How to move from book-wise to street-smart

I help teams collaborate constructively, to work smart together.  It means training them in positive teamwork theory and creating the environment of trust so that they apply what they learn.

Knowing what to do and doing it are two different stories!

To do this, I lead workshops and create “Aha! Moments” of self-discovery where participants realize how their behavior impacts other people.

  • “You mean when I say, ‘Whatever!’ it gets my manager really frustrated?!”
  • “You mean, the way a person listens determines the kind of information the other person shares?!”

Once they have grown in self-awareness, we move on to learn tools to build both performance and connection.

Knowing what to do and doing it are two different stories! 

Nike says, “Just do it.”

Even the Vice-Dean of Sciences Po business school, Olivier Guillet, calls for action.  In his interview, he recounted the incident when a philosophy professor sought business advice.  The insights he needed to hear (know what you can control, act on those, don’t sweat the rest) were those he taught in his Introduction to Stoics class!  He had not transposed his knowledge into the situation.

This story resonated with me as I notice a similar trend in my trainings.  People love to learn.  Applying the learnings are more of a challenge!

How can we accompany folk in translating a fascinating concept into a helpful new mode of operating?

Some people refer to this as moving concepts from the head to the heart.

Albert Einstein also talks about this phenomenon.  He challenges us to step into a new kind of thinking:  we cannot resolve our challenges by applying the same reasoning that created them.

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them.”
Albert Einstein

Avoid getting lost in translation

Confusion

Changing our behavior is like learning another language.

Speak a Foreign Language

The first stage is confusion and discomfort.  We are out of our comfort zone!

To translate this into business terms, we might wonder why bother even learn about emotional intelligence or constructive collaboration skills.  It is unfamiliar vocabulary…and you have lived without it until now.

Most of us lived without romance…and then it swept us off our feet.

Translate from Theory-Wise to Street-Smart

Let’s consider the foreign language of listening.  Listening to our colleagues, our bosses, and our clients.

Most of us think we do it well…until we have a mirror-like experience.  That is when we discover that instead of asking open-ended questions, we make inquiries that can be answered with “Yes’ or “No.”  Or we think a colleague is rude and interrupts and we realize that in our moments of enthusiasm we cut her off in mid-thought.

Until we open ourselves up to feedback, there is no realization that there might be a better option.

One Phrase

Next, we can manage using one new relationship tool in a specific situation.  It’s like knowing one sentence in a foreign tongue.

Speak a Foreign Language

I recall being in a French boulangerie (bakery) and an American tourist walked in and very carefully pronounced the sentence he had practiced, “Je veux une tarte tatin.” (“I would like a‘tarte tatin.’”)

The baker responded, “Hein?” (“What?”) before she understood the words spoken with the unfamiliar accent.  Then she rattled on in French about how he had chosen the right bakery for this French delicacy because theirs was definitely the best.  And so one and so forth.

The tourist gave her a blank stare, took a deep breath, gathered his strength, and responded, “Je veux une tarte tatin.”

Translate from Theory-Wise to Street-Smart

In a training context, this likens to situational activities or role plays where we simulate a typical professional interaction.  Participants are engaged and learn.  Yet they refer to a skit; this is not about them.

One exercise consists of five types of listening:  distracted,  critical, and eventually to active listening.  Learners can name the listening styles, yet they do not realize how they listen under varying circumstances.

First Exchange

At the close of my trainings, I ask learners to share what they will put into practice.  Many pause, almost with surprise.  It is a moment when they realize they attended the workshops looking for tips to change other people (!).  They are invited to alter their own behaviors.  Yikes!

Be prepared to not get “it” right the first time.  As one start-upper called it, “Test and try.”  He did not say, “Practice in front of the mirror, record yourself ten times, then test it.”  Get into the discomfort zone and learn so that next time it will be easier and smoother.

The biggest change is more about deciding to change yourself than in applying any one specific tool.

Speak a Foreign Language

It is like going to the bakery and using sign language to point to various desserts and asking, ”Café?  Caramel?  Chocolate?!” and with your fingers indicating that you’ll take two, please (smile and make a happy face).  The purpose is to communicate and move forward.  Forget the perfect phraseology.

Translate from Theory-Wise to Work-Smart

In my trainings, learning is enjoyable and engaging.  It is also for a purpose.  Which relationship do you want to take to the next level of trust and cooperation?  What will you test and try?

Conversation

After practice and repeated efforts, we learn fluency.  This applies as much with new modes of behavior as it does with a foreign language.  When we learn to drive a car, it is hard to light the turn signal and focus on the road.  Soon it becomes automatic.

Speak a Foreign Language

I have been living in Paris more than half my life.  People no longer ask me, “Do you think in French or do you think in English and translate your thoughts?” It’s now a non-issue.

Translate from Theory-Wise to Work-Smart

At the start, it will feel awkward to listen differently.  In fact, when we first try to change the way we listen…we usually don’t change!

And yet, we become aware after the fact that there might have been an opportunity for a different outcome to a conversation had we managed our side in another way.

We might then ask trusted team members to provide a feedback loop.  “If I talk before I listen, let me know.”

With practice, we recognize the cues on our own and learn to adapt even while during a conversation.  We learn to put aside that super-interesting thought we wanted to share soooo badly and concentrate on what other folks have to say.  We even notice that team members may be more intelligent that we had previously thought!

Practice might not make collaboration perfect.  It sure makes teamwork more productive and enjoyable. 

And the person who looks back at us in the mirror SMILES. 

Father and son spending time together

Give the Gift of Time

The holidays are just around the corner.  Will you celebrate with loved ones?  I hope you can.

For the lovers among you, scroll down to the end of this post for your gift. 🙂

For the parents among you, why not make this an opportunity to teach your children about leadership by letting them take the lead with you!!

You offer your time. The children choose how to spend it.

Children (of all ages) spell love: T.I.M.E.

Children (of all ages) spell love: T.I.M.E.

Time as a present to offer

Money cannot buy time.  Not when it comes to time spent with kids.

Play-together-time often misses the Christmas list…AND yet, it’s the gift kids crave.

How does one “give” time?  How can one make it feel like a present?

That’s why we created these Gift Certificates.  Personalize with your child’s name and you signature, et voilà!  You have a valuable stocking stuffer you and your children will cherish.

Click here to download Gift Certificates.

Kids and Parents Learn Through Play

Play teaches children how to overcome boredom, to set and follow rules, to win and lose with respect.  Those are leadership skills!

Let kids direct the play (that’s your gift). You’ll discover them WHILE helping your child learn to thrive….even with challenging team members (you?).

You thought your daughter was impatient? She spends ½ hour dressing and undressing a doll! That will stretch the fortitude of many adults.

One Mom’s Story

The first year I offered these gifts to my sons they all invited me to play their favorite video game. “Oh, no! Wrong gift!” I thought.

These shared screen times taught me so much.  This time was “extra video time” for the children and since the intent was to share a moment together, they willingly spent 30 minutes teaching me why they like this particular game, what makes it exciting, and how to win.

I observed their skills (or lack of) in anticipation, in strategizing, in concentration, and more.

And the following week when they struggled with homework, we applied ideas from the game to help concentration. “Let’s create levels.  When you finish your first math problem, you reach level 2!”

The next year, I gave each child two gifts of time. One could be used for games on screens. The other was for something else of their choice.  One child wanted to learn more about his bank statement.  Another wanted to go shopping.

I kept doing this for years, even when our eldest was in high school.  He asked for a visit to the ophthalmologist to see about contact lenses!

You Don’t Feel Like It

Screen games or doll dressing isn’t your cup of tea? Is homework theirs?

Look to the bigger picture.  Model leadership and balance long term gains with short term costs.

You’re creating memories, proving their importance, and connecting on their level!  You’ll be amazed how that encourages them to seek to connect on issues of importance to you…like picking up their bags and coats in the front hallway.  Seriously.

The Children Don’t Feel Like It

Kids might act like they don’t want to play with you.

“Children often resist love when they need it the most.”

“Children often resist love when they need it the most,” assert Dr. Scott Turansky and nurse Joan Miller, authors of Parenting is Heart Work. Be creative and kindly insistent. They might be testing the sincerity of your offer.

If the kids don’t want to play, consider admiring them for 15 minutes. No words. No judgement.  Simply seeking to understand them in their environment.

Say “Thank You”

That magic word for all ages concludes your time together on a positive note.

The Biggest Kid of Them All

How about playing with your spouse……! We’ve got a gift certificate for them too!

Gift Certificate for couple's romance
Gift Certificate for couple's romance

To receive Gift Certificates click here.

Photo by Caroline Hernandez on Unsplash.com

Tiger in cage. Safe boundaries.

Solutions Alternatives au Licenciement d’un “Employé Toxique” – 2/3

Combattre la toxicité avec des Messages en « Je »

Les employés difficiles répandent souvent leurs toxines sans que cela se voit, ce qui rend compliqué la gestion de leur impact négatif.

Dans le dernier article, nous nous sommes intéressés à parler ouvertement de ce genre de comportement. Mais que se passe-t-il si votre collègue vous évite et s’extirpe d’une réunion qui devait donner lieu à une discussion constructive ?

VOUS pouvez toujours capter leur attention de façon positive en une ou deux minutes avec un message centré sur le « Je ».

Un homme ou une femme qui s’oppose à un chef ou un collègue avec franchise et respect est une personne qui ose ! Les Messages en « Je » sont un outil pour mettre en place des barrières protectrices ou bien pour mettre à bas des barrières qui n’ont pas lieu d’être.

Parlez de VOS besoins avec le « Je »

Quand on aborde une attitude difficile chez une tierce personne, on a tendance à commencer la phrase avec « Vous ».

« Vous me mettez mal à l’aise… »

« Vous causez des problèmes quand… »

« Votre attitude… »

A QUI APPARTIENT LE PROBLEME ?

Le « Vous » implique que l’auteur du comportement a (ou bien cause) un problème. Pourtant, un comportement toxique peut servir ses objectifs.

Dans l’article précédent, nous nous sommes intéressés à l’exemple d’un chef qui touchait de façon inappropriée ses employées. Son comportement confirme qu’il pense qu’il mérite un traitement de faveur, il peut toucher… sans que cela ne le touche lui. Une plaignante peut être réaffirmée dans sa mentalité de victime, malheur à elle ! Personne ne l’aide à se délester de son fardeau.

Ce sont les autres, comme vous et moi, qui expérimentons la difficulté ; nos objectifs ne sont pas atteints. C’est le sentiment de sécurité de la femme qui est violé quand un homme choisit de toucher sa poitrine comme bon lui semble. C’est le besoin de respect du manager qui est mis à bas quand un membre de l’équipe arrive en retard aux réunions avec une tasse de café encore chaude dans la main, le tout surmonté de crème chantilly.

ASSUMEZ LA RESPONSABILITE POUR VOS BESOINS INSATISFAITS

RENDEZ-LES RESPONSABLES POUR LES CONSEQUENCES DE LEURS ACTES

Comment aborder un comportement inapproprié pour que la personne agisse en conséquence et de manière positive ?

Un message en « Je » pose les limites sans juger.

En tant qu’êtres humains et que professionnels, nous cherchons tous à se sentir à notre place et à contribuer positivement à un groupe porté par un but qui en vaut la peine. En tant que managers, nous espérons que les membres de notre équipe trouveront au travail cette communauté pleine de sens !

Quelles sont les qualités nécessaires pour rendre un environnement propice à la mise en place d’un objectif qui fait sens et d’un sentiment fort de coopération ?

  • La confiance
  • La confiance
  • La confiance
  • La sécurité, la responsabilité, l’initiative, l’engagement, la compréhension, l’acceptation, la coopération, l’accueil des différences, la joie, le rire

Des frontières claires et respectées renforcent ces qualités propices au respect.

« On fonctionne de cette manière…. Ce n’est pas comme ça que l’on procède… »

« Comme je sais que ma supérieure assure mes arrières, je suis très actif dans la recherche de moyens pour améliorer notre activité. Je pose des questions à nos clients dans le but d’avoir un retour constructif. Je propose et teste régulièrement des idées pour affiner la qualité de notre service. Je le fais car je sais qu’elle se donne beaucoup de mal pour moi aussi. »

Quand un manager s’approprie le travail de son groupe, il a franchi la limite entre travail de groupe et toxicité. La frontière a été forcée et les besoins des employés ne sont pas satisfaits.

Un message en « Je » aide à parler d’une violation d’un comportement constructif sans pour autant recourir au reproche ou à la honte.

Les Trois Parties d’un Message en « Je »

Il y a trois parties dans un message en « Je ». L’ordre n’a pas d’importance. C’est le fait de couvrir les trois éléments qui compte.

1. EXPOSEZ BRIEBVEMENT LE COMPORTEMENT INDESIRABL

« Quand vous arrivez en retard aux réunions de groupe avec une tasse de café liégeois encore chaude dans la main… »

2. PARTAGEZ VOS RESSENTIS (UN MOT PAR SENTIMENT)

« … je sens de l’injustice… »

3. REVELEZ LES CONSEQUENCES

« Parce que d’autres doivent prendre sur eux pour votre confort. Quelqu’un, moi ou un coéquipier, perd du temps à vous faire un récapitulatif de ce que l’on a déjà abordé. C’est une perte d’argent pour l’entreprise et c’est un manque de considération pour la charge de travail du collègue en question. »

OU

Exprimez ce que vous souhaiteriez

« J’aimerais que vous arriviez à l’heure. »

En ce qui concerne la partie 3, je préfère me concentrer sur les conséquences des actions perturbatrices et permettre à l’autre personne de proposer sa propre solution. Il se peut qu’ils arrivent à l’heure à la réunion avec du café pour tout le monde !  Exprimer un souhait peut paraître directif.

Un Exemple de Message en « Je »

Un professeur de management a raconté comment il avait utilisé les messages en « Je » avec les étudiants de l’université quand le groupe commençait à se dissiper. Un jeune homme en particulier, plus difficile que les autres, avait roulé des yeux, et, marmonnant quelque chose sur l’injustice de la vie, allait et venait bruyamment pendant leur temps de réunion.

Pensant, « Mais quand vont-ils grandir ?! », et sentant sa colère monter, le professeur avait décidé d’attendre le cours suivant pour réagir.

La semaine suivante, pendant une session sur le commerce mondial, il a abordé le sujet de comment saisir les fruits de la diversité en utilisant des messages en « Je ». Les gens de différentes cultures se comportent de façons qui peuvent être déstabilisantes pour les autres.

Il a partagé deux façons de traiter un problème de différence générationnelle dans sa classe :

L’option des messages en « Vous » : « Vous gênez les autres quand vous parlez pendant le cours. »

La classe a souri narquoisement. Ils avaient déjà entendu ce genre de remarques. C’est rentré dans une oreille et ressorti aussitôt par l’autre.

L’option des messages en « Je » : « Quand vous parlez pendant le cours, je me sens volé parce que le bruit supplémentaire me prive de la possibilité d’entrer en contact avec ceux de vos camarades qui sont intéressés et qui souhaitent apprendre. »

La classe s’est tue et leurs yeux se sont écarquillés. « Je pouvais les voir réfléchir… et se rendre compte qu’ils faisaient une différence dans la réussite de toute la classe », a-t-il raconté.

Des Conseils pour Réussir avec des Messages en « Je »

A. PREPAREZ-VOUS EN AMONT, AU CALME

Bonne nouvelle : un message en « Je » est rapide à dire. Si une personne qui n’a pas un bon comportement évite vos tentatives de prises de contact, un message en « Je » d’une minute attirera son attention.

Retour à la réalité : ça prend du temps à préparer.

Un des défis est d’identifier une émotion appropriée au travail.

Quand on dépasse nos limites, notre cerveau passe en mode combat, fuite ou bien arrêt. En fuite ou en arrêt, on ne rétorque pas quelque chose sur le coup. En mode combat par contre, c’est le cas… et avec des mots que l’on veut blessants.

« Je me sens violé… ridiculisé… détruit… usurpé… »

Ces émotions sont réelles et valides. En même temps, ces mots plein de jugement peuvent se retourner contre vous.

Quand notre cerveau se met en mode combat, on répond avec des mots que l’on veut blessants.  Se calmer nous permet d’avoir de nouveau accès à un langage constructif.

Donnez-vous le temps de vous calmer après avoir été confronté à une situation toxique avant d’y répondre.

B. SOYEZ PRECIS

Rappelez une situation toxique qui a eu lieu.

Evitez d’employer les mots « toujours…. » et « jamais…. »

Considérez ces questions :

  • Qu’est-ce qui a été fait ou dit ?
  • Comment vous êtes-vous sentis après ? Comment les autres ont-ils réagis ?
  • Qu’est ce qui a été le déclencheur négatif ?
  • A quoi vous attendiez-vous ?
  • En quoi le comportement actuel diffère-t-il des actions souhaitées ?

Essayez de définir l’écart qui pose problème. Il est utile d’identifier les qualités de l’environnement de travail que vous souhaitez pour le rendre constructif. Vous êtes-vous heurté à de la moquerie alors que vous recherchiez de la confiance ? Êtes-vous relégué à des tâches subalternes alors que vous souhaitez apprendre ?

C. UTILISEZ UN LANGAGE FACTUEL

Quand vous décrivez un comportement, remplacez le vocabulaire subjectif par une description neutre.

« Quand vous insultiez Jane… » invite à une réponse défensive.

« Quand vous avez dit à Jane qu’elle ressemblait à… » relate des faits.

D. REDIGEZ DES EBAUCHES

Plus votre message en « Je » sera clair, plus vous aurez de chance de recevoir une réponse positive.

Il se peut que vous n’ayez qu’une minute pour capter l’attention de « l’employé toxique ».

Les messages en « Je », comme tout nouveau langage, demande de l’entraînement. Imaginez que vous êtes en train de parler à un représentant d’une autre planète (D’une-Ville-Qui-Pense-Vraimeeeeent-Différemment-De-Moi). Essayez votre message en vous entrainant devant votre miroir.

Attendez-vous à rédigez plusieurs brouillons… de chacune des trois parties : le comportement, vos sentiments, et les conséquences.

Relisez. Est-ce que les sentiments sont en lien avec les conséquences ? Si ce n’est pas le cas, repensez à ce qui vous a gêné, et réessayez.

Pensez à votre message en « Je » comme un pitch court. Qui doit attirer l’attention. Qui invite à la collaboration. 10 brouillons !

E. CHOISISSEZ DES OCCASIONS

Partager et recevoir des messages en « Je » implique de la vulnérabilité et du courage. Utilisez ces ressources précieuses avec parcimonie. Il serait dommage de vous créer une réputation de quelqu’un qui ne fait que souligner les problèmes.

« Quand tu laisses le stylo ouvert sans son bouchon, je… »

« Quand tu prends le dernier Kinder à la cafétéria, je… »

Se Laisser Être Surpris par la Réponse

Certaines personnes incluent un autre élément au message en « Je » : une demande pour une action précise. J’aime croire que la personne réagira efficacement.

Le professeur d’université a également raconté « la fin de l’histoire ».

« La semaine suivante, je suis arrivé en classe en avance et l’élève le plus perturbateur était déjà là. Je suis allé le voir, lui ai fait remarquer sa ponctualité et lui ai dit à quel point j’appréciais son effort de comportement. Il a souri, eu un petit rire et a dit « Ouais. Je pense que c’est la première fois cette année ! »

Il a contribué positivement tout au long de la classe. Alors qu’il s’en allait, je lui ai de nouveau dit que j’avais remarqué sa participation pertinente. Il s’est exclamé « Et, vous savez, j’ai écouté alors même que la fille derrière moi n’arrêtait pas de me planter son stylo dans le dos pendant tout le cours. Je ne me mettrai plus devant elle ! »

Je pensais que c’était une personne toxique. Il m’a prouvé le contraire. Son comportement avait été répréhensible mais il s’est montré capable de contributions positives même dans des circonstances difficiles. Il a surpassé toutes mes attentes. »

C’est pourquoi j’aime présenter un message en « Je » et permettre à l’autre de me surprendre avec leur propre réponse constructive. Ça arrive dans la plupart des cas.

… Et si les difficultés persistent, alors il est temps d’adopter encore une autre méthode. Nous en parlerons la semaine prochaine.

Lire : Qu’est-ce qu’un employé toxique ?

Lire : Solutions alternatives au licenciement d’un employé toxique – 1/3

Tiger in cage. Safe boundaries.

Alternatives to Firing a “Toxic Employee” – 2/3

Counter Toxicity with “I”Messages

Challenging employees often diffuse their toxins under the radar which makes the negative impact difficult to contain.

Last post we looked at getting the behavior out in the open.  What if your colleague avoids you and slithers out of setting a meeting for constructive discussion?

YOU can still positively catch their attention in one or two minutes with an “I” Message.

A man or a woman who stands up to a boss or colleague with forthrightness and respect has balls!  “I” Messages are a tool to position protective boundaries or remove unnecessary fences.

Address YOUR Needs with “I” Messages

When we address the challenging behavior of someone else, the tendency is to begin the sentence with “You.”

“You make me feel uncomfortable….”

“You cause problems when….”

“Your attitude…”

To Whom Does the Problem Belong?

This implies that “You” has (or is causing) a problem.  However, toxic behavior may serve the perpetrator’s purposes.

In the previous article, we looked at an example of a boss who inappropriately touched female employees.  His behavior confirms his belief in deserving preferential treatment; he can touch…without it touching him.  A complainer can be confirmed in her victim mentality; woe is she!  No one helps her by removing her burden.

It’s other people, like you and me, that experience the difficulty; our goals are not met.  It is the woman’s sense of security that is violated when a man chooses to touch her chest at his whim.  It is the manager’s need for respect that is undermined when a team member arrives late for meetings with a cup of warm coffee topped off with fresh whipped cream.

Take Responsibility for YOUR Unmet Need
Give Responsibility for THE Consequences of THEIR Actions

How to address inappropriate behavior so that the person acts on it positively?

An “I” message establishes limits without making judgements.

As humans and as professionals, we each seek to belong and to contribute positively to a group with a worthwhile purpose.   As managers, we hope our team members will find that meaningful community at work!

What are the differentiating qualities of an environment which builds meaningful purpose (the kind we all dream of finding at work) and an engaged sense of partnership?

  • Trust
  • Trust
  • Trust
  • Security, Responsibility, Initiative, Commitment, Understanding, Acceptance, Cooperation, Welcome of differences, Joy, Laughter

Clear and respected boundaries foster these respect-building qualities.

“We act this way….  This is not what we do….”

“Because I know my manager has my back, I am on the lookout for ways to improve our business.  I ask our customers more insight-seeking questions.  I regularly propose and test out ideas to tweak our service quality.  I do it because she is going out of her way for me too.”

When a manager takes credit for his group’s work, he has crossed over the line from teamwork to toxic.  The boundary has been broached and employee needs are unmet.

An “I” Message helps communicate a breach in constructive behavior without resorting to blame or shame.

The Three Parts of an “I” Message

There are three-parts to an “I” message.  The order is not important.  Covering all three elements matters.

1. Briefly state the undesired behavior

“When you arrive late in team meetings with a steaming cup of coffee with fresh whipped cream in your hands….”

2. Share your feelings (one word per feeling)

“…I feel resentful…”

3. Express the consequences

“because others suffer for your comfort.  Someone, me or a team mate, spends extra time to bring you up to date with what we already covered.  It is a waste of company money and a lack of consideration for the team member’s workload.”

OR

Express what you wish

“I would like you to arrive on time.”

With regards to Part 3, I prefer to focus on the consequences of the disruptive actions and allow the other person to come up with his own solution.  They might and come to the meeting on time with fresh coffee for everyone!  Expressing a wish can sound directive.

“I” Message Example

A management professor shared how he used “I” messages with university students when the group became unfocused.  People talked without listening to each other.  The group became dissipated.  One particularly challenging young man rolled his eyes and, mumbling over the unfairness of life, noisily moved his about during their meeting time.

Thinking, “When will they grow up?!” and feeling his temper rising, the professor decided to wait for the next class to respond.

The following week, during a session on global business, he addressed the topic of reaping the benefits of diversity by using “I” messages.  People from different cultures behave in ways that could be unsettling to the other.

He shared two ways to address an issue of generational disparity in their class:

Option “You” Message: “You are causing problems for others by talking in class.”

The class smirked.  They had heard similar comments before.  It went in one ear and out the other.

Option “I” Message: “When you speak in class while I am teaching, I feel robbed because the additional noise takes away the opportunity for me to connect with interested classmates and for them to learn.”

The class went silent and eyes popped open.  “I could see them thinking…and realizing they made a difference in the success of the entire class!” he shared.

Tips for Success with “I” Messages

1. Prepare in Advance, When Calm

Good news:  An “I” Message is quick to say.   If the person with disruptive behavior dodges attempts to connect, a one-minute “I” Message will catch his attention.

Reality check: It takes time to prepare.

A big challenge lies in identifying a work-appropriate emotion.

When our boundaries are crossed, our brain goes into fight, flight, or freeze mode.  In flight or freeze, we do not retort on the spot.  In fight state we do… with words intended to wound.
“I feel violated…ridiculed…crushed…usurped…”

The emotions are real and valid.  At the same time, these judgement-filled words can backfire.

When our brains are in fight mode, we respond with words intended to hurt.  Calming down allows us to re-access helpful language.

Give yourself time to calm down from experiencing a toxic situation before responding to it.

2. Be Specific

Bring to mind an actual toxic situation.

Avoid “always _____” and “never ______”

Consider these questions:

  • What was said or done?
  • How did it make you feel? How did others respond?
  • What was the negative trigger?
  • What were you expecting?
  • How does the actual behavior differ from the desired actions?

Try and define the bothersome gap. It is helpful to identify the qualities of a constructive workplace you seek to build. Were you hoping for trust and found mockery instead?  Are you seeking learning and are relegated menial tasks?

3. Use factual language

When describing the behavior, replace judgmental language with a neutral description.

When you insulted Jane…” invites a defensive response.

“When you told Jane that she looked like …” relays facts.

4. Prepare Written Drafts

The clearer your “I” Message, the more likely it will invite a positive response.

You might only have one minute to catch the attention of the “toxic employee.”

“I” Messages, like any new language, takes practice.  Imagine you are speaking to a representative from another planet (Thinks-Waaaaay-Differently-From-Me-Ville).  Try your message out by speaking at your image in the mirror.

Expect to write several drafts…of each of the three parts: the behavior, your feelings, and the consequences.

Review.  Do the feelings relate to the consequences?  If not, reconsider what bothered you and try again.

Think of your “I” Message like an elevator pitch.  Attention-grabbing.  Inviting collaboration.  10 rough drafts!

5. Choose Occasions

Sharing and receiving “I” Messages involves vulnerability and courage.  Use these precious resources, wisely.  It would be a shame to create a reputation of fault-seeking.

“When you leave the cap off the pen….”

“When you take the last Kinder at the cafeteria…”

Trust to Respond

Some people include an additional element in the “I” Message:  a request for a specific action.  I like to trust the person to respond productively.

The university professor above shared “the rest of the story.”

“The following week, I arrived in class early and the student with the most disruptive behavior was already there.  I went up to him, noticed his timeliness, and shared how I appreciated his effort for punctuality.  He smiled, chuckled and remarked, ‘Yeah.  I think this is the first time this year!’

He contributed positively throughout the class.  As he was leaving, again I commented noticing his helpful participation.  He exclaimed, ‘And, you know, I paid attention even though the student behind me was sticking her pen in my back during the entire class.  I’m not sitting in front of her again!’

I had thought he was a toxic person.  He taught me otherwise.  His behavior had been reprehensible but he proved capable of positive contributions even under adverse circumstances.  He performed beyond my expectations.”

That’s why I like to present an “I” Message and allow the other person to surprise me with their own constructive response.  It happens in most situations.

…and if challenges persist, then it’s time to seek yet a different approach.  We’ll address that next week.

Read: “What is a Toxic Employee”?

Read: Alternatives to Firing Toxic Employees – Acknowledge the challenge…and your role in it

Business man with gas mask. Toxic behavior.

What is a “Toxic Employee”?

Last week we began a series on managing “toxic employees.”

One reader inquired, “What, exactly, is a toxic employee?”

It is such a great (and obvious) question, that we’re addressing it now before going on to additional constructive communication tools to develop collaboration with these colleagues.

What is a “Toxic Employee”?

“Toxic employee” is one of those phrases that gets thrown around without clarification.

People are not toxic.  Behaviors are.

People get labeled according to their behaviors.

“She’s a high potential.”

“He’s totally toxic.”

Read about labels that create a disconnect with listeners.

worldview-beliefs-values-behaviors icebergOur actions stem from our beliefs and attitudes.  You and I operate according to our conscious and unconscious convictions.

Just because a person bravely stands up to a bully does not make her a brave person in all circumstances.  She sure acted with courage in this instance. This strengthens her and others’ confidence that she could do so under even more challenging conditions too.

Similarly, someone who trips over his feet is not a klutz.  He acts clumsy.

Who we are is more than how we act.

Mindset Matters

The purpose of this series on toxic behavior at work is to present solutions which foster lasting, constructive behavior.

We do so by addressing the beliefs behind the behaviors.

Fixed and Growth Mindsets

Dr. Carol Dweck, professor at Columbia University, identified two underlying attitudes towards growth.  These attitudes either extend or constrain our view of ourselves and of others.

People with the Fixed Mindset believe that people have qualities and they reach a maximum capability level and cannot go further.  Like our height.  My brother, a longstanding adult, is 6’2”.  He won’t grow taller.

Folk with a Growth Mindset consider that we can change throughout life.  Like muscle.  My brother joined a gym. His biceps are more pronounced than a few months ago!

Moving Between Mindsets

Through our interactions with people we can encourage either of these mindsets.

Labels move people towards the fixed mindset. This is true whether it’s a positive or negative label.  Once identified as toxic, always problematic.  Once considered high-potential, always more is expected of them.

I seek to orient people towards the growth mindset and do so through constructive communication tools that provide choices within clear limits. This approach to communication renders people responsible for their actions and invites collaboration and mutual respect.

These tools are founded on the psychological principles of Dr. Alfred Adler and have been confirmed by neuroscience.  For example, Dweck describes that people with a fixed mindset focus on declarative statements.  “This is the way it is.  Period.”  Growth mindset folk entertain questions.  “What will it take to move from here to there?”

Dweck asserts that people can change mindsets.  The realization that these two worldviews exist has helped many recognize their fixed mindset tendencies and to intentionally focus on developing more of a growth perspective.

Toxic behavior is often a symptom of a fixed mindset.  The person believes his label is superior to another’s.  They therefore deserve special treatment.  (They can be a bigger victim too.)

The purpose of this series on toxic behavior at work is to present growth mindset solutions to

  • Avoid falling into a fixed mindset trap
  • Invite challenging employees to grow
    … thanks to relationship tools that are simultaneously firm and kind
  • Be in expectation that the colleague can and will progress

Toxic Behaviors at Work

When a person spreads rumors, it’s poisoning the atmosphere.

When a boss misuses power, he is killing trust.

I have noticed two categories of particularly venomous behaviors:  undermining colleagues and expecting favored treatment.  These share a worldview of needing to be “superior to others.”

Here is how they might be expressed at work:

Undermining colleagues

  • Stealing ideas and taking the credit for oneself
  • Spreading rumors
    “Too bad Stacey lacks confidence.”
  • Focusing on faults and publicizing them
    “Here comes Joe who makes spills coffee on his pants.”
  • Initiating power struggles, as in passive-aggression
    “Too bad you did not take into account this information before making the decision.” They then present data that would have been helpful earlier.

Expecting favored treatment

  • Abusing power, no matter the level of responsibility
  • Judging others for behaviors they consider acceptable for themselves
    “Sam is so irresponsible for being late. I, however, have a legitimate excuse.”
  • Requesting special favors
    “I should get two presents at the holiday party because …” (it happened)
  • Complaining

These behaviors leave a sour taste in the mouth.  The value of people has been sullied.

Creating an Environment where People Grow

People can change.  Colleagues with toxic behavior can become collaborative team members (and visa versa).  I have personally seen it happen on numerous occasions.  The name SoSooper stands for becoming super through bloopers.  By learning from our professional and personal mistakes, we prosper in making a living and in life.

Change first

THE EFFECTIVE WAY OF CHANGING OTHER PEOPLE IS TO FIRST CHANGE YOURSELF.

Imagine a tennis ball bouncing against a wall.  When you throw it repeatedly the same way, the ball will bounce back in a predictable fashion.  How to get the ball to bounce differently?

  • Change the ball
  • Change the way you throw
  • Change the wall

Changing other people is like trying to alter the shape of the ball.  It means constraining it into another shape, like force-wrapping it in tape.  It works AS LONG AS THE PRESSURE LASTS.  It’s uncomfortable for the person being compacted (and they resist), and it’s a pain to continuously apply pressure.

Create growth opportunities

The relationship tools in this series (and throughout my blog and in my trainings) present ways to change the way we toss a ball.  We act differently SO THAT the person with unacceptable behavior faces the responsibility and results of his acts.  These tools create learning situations which invite a constructive response from the offending party.

In the previous post, we looked at addressing toxic behavior by acknowledging a rift in the relationship, admitting we could have a role in it, and having them recognize that they share a responsibility in it too.  Those tools were not about telling them about their faults.  “Something is wrong with our interactions (not with you).  Tell me how you understand the situation.”

This approach demands, in a firm and kind manner, that the other person account for his behavior.

Read: Alternatives to Firing Toxic Employees – Acknowledge the challenge…and your role in it

When we change our behavior, it impacts multiple relationships. When we stop complaining to other colleagues about someone else’s toxic behavior, we open up to creativity and become more productive with all our team members.  The environment flourishes.

Toxic Example

Consider this actual situation.  One boss, in the guise of being helpful, would touch women inappropriately.  When they were in private, he would say with concern, “You have a thingee on your sweater,” and reach over and pluck a crumb (real or imagined?) from her chest.

He’s the boss.  It’s her bosom. That’s an abuse of power.  It’s also difficult to react to.

How to respond to unacceptable behavior in a way that respects yourself (setting clear limits) and respects the other person (not stooping to shame and blame behavior)?

Fixed Mindset Responses

She wanted to exclaim, “You jerk!”

That labels him and more firmly instills him in a fixed mindset.

She could respond with a clear command, “Please keep your hands off my chest.”

He is surely prepared for such a reaction and, with assumed hurt, would assure that he only wanted to help.  HE is the victim for having been misunderstood.

Toxin diffusers worm their way out of responsibility.

Take Responsibility & Render Responsible

Consider this way of addressing the delicate dilemma with an “I” Message, one of the constructive communication tools that effectively establishes limits and invites the offender to a more respectful behavior.  (“I” Messages are the topic of the next post.)  Here is how it could play out:

A few days later, when the woman has had time to gather her thoughts, she is ready to set limits and point to positive collaboration. “When you plucked that crumb off my sweater, I felt uncomfortable and perplexed because I consider my chest to be a private space and yet our relationship is professional.”

Pause.

“I feel more comfortable when there is a clear distinction between the two.”

The disruptive behavior has been contained without judging the person as toxic.

 

She cannot control his response, and we will address this further next week.  In the meantime, please leave questions or comments below.

Read: Alternatives to Firing Toxic Employees – Acknowledge the challenge…and your role in it

Disconnect of listeners. Confusion

Avoid these Pitfalls that Create Disconnect with Listeners

This week I heard Muriel Penicaud, the French Minister of Labour, speak on gender equality.  The man who introduced her commented that “gender equality is a topic close to her heart.”

Penicaud went on to expose the business case for this issue of global concern.  She cited French government initiatives to encourage women in leadership positions and to reduce the pay gap between men and women.  She shared examples of corporations that had implemented pay equality and the resulting vitality and engagement on the part of all employees.

So why did my hand shoot up during the Q & A ?!

Here was my question:

“In the introduction, gender equality was presented as a subject close to Ms. Penicaud’s heart.  For such a global issue with a strong economic case, shouldn’t it be a subject close to men’s hearts too?”

“Point well taken,” responded the male MC, and the discussion moved on.

You, me, and anyone can demean our arguments and distance listeners with well-intentioned, yet un-considered words.

We’ll look at three verbal faux-pas and how a slight reframing transforms these degrading snippets into opportunities to collaborate and reinforce.

Disconnect Trap – Labels

Do NOT:  Talk about other’s opinions

“Samira, who is particularly concerned about religious discrimination….”

“Meet Jeanne, our advocate for non-violent communication….”

These comments undermine the person taking a stand AND they don’t make the one saying it look good either.  They create disconnect.

The speaker positions him or herself as someone who is not concerned about issues like gender equality, liberty in beliefs, or constructive communication.  It invites the question:  are they more concerned about themselves than about others?

The person of whom it is spoken is put in a box.  Samira and Jeanne may be the savviest financial analysts or most astute marketers in the office, yet the above statements have stripped them of professional qualities and labelled them as “activists.”

DO:  Own your opinion

For the talk with the Labour Minister, I would have liked to hear: “Our fourth topic is gender equality, a topic close to Mme Penicaud and to my heart.”

Take a personal stand. 

“I respect Samira for her outspokenness regarding religious discrimination.”

“We should all be aware of our unconscious biases, and I have learned much from Jeanne when she calls me to account.”

Owning your opinion keeps gossip down.  Instead of talking just about Samira and Jeanne behind their back, now you have a stake in the discussion.

It trains you in leadership.  Great managers have their team members’ back.  A culture of trust is built as much in the daily interactions as it is in the strategic decisions.

Disconnect Trap – Discrediting Yourself

DO NOT:  Introduce your ideas with “I believe”

“I believe we should…“

“In my opinion,…”

If you are saying it, you should believe it.

The personalization of your opinion invites others to transform the topic at hand into an issue with YOU. That’s a disconnection with the business at hand.  Stick to the topic.

DO: Speak what you know

If you have facts and observations which lead to a conclusion, you are bringing value to a discussion.  Share it.

If you have a creative and helpful idea, share it.  Share it with confidence that you are a contributing member of a team. It’s what they hired you to do.

Here are ways to create connection in a group discussion

  • State the facts
    “Joe said __________.  Jane said __________.  A common point is _______.”
  • Clarify the perspective
    “We have not yet looked at the situation from the customer service angle…”
  • Test your ideas in a smaller group or an informal setting first. Ideas build on each other.  The more they are shared, the fuller they become.
    Over lunch:  “What do you think about (your idea)?”
  • Muster courage and state your belief or opinion without an introduction
    “Here is an opportunity: _________”

Alternatively, stay quiet and listen.  Really listen.  That brings value.

Disconnect Trap – Shirking Responsibility

Do NOT: Transform responsibilities into favors

“I’ll do it for you when I finish what I’m doing.”

Is this person doing a favor for his boss or colleague?!

I experienced this situation in personal life this week.  Full grocery bags sat on the counter and I asked for help to put the food away.

“Let me finish this and I’ll help with your bags after.”  Who’s bags?  We have five men in our household.  Who will be eating most of this food?

Whether your team is at work or in family, everyone benefits.  Everyone GETS to (vs. has to) participate in the work.  We contribute together for each other.

DO: Own your part of the responsibility

Stick to the task.

“I’ll do it when I finish.”

Play your part willingly.

“What can I do to help?  What do you need from me?”

Put it into practice

In my trainings, participants experience “Aha moments” when they discover how their communication creates disconnect.  We build these opportunities for self-discovery through interactive activities such as this listening exercise:

Two people face each other standing three meters (yards) apart.  Person A reads off statements and Person B responds solely by moving forward (he is motivated to cooperate with Person A) or by stepping back (he disengages).

Some of the statements generate disconnection and Person B steps away from Person A.  Others bring them closer together. The entire group pictures how some responses push people away while others build connection.

Want more cooperation in your communication?  Drop me a note and we’ll get the conversation flowing.

Boys in teamwork. What collaboration!

Turn Good Intentions into Great Teamwork

Who among you works with youth or young employees?  How do you help the next generation to transform good intentions into teamwork, collaboration, and positive results?

That’s what I had the opportunity to put to the test this past week when teaching a class in Introduction to Management to university students, youth with several months of corporate work experience.  The university called me in to pick up a class in the middle of their curriculum; I began with the topics of Motivation and Leadership.  How appropriate!

Personable and polite students entered the class with good intentions.  In theory, they were motivated.  In practice, they quickly lost focus by chatting with a colleague or scrolling on their mobile phone.  Bye bye, teamwork.

Professor colleagues lament the young generation’s lack of attention and most respond in either of two schools

  • to carry on whether the students are listening or not
  • to walk over to the students’ desk and close their computers for them

Motivation 3.0

My area of expertise is Motivation-in-the-Era-of-Internet which expounds that employees are most motivated when they find autonomy, mastery, and purpose in their work.  Ignoring students or treating them like a child lies contrary to this Motivation 3.0 approach.

“Management is about creating conditions for people to do their best work…And what science is revealing is that carrots and sticks can promote bad behavior and encourage short-term thinking at the expense of the long view.” – Dan Pink, from Drive

Additionally, my experience with Millennials confirms their search for authenticity and connection in relationships.  Neither of the above teaching/leadership styles convey either genuine interest in or an engagement with the students.

Here was my dilemma:  How to teach/lead and engage these students in a way that

  • ensures results (the material is covered qualitatively=
    AND SIMULTANEOUSLY
  • creates a sense of belonging and desire to contribute among the students?

In other words, how to help these Post Millennials transform their good intentions into positive teamwork?

Team-Generated Collaboration Guidelines

We used a tool that works wonders in my workshops: Co-Developed Group Guidelines

This tool helps both create and maintain a constructive work environment.

CREATE COLLABORATION

1. The first step entails putting the good intentions into writing.  Here is how.

Invite your group to share, “What can we each do to work together as a great team?”

Folk respond right away with, “To respect each other.”  And the list continues.

2. It’s helpful to break down vague or over-used words. 

  • “What does respect mean exactly?”
  • “What will it sound/look/feel like?”
  • “What is an example of lack of respect that we should avoid?”

3. Once the brainstorming complete, invite the group to prioritize three to five of these great team behaviors.

The process of making the list together brings the success-criteria to top of mind.  It’s like hearing the reminder to drink 1 liter of water a day.  We know these are helpful behaviors AND we benefit from remembering to do so.

The process of having built these teamwork criteria together builds belonging to the group and accountability.  “It’s the rules I made.  It’s normal that I should keep them.”

Here is our class’ list.Teamwork collaboration guidelines

MAINTAIN TEAMWORK

As humans, any rule is hard to follow, even the great ones we make ourselves!  We need help yet even well-intentioned positive reminders can sound like nagging.  Invite self-evaluation as an effective means of follow through.

Half-way through my class I invited our group to review our team ground rules.  “How are we doing? Thumbs up (good teamwork), side ways (OK job), or down (need improvement).”

In our class, thumbs were all over the place!  That’s an opportunity to address the elephant in the room.

“Well…it looks like some people think we are listening while other people talk, and others don’t.”

That’s where I appealed to everyone to think of one or two behaviors to change so that our listening improved.  Some students closed their computers on their own accord.  We reshuffled the break-out groups which had the effect of separating chattering partners.  People sat up straighter in their chairs…

And we smiled (!) and continued with class.

And for our next session on Communication and Teamwork, we’ll begin by reviewing those same co-developed ground rules and setting a personal goal to be 1 Great. Team.

How do you engage your young employees?  Please share in the comments.

Apply Teamwork Guidelines to Your Work

What is your challenge with teamwork?

  • People arrive late in meetings
  • Folk repeat what has already been said or done
  • Meetings have no agenda
  • Lack of trust

Try setting a new stage.  Instead of focusing on the challenges, brainstorm together about great teamwork and, TOGETHER, set yourselves some clear guidelines.

Apply Teamwork Guidelines to Your Life

Easter is this Sunday.  In France, it’s customary to celebrate over a looooooong meal with extended family.  You love the food, wine, and company.  The kids get bored à table for an eternity.

Try this activity “en famille.

“Sweethearts, what can we do to make the big family meal a great experience for everyone?”

Everyone can brainstorm:

  • “We could get up and play between courses”
  • “We could get up and help (!) between courses!!”
  • “We could have Easter Egg drawings and color them while the adults finish eating”
  • “We could make an Easter Egg hunt for the adults!!!”

Once the brainstorming juices have flown free, then select one or two options that’s acceptable to everyone. 🙂

Photo by Robert Collins on Unsplash