Posts Tagged ‘frustration’

A highly creative team can make or break a company and they require special care and feeding (literally).  The complaints coming from creative people we have worked with through the years fall into three buckets of “frustrations”:  mundane, daily frustrations; professional frustrations, and management-induced frustrations.  Let’s look at each one and see how we can prevent it.

  1. Mundane, daily frustrations – These include heavy traffic lengthening the daily commute, difficulty finding a parking spot, and not having change for the soft drink machine.  So managers, allow people to work from home one day each week.  Also encourage carpooling to ease the parking challenge and reward carpoolers with gas money.  Lastly, put healthy drinks in the machines and let the company pay for them (select the “coinless” setting in the machines or buy your own machines).  One firm we know did this and also keeps a large kitchen fully stocked with instant soups and other fast foods, all free to employees.
  2. Professional frustrations – Engineers never seem to have requirements that they can use.  They always want better requirements.  And your engineers do deserve the most solid requirements you can generate, blessed by the end users of the system.  So make that happen.  Visit multiple users and get the system specification, contract and the requirements aligned.  Also, scientists always seem to need better tools and equipment.  This gets expensive fast but you should meet their needs whenever it makes good business sense.  But do two things here:
    • tie new tools to higher output, faster analyses/studies, etc. and
    • require the scientists to triage their needs so you work on filling the most crucial needs first.
  3. Management-induced frustrations – and here there are several:
    • Mismatched expectations, when management thinks they have asked for one thing and the staff provides something different.  Usually this is caused by management thinking they have hired mind readers.  Managers, be overly thorough in your assignments and get confirmation by asking “Now, what are you going to go do, and why?”  You’ll sometimes be amazed at the answer you get!
    • Great inventions and technologies get embedded in technologies and systems, but the project gets cancelled.  Technical/creative types understandably want to see their ideas take wing and launch!  So have an ‘idea greenhouse” where orphaned ideas can await a new home.  And reward people for planting wild ideas there (a year’s membership in the World Futures Society at www.wfs.org or a trip to a super science symposium or a great museum).  Let people know you value great ideas, even (especially?) those ideas that are ahead of their time!  And to prevent premature death of a project, design your projects as carefully as you design your systems (learn to do this in the Project Dominance course offered at Solid Thinking)
    • Hidden assumptions or unvoiced expectations cause the end user to reject the system.  Usually this is because management failed to get user buy-in during the design and development of the system.  Remember that just meeting the specifications is not enough – – – management must seek out representative users and get their vocal support for the system as it is being conceived, developed, built and fielded.  Anything less is risky.

Lastly, here are some Do’s and Don’ts for leaders managing creative teams:

  • Don’t accept problems brought to you by staffers, unless each problem comes with options and a recommendation.  This is how you build creative thinkers (and a replacement for yourself).
  • Don’t belittle noble failures.  Instead, celebrate them with luncheons and rewards (a half-day off, a dinner at a nice restaurant, etc.)  Make it a fun thing.  Build an accepting environment for new ideas, whether they find a home or not.
  • Don’t overlook talent you have within your organization(s).  You may have mission expertise in your organization that you know nothing about.  One of our clients has a “Mission Experience Library” of people with military experience.  If they need someone familiar with aircraft maintenance, for instance, they can query the database and find that ex-sergeant wrench-turner who can provide input on the new automated technical order system being contemplated.

“Take care of the people and the people will take care of the jobs.” (source unknown)

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

In our last post we dealt with situations where we didn’t want to intervene because we questioned the impact on our personal safety of doing so. Now we will look at some situations where intervening and trying to get a person to change their behavior would be safe, but might not be the wisest choice.  We must always ask ourselves if a person’s aggravating behavior really justifies our getting personally involved in a possibly confrontational situation?   Like everyone else, you have a threshold of tolerance for bad behavior by others.  Can you just ignore the behavior this time?  Can you perhaps even use the situation to your advantage later?

Example #1:  You casually mention to a new hire an idea you have regarding cost savings.  You then learn that the new employee took that idea to your mutual boss and presented it as her own.   The boss loves the idea and publicly thanks the new employee for the great idea at the next all-hands meeting.  Assuming it would be safe to confront your colleague about the unethical behavior, should you?  Does the action rise to the threshold for you to confront the person?  Probably not.  Unless it was a HUGE cost savings for the company, you will only appear petty and selfish.  Instead, I would work into the next private conversation with that person, somewhat jokingly, that I am happy to provide additional career – enhancing ideas for her and then watch her reaction.  If she has any ethics at all she will apologize and then she’ll tell the boss that the idea was mine.  And then she owes me a major favor.  THAT debt is worth something in the big scheme of company life!

Example #2:  You are entertaining business clients. A group of 8 people seated near you at a restaurant are noisy and keeping you and your clients from enjoying a quiet evening.  They are often laughing loudly and seem oblivious to the tables of people near them.  Do you:

  • Confront the people and ask them to quiet down because, after all, you deserve a nice dining experience with your business clients?
  • Complain to the restaurant manager and ask him/her to talk to those people?
  • Begin hinting loudly to your clients and colleagues that “some people should consider the effect of their behavior on others nearby”, hoping they get the hint but secretly daring those hooligans to say anything in response.

My first choice is none of the above.  Ask to be reseated elsewhere, someplace away from that group of happy revelers.  They are obviously enjoying themselves (birthday, anniversary party, etc.) and we strongly support low-stress, happy occasions with friends and family.  Either let it go, join them, or move to a different table.   Your business clients will be impressed at your patience, tolerance and flexibility.

Example #3:  You are driving to work, in the right lane of a 4-lane highway and another driver slices into your lane in front of you, a little closer than you are comfortable with.  You didn’t need to hit your brakes but it aggravated you and you honked your horn.  A mile up the road, you and that driver are side-by-side at a traffic light and his window is down.  You want to say to him “Wow, such a nice car and it doesn’t even include turn signals in the basic package”.  You could do that.  But, it is likely to cause the other driver (especially if it is a guy and he is not alone) to confront you.  And once that happens, he will be defensive and your chance of changing his behavior drops to zero.  So don’t even bother.

My response?

  • If the other driver was trying to get over to an exit off the roadway and just didn’t take the time to signal his lane change, and he didn’t really endanger me, I will let it go.  In fact, he may begin a conversation at the traffic light with “hey man, sorry I cut you off back there.  I was about to miss my exit here.”  I have had that happen several times on the road.  And if he had waved to me to acknowledge me or thank me for not hitting his car, then I have no real issue with him at all.
  • On the other hand, if he was just being a jerk and couldn’t care less about me, then my disapproval will fall on deaf ears.  But I want him to know that I saw his stupid behavior and I choose to let it pass.  So at the light, I will look right at him until his eyes meet mine.  Then I’ll smile and look back to the front and shake my head side-to-side in the universal international expression of disbelief.  I make your point, he knows his silliness didn’t go unnoticed, and no words are needed. [Note: In Germany adding an index finger tapping your temple says “you are an idiot” and can cause a fight.]

So let’s assume we have decided we are going to confront someone about their behavior.  We have decided that it is safe, it is worth our involvement and we believe we can (and should) get the person to change.   In the next post we’ll look at some time-tested techniques for getting other people’s attention, building rapport with them and getting them to actually change their behavior so they cause less stress for you!

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

In our last post we looked at two scenarios where, even though other people were causing us stress, we did not ask them to stop because we could not do so safely.  Here is the last scenario before we move on to subject of “is it worth your time to intervene”?  What would you do here?

Scenario:

A lay-off recently occurred at your company and a week later one of the terminated people comes to the receptionist’s area at the office.   You come back from lunch and walk into the situation.  He is obviously distraught and is yelling about the unfairness of the lay-off he mentions that he now has no reason to live.  You know the guy, he seems harmless enough and you just want to end the disruption his ranting is having on the employees.  He has two young children and you just want to take him next door for a coffee and give him a chance to vent awhile.  Should you ask him to stop disrupting the office and offer a shoulder to lean on?

Answer:  Absolutely not.  Doing so would be unsafe for you and your coworkers.  When he 1)  showed back up at the office and 2) mentioned “no reason to go on living”, he crossed a line.  Anyone who seems unstable, no matter how small or harmless looking, must be considered dangerous even if you know them personally.  Crime stats are filled with disgruntled former employees who return to the company and attack former bosses and coworkers.  Quietly lock the door to the work area, have somebody call the police immediately and encourage your people to leave the area where the guy is screaming.

Something like this actually happened to me twice as a manager at a major corporation back in the 1990s.  The first time was when we terminated a PhD in electrical engineering in my organization.  He was odd, lazy and didn’t get along with our other technical staffers so at the end of his 6 month probationary period, we let him go.  He then called a company manager at home, very drunk, and mentioned that he was thinking of returning to the office with a machine gun and killing everyone there.  He asked to meet the manager and talk about his grievances.  The manager correctly declined the meeting and immediately called our security who called the local cops.  The police went to his apartment and had a chat with him and then his photo and a description of his vehicle were posted at every gate to our facility.  Nothing further came of it and we didn’t press charges.

The second time was during a contract in the Arabian Gulf during the build-up to Desert Storm (aka Gulf War 1).  I was leading a team of 105 Americans working on ships and one of them began acting strangely.  He provided (unarmed) pier security on the night shift (6 PM to 6 AM) to prevent pilferage and he complained to coworkers that when he returned to his hotel room each morning, his belongings had been moved around.  He said that the CIA was routinely searching his room!  Nobody else took him seriously but when he started leaving razor knives on storage crates every 50 feet down the pier “in case somebody jumps me” his behavior started to stress the other workers.

These same coworkers warned me that they considered him mentally unbalanced so I asked him to join me for a friendly, private walk-and-chat.  He told me that, beyond any doubt, the CIA was “after him”.  I told him that, were I him, I would take that as a serious threat and I added that maybe the CIA had him confused him with some other person.  He obviously had not thought of that and while he was pondering the ramifications I told him I thought the best thing we could do was to get him out of the Arab Gulf immediately.  He agreed and was on the flight to Amsterdam the next evening, and then home to California’s Long Beach Shipyard.  In this case, I was forced to intervene with an unstable person because I was responsible for the job getting done and the person’s behavior was stressing the rest of the team.  But always do this gently, with kid gloves. Do not be confrontational.

OK, assuming a person’s behavior is causing you stress and you have decided you can intervene without risking your personal safety.  But should you?  In the next post we will learn some proven techniques for determining what type of stressor we are dealing with and how to then get them to stop stressing us out!

In the last post we identified five common types of stressful behaviors:  Day Dreaming, Comparing, Time Traveling, Gut Reacting and Grade Schooling.  Before we get into details about how we will change these people’s aggravating behaviors, we want to encourage you to first use some common sense about deciding if you should undertake the task at all.  You are not the behavior police and some people deserve a WIDE berth.  You should only intervene when you are not risking your personal safety and the person’s behavior is so aggravating that you cannot just let it pass and when you think by confronting the person you might actually have some reasonable chance of getting them to change their behavior.

So in every case, for any type of stress-causing behavior other people exhibit, the three questions you must ask yourself (in this order) before you intervene are

  1. Is it safe to confront this person about their behavior?
  2. Is it worth my effort to confront this person? and
  3. Do I have any real chance of changing their behavior?”

The answer to all three should be “YES” before you intervene.  So let’s look at a few scenarios and see if they get past the first of our three criteria for intervention – – – our personal safety.

Scenario #1

On your way to work in Los Angeles, a car full of men in their early 20s, with shaved heads and their bodies covered in tattoos, stops beside you at a traffic light with their music blaring.  The music is deafening and they appear not to even notice the discomfort it is causing in people nearby.  Do you get involved?

Answer: Are you serious?  Just asking them to turn it down could get you shot.  And you have ZERO chance of changing their future behavior.  So control your testosterone boys (women are smart enough to not even CONSIDER intervening here), keep your eyes forward and drive on.  That was an easy example.  Now for one that is not-so-easy.

Scenario #2

You and your office colleagues are standing in line to order at a fast food restaurant.  A guy near you is acting odd— standing too close to you, fidgeting a lot, looking around nervously and mumbling to himself.  He seems to be in a hurry to get his food but his behavior is annoying.  Do you ask him in a stern voice to step back a bit?

Answer:  No.  This guy is possibly mentally unstable or on drugs or both.  Very odd people should trigger a “flee” response in you. I would just walk out of the restaurant, to my car, and wait for him to leave.  Do not confront someone who may be on drugs and/or mentally on a different planet.  Asking him to “give me a little room, please” might trigger a bizarre response.  Don’t become a statistic.

In our next post we will see an all-too-common scenario, the corporate lay-off, and a disgruntled coworker whose behavior  stresses his colleagues.  Would you ask him to stop?  You may be surprised at the correct answer.

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation