Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Leadership and Blame

"The Buck Stops Here" - Harry S Truman
Last week I wrote a blog on conflict, blame and finger pointing which seems to have touched a nerve amongst readers and I can understand why.

Blame seems to be such a deeply entrenched part of the way we communicate. Most people want to avoid humiliation and accepting the blame when something goes wrong does open the door for humiliation. Humiliation equals shame and shame is one of those primitive emotions that can feel overwhelming.

Even a small mistake can trigger shame and feeling disgraced; pointing the finger of blame can be an unconscious reaction to avoiding humiliation and a first line of defence. 

The impact of this within the workplace, of course, is that a ‘blame culture’ becomes the norm and the finger pointing becomes so prevalent that it can create a climate where people don’t take responsibility for much at all. Blame cultures can leach the motivation out of the people who work within them and that in turn inhibits inspiration, creativity and healthy team working.

So what happens when the issue of Leadership comes into the equation? 

From where I sit, blame and leadership are completely incompatible.  A true leader doesn’t blame other people, even when it really is someone else’s fault!  Good leadership means unpicking what went wrong without apportioning blame. Good leadership means helping others take responsibility for mistakes without humiliating them or treating them in an infantile way.

But because so many leaders do function within a blame culture, it’s really hard for them to lead with integrity and avoid making others culpable. 

Have you noticed when CEOs, public officials or others of a similar ilk are forced to make public apologies how difficult it is and how uncomfortable and inauthentic they look and sound?  To me those are the kind of leaders who find it extremely difficult not to try to wriggle out of being held accountable.

President Truman famously had a plaque on his desk that said “The buck stops here” which was all about him taking responsibility for any decisions he made. Quite the opposite of those people who want to ‘pass the buck’ as quickly as possible.

I’d be suspicious of any leader who accused others rather than shouldering the blame. Good leaders should never, ever put someone in the position of feeling shame or humiliation. The other person may actually feel really bad but it is the leader’s role to ameliorate that and reassure his or her colleague/s that though they may have made a mistake, it’s not the end of the world.

I still have a vivid memory of making a whopper of a mistake over 35 years ago early in my career. I worked for an organisation with the opposite of a blame culture – it was a nurturing culture and a lot of people were more concerned about my being OK than about the mistake I had made. That attitude made it possible for me to get back on my feet, re-enter the fray and rectify the problem I had created. At no time did I feel criticised, belittled or reproached.

The people who looked after me (I was a guilty wreck for a while) represented the kind of leader I aspired to be; one who is more interested in the welfare of the people they work with than in making people feel small because they screwed up.

To summarise:

Good leader don’t:

            make people feel guilty
            humiliate colleagues, especially in front of others

Good leaders do:

take responsibility.
nurture the people they work with.
help rectify mistakes.
admit when they’ve got it wrong.
accept that the buck stops with them.

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Leadership and Conflict Management courses.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Monday, 21 September 2015

Communication: Gossip and The Rumour Mill

The current volatility in the Chinese markets has put me in mind of the rumour mill that can impact on people at work. 

It feels, listening to the telly and following the economic situation in the press, on news sites and Twitter that the world could talk itself into another recession.  The Dow Jones drops like a stone and panic ensues.  Oh, I know there are all kinds of justifiable reasons for concern (the Chinese economy is slowing down, blah, blah, blah) but it also seems that as a species we are primed for the worst and therefore the worst happens.

I’m simply pointing out that we do seem to be drawn to disaster and are willing to believe the worst often without question. 

This is particularly true on a less global scale: in our offices, in families, among friends, our ears gravitate to the bad news rumours.

Rumours really are a form of gossip and humans do derive a great deal of pleasure from gossip, whether it’s about colleagues, pop stars, royalty or the neighbour across the road.  Of course, most gossip isn’t good news gossip; it’s usually something not very nice that puts the person being gossiped about in a not very good light.

I bet that most people who are reading this will have turned up at least once on the first day of a new job and been told something about someone you’d barely met or hadn’t even met at that point.  It certainly happened to me:  I was warned about this one woman who, I was told on my first day, was unfriendly, difficult and didn’t take part in any company events.

I had to pass her office on the way to mine and I found for the first few days that I barely muttered an hello and she barely muttered one back.

Towards the end of the week I finally woke up from my gossip-induced trance and thought, “I don’t even know this woman and I’m acting as though she has done something mean to me.”  The next day I bought a box of cookies and instead of scurrying by her office, I stopped, introduced myself properly and gave her the bikkies.  We chatted away for 15 minutes and I learned more about her in that time than most people had who’d been working alongside her for years, including some serious health problems that occasionally made her grouchy.

It was a great and very important lesson for me to learn about how easy it was for me to be swayed by what other people said before I could form my own judgement, come to my own opinions.

The rumour mill and gossip, though they are inevitable, also have the power to be deeply harmful and hurtful.  People can talk themselves into believing anything, from a new global financial crisis to the unfriendliness of a co-worker.

It would be great if every time we heard a rumour or some gossip about someone, we were able to challenge the gossiper.  It would be great if we could stopper our ears or simply ignore what was being said.

However, that’s unrealistic given what I said at the beginning about human nature.

There are, however, other steps you can take to mitigate the out of control wild-fire impact the rumour mill can have.

If you find yourself swept up in the energy that’s often created when people fan the flames of hearsay and tittle-tattle, take a moment to ask yourself if there’s any evidence that you’ve personally experienced that might mean the gossip is true. Conversely, is there any evidence that the opposite is true?

Like me, once I snapped out of it, you could be pro-active and seek out the person others are talking about, share a cuppa, go to lunch or an after-work drink. Make an effort to connect with them so you can genuinely form your own opinion.

Finally, if you do find that the rumour is just that, a rumour, you could lead a counter-gossip movement, pointing out positive things about your talked-about colleague, questioning the gossiper when they start sniping and becoming an advocate.

You could encourage other colleagues to form their own judgements and when new people start reinforce the positive traits of all your co-workers.

Gossip will never completely go away; you can be a kinder, more empathetic colleague by avoiding the rumour mill and modelling fairness and acceptance.  

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Communication One Day, Two Day and Five Day Elite Communication courses.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Conflict Management – Is it Always the Other Person’s Fault?

I’ve written about Conflict Management before, about how easy it is to avoid and yet the repercussions of avoidance can be really harmful.

Today I want to talk about blame.  In my experience conflict and blame go hand in hand.  When something is amiss and disagreement flares, it’s generally the other person’s fault.

People seem to be incredibly adept at blaming someone else rather than seeing if they have contributed to the situation in any way.  I suppose that’s human nature; no one really wants to admit they created or contributed to a conflict they’re in the middle of.  That might lead to having to make an apology and oh boy, apologies are hard.

Blaming is so much easier; it gets you off the hook and focuses attention elsewhere.

The problem with blame is that it rarely creates a path toward resolution.  We’ve said it many times at Impact Factory, that the purpose of conflict is resolution.  If conflict exists for any other reason then it’s more about power, proving someone else is wrong while you are right, selfish gain, humiliating or even destroying your opposition.

This is true in work conflicts, family conflicts and global conflicts:  the stakes might be different but the driving forces are the same.  You can sit around and blame and nothing shifts other than reinforcing your certainties or you can head towards resolution by taking blame and the often the subsequent desire for revenge out of the equation.

How do I do that? I hear you ask.

Blame is fed by lots of emotions particularly when something goes wrong:  there’s the distress of whatever the mistake was, the concern over the knock-on effects, the anger that there’s now a problem when there wasn’t one before and the fear that you might be in the firing line.  That’s why the first knee-jerk reaction is to fault someone else rather than take responsibility (or even partial responsibility) for the situation and this fault-finding creates conflict.

If both ‘sides’ are doing the blaming than conflict can seem intractable.  If you want to find a solution then someone has to budge.

Believe it or not, this is a habit you can train yourself to take on. 

Start simple:  if you catch yourself making even a tiny mistake, let other people know.  My favourite phrase when I’m in the office is, “Oh oh, I think I just screwed up.”  That alerts others that there’s a cock-up that will need to be sorted and it makes me look human. 

Progress to bigger issues.  Small mistakes are usually easily rectifiable; it’s the bigger ones that can create conflict, especially when you start to point fingers at other people.  When the next larger problem arises, see if you can hold your tongue while you get to the bottom of the problem.  Ask others if they can unpick what happened; reflect back what you’ve heard and see if you can leave out the emotion you may be feeling inside. 

Involve others in finding the solution.  One reason why blaming and conflict are so tricky is that people retreat to their corners to lick their wounds and justify their behaviour.  One way to pre-empt that happening is to get everyone who is impacted by the problem involved in finding a solution.  Then no one person is holding all the responsibility and everyone will feel they’ve contributed to managing the setback.

Managing Conflict takes practise. If we were all good at it, life would be much calmer and quieter.  It isn’t.  If you want less conflict in your life begin your practise with less blaming, less criticising, less accusing.

You will also get a reputation for being someone who isn’t afraid to tackle difficult scenarios which can only be a good thing.

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Conflict Management and Assertiveness courses.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Monday, 14 September 2015

Building Business Relationships - Finding Common Ground

My father was a top-notch salesman.  He sold cars; first used cars, then new cars, then car fleets, then trucks, then truck fleets.  He had a great reputation in his field and he worked till he was nearly 80 training other salesmen in his techniques.

And what were these amazing techniques?  One stands out more than any other.  My father banged on and on and on about the need to find common ground before anything else.  From when I was quite young I remember him talking about the importance of common ground in creating a reason for people to talk to you.  He really got it that it’s ‘you they buy’.

He didn’t think of himself as selling cars; he thought of himself as making friends with people who might or might not buy a car from him at some point.  People bought cars from him, then brought their children to buy cars from him and then their grandchildren.  People trusted my father and I believe what made him a great salesman was that he wasn’t invested in the sale; he was invested in the relationship.

On the other hand, I’ve met salespeople who talk nineteen to the dozen to get their spiel out in one breath and don’t have a clue what common ground is; their goal is to sell, sell, sell. 

Here’s where my father’s advice is invaluable:  whether you are a clerk in a shop, an account manager, a real estate agent, wait staff, an insurance broker or indeed, even a car salesman, creating relationships is what will serve you in great stead.  Focusing on the bond between you and the other person, even if during the smallest exchange, creates a climate where people are far more likely to buy, if not today, then some time in the future.

Think about it for a sec; if someone has treated you well in a shop, even if you go out empty handed, you are more likely to feel positive and well taken care of than if you feel pressured into buying something by someone trying to move the goods.  You’re more likely to recommend them to friends and colleagues and their ‘brand’ stays with you in a warm and fuzzy way.

What creates common ground?  Some people are simply too uncomfortable with the thought that they have to probe or question the other person – they think it’s intrusive and inappropriate.  Or they feel they aren’t good at ‘small talk’.  And in many cases, they’re right.

Common ground doesn’t have to be about discovering you both bake bread from scratch or have teenage children stretching your patience.  It can be as simple as commenting on the weather, asking about someone’s weekend; making a pleasant comment on their clothes or tone of voice (if on the phone). As soon as you bring something other than business into the conversation there are myriad opportunities to find little links which bring you closer together.

When we at Impact Factory talk about building business relationships, it’s the first word that’s key – building.  Business relationships don’t happen instantly; they have to be constructed step by step.

To get under the skin of any company you work with you have to start with the individuals with whom you are in ‘relationship’.  The better you know them and they know you, the easier it will be to create trust and for them to feel confident in your abilities to understand their organisation.

Not only that, common ground is a two-way street:  not only do they feel more confident in you, you have created a bridge that makes you feel more comfortable dealing with them; you get more out of the relationship by making it more personal.

Start with common ground and you are on your way to creating the kind of business relationships that are there for the long term rather than the quick sale.

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Building Business Relationships, Customer Service and Communication courses.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Assertiveness - Why It's Hard to Say No

Every unassertive person wishes they could say no, or at least say no without feeling overwhelmed with guilt, anger, fear.

For such a short word, it has a lot of power over us.

It’s really hard to say no for a lot of reasons – reasons that unassertive people believe are true usually with very little evidence.  Here are a few we’ve heard over the years.

I won’t be liked.  If people rely on you for all sorts of things, saying no might put their noses out of joint, they might become resentful and they won’t like you anymore.  There is probably a small likelihood of that happening, but the reality is that saying no may pose an inconvenience to someone but it is unlikely to cause a breach of a friendship unless that friendship was based on pretty dodgy ground in the first place.

I could lose my job.  Obviously, saying no too often could indeed put you in a precarious position at work.  Then you’d get a reputation for being difficult, uncooperative and bolshie. However, the chances of being sacked because you can’t always do everything other people want when they want you to is highly unlikely.

People expect me to say yes. Of course they do!  People are used to you saying yes so if you say no it will probably come as a bit of a surprise.  Every time you say yes the picture gets reinforced that you are always available, always at others’ beck and call, always accommodating.  No need to look elsewhere if you’re the compliant one. Take it form me and my own personal experience, if you say no a couple of times, people will find someone else to take up the slack.

I’ll feel guilty.  Guilt is a complete and total waste of time.  It does nothing, changes nothing and you go around weighed down by it.  Isn’t it interesting that you might feel guilty for putting yourself first for a change?  What also happens is that unassertive people often yearn for someone to let them off the hook by saying, “Don’t worry, it’s fine, I’ll get someone else to help out this time.”  When that doesn’t happen, the guilt gets even bigger and resentment can creep in.

'They' might get angry.  Yup, they might.  'They' might also give you a hard time, try to play on your guilt, try to bully you, etc.  Or they might not.  They might simply accept your no.  The point is that the fear of how other people might react is what keeps many people from saying no.

Most unassertive people have a hard time saying no because it's most likely when they were a lot younger saying no might have been a humiliating experience, or they did get yelled at or bullied or made to feel inadequate or ungenerous.

Most people only need a few humiliating or belittling experiences to begin to alter their natural behaviour to become more compliant; they take on the message that it's not ok to say no, so they learn not to.

We at Impact Factory have created a gentle and supportive one or two day Assertiveness programme to help you learn how to say no without causing offence, upset in others or additional guilt in you.

The Art of Saying No is just a click away.

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Assertiveness, Conflict Management and Communication courses.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Monday, 7 September 2015

Customer Service vs Greek Hospitality

I’ve just come back from spending some time at my little slice of Greek paradise in Koroni in the Southern Peloponnese.  We’ve been coming here for years and aside from the fact that summer really is summer there, one of the draws is Greek hospitality.

Of course there must be plenty of places in Greece where there’s a grumpy shop-keeper, shoddy work, incompetence or complete disinterest, but our experience contains few of those.  As a matter of fact, it is just the opposite.

Given the difficult economic situation in Greece I did wonder what might be different during our visits in terms of attitude, optimism, outlook and we have had many chats with taverna owners, wait staff, shop keepers – people we have got to know over the years.

Everyone has an opinion about the current financial and political climate, and mostly it’s quite pessimistic and at times filled with resignation and regret (“we should have pulled out of the Euro when we had a chance.”).  Unfailingly, though, everyone has been as welcoming as they have ever been; as caring and attentive, kind and generous.

Perhaps in the cities the issue of Customer Service might be something that people talk about, but in Koroni there would only be puzzled stares about what that meant.  It feels from years of experiencing Greek hospitality that it is part of the DNA of the culture to be warm and welcoming.

I paid particular attention this trip because we had our six year old twin grandchildren on their annual visit and having experienced the attitude of British shops, restaurants, etc. when children appear on the horizon, I am always delighted at how differently children are treated in Greece.

Here are some of the ‘customer service’ niceties I have noted over the years that seem a natural extension of Greek culture:

No one has to look at a computer to welcome me back.  Even if I haven’t been to a shop or taverna for quite a while, everyone always remembers me and I am greeted with smiles, handshakes or hugs and kisses. Because people are treated as friends or family, it isn’t a huge effort to be remembered or to remember who everyone is. 

There’s always something extra. Generosity is a by-word and a little extra is added wherever you go – a dish you didn’t order ‘on the house’, a dessert of whatever fruit might be in season (lots of figs this trip!), extra biscuits added to the bag from the bakery and one of our favourite bakers gave us a loaf our favourite bread to welcome us back. 

A ‘Greek Solution’ is always to hand.  We’ve noticed this a lot over the years – when there’s a problem, difficulty or even something that seems impossible, instead of walking away or saying, sorry, there’s nothing we can do, there is a steely determination to find a solution to the problem.  Sometimes the solutions seem a bit extreme or outlandish, but more often than not, they work. 

Children.  It’s a known fact that hot countries do seem to like having children around.  No one seems put out or bothered if there are tears or tantrums (aside from other British tourists!) and people genuinely take delight in having small people come into their shops and restaurants.  It’s not that children are spoiled or given into excessively; it’s that they are regarded as important members of the family and community and are treated as such.

Accommodating.  All in all, I would summarise Greek hospitality as accommodating – people find a way to take care of others in a big-hearted, open way that makes being there such an enriching experience.

As I said earlier, of course, there will be nasty people wherever you go and I’m sure Greece has it’s fair share of unaccommodating, unfriendly, even hostile people who couldn’t care two hoots if a customer was satisfied or not.

However, there are a lot of places here in the UK that could benefit mightily from taking on the ‘Greek way’ of kindness and generosity.

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Customer Service and Communication Skills courses.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory