who do they think they are fooling, anyway?

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An employee hands his resignation into his manager. The boss is surprised and disappointed. This guy was his best worker. He thought he was really engaged and had high hopes for him. When he asks his departing employee why he is leaving the company, the employee simply states he received a better opportunity from someone else.

What really happened? Do engaged employees really quit their jobs to pursue better opportunities? No they don’t. Being an engaged employee means being very committed to what you are doing with your current employer. It means your work is challenging enough, you are comfortable with the corporate culture, you feel like you are a part of the greater vision and you are making a measurable difference. Engaged employees do not quit. Not ever. It is only when they become disillusioned, frustrated, fearful, or experience some other negative emotion that they become disengaged and then quit “for a better opportunity”. That phrase, “a better opportunity” is really a euphemism for, “you suck”.

So what were the game changing moves that caused your precious employee to become disengaged? It is really important to ask yourself what went wrong. When you lose employees, you need to take it personally, because it is personal. They may not hate you as a person, but you somehow failed them from a management perspective and you will continue to lose employees if you do not reflect on the real circumstances of their departure.

Reflecting on the circumstances will allow you to get to the real issue. Don’t blow off the excuses. Drill down and find the truth you need to see. The employee will never tell you the whole truth, so you need to put your thinking cap on and drop your ego into the garbage bin. If they tell you they need more money, for example, they are more likely telling you they feel taken advantage of (money is rarely, if ever an issue for engaged employees). You need to then ask yourself why they would feel taken advantage of. What did you do to make them feel that way?

Taking the time to reflect on your failings as a leader will allow you to improve your skills. Asking yourself what you could have done differently and remodelling your style, so to speak, will give you better results as you endeavour to keep employee engagement at a high level.

Here are some of the real reasons people become disengaged and quit their jobs:
1. Something damaged the relationship between the manager and the employee
2. Doesn’t fit in with co-workers
3. Feels their job may be in jeopardy
4. Feels taken advantage of
5. Feels unsupported
6. Feels unappreciated
7. Confused about expectations
8. Embarrassed by performance of co-workers/company (lots of mistakes and angry customers)
9. Lack of equipment needed to perform quality work
10. No future opportunities for advancement or improvement
11. Negative corporate culture
12. Bored with tasks (work feels meaningless and unchallenging)
13. Personal values conflict with corporate values or scope of job
14. Life changes (spouse gets transfer, illness, etc)
Except for number 14, all of the above mentioned reasons can be dealt with before employees decide to quit. Communication is the key. Building rapport with your employees and fostering an environment of trust, excellence, respect and integrity will help you a lot.

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I had a book signing event at a prominent book store on the weekend. Since I am an author and an employee engagement specialist, I asked one of the store’s managers if he was interested in business leadership books. His response to me was that he was not interested in developing his leadership skills and that he just punches the clock and does what he is told. Later, when I was leaving, I stopped by his office to say good bye and he was chewing out one of his staff for goofing off while someone was on break.

So there he is; another disengaged manager trying to engage his employees by yelling at them for being disengaged. Good grief! Here’s a news flash: You cannot engage employees if you are not engaged yourself! Your attitude is contagious. If you are enthusiastic and interested in what you are doing, then your people will be more likely to embrace your enthusiasm as you try to connect with them on a human level. If you are barely interested in your work and “punch the clock” then don’t expect much more from your employees. Your disinterest is the model of behaviour they are following!

When I left the store, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of company would even want a guy like that on their payroll. Are they so desperate for managers that they have to resort to hiring people who have no drive, or is that hiring manager just as disengaged as he is? Hmm. Something to ponder…

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I regularly play a training game with my clients, which demonstrates the power of positive feedback. I divide the workshop participants into three groups and assign three leaders. The object of the game is to toss a penny against the wall and have it land on a strip of masking tape placed about two feet from the wall. The leader of each team is given a separate set of instructions which must be kept secret. One leader is to give only positive feedback to their team mates, and should continually offer encouragement by saying things like. “Good try.” “Nice technique”, etc. The second team leader is to say nothing at all. He must allow the players to just toss away pennies and make no comments of any kind. The third leader is instructed to give only negative feedback. He must make comments like, “That’s terrible!” “What are you doing?” “You suck,” etc.

I have to say that every time I play this game, the results are always the same. The team who gets positive feedback always manages to get the most pennies on the tape. The team who gets no feedback does much worse, and the team that receives only negative feedback gets the worst score of all. Interestingly, that team tries really hard to win. They support each other and offer encouragement to each other. They shut out the team leader completely, physically blocking his view of their performance. They do this every single time! It’s fascinating, and people do this at work all the time.

Think about your experiences with negative managers. How did you and your co-workers cope? Did you all gang up and complain about him/her whenever you had the chance? Were there things you tried to keep your boss from seeing? How can you use what you know about motivation to build the power of your team?

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Don’t you hate working with people who have no desire to help or do anything beyond what is written in their job description? Isn’t it frustrating to have to wait for some important information to come from a co-worker who takes her sweet old time getting things done and holds up everyone else?

I once saw a T-shirt that read, “Lead, follow or get out of the way!” I can’t tell you how many times I have come across people who made me think of that line. I do get frustrated by those who refuse to take the lead, but aren’t willing to either follow or get out of the way. How do you overcome the hurdles of working with uncooperative people? No matter what your position in a company, everyone needs to learn how to gain willing cooperation from others. Here are a few tips to help you bring about action when you need it the most:

Try to see things from the other person’s point of view. Before you allow yourself to get upset about not being able to move forward on a project, take a moment to think about the other person’s priorities. The world shouldn’t have to stop and come running to help you because you have a sudden need.

Taking the time to politely explain your case and the reason why your need is so urgent, could also be helpful. Sometimes people are unwilling to do things because they either don’t fully understand why they must be done, or they don’t understand the task. Make sure you are very clear about expressing your needs. Never be demanding or hostile. That is the fast way to get shut down.

Use what you learn about your co-worker’s needs as leverage. Knowledge is power. Asking him about the projects he is working on will allow you to better understand his needs. The more you know about your co-worker’s needs the more likely you will be able to offer assistance. Offering to help him out on another project in exchange for a favour, for example, may be enough for you to get things rolling again. It’s all about give and take. You can’t expect to just take all the time. Be prepared to lend a hand whenever the need arises.

Maintain a generous spirit. People like to help likeable people. Make a point of saying hello to your co-workers and take an interest in what they have to say and the things they like to do. People love to talk about themselves, they love to hear their name and they love to hear nice things about themselves. Always be sincere in your interest and comments to others and only say nice things. The warmer and friendlier you are with the people you work with, the better your relationships will be all around.

Bring in a treat once in a while. Everybody loves a little treat. Nothing says you’re special like a surprise cup of java or a batch of cookies. It doesn’t cost much to do and the return on investment is priceless!

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