Coffee grains, ground, creme

What does cultural transformation look, sound, and taste like?! Insights by Juan Amat, GM JDE Coffee

Juan Ignacio Amat joined Jacobs Douwe Egberts (JDE) as General Manager France a year ago, after earning his stripes during 14 years at Pepsico.  Amat was attracted to the vibrant coffee market, the rich heritage of the longstanding brands (L’Or, Jacques Vabre, Senseo
), and the opportunity to build a culture of empowerment in this new company formed by a merger in 2015.

Nathalie Rolland, the Communications Manager who has been with JDE since before the merger, joined us for the discussion.

Denise Dampierre (DD): Juan, as GM of JDE France, what three numbers keep you up at night?

Juan Ignacio Amat, General Manager France JDE CoffeeJuan Amat (JA):  Denise, I sleep well, even when I drink coffee!

Here are the key numbers I track:

  1. The growth of the coffee market with respect to the rest of the dry food business. We want to keep adding customer value.
  2. Financial performance figures such as top line, bottom line, and cash.
  3. Employee engagement.

DD: How do you measure employee engagement?

JA:  We launched our first annual employee engagement survey a year ago.  That gave us a baseline.  These surveys are especially relevant when compared over time. Our second annual survey is underway.

We also developed a tool to test the engagement temperature every month during the company Coffee Talk.   The entire company is invited to a one-hour business presentation, Q & A, and learning event.  At the close the Coffee Talks, we measure engagement by asking employees whether they would recommend JDE to their entourage.

We define “Team Spirit” (“SolidaritĂ©” en français) as a sense of belonging and the freedom to bypass business silos and to go directly to the necessary sources for help and information.

We also put in place KPI’s for “Team Spirit” (“SolidaritĂ©” en français) which we define as a sense of belonging and the freedom to bypass business silos and to go directly to the necessary sources for help and information.

DD: How does one begin a cultural transformation? 

JA: We began by listening.  Our first employee engagement survey revealed that employees ranked Team Spirit among the most important values yet the least present in our day-to-day operations.

We begin cultural transformation by listening.

We realized that building Team Spirit would first require a change in mindset which could then translate into a different way of doing business.  We sought a way to generate self-questioning without destabilizing.

Nathalie Rolland (NR): It’s not easy to convey the notion of Team Spirit, and we want the teams to both intellectually and emotionally grasp this sense of mutual reliance.    In one of our Coffee Talks, we turned off all the lights so that everyone was in pitch black.  People naturally reached out for others and talked to each other to find their way.  We used this activity to demonstrate the limitations of working individually and in silos and the need for transversal cooperation.

JA: I was inspired by the 70:20:10 model for learning and development.

Aside:  According to researchers Robert Eichinger and Michael Lombardo, “Development generally begins with a realization of current or future need and the motivation to do something about it. This might come from feedback, a mistake, watching other people’s reactions, failing or not being up to a task – in other words, from experience.” They estimate that 70% of learning stems from experience, 20% from mentoring and personalized feedback, and 10% from formal courses and learning.

10-20-70 model Learning development

Back to Juan Ignacio Amat’s interview…

We wanted a culture that would develop Team Spirit through everyday exchanges, through the “70%.“

Most people, including JDE team members, think they are already performing well.  They don’t wake up in the morning and wonder how to make life miserable for others.  Instead, they rightly believe they are playing their part.  And they are proud of it.

Most people don’t wake up in the morning and wonder how to make life miserable for others!

Yet Team Spirit is about going the extra mile.  It’s about feeling such a sense of belonging that employees act as if they owned their business.  In fact, we call our employees “associates.”  Every JDE employee’s compensation is related to both financial performance and strength of human relations. At JDE, Team Spirit means investing the discretionary effort to exceed themselves and secure results.

To initiate the shift in mindset, we first invested in the “10%” through Strength-Based Management training for the Executive Committee, then the entire managerial level, and now every associate.

It’s in the space between good and excellent that we generate the greatest improvement and impact.

Strength-Based Management propelled us to focus on excellence.  Conventional management practices and the French education system focus on fixing what is wrong.  Seeking strengths is counter-intuitive, especially for a company that is as results-oriented as ours.  We used to seek out the numbers in red to scrutinize what’s behind them.

Strength-Based Management propelled us to focus on excellence. Seeking strengths is counter-intuitive, especially for a company that is as results-oriented as ours.

I appreciate the forward focus of strength-based management.  There is always room for progress. It’s in the space between good and excellent that we generate the greatest improvement and impact.  It’s incredibly more empowering and engaging than raising mediocre performance to satisfactory levels.

What you see is what you get
“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Dr. Wayne Dyer – photo from

Training our workforce is a real investment.  We are quickly reaping the return on investment.  People come up to me saying, “Juan, I felt so appreciated when colleagues highlighted my strengths, some of which I did not realize I had!” “I am so encouraged in my job.”  These are the first indication of increased amiability and engagement at work.

DD:  How do you measure success?

JA:  That’s where we create a plan for the “70%.”  What will everyday business look like?  The real testing time comes during our moments of challenge, when we are tired, and the workload is heavy, or performance goals are not met.

I already notice a changed behavior.  In our difficult moments there is less defensiveness and accusation, less blaming and finger pointing.  Instead we observe increased accountability, responsibility, and teamwork.  Yes, even in moments of tension!  Cultural change is starting, and we aim for even more.

DD: Do associates really expose mistakes?

JA: We are a company of Dutch heritage in France.  We can be very direct in saying when things are not working.  Our cultural transformation changes how we express and respond to bad news.  We use factual language with quantitative metrics to describe the challenge.  This keeps us from veering off track towards accusations.  Instead of hearing, “We can’t reach our goal because you ____!” we focus on finding solutions: “What do you need to ____?  What are you expecting from me?”  We aim to give our teams the means to say, “I need your help with A, B, & C resources.”

It’s not always easy.  Yet this is the spirit in which we aim to resolve conflicts.

Instead of hearing, “We can’t reach our goal because you ____!” we focus on finding solutions: “What do you need to ____?  What are you expecting from me?”

NR: This is a major culture change and we have had to learn skills like active listening.  Beforehand, we heard from managers, “Why didn’t you make your numbers?!” Now, with a focus on strengths, managers also inquire about our successes. “What helped you reach your goals?  What are you especially proud of this year?”

With this different kind of listening, we are more willing to receive performance-improvement feedback.

DD: What concrete actions have you put in place to imbed the strength-based, solidarity mindset?

JA: We created occasions which bring together people from multiple functions.  We created moments of conflict by design.

For example, none of the Executive Committee has his own office; we sit around a large table.  It facilitates exchange.  When one of us has a question, we simply look up to check if our colleague is available and talk the issue out.  It is a small change which makes a big difference.

Every week, I spend time one on one with each of my direct reports.  More formally, we meet as the Executive Committee every two weeks to keep abreast of our actions and to indicate where we need each other’s input.  We also try to connect personally to better understand our diverse perspectives.  This builds empathy.

We created occasions which bring together people from multiple functions.  We created moments of conflict by design.

We also created a weekly breakfast for our forty second line managers.  These are not the functional directors but those reporting to them.  I meet with a small group every week which allows them to strengthen their cross-functional relationships and me to know what is on peoples’ minds.  We take out the mega-special coffee machine and discuss informally.  I might not be able to resolve an issue they bring up; I am informed.  These breakfasts help me address any gap between what leadership is saying and what actually happens.

Every month, the sales and marketing teams meet to share what is going well, where they see opportunities for improvement, and on what projects they request for help from each other.

DD: In this cultural shift, managers will invariably need redirection.  How do you handle course correction for a team member?

JA: Here is what I do.

I begin by managing my emotions. I try to hold in frustration when we are dealing with a mistake and instead focus on being comprehensive and inquisitive. However, I let my anger show when I discover that we have had a longstanding problem that was covered up.

I begin by managing my emotions.  I try not to be too euphoric nor angry. I select the situations to express my emotions.  I try to hold in frustration when we are dealing with a mistake and instead focus on being comprehensive and inquisitive.  Let’s learn from what happened in order to avoid repeating the same mistake.  If an error recurs, it points to a lack of capability or attention. That is fixable.  I try to keep my tone of voice calm and understanding and to orient the discussion towards an action plan to bring performance back up to expectations.

However, I let my anger show when I discover that we have had a longstanding problem that was covered up.

When someone expresses an excess in accountability, like “We’re in this mess because you did not____” I interrupt the person.

The person that reveals a problem had the courage to speak up.  It can be tempting to kill the messenger, which is why I make a concerted effort to respect the bearer of bad news.  In that way, we keep finding out what’s happening within the company.

When someone expresses an excess in accountability, like “We’re in this mess because you did not____” I interrupt the person.  Maybe I should introduce more coffee breaks to bring down the temperature in the room!

NR: It comes back to Team Spirit.  If the leaders begin judging when times get tough, Team Spirit loses credibility.  We have greater solidarity and employee engagement precisely because, in those complex time, teams feel non-judgmental support from the Executive Committee.

DD: Where does the “20%” in the learning & development model come into play?

JA: Twice a year, every associate has an objective-setting discussion with his manager which includes providing the individual with an action plan to grow in technical skills and personal development.

Team members select their training from among our JDE global MOOC’s, the Learning & Development CafĂ©.  We also encourage people to shadow another associate to learn through their example or to meet up with colleagues in a different function to gain an understanding of their business.

DD: What other thought do you want share about transforming a culture and empowering teams?

JA: It’s always a fine line between delegation and control.  Finding that balance depends upon the business and one’s own self-awareness.  One extreme lies in micro-management which allows people off the hook.  “Too bad if we did not reach our goals.  I did my job.  I followed orders.”

Empowering our team requires work on oneself.  I have to stop myself from intervening and to consciously trust in my team,

Empowering our team requires work on oneself.  I am accountable for the results in France, thus I need a certain degree of control.  There are days when I have to stop myself from intervening, to consciously trust in my team, and to give them the autonomy to pursue the strategy they defined.  After all, they know the details, I don’t.

I want a team of associates that act like General Managers, each taking responsible for his business.  If I get too involved in the details, I curb their ability to take initiatives.

And now, I have a question for you!  Would YOU recommend JDE to your friends?


Thank you

Thank you, Juan Ignacio Amat, for this insightful exchange and the challenge to each of us

  • To grow by building on strengths
  • To simultaneously hold high expectations and forgo making judgements
  • To translate corporate values into an action plan and habitual behaviors

What are your strengths?  What are the strengths of that-colleague-who-bothers-me-so? (They have at least one!)  How would your relationship with this person change if you were to recognize his/her contribution?

Let us know in the comments what happened when you tried it.

Cover photo by Nathan Dumlao

Trust Gratitude Inspiration Fun

TGIF – The POWER of Vulnerability at Work

Hi folks,

Last week was intense as I led four days of training You get the insights through our TGIF:  Trust – Gratitude – Inspiration – and Fun.


I’m trusting in the power of vulnerability.  Yes, even at work.

I’m still on a “high” from the feedback of last week’s training groups.  Folk shared how much they learned about themselves and how this stimulates them to change attitudes and behaviors.  Wow!

It happened by creating an environment of trust which paved the way for authentic exchange over both strengths and weaknesses.  Vulnerability was given and received.

Team meeting

People realized they are not imposters; they have strengths that are recognized and visible to others!  They also learned that challenges present opportunities for learning.  Bye, bye to “I’m a failure.”  Hello to “I can grow.”

Here are some feedback highlights:

“I realized that I was not invisible.  It was empowering to learn how my example of doing my job with dedication and a goal of excellence has inspired others.”

“I learned that I am already brave and strong.”

“I don’t just want money.  I really want a LIFE.”

“I should stop telling myself that I’m not confident.  I discovered this is not what people think when they meet me.  It’s time for me to stop degrading myself.”


Thank you to my clients who trust me.  It is a real privilege to be welcomed into their offices and given the opportunity to challenge employees out of their comfort zone
and to come out stronger together 😊!


One of this past week’s clients is an up-and-coming startup, WeMaintain, and their daring talent strategy inspires me.

They hire for potential…which can differ from past achievement. 

Laughter at work

We met the expert on Internet of Things who learned his skill by making connected skateboards as a hobby.  A previous journalist joined them as a front-end coder.  The list goes on.

The team overflows with mutual respect.  Here is what they say about each other:

“I have such admiration for each person in this team who fully invests in the work and is ready to grow further together.”

“I feel a sense of fullness as I admire the richness of the team.  We can go far together.”


During my trainings, I use scenarios to stimulate aha-moments of learning.  The goal of one of these scenes is for participants to realize that they cannot change other people’s behavior.  They can change their own
. which then will produce a different response from the other person.

We change first.

In one of last week’s training, the role play ended up being particularly hilarious.  The principle I had hoped participants would grasp did not come through. â˜č  And yet, the scene generated roaring laughter which woke us all up after lunch. 😊

Fun at work

To paraphrase the authors of Fail Fast, Fail Often (Ryan Babineaux, PhD and John Krumboltz, PhD),

Fail fast.  Tweak often. Laugh as you learn.


Wishing you a great week.

A bientĂŽt, Denise

Neat & New Stuff

Enjoy these posts inspired by my father’s wisdom:

“Aging isn’t for sissies!”

What’s YOUR Focus Word?

Boy looking through telescope. Searching Focus word!

As life passes, one realizes time is…limited.  That’s a focusing thought!  Read on…


When It’s Urgent to Reflect

Man reflecting in parkI wrote this post after a hearing a professor speak on leadership and reflexion at a Harvard Business School reunion.  My father had encouraged me to attend the school and the place holds a soft spot for us.   Read on…

Serenity.  To Accept the Things We Cannot Change

Serenity of lighthouseWe cannot change the passage of time and the impact it has on our bodies and our relationships.  But discover what we can do about it!  Read on…

Interview with Elizabeth Moreno, CEO of Lenovo France

Jumping across rocks. Risk taking.Lenovo speaks of taking risks:  how she learned how to embrace risk-taking with confidence and thrive.  Read on…

Woman climbing stairs. Like career advancement

Avancer dans sa carriĂšre avec l’intelligence Ă©motionnelle – Conseils d’Isabelle Roux-Buisson

Isabelle Roux-Buisson est une Senior Executive avec plus de 20 ans d’expĂ©rience de management dans des sociĂ©tĂ©s mondiales d’informatique.  Elle a siĂšgĂ© Ă  des comitĂ©s exĂ©cutifs europĂ©ens et a gĂ©rĂ© des unitĂ©s d’exploitation qui gĂ©nĂšrent des revenues de plusieurs milliards. Roux-Buisson est actuellement membre du conseil de la Harvard Business School France (l’une des Ă©coles oĂč elle a Ă©tudiĂ©) et de celui du Groupe ESEO Ă©cole d’ingĂ©nieur. PrĂ©cĂ©demment, elle a fait partie du conseil des anciens Ă©lĂšves de TĂ©lĂ©com Paris Tech (une autre de ses alma maters).

Denise Dampierre : Vous avez eu une carriĂšre admirable. Qu’est-ce qui vous a aidĂ© Ă  dĂ©finir votre parcours professionnel ?

Isabelle Roux-Buisson

Isabelle Roux-Buisson : Un des premiers principes en management est de ne jamais cesser de progresser. C’est encore plus fondamental aujourd’hui que le monde du travail est rapidement transformĂ© par la technologie. Des Ă©tudes montrent que 85% des mĂ©tiers qui existeront en 2030 n’ont pas encore Ă©tĂ© inventĂ©s. [i] Cela implique que les besoins seront diffĂ©rents, et que la nĂ©cessitĂ© d’ĂȘtre adaptable sera Ă©norme.

Quand on progresse en management, nous avons la responsabilitĂ© d’ĂȘtre Ă©quipĂ©s des outils nĂ©cessaires pour continuer Ă  Ă©voluer dans notre environnement. L’intelligence Ă©motionnelle m’a fourni une boĂźte Ă  outils pour adapter le renforcement de mes compĂ©tences Ă  chaque nouvelle Ă©tape de leadership.

Aparté : Dr. Daniel Goleman est l’auteur du livre Ă  succĂšs Intelligence Emotionnelle. Pendant 12 ans, il a Ă©crit sur les sciences cognitives et comportementales pour le New York Times. Il dĂ©crit l’intelligence Ă©motionnelle comme la maniĂšre de se maĂźtriser soi-mĂȘme et ses relations, et identifie quatre domaines principaux

  • La conscience de soi – savoir ce que l’on ressent et pourquoi
  • L’autogestion – gĂ©rer nos Ă©motions nĂ©gatives d’une façon efficace et exploiter le pouvoir des Ă©motions positives
  • La conscience sociale – se lier et comprendre les gens qui nous entourent
  • La gestion des relations – mettre ces compĂ©tences d’intelligence Ă©motionnelle au service des relations dans, et hors de, son Ă©quipe
Les compétences d'intelligence emotionnelle selon Daniel Goleman
Les aptitudes d’intelligence Ă©motionnelle et leurs compĂ©tences associĂ©es

Denise Dampierre : Quel est le rĂŽle de l’intelligence Ă©motionnelle aux diffĂ©rents stades d’une carriĂšre ?

Isabelle Roux-Buisson : Lorsque l’on rentre dans la vie active, on est essentiellement embauchĂ© pour ses compĂ©tences techniques. J’ai commencĂ© en marketing.

TĂŽt ou tard, certains d’entre nous vont ĂȘtre amenĂ©s Ă  occuper des postes de direction. Avant toute chose, ce sont nos paroles et nos actions qui expriment notre intĂ©rĂȘt pour le management. C’est Ă©galement le cas si on dĂ©montre une maĂźtrise suffisante des tĂąches techniques mais aussi un certain degrĂ© d’empathie, de conscience organisationnelle, de leadership ainsi qu’une capacitĂ© Ă  travailler en groupe. Cette combinaison nous place comme un « potentiel » pour le management.

Ensuite, en tant que cadre intermĂ©diaire, le jeu change. Les qualitĂ©s « humaines » jouent un rĂŽle essentiel. Nous avons alors besoin de dĂ©montrer notre capacitĂ© Ă  Ă©valuer mais aussi Ă  travailler avec les gens, tout en Ă©tant capable de constituer et de motiver une Ă©quipe. On doit aussi piloter son environnement : notamment notre manager et nos collĂšgues dans d’autres dĂ©partements, qui sont des gens dont dĂ©pend notre rĂ©ussite. C’est Ă  ce moment-lĂ  que l’on commence souvent Ă  comprendre sciemment et Ă  affiner notre style de leadership.

Quand on progresse en management, nous avons la responsabilitĂ© d’ĂȘtre Ă©quipĂ©s des outils nĂ©cessaires pour continuer Ă  Ă©voluer dans notre environnement. L’intelligence Ă©motionnelle m’a fourni une boĂźte Ă  outils pour adapter le renforcement de mes compĂ©tences Ă  chaque nouvelle Ă©tape de leadership.

Entrer Ă  la direction gĂ©nĂ©rale pourrait ĂȘtre la prochaine Ă©tape. Les prĂ©requis incluent notre propre intĂ©rĂȘt Ă  prendre une telle responsabilitĂ© mais aussi la conviction de notre hiĂ©rarchie quant au fait que l’on a les capacitĂ©s pour assumer ce rĂŽle.

  • Nous sommes responsables de la stratĂ©gie et de l’intĂ©gration d’enjeux complexes issus de divers acteurs.
  • Nous devons comprendre le rĂŽle de notre entitĂ© au sein de l’organisation au sens large et du contexte gĂ©nĂ©ral.
  • Nous devons ĂȘtre capable d’harmoniser, au sein de notre groupe, la bonne Ă©quipe avec les personnes et les ressources adĂ©quates pour atteindre un objectif commun.

Notre réussite dépend de plus en plus de nos qualités humaines mais aussi conceptuelles, qui sont principalement nos compétences en termes de conscience sociale et de gestion relationnelle.

Au cours de cette progression, la conscience de soi et l’autogestion sont toujours les outils fondamentaux d’intelligence Ă©motionnelle. Ils nous aident Ă  identifier nos forces et Ă  mettre sur pied une Ă©quipe aux membres complĂ©mentaires, dotĂ©s de compĂ©tences qui compensent les domaines oĂč l’on est moins solide.

J’ai recherchĂ© les outils pour me faire progresser en tant que personne mais aussi en tant que dirigeante. L’intelligence Ă©motionnelle de Goleman m’a fourni un cadre pour choisir intentionnellement des options de carriĂšres qui m’aideraient Ă  me dĂ©velopper et qui apporteraient de la valeur Ă  l’entreprise. Cela m’a aidĂ© Ă  identifier les compĂ©tences Ă  renforcer pour mes prochains changements de carriĂšre mais aussi les talents Ă  rechercher dans mes Ă©quipes pour, qu’ensemble, l’on parvienne Ă  couvrir un champ plus large de compĂ©tences.

La conscience de soi et le contrĂŽle de soi donnent la clĂ© du reste de la boĂźte Ă  outil de l’intelligence Ă©motionnelle.

La conscience de soi et le contrĂŽle de soi donnent la clĂ© du reste de la boĂźte Ă  outil de l’intelligence Ă©motionnelle. Chaque personne opĂšre dans un contexte institutionnel prĂ©cis, et nous avons tous une tendance Ă  dĂ©velopper davantage certaines compĂ©tences plutĂŽt que d’autres. C’est pourquoi nous allons tous devoir naviguer dans le cadre de l’intelligence Ă©motionnelle et acquĂ©rir des compĂ©tences d’intelligence Ă©motionnelle Ă  notre maniĂšre.

Denise Dampierre : Comment avez-vous dĂ©couvert le modĂšle de l’intelligence Ă©motionnelle ? Y avez-vous Ă©tĂ© formĂ©e en Ă©cole de commerce ou en tant que manager ?

Isabelle Roux-Buisson : Les compĂ©tences d’intelligence Ă©motionnelle s’appliquent aussi bien au domaine de la vie personnelle que professionnelle. J’avais dĂ©jĂ  Ă©tĂ© sensibilisĂ©e Ă  un certain nombre d’entre elles au cours de mon Ă©ducation familiale.

Nous avions Ă©videmment des cours de compĂ©tences en leadership Ă  Harvard. Mais c’est mon expĂ©rience professionnelle qui m’a amenĂ©e Ă  apprĂ©cier pleinement leur valeur.

On amorce ce chemin avec le choix de notre employeur. Dans mon cas, les valeurs de Hewlett Packard (HP) et l’attention que la sociĂ©tĂ© portait au dĂ©veloppement personnel m’ont parlĂ©. Dans notre Ă©quipe, j’ai acceptĂ© les projets compliquĂ©s, les territoires peu dĂ©veloppĂ©s oĂč le succĂšs Ă©tait incertain. Quelques annĂ©es plus tard, alors que j’avais astucieusement appliquĂ© mes compĂ©tences techniques en marketing, mes gammes de produits avaient les meilleurs rĂ©sultats en Europe. Ces rĂ©sultats (l’orientation vers la rĂ©ussite – “achievement orientation”) m’ont placĂ© sur le radar de la direction.

Je pensais qu’il Ă©tait essentiel, pour n’importe quelle entreprise, de comprendre le client (la conscience de soi – “self-awareness”). Je me suis Ă©galement rendue compte qu’un passage aux ventes favorisait la mobilitĂ© verticale chez HP (la conscience sociale – “social awareness”). Une expĂ©rience dans les ventes m’a appris l’empathie, l’écoute et la recherche de solutions (et parfois la gestion de conflits – “conflict management”).

Sachant que HP Ă©tait organisĂ© selon une organisation matricielle, j’ai cherchĂ© Ă  obtenir un poste en coordination internationale de grands comptes qui nĂ©cessitait de collaborer avec des Ă©quipes (“teamwork”) dans toute l’Europe et me permettait de bĂątir un rĂ©seau de collĂšgues dans d’autres pays. J’ai Ă©galement appris comment influencer des homologues (“influence”) dont la performance impactait mes rĂ©sultats. Un de mes comptes a Ă©tĂ© reconnu pour sa croissance supĂ©rieure en Europe. Ceci a d’autant plus confirmĂ© ma rĂ©putation de personne orientĂ©e vers la rĂ©ussite.

En tant que contributrice individuelle (un employé sans responsabilité managériale), je recherchais déjà des opportunités pour développer mes compétences en intelligence émotionnelle.

La conscience et le contrĂŽle de soi nous aident Ă  nous rendre compte de nos forces et d’attirer une Ă©quipe avec des talents complĂ©mentaires qui compensent pour les zones oĂč nous sommes moins forts.

Par la suite, j’ai donc envoyĂ© des signaux pour manifester mon intĂ©rĂȘt de devenir manager et me suis vue assignĂ©e une unitĂ© en perte de vitesse. Une vĂ©ritable chance de revitaliser une branche ! Mon dĂ©fi rĂ©sidait dans le fait d’instiller un esprit d’équipe, de bĂątir des relations positives, de co-concevoir et de mettre en place un plan dans lequel nous croyions tous, et de rĂ©instaurer de la fiertĂ©. J’ai appris Ă  mĂ©riter mais aussi Ă  rĂ©clamer le respect de mon autoritĂ© (l’autogestion – “self-management”). Un an aprĂšs, nous Ă©tions reconnus comme la meilleure unitĂ© d’Europe.

En tant que manager, nous devons Ă©valuer les gens et leurs capacitĂ©s, pour les faire travailler ensemble et pour les (re)motiver. Ceci a renforcĂ© mes capacitĂ©s Ă  travailler en Ă©quipe et m’a amenĂ©e Ă  dĂ©velopper mon style de leadership.

Nous devons aussi gĂ©rer nos supĂ©rieurs et nos collĂšgues, comprendre leurs attentes, leur environnement et leur maniĂšre de travailler. C’est ça la conscience organisationnelle (“organizational awareness”) !

Lors de l’étape suivante de ma carriĂšre, j’ai de nouveau acceptĂ© la responsabilitĂ© de gĂ©rer une Ă©quipe sous-performante, composĂ©e de professionnels de dix Ă  quinze ans mes aĂźnĂ©s. Pour travailler avec ce groupe, je devais gĂ©rer mes propres rĂ©actions et crĂ©er du lien (empathie). J’ai demandĂ© conseil auprĂšs de managers plus expĂ©rimentĂ©s, ce qui m’a permis de vivre le fait d’ĂȘtre coachĂ©e et mentorĂ©e, et de renforcer ma conscience organisationnelle.

PrĂȘte pour une nouvelle aventure, j’ai cherchĂ© Ă  obtenir un poste au siĂšge mondial, dans la Silicon Valley. J’étais convaincue que mon Ă©volution de carriĂšre bĂ©nĂ©ficierait de cette exposition et de la comprĂ©hension de ce « centre du pouvoir ». Mes connaissances pratiques du champ europĂ©en pouvaient Ă©galement apporter quelque chose de nouveau Ă  leur perspective.

Denise Dampierre : Quel conseil donneriez-vous à de jeunes employés ? A des nouveaux managers ?

Isabelle Roux-Buisson : La conscience et le contrĂŽle de soi sont les fondements sur lesquels bĂątir une riche carriĂšre.

Personne ne peut exceller dans tout. C’est une bonne chose dans les entreprises oĂč il y a des Ă©quipes !

La conscience et le contrĂŽle de soi nous aident Ă  nous rendre compte des points oĂč l’on est bon, pour prendre appui sur ces qualitĂ©s, et Ă  identifier quand nous avons besoin d’introduire d’autres talents pour que nos forces combinĂ©es permettent de rendre insignifiantes nos faiblesses individuelles.

Et la construction de la conscience et du contrĂŽle de soi est une tĂąche qui dure toute la vie.


Isabelle Roux-Buisson nous a partagĂ© comment l’intelligence Ă©motionnelle lui avait fourni le fil rouge de son dĂ©veloppement personnel et de son avancement professionnel.

  • Ne jamais cesser de dĂ©velopper la conscience de soi et l’autogestion
  • Passer des compĂ©tences techniques Ă  celles conceptuelles, en passant par celles humaines, au cours du dĂ©veloppement de sa carriĂšre
  • Demander des promotions qui permettent de parfaire de nouvelles compĂ©tences
  • Trouver sa passion, sa force motrice

Quel est votre prochain changement de carriĂšre ? Comment ces conseils sur l’intelligence Ă©motionnelle peuvent-ils vous aider Ă  prĂ©senter votre demande d’une maniĂšre qui semble avantageuse pour votre employeur ? Faites-le nous savoir dans les commentaires.

Je vous souhaite plein de succÚs !

[i] Institute for the Future:  Emerging Technologies’ Impact on Society & Work in 2030
Cover photo by Bruno Nascimento

Woman climbing stairs. Like career advancement

How Emotional Intelligence Advances Careers – insights by Isabelle Roux-Buisson

Isabelle Roux-Buisson is a senior executive with over 20 years’ experience in management in global IT corporations, sitting on European Executive Committees and managing business units of several billions in revenues. Roux-Buisson is a board member of Harvard Business School Club France (one of her alma maters) as well as ESEO Group engineering school. She previously served several terms on the Telecom Paris Tech (another alma mater) Alumni board.

Denise Dampierre:  You have enjoyed a laudable career.  What has helped you carve your career path? 

Isabelle Roux-Buisson

Isabelle Roux-Buisson:  One of the first principles of management is to never stop growing.  This is even more fundamental now as work is rapidly transformed by technology.  Studies indicate that 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 have not been invented yet[i].  This implies the needs will be different, and the need for adaptability will be enormous.

As we grow in management, we are responsible to be equipped with the tools required to continue evolving in our environment.  Emotional intelligence has provided me with a toolbox to adapt my skill building for each new leadership step.

Aside: Dr. Daniel Goleman is the author of best-selling Emotional Intelligence.  For twelve years, he wrote for The New York Times, reporting on the brain and behavioral sciences.  He describes emotional intelligence as the way we handle ourselves and our relationships, and identifies four main domains

  • Self-awareness – knowing what we feel and why we are feeling it
  • Self-management – handling our distressing emotions in an effective way and harnessing the power of positive emotions.
  • Social-awareness – connecting with and understanding the people around us
  • Relationship management – putting these emotional intelligence skills to work in relationships inside and outside your team
Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence Skills
Emotional intelligence competencies and their related skills.

Denise Dampierre:  What is the role of emotional intelligence at various stages of one’s career?

Isabelle Roux-Buisson:  As we enter the workforce, we are essentially hired for technical talent. I began in marketing.

Sooner or later, some of us will be invited into leadership.  Foremost, our words and actions express our interest in management.  We also demonstrate sufficient mastery of the technical issues and some degree of empathy, organizational awareness, leadership, and teamwork.  This combination positions us as management potential.

Next as a middle manager, the game changes. “Human“ skills play a critical role. We need to demonstrate the ability to evaluate and work with people and to build and motivate a team.  We also need to navigate our environment:  our manager and colleagues in other departments on whom our success depends.  This is where we often begin to consciously understand and hone our leadership style.

As we grow in management, we are responsible to be equipped with the tools required to continue evolving in our environment.  Emotional intelligence has provided me with a toolbox to adapt my skill building for each new leadership step.

General management could be a next step.  Prerequisites include our own interest in taking on such responsibility and our hierarchy’s conviction that we have the capability to succeed in the role.

  • We are responsible for the strategy and for integrating the complex stakes from multiple players.
  • We have to understand the role of our entity within the larger organization and context.
  • We must be able to align the right team, people and resources within our group to reach a common goal.

Our success depends increasingly on both conceptual and human skills, principally social awareness and relationship management skills.

Throughout this progression, self-awareness and self-management remain the foundational emotional intelligence tools.  They help us to identify our strengths and to garner a team of complementary members, with skills that compensate for areas where we are less strong.

I sought out tools to grow as a person and a leader.  Goleman’s emotional intelligence provided a framework to intentionally choose career options that would help me develop and add value to the company.  It helped me identify the skills to build for my next career moves and the talents to seek out in my team so that together we could cover a wider set of competencies.

Self-awareness and self-control open up the rest of the emotional intelligence toolbox.

Self-awareness and self-control open up the rest of the emotional intelligence toolbox.  Every person operates in a specific corporate context, and we each have a propensity towards some skills more than others.  Therefore, we will all navigate through the emotional intelligence framework and build emotional intelligent skills in our unique manner.

Denise Dampierre:  How did you discover the emotional intelligence paradigm?  Were you trained in this at business school or as a manager?

Isabelle Roux-Buisson: Emotional intelligence skills apply to both the personal and professional realms of life.  I was already sensitized to several through my family upbringing.

They did teach us these leadership skills at Harvard.  My work experience led me to fully appreciated their value.

We embark on this path with our choice of employer.  In my case, Hewlett Packard (HP)’s values and their focus on people development resonated with me.  In our team, I accepted the challenge projects, the undeveloped territories where success was uncertain.  In a few years, when I had applied my technical marketing skills with savvy, my product lines were the top performers in Europe.  These results (achievement orientation) put me on the management radar.

I believed that it was vital in any company to understand the client (self-awareness). I also realized that a passage in sales favored upward mobility at HP (social awareness).  Sales taught me empathy, listening, and solution-finding (and sometimes conflict-management).

Knowing that HP is a matrix organization, I sought an international account coordination position that required collaboration with teams throughout Europe and allowed me to build a network of colleagues in other countries.  I also learned how to influence peers whose performance impacted my results.  One of my accounts was recognized for top growth in Europe.  This further confirmed to my reputation of achievement orientation.

As an individual contributor (an employee without management responsibilities), I already sought out opportunities to build emotional intelligence skills.

Self-awareness and self-management help us identify our strengths and garner a team of complementary members, with skills that compensate for areas where we are less strong.

Next, I sent out signals indicating my interest in becoming a manager and was assigned a team in a flailing district.  What an opportunity to revitalize the business!  My challenge was to ignite team spirit, build positive relationships, co-conceive and execute on a plan we all believed in, and re-instore pride.  I learned to both earn and demand respectful authority (self-management). One year later, we were recognized as Europe’s top performing district.

As manager, we need to evaluate people and their capabilities, to have them work together, and to (re)motivate them. This strengthened my teamwork skills and led me to develop my leadership style.

We also manage our bosses and peers, understand their expectations, context, and working style. That’s organizational awareness!

In my next career step, I again accepted a stretch job: to manage an underperforming team of professionals ten to fifteen years my senior.  To turn the group around, I had to manage my own reactions and create connections (empathy).  I sought counsel from more experienced managers which gave me the experience of being coached and mentored and reinforced my organizational awareness.

When I was ready for a new adventure, I sought out a worldwide headquarters position, in the Silicon Valley. I was convinced that my career development would benefit from the exposure to and the understanding of this “center of command.” My pragmatic knowledge of the European field could contribute to their perspective.

Denise Dampierre:  What advice would you give to young employees?  To first-time managers?

Isabelle Roux-Buisson:  Self-awareness and self-control are the foundations on which to build a vibrant career.

None of us can be excellent in everything.  That’s a good thing in a company where we have teams!

“Management is about human beings. Its task is to make people capable of joint performance, to make their strengths effective and their weaknesses irrelevant.” – Peter Drucker

Self-awareness and self-control help us realize where we are strong, to lean on those qualities, and to identify where we need to bring in other talent so that our combined strengths make individual weaknesses irrelevant.

And building self-awareness and self-control are a lifetime task.

Thank You

Isabelle Roux-Buisson shared how emotional intelligence provided the guiding thread for her intentional personal development and career progression.

  • To continuously build self-awareness and self-management
  • To move from technical to human to conceptual skills in career growth
  • To ask for promotions which hone new skills
  • To finding your passion, your motor

What is your next career move?  How might these emotional intelligence insights help you present your request in a value-adding manner to your employer?  Let us know in the comments.

Wishing you success!

[i] Institute for the Future:  Emerging Technologies’ Impact on Society & Work in 2030
Cover photo by Bruno Nascimento

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


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, ”CafĂ©?  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?


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. 

What I Love about work

44 Things to Love About Work

What does your job do for you?  Have you shared what you appreciate with your boss or colleagues?

With Valentine’s Day coming up, love is in the air.  What if you shared what you enjoy about work?!

Expressing Gratitude Makes You Happier

Dr. John Gottman, a relationship researcher since 1969 and founder of The Gottman Institute, coined the phrase “sentiment override.”  It means that our feelings act as a filter when we receive information.

A positive sentiment override implies viewing the situation with potential.  At work this could translate as giving the benefit of the doubt and not taking it personally when you overhear a team member moan, “What a rotten deal!”  With a positive predisposition, this protest invites curiosity.  Is this employee discouraged?  Could something be amiss with a project or with the distribution of the workload?

Conversely, someone with a negative sentiment override distorts information to find the critique.

  • That employee always complains. This comment just proves the point.
  • Is this person expecting preferential treatment? Is he trying to squirm out of responsibility?
  • What a toxin to our team!

How can we build up our positive sentiment override?  Through gratitude.  Thankfulness protects folk from falling into the negative sentiment override.

Positive and negative perspective

44 Things to Appreciate about Work

How often do you express gratitude about your work?  To your colleagues or boss?

Even if you hate dislike your manager or team members, and your situation is less than tolerable ideal, there is surely one aspect of work for which you can express genuine appreciation.

Authenticity is key.  (Brown-nosing smells bad.)

Express sincerity by referring to a specific element of your work.  Share the impact it has on your life.   Some of these items we might take for granted.  Imagine professional life without them.  We have family members working for the US government.  They used to expect a regular paycheck.  After the first shutdown, getting paid on time is something for which they are thankful!

I was inspired by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (survival, safety, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization) to come up with this gratitude list.

  1. Getting paid
  2. Predictability of income
  3. A cafeteria which provides decent food at a reasonable price
  4. Office space with a comfortable chair and a coffee machine
  5. Cleaning crew that keeps the toilets (and the office) welcoming
  6. A schedule – you know where to be when
  7. Vacation time
  8. Weekends without work
  9. Evenings free to enjoy personal relationships and pursue hobbies
  10. Benefits package, possibly including health insurance
  11. Safe workplace
    (Bye, bye asbestos and lead paint)
  12. Harassment-free workplace
  13. Colleagues
    (Loneliness is a factor in the gig economy)
  14. Smiling (!!) and likable colleagues
    (Small gestures matter)
  15. Diverse colleagues
    (They stretch your learning and bring out your creativity)
  16. A sense of belonging to a team
  17. Having your ideas heard
  18. People with whom to have lunch
  19. Mentors to guide the way
  20. Completing a job well
  21. Clearly defined tasks
  22. Responsibility for a specified task or mission
  23. Recognition for your work
  24. Respect from others
  25. Tools (computer, phone
) to do your work
  26. Helpful feedback about what you do well
  27. Helpful feedback about ways to improve
  28. Training in technical skills & personal development
  29. Promotion track
  30. Stretch jobs because your boss believes in your capabilities
  31. Confidence from your boss and team mates
  32. Invitation to lunch from your boss
  33. Request for insight from a team mate
  34. A raise or bonus
  35. Congratulations as employee of the month
  36. Participating in creating something from scratch
  37. Having goals
  38. Measurable progress in reaching your goals
  39. Ability to help team members grow
  40. A boss who has your back
  41. Trust in your boss and team mates
  42. A management that embodies the corporate values
  43. Purpose-filled work
  44. Contribution to the well-being of others or society

SAY “Thank You”

Thinking thanks is a first step.  Expressing appreciate anchors the gratitude in your mind and creates connection with another person.

To whom will you share thanks about work?  Spread the love you would like to receive.

Bond as a Team

Print the 44 Things to Love about Work worksheet and invite team members to pick theirs.  Share appreciations at the next team meeting.  It might even lead to a discussion of ways to further boost engagement at work.

Tiger in cage. Safe boundaries.

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

Combattre la toxicitĂ© avec des Messages en « Je Â»

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 intĂ©ressĂ©s Ă  parler ouvertement de ce genre de comportement. Mais que se passe-t-il si votre collĂšgue vous Ă©vite et s’extirpe d’une rĂ©union qui devait donner lieu Ă  une discussion constructive ?

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

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

Parlez de VOS besoins avec le « Je Â»

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

« Vous me mettez mal Ă  l’aise

« Vous causez des problĂšmes quand

« Votre attitude


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

Dans l’article prĂ©cĂ©dent, nous nous sommes intĂ©ressĂ©s Ă  l’exemple d’un chef qui touchait de façon inappropriĂ©e ses employĂ©es. Son comportement confirme qu’il pense qu’il mĂ©rite un traitement de faveur, il peut toucher
 sans que cela ne le touche lui. Une plaignante peut ĂȘtre rĂ©affirmĂ©e dans sa mentalitĂ© de victime, malheur Ă  elle ! Personne ne l’aide Ă  se dĂ©lester de son fardeau.

Ce sont les autres, comme vous et moi, qui expĂ©rimentons la difficultĂ© ; nos objectifs ne sont pas atteints. C’est le sentiment de sĂ©curitĂ© de la femme qui est violĂ© quand un homme choisit de toucher sa poitrine comme bon lui semble. C’est le besoin de respect du manager qui est mis Ă  bas quand un membre de l’équipe arrive en retard aux rĂ©unions avec une tasse de cafĂ© encore chaude dans la main, le tout surmontĂ© de crĂšme chantilly.



Comment aborder un comportement inappropriĂ© pour que la personne agisse en consĂ©quence et de maniĂšre positive ?

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

En tant qu’ĂȘtres humains et que professionnels, nous cherchons tous Ă  se sentir Ă  notre place et Ă  contribuer positivement Ă  un groupe portĂ© par un but qui en vaut la peine. En tant que managers, nous espĂ©rons que les membres de notre Ă©quipe trouveront au travail cette communautĂ© pleine de sens !

Quelles sont les qualitĂ©s nĂ©cessaires pour rendre un environnement propice Ă  la mise en place d’un objectif qui fait sens et d’un sentiment fort de coopĂ©ration ?

  • La confiance
  • La confiance
  • La confiance
  • La sĂ©curitĂ©, la responsabilitĂ©, l’initiative, l’engagement, la comprĂ©hension, l’acceptation, la coopĂ©ration, l’accueil des diffĂ©rences, la joie, le rire

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

« On fonctionne de cette maniĂšre
. Ce n’est pas comme Ă§a que l’on procĂšde

« Comme je sais que ma supĂ©rieure assure mes arriĂšres, je suis trĂšs actif dans la recherche de moyens pour amĂ©liorer notre activitĂ©. Je pose des questions Ă  nos clients dans le but d’avoir un retour constructif. Je propose et teste rĂ©guliĂšrement des idĂ©es pour affiner la qualitĂ© de notre service. Je le fais car je sais qu’elle se donne beaucoup de mal pour moi aussi. Â»

Quand un manager s’approprie le travail de son groupe, il a franchi la limite entre travail de groupe et toxicitĂ©. La frontiĂšre a Ă©tĂ© forcĂ©e et les besoins des employĂ©s ne sont pas satisfaits.

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

Les Trois Parties d’un Message en « Je Â»

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 Ă©lĂ©ments qui compte.


« Quand vous arrivez en retard aux rĂ©unions de groupe avec une tasse de cafĂ© liĂ©geois encore chaude dans la main


« â€Š je sens de l’injustice


« Parce que d’autres doivent prendre sur eux pour votre confort. Quelqu’un, moi ou un coĂ©quipier, perd du temps Ă  vous faire un rĂ©capitulatif de ce que l’on a dĂ©jĂ  abordĂ©. C’est une perte d’argent pour l’entreprise et c’est un manque de considĂ©ration pour la charge de travail du collĂšgue en question. Â»


Exprimez ce que vous souhaiteriez

« J’aimerais que vous arriviez Ă  l’heure. Â»

En ce qui concerne la partie 3, je prĂ©fĂšre me concentrer sur les consĂ©quences des actions perturbatrices et permettre Ă  l’autre personne de proposer sa propre solution. Il se peut qu’ils arrivent Ă  l’heure Ă  la rĂ©union avec du cafĂ© pour tout le monde !  Exprimer un souhait peut paraĂźtre directif.

Un Exemple de Message en « Je Â»

Un professeur de management a racontĂ© comment il avait utilisĂ© les messages en « Je Â» avec les Ă©tudiants de l’universitĂ© quand le groupe commençait Ă  se dissiper. Un jeune homme en particulier, plus difficile que les autres, avait roulĂ© des yeux, et, marmonnant quelque chose sur l’injustice de la vie, allait et venait bruyamment pendant leur temps de rĂ©union.

Pensant, « Mais quand vont-ils grandir ?! Â», et sentant sa colĂšre monter, le professeur avait dĂ©cidĂ© d’attendre le cours suivant pour rĂ©agir.

La semaine suivante, pendant une session sur le commerce mondial, il a abordĂ© le sujet de comment saisir les fruits de la diversitĂ© en utilisant des messages en « Je Â». Les gens de diffĂ©rentes cultures se comportent de façons qui peuvent ĂȘtre dĂ©stabilisantes pour les autres.

Il a partagĂ© deux façons de traiter un problĂšme de diffĂ©rence gĂ©nĂ©rationnelle dans sa classe :

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

La classe a souri narquoisement. Ils avaient dĂ©jĂ  entendu ce genre de remarques. C’est rentrĂ© dans une oreille et ressorti aussitĂŽt par l’autre.

L’option des messages en « Je Â» : « Quand vous parlez pendant le cours, je me sens volĂ© parce que le bruit supplĂ©mentaire me prive de la possibilitĂ© d’entrer en contact avec ceux de vos camarades qui sont intĂ©ressĂ©s et qui souhaitent apprendre. Â»

La classe s’est tue et leurs yeux se sont Ă©carquillĂ©s. « Je pouvais les voir rĂ©flĂ©chir
 et se rendre compte qu’ils faisaient une diffĂ©rence dans la rĂ©ussite de toute la classe Â», a-t-il racontĂ©.

Des Conseils pour RĂ©ussir avec des Messages en « Je Â»


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

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

Un des dĂ©fis est d’identifier une Ă©motion appropriĂ©e au travail.

Quand on dĂ©passe nos limites, notre cerveau passe en mode combat, fuite ou bien arrĂȘt. En fuite ou en arrĂȘt, on ne rĂ©torque 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  dĂ©truit
 usurpé  Â»

Ces Ă©motions sont rĂ©elles et valides. En mĂȘme temps, ces mots plein de jugement peuvent se retourner contre vous.

Quand notre cerveau se met en mode combat, on rĂ©pond avec des mots que l’on veut blessants.  Se calmer nous permet d’avoir de nouveau accĂšs Ă  un langage constructif.

Donnez-vous le temps de vous calmer aprĂšs avoir Ă©tĂ© confrontĂ© Ă  une situation toxique avant d’y rĂ©pondre.


Rappelez une situation toxique qui a eu lieu.

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

ConsidĂ©rez ces questions :

  • Qu’est-ce qui a Ă©tĂ© fait ou dit ?
  • Comment vous ĂȘtes-vous sentis aprĂšs ? Comment les autres ont-ils rĂ©agis ?
  • Qu’est ce qui a Ă©tĂ© le dĂ©clencheur nĂ©gatif ?
  • A quoi vous attendiez-vous ?
  • En quoi le comportement actuel diffĂšre-t-il des actions souhaitĂ©es ?

Essayez de dĂ©finir l’écart qui pose problĂšme. Il est utile d’identifier les qualitĂ©s de l’environnement de travail que vous souhaitez pour le rendre constructif. Vous ĂȘtes-vous heurtĂ© Ă  de la moquerie alors que vous recherchiez de la confiance ? Êtes-vous relĂ©guĂ© Ă  des tĂąches subalternes alors que vous souhaitez apprendre ?


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

« Quand vous insultiez Jane
 Â» invite Ă  une rĂ©ponse dĂ©fensive.

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


Plus votre message en « Je Â» sera clair, plus vous aurez de chance de recevoir une rĂ©ponse positive.

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

Les messages en « Je Â», comme tout nouveau langage, demande de l’entraĂźnement. Imaginez que vous ĂȘtes en train de parler Ă  un reprĂ©sentant d’une autre planĂšte (D’une-Ville-Qui-Pense-Vraimeeeeent-DiffĂ©remment-De-Moi). Essayez votre message en vous entrainant devant votre miroir.

Attendez-vous Ă  rĂ©digez plusieurs brouillons
 de chacune des trois parties : le comportement, vos sentiments, et les consĂ©quences.

Relisez. Est-ce que les sentiments sont en lien avec les consĂ©quences ? Si ce n’est pas le cas, repensez Ă  ce qui vous a gĂȘnĂ©, et rĂ©essayez.

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


Partager et recevoir des messages en « Je Â» implique de la vulnĂ©rabilitĂ© et du courage. Utilisez ces ressources prĂ©cieuses avec parcimonie. Il serait dommage de vous crĂ©er une rĂ©putation de quelqu’un qui ne fait que souligner les problĂšmes.

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

« Quand tu prends le dernier Kinder Ă  la cafĂ©tĂ©ria, je

Se Laisser Être Surpris par la RĂ©ponse

Certaines personnes incluent un autre Ă©lĂ©ment au message en « Je Â» : une demande pour une action prĂ©cise. J’aime croire que la personne rĂ©agira efficacement.

Le professeur d’universitĂ© a Ă©galement racontĂ© « la fin de l’histoire Â».

« La semaine suivante, je suis arrivĂ© en classe en avance et l’élĂšve le plus perturbateur Ă©tait dĂ©jĂ  lĂ . Je suis allĂ© le voir, lui ai fait remarquer sa ponctualitĂ© et lui ai dit Ă  quel point j’apprĂ©ciais son effort de comportement. Il a souri, eu un petit rire et a dit « Ouais. Je pense que c’est la premiĂšre fois cette annĂ©e ! Â»

Il a contribuĂ© positivement tout au long de la classe. Alors qu’il s’en allait, je lui ai de nouveau dit que j’avais remarquĂ© sa participation pertinente. Il s’est exclamĂ© « Et, vous savez, j’ai Ă©coutĂ© alors mĂȘme que la fille derriĂšre moi n’arrĂȘtait pas de me planter son stylo dans le dos pendant tout le cours. Je ne me mettrai plus devant elle ! Â»

Je pensais que c’était une personne toxique. Il m’a prouvĂ© le contraire. Son comportement avait Ă©tĂ© rĂ©prĂ©hensible mais il s’est montrĂ© capable de contributions positives mĂȘme dans des circonstances difficiles. Il a surpassĂ© toutes mes attentes. Â»

C’est pourquoi j’aime prĂ©senter un message en « Je Â» et permettre Ă  l’autre de me surprendre avec leur propre rĂ©ponse constructive. Ça arrive dans la plupart des cas.

 Et si les difficultĂ©s persistent, alors il est temps d’adopter encore une autre mĂ©thode. Nous en parlerons la semaine prochaine.

Lire : Qu’est-ce qu’un employĂ© toxique ?

Lire : Solutions alternatives au licenciement d’un employĂ© 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.”


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 chair 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

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 (someone who Thinks-Waaaaay-Differently-From-Me).  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


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.”


“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

Toxic employee is like a slithery snake

Alternatives to Firing a Toxic Employee – 1/3

Consider the case of a team with a toxic employee.  I am coaching the manager who says, “I told him right out what is not working, and he keeps doing it.”

The manager is being honest with feedback.  And yet, the situation perpetuates itself
even worsens.

This post is the first in a three-part series to present tools to turn around situations with bad-attitude employees.

The Case of the Toxic Team Member

This young employee, let’s call him George, had been assigned to a team for a specific project.  George’s previous work had been well enough appreciated, his skills were valuable, and this project needed manpower.

The manager expected higher quality output than what he was getting from George, so he let him know it.  Honestly. And with respectful language.

“You have got to be more thorough.”

“Be responsible.  Take initiative.”

“Don’t wait for me to specify what work you need to do and how.”

“There are mistakes in this document!”

Instead of improving his attitude and effort, George withdrew when in front of the manager and talked behind his back.

manager employee toxic relationship. Vicious cycleRumors got back to the manager who trusted George less and less.  He was on the lookout for occasions where George underperformed.  People find what they seek; the manager identified imperfect work, and George received increasing critique and diffused more resentment throughout the team.

Vicious circle.  Toxic employee.  Suffering team.

The Manager is Honest and Respectful.  Isn’t he right?!

Yes, the manager clearly pointed out the areas of underperformance without disparaging the junior employee, George.

Could he have done anything else? Yes.

The Trust Balance on Overdraft

Let me use a metaphor to explain:  Credit

When you pay off your debt, the balance becomes ZERO.  Not negative.  Yet not positive either.

When the manager pointed out the faults, he may have been removing negative behaviors.  It’s like he brought “development potential” up
up to zero!  Yet, the employee still totters on the brink of demotivation and disengagement.

The manager’s goal is to generate a positive performance AND positive return on the investment in talent.  Pointing out the negatives is not the same as investing in skill development.

There are constructive communication tools which BOTH set limits for expected results AND SIMULTANEOUSLY encourage and engage the employee. Before considering termination, try one of these less costly and potentially high return approaches to bringing a slacking employee up to speed.

  1. Acknowledge the challenge…and your role in it (this post)
  2. Use “I” Messages
  3. Schedule frequent feedback

This post is the first in a series of three where we address tools to encourage employees.

Acknowledge the challenge
and your role in it

How can one have a conflict with only one person?

By definition, a clash involves a minimum of two parties.  It is rare that with humans one person is totally correct and the other one is completely 100% in neglect.

On the principle, the boss is most probably correct.  Performance needs improvement.

And yet
How was the tone of voice?  Or the clarity of expectations?  How many times do we spout off requests while rushing to a meeting?!

I had a situation where an employee was mourning the death of a friend from overdose and the boss had just had a fight with his teen.  In their respective hypersensitive states, latent tension was exposed.  They clashed, and it led to subsequent coaching.

An outright confrontation has the advantage of bringing the differences out in the open.  It’s a costly move for everyone.  Angry outbursts at work leave a mark on everyone’s reputation.

Here are more trust-building ways to address a conflictual relationship.

Inquire & listen

“I wonder if we are understanding each other as effectively as we could. How would you rate our communication on a scale of 1 (ineffective) to 10 (full engagement on both of our parts)?”

Find ways to have your employee speak and name the challenge.  They are savvy at slithering into a victim mentality.  Avoid the trap with this type of question which respectfully yet firmly has the employee face his responsibility for his attitude and behavior.

A ranking provides a starting point for exposing differences.  If they respond with a “9” and you think the cooperation runs at “2”, it’s an opportunity for each of you to express your expectations of effective collaboration.

“What does a “9” entail, and can you give me an example of when this happened?”

Think of it like deciphering an optical illusion where both of you see different images in the same brush strokes on the paper.

Read: See Through Someone Else’s Eyes

Set a meeting with just this topic on the agenda.

Separate personal and professional issues

“As a manager, I don’t see us working well together to reach performance objectives. As a person just like you, I would like work to be a motivating and pleasant part of my life.  I feel frustrated (choose your emotion) with the way we work together.  I don’t see us reaching either of those goals.  When can we set a time to discuss what you want from this job and what you expect from your work relationships and I can share mine too?”

Many young employees seek society at work.  Their work used to be school and that’s where they made friends. Help them understand that performance issues differ from their interest as an individual.

By having the employee “present his case” you again have him face the responsibility of his own attitude.

Give the employee a respectful way to voice objections

“You and I seem to be viewing the same situation from very different perspectives. When can we sit down, and you can tell me your understanding of our project requirements and of our teamwork?  At 9:00 a.m. or after lunch?”

We managers give feedback regularly.  Often in little chunks.  We drop by his desk on the way to a meeting.  We call him into our office, say our stuff, and dismiss him.

(In the third post of this series we will look at a way to encourage self-evaluation and focus feedback on ways to progress.)

When are employees invited to share their disagreements with their boss?

Consider this an opportunity to model the kind of behavior and respect you would like to receive from him.

Switch Perspectives

The above questions invite both manager and employee to switch perspectives.

The employee is challenged to get out of a “victim” mindset where the world owes him favors.  The manager gives him responsibility for his actions.

Each of these examples also acknowledges that the manager, may not have a 360° understanding of the situation.  The more responsibility one gains, the more difficult it is to know what happens lower in the organizational structure.

The boss has the power to give a raise, to promote (and to dictate who works on weekends).  Team members watch for signs from their manager that indicates they may disagree without negative repercussions.

That young employee’s adverse behavior might just be an indication that a sensitive subject merit being addressed.

I have learned what I do well and what to improve in my leadership style through such discussions.  It’s not always pleasant.  It has been beneficial.

Your Invitation to Disagree

I presented these concepts to Harvard Business School alumni.  Some espoused them immediately: “It’s so obvious that I forgot to think of it.  Like fish not recognizing water.”

Others took the opposite stance, “You are letting the wolves take over.”

What is your take on dealing with a potentially toxic employee?  Comment below or send me a message.


Next week, we’ll explore “I” Messages.  Stay tuned.

Cover photo by David Clode on Unsplash