Posts Tagged ‘Leader driven harmony’

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

Whenever listening to a public speaker, ask yourself two things: 1) Does the message make sense without the skilled speaker’s delivery and 2) Were the key points crystal clear? Make sure that (you)

  1. Remove the oratory (the effect of the speaker’s delivery style and voice).  You can either do this mentally or you can find a transcript of the speech.  Do the words still make sense when just written, not spoken?
  2. If the key messages were not clear, was that intentional?  Could simpler, more commonly used words have made the message unmistakable?  If so, then why wasn’t it said that way?  Perhaps it was worded so each member of the audience could interpret the speech individually by “hearing what they wanted to hear?”

The danger is being lulled into complacency.  Quite a large number of reasonably intelligent people adopt “selective hearing” when a speaker or writer uses ambiguous words: They often see/hear what they want to see/hear, either pro or con.  And less-educated people, who mistakenly question their own ability to understand “complex” subjects and assume the unfamiliar words surely must make sense to somebody, fall into the same trap.  This is partly because everyone is busy managing their daily affairs, working and . . . . just . . . living.  It is soooo easy to defer to the “ruling class” in the State capitol and/or Washington DC – – – the professional economists, strategists, politicians and lobbyists.  But many things that happen in the State and US capitols impact the business environment and, therefore, the company where you work.

The Danger for Our Country:

This “letting the experts handle complex things” is an age-old problem in every country and is especially risky in any democracy or republic, regardless of your political persuasion.  Howard Troxler said this temptation to be lazy is very dangerous in last week’s editorial “I’m Too Busy is not an optionin a Virginian Pilot editorial on June 13th (an outstanding newspaper, BTW).  He says, in part,

We should pay more attention to what Washington is doing. We should pay more attention to what the state legislature is doing. We should pay more attention to what City Hall and the School Board are doing. If we don’t, then the same bunch in Washington will keep right on driving the country off the cliff. . . . Paying attention is not something optional that you can get around-to one day. Tell everybody you know.”

The Danger for Your Company

There are clear parallels in the business world:  It is easy to get tunnel-vision, to adopt a narrow focus on only your little part of the organization.  Don’t do this.  Know the big picture.  Listen closely to management’s speeches but be sure you know what matters most in your organization (cash flow, orders backlog, etc.).  In any company be sure you understand at least four things:

  1. How the financial community rates your firm (if publicly traded) and what they are saying about your management (good, bad, strong vision, confused, etc.)
  2. The company’s long term strategic plan and how your team (and job) fits into that plan
  3. How your company generates cash
  4. What your team’s financial objectives are for the month, quarter and year (in other words, what your boss signed you up to accomplish)

If you are intimidated by financial terms and statements, here is a great $20 booklet “Guide to Finance Basics for Managers” from Harvard Business Review at. Remember – – – what you don’t know can hurt you!

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

Guys, have you ever found the zipper down on your pants and realized, because you haven’t been to the rest room in hours, that it must have been that way for a long time?  And you strongly suspect other people may have noticed but didn’t tell you.  Ladies have you ever casually glanced in a mirror only to smile and find lipstick smeared on your teeth?  And in either case you wished you’d had someone around who cared more about your appearance than your feelings, didn’t you?  You needed someone who would tell you the truth no matter what.  You needed a truth-teller.

Do you wish you had had a friend or family member who would have told you years ago when those first few excess pounds started to creep onto your waistline?  You might have been annoyed to hear it but a comment of “Munching on a few too many ice cream bars these days old friend?” would have saved you all the dieting you must now endure.  You needed a truth-teller.

Truth Teller

A truth- teller is more than just a friend.  And it might not even be a friend.  Some of the best advice you will get through the years will come from people who either don’t know you or know you and dislike you.  Abraham Lincoln was running for political office and his opponent called him a horse’s ass.  When told of this and asked what he planned to do about it Lincoln is rumored to have said something like “My opponent is a smart man – – – I think I had better go home and look in the mirror”.

But a friend who is also a truth-teller is especially helpful.  Close friends know your weaknesses.  They know the things you intentionally avoid.  They know the things that routinely blind side you.  This is the person who will tell you straight up that you have terrible breath. (By the way anytime a stranger offers you a breath mint, take it.  They typically aren’t doing it to be polite.  Your breath stinks.  Thank them, take the mint and make a mental note that they may be a good candidate for a truth teller.)

Note that your truth teller friends may be people who want you to reciprocate and to also be their truth tellers but maybe not.  Not every ego is strong enough to benefit from a truth-telling friend.  The best relationship is, of course, when either person can be completely open and honest about the other’s shortcomings or imminent mistakes.  Just make sure that you cultivate several truth-tellers in your life.  You do this by asking them to tell you when you are about to make a mistake such as risking the date of a life time just to watch ten more minutes of a ball game.  You want them to tell you when you are about to risk a great job by responding childishly to a perceived injustice at work.  Such a friend is priceless.  Try to find several, make sure they are always comfortable telling you the whole, hard truth and be sure to always thank them for doing so even if your feelings have been hurt a little.

The old saying…

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”

… is true!

And only a truth-telling friend can provide the prevention. Otherwise life will provide the cure and it is seldom pleasant!

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

In this six part mini-series we have talked about how other people can cause us to feel stressed, how we can recognize their disruptive behaviors and how (and when) we can then get them stopped.  Just remember a few key points:

  • Aggressive people (especially bullies) count on other people’s high threshold for avoiding confrontation.  Bullies grow accustomed to “getting away with” bad behavior, with actions that unnecessarily inconvenience others.  Bullying in schools has become an epidemic and has resulted in tragedies when the victims commit murder or suicide. But even just a little corrective effort, by lots of people, adds up to lots of positive impact.
  • Sometimes, insecurity causes people to overcompensate and cross into aggressive behavior.  But we will leave the issue of “cause” for mental health professionals to address.  Law enforcement officers will tell you that bullies should be confronted early in their “careers”, when their aggressive behavior is first noticed by parents, teachers or the victims.  A society’s tolerance of bad behavior usually lets it get worse because, as with criminals in general, bullies usually just get more aggressive, not less.  Just as petty crimes lead to major crimes, minor bullying and “pushing” behavior in a person can lead to the person developing into an increasingly aggressive person who leaves a bow-wave of stress as they plow through the lives of others.
  • Each society determines what behavior is acceptable and the people of that society then individually and collectively enforce those norms.  Whenever a subset of individuals violates the norms, other people will be at least inconvenienced causing minor stress or perhaps even aggravated causing serious stress and in extreme cases innocent bystanders can be injured or killed.
  • To minimize the stress you feel from others, help them learn more friendly, cooperative behaviors.  We live in North Carolina and our “Southern” politeness and manners on the highway, in lines at restaurants and when shopping are different than those shown by many visitors who come from just a few hours’ drive north.  I often advise my neighbors and friends not to let our Northern visitors’ behaviors cause them undue stress but to instead use the opportunity to gently teach and to demonstrate “proper” manners.  For example, you can say “you are most welcome” when you hold the door open for someone who doesn’t even speak to you as they whip through it.  And you can graciously let drivers out of parking lots and let others merge into your lane in front of you.  You should even move over quickly for an aggressive driver coming up behind you in the left lane, because it is just common sense plus the law requires you to let faster vehicles pass on the left.  The result of all this accommodating behavior will be less stress for all concerned.

So now go practice keeping other people from stressing you out!  In a future post I will show you how to avoid the most dangerous stress of all – – – self-induced stress!

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

Have you ever been taken advantage of by a stranger who cuts in front of you in line and you wished you had spoken up?  Have there been times when someone else’s behavior was driving you crazy but you didn’t have the courage to speak to them about it?  Well here are some tips for doing just that – – – confronting someone about their behavior and doing it in a way that stands the best possible chance of getting them to change what they are doing without them getting angry at you.  At this point we assume that you have already decided that confronting the person is not inherently dangerous and that their behavior is sufficiently bothersome that you have decided to mention it to them.  Intervening now has three parts:

  • Getting their attention
  • Establishing some rapport and
  • Telling them what you want them to do.

At the office, talking with a direct report (employee) about changing their behavior can be a formal HR-related issue and it deserves some preparation and forethought – – – After all these are your coworkers and you are about to ask them to change their behavior.  But whether the person is a direct report or a peer, you’ll want to meet in a private place where both of you can speak openly. And HOW you ask for that meeting actually impacts the tone of the subsequent conversation.  Assuming you are not the person’s supervisor, try one of these ice breakers:

  • Could I ask a favor? I’d like to pick you brain on a problem I am having. Could we chat somewhere quiet for 5 minutes?
  • I need your advice on something.  Could we have a coffee this afternoon?
  • You seem to genuinely care about our organization and the people here.  So here is some constructive criticism that will make you even more effective with your peers.

Once you are in the private office meeting, these openings are often effective:

  • I think you are a sensitive, caring person.  But one behavior you sometimes exhibit when under stress is actually causing your coworkers some major stress.
  • You are doing something that is upsetting your colleagues, and I don’t believe you even realize you are doing it.
  • Have you noticed how upset other people get when you . . .
  • And the most powerful change-inducing phrase ever: When you [insert the other person’s troublesome behavior here], it makes me feel [insert how you feel here]. An example would be When you make snide comments about me behind my back, it makes me feel that you don’t appreciate the long hours and hard work I do here. It is powerful because it is unassailable.  Other people cannot argue with it because you are only saying how you personally feel.  And it is an expression of fact.  Plus you are not actually asking them to change their behavior (yet).  This is a very powerful technique and should be used with care.

Not Intentional

Bear in mind that, when confronting stress-generating people, you always want to give them the benefit of the doubt.  You want to choose your initial words based on the seriousness of the offense committed by the other person.  I always just assume people don’t wrong me intentionally; they are usually just in La La Land and are not paying attention. Example: The lady who cuts in front of you in the bank line may have thought you were completing a deposit slip and weren’t even ready to see the teller.  After all you were writing on something.  So be as polite as possible when you confront her as she walks past you, headed to the teller.  Smile and say softly “Sorry, I think I am next in line”.

The opposite end of the behavior spectrum is the person who allows a small child to cross a busy parking lot alone, weaving between stopped cars – – – now that requires some strong and immediate intervention because a life is in danger.

The three steps

Step 1 – Getting their attention:  Here are time-tested opening lines arranged from most polite to most confrontational.

  • Could I ask a favor?
  • This is going to sound weird but could you please . . .
  • My daughter used to cry just like yours, and for no apparent reason.  You might try . . .
  • On the airplane or train: Excuse me.  I think that is my seat.
  • Something odd just happened . . .
  • Actually, there is a line here – – – we are all waiting for the kiosk
  • Whoa buddy.  There is already a line here.
  • We all need to keep an eye on children so they stay safe.  Did you know your toddler daughter was crossing this line of traffic between stopped cars, all alone?
  • I don’t think you realize what you just did!  What were you thinking?
  • You could have killed someone with that move just now, sir!
  • PLEASE DON’T DO THAT!

Steps 2 and 3.

Establishing rapport and asking for a change in behavior.  These two steps are often very closely related and can happen almost in the same sentence.  Savvy conversationalists also call this “moving the conversation sideways” and then asking for the change.  You are trying to get the other person to become a little sympathetic to your needs, which makes them MUCH more likely to change what they are doing that is causing you stress.

  • This has been the day from Hell.  I am exhausted.  Could I ask you to put those heavy groceries in my minivan right there please?
  • To the policeman who just pulled you over: This day has been unbelievable.  I am late for work for the second day in a row.  What did I do wrong, officer?
  • To the spouse: Honey, my job is draining me.  Even you said you have never seen me look this exhausted.  Could we talk about some ways that we can share the household chores so I can have a little energy left for the kids and for you each night?
  • To the loud mouth in the restaurant booth behind you:  This is our first night out of the house in a month.  Could you lower your voice please so we can enjoy a quiet dinner?
  • You seem like a nice person.  Could you please . . .
  • Had a rough day?  Me too.  But can you turn down that music just a little, please?  Thanks man.
  • Our ears are ringing! Can you please take your child outside until she stops screaming?  Thanks.

In this five-part series we have examined how we can get the people around us, the people in our workplace, family, circle of friends and even strangers, to stop causing us unnecessary stress.  Next week we will conclude this mini-series on stress reduction and offer some final advice on persistently driving the unhealthy stress out of your daily life.

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

Have you noticed that the actions of some people often cause you stress and frustration? Does interacting with certain colleagues, bosses and/or direct-reports in the workplace cause your blood pressure to sky rocket?  Have you ever wished you could do something about it?  Well, you can!  You can get those behaviors changed.

(Note that in this series we’ll be talking about changing a behavior, not a person. Understanding that a person’s behavior is separate from the person himself [or herself, we use the masculine form to represent both or either] is fundamental to changing our or anyone else’s behavior.  Later posts will explain this in more detail.)

We have identified at least five distinct types of stress-producing behavior:  Day Dreaming, Comparing, Time Traveling, Gut Reacting and Grade Schooling.  Let’s look at examples of each.  (Warning: you will think of people you know when you read these descriptions and you may see yourself here!)

  1. Day Dreaming:  We sometimes say a person must be day dreaming when they seem unaware of their surroundings.  Such people can cause serious stress in others without realizing it.  If confronted they may be genuinely surprised. One glaring example is the order-taker at the restaurant drive-through speaker who mumbles or stringsallthewordstogether.  He causes stress for customers who must repeatedly ask “what?”, for the kitchen staff who keeps getting incorrect orders returned and for the manager who must apologize to frustrated customers. Another common example is the person talking very loudly into a cell phone, disrupting the peace and quiet for everyone within hearing distance – – –  usually the person is completely unaware that there ARE people around, not to mention the effect his loud voice is having on them.  At work, this can be the boss who provides poor direction and blames others for the resulting confusion (expects employees to read her mind) or routinely and cavalierly says hurtful things about others in public. It can also be the colleague who embarrasses himself and others with inappropriate jokes or sexual innuendos, totally unaware of the pained looks on the faces of onlookers. People who are Day Dreaming are often oblivious to the stress they cause in the lives of others.
  2. Comparing:  This is the often-subconscious act of looking at the happiness of another person and comparing it to your own mental state.  Some people are only happy when they come out on top in such a comparison.  They are happiest when others are miserable.  When they act on these comparisons they can cause lots of stress in others.  People who think this way will disrupt a pleasant conversation by interjecting a piece of bad news that instantly changes the feel of the gathering from happy to sad.  Or they will use a “yes, but” maneuver:  “Yes, winning the office’s sales contest would be great for our team but we are short two people and we have never been able to do it before.”
  3. Time Traveling:  This behavior is generation-driven; the Baby Boomer who cannot stop herself from asking everyone who gets to a meeting even a minute late “What time does the 9:30 meeting start?”; or the Gen Yer who cannot resist asking the Baby Boomer having cell phone problems “That advanced technology giving you problems there, Grandpa?”  The result is always more stress.
  4. Gut Reacting: People who routinely use this behavior are seen as the quick-draws at work, the people who always have a fast come-back to any comment.  But they also often omit the think step that should always occur before the speak step.  Their fast, knee-jerk response leaves no time for thoughts of “should I say this?” OR “will it hurt someone’s feelings?” OR “how could this comment be taken?” The result is often wounded pride and stress in others.
  5. Grade Schooling: This behavior is usually motivated by revenge, jealousy, power-trips or other markers of immaturity.  Examples include sabotaging an initiative at work so the originator fails; calling attention to yourself (even negatively) because you need the constant reinforcement of being noticed (poor self- image); or doing something just because you can even if it causes stress in others, for example driving continuously in the left lane of a superhighway so you can keep other people from driving 56 mph in a 55 mph zone.  People who do these things seem to be stuck with only the emotional maturity they had in grade school – – – they just never grew up.

In upcoming posts we’ll show you how to deal with each of these behaviors.  You’ll see how to first decide whether to intervene, then how to get the person’s attention, and establish some rapport (if possible), and lastly how to request a change in the person’s stress-inducing behavior.  We’ll show you how to do these things in the workplace but the techniques will also work well when shopping, in restaurants, with the family at home and in lots of other situations.

And if you think there are other categories of stress-inducing behavior, beyond the five we mentioned above, we’d like to hear from you.  Email me at Mack@SolidThinking.org

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

In our last post we talked about what the organization can do for the new Gen Y hire, to help ensure a successful entry into the group.  In this last of a series of four posts we will see what Gen Ys themselves should be doing to quickly become a valued contributor and team member?  We suggest focusing on six key behavior clusters:

  1. Listen and learn. You almost never learn when you are talking. And in any new job you have a lot to learn.  But most people don’t listen well – – –  they merely pretend to listen while they compose a response to what they are hearing.  To break this habit, take notes while others are speaking.
  2. Know how your boss likes to communicate. HBR still has available online the classic paper “Managing Oneself” by Peter F. Drucker.  Every boss, employee and new-college-hire should read those 11 pages. New GenYs should ask how their bosses and peers want to communicate.  Is your new boss a listener, talker or reader?  This is crucial information.
  3. Join the team for the long haul. One mindset likely to frustrate you and your management is to overly focus on having a sudden intuitive brainstorm that changes the company or launches a new product and catapults you into the President’s office!  Understand that the financial success of rappers and Hollywood stars and others who, with seemingly limited talent have secured nearly unlimited wealth is very, very rare.  Seth Godin calls this phenomenon “The Purple Cow” and his book, same title, is a great read check it out at).  Focus on helping others, learning all you can about your job and becoming a valued member of the team.
  4. Be tactful. *This is the exception to the previous advice to always “Say what you mean”.  Words are powerful things especially when spoken to or about people.  The key here is to separate a person’s behavior from the person.  Only correct a person’s behavior, never labeling the person as problematic.  Another rule that helps me is to never say something about another that I haven’t already said to them.
  5. Be open-minded. Look for things you can learn, not just from other Gen Ys but from Gen X, Boomers and Traditionalists.  These other generations have seen and done things you won’t get to do for decades, if ever.  Some jobs in an organization require experience and that takes time:  you cannot assign three women to the job and grow a baby in three months instead of nine!  Learn from the unique perspectives, experiences and stories of the other generations.  Keep a journal of ideas, possible projects, ways to improve things, etc. and use it in your employee performance reviews with your boss.
  6. Be reliable. Do what you say you’ll do, every time.  And if an unforeseen (and hopefully unforeseeable) problem looks like it will derail your plan, advise anyone who needs to know.  Give them an early heads-up of the possible change in plans.  Under promise and over-deliver.  Control the expectations of others and then surprise them.

Now here is a last-ditch technique for any deeply entrenched Gen Xers, Baby Boomers and Traditionalists out there, stuck in their old ways of thinking and unable to accept Gen Ys into an organization. If nothing else works for you, not the sensitivity training, not the classes arranged by HR, the great videos by Jason Dorsey nor even your boss’s warning that you need to “get with it and learn to play nice with the new-hires”.  Then try this: Train yourself to think of Gen Ys as belonging to a foreign culture.  That’s right, think of them as being from another country entirely.  You don’t expect foreign nationals to behave like you do.  With their different cultures, values and standards for behavior, we expect them to behave differently.  Do the same for Gen Ys.

We have seen this little mental trick prevent the eye-rolls and other knee-jerk reactions some older people have to some of the occasional stereotypical behaviors of Gen Ys (showing up late for work, telling established managers how to do their jobs, texting while you are conversing with them, jumping across multiple layers in a large organization, etc.).  And if we can break the older person’s stimulus-response chain by adding an interim “thinking” step that says “hold on a minute, this Gen Y person’s brain is not wired exactly like mine”, we can perhaps help older workers accommodate the newcomers.  We are going to need Gen Ys’ outlandish ideas and bold thinking to tackle challenges in the years to come because none of us is as smart as all of us.

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation