Have you found yourself saying ‘Yes’ to something at work and as you said it you wished you had said ‘No’?
This sound familiar:
Coworker: “Hey Jezebel, we’re starting a new project team to [insert mindless crap you don’t want to do] and we need an extra person. I know you’re swamped, it’s last minute and a bit outside your work but we could really use the help.”
Jezebel: [yes, this is you] “Oh I don’t know, I’m really busy with a lot of other projects. I’m in over my head already.”
Coworker: “C’mon, we really could use your help. We don’t have any other options and we can’t do it without you. Plus, you’re good at running projects. I’ll buy you lunch too!”
Jezebel: [still you] “Ughhh, okay fine. Just let me know when we’ll start.”
Coworker: “Right now.”
Let’s be honest here – this has happened to all of us at one point or another, and I’ve been Jezebel on more occasions than I’d care to admit. So why do we have such a hard time saying no at work?
Here’s are the nine most common reasons why we say yes at work when no is what we’re screaming from the mountain tops, silently in our heads of course:
Saying yes when you really want to say no is indeed a problem. According to the Harvard Business Review many of us say yes to avoid conflict at the office. When we experience this it leaves us deflated, frustrated and stressed. It can also lead to resentment between coworkers and an unhealthy work environment. Sounds fantastic!
So how do we go about saying no while doing so professionally and politely?
Dr. Travis Bradley, author of the best-selling book ‘Emotional Intelligence 2.0’ and contributor for Forbes Magazine, summarizes the art of saying no beautifully in 5 steps:
When we say no our “ability to communicate ‘no’ really reflects you’re in the drivers seat of your own life. It gives you a sense of empowerment.” – Vanessa Patrick, Prof at University of Houston
In theory this sounds fantastic. It’s a new sense of self. We’re walking tall and not going to take crap from no one. We’re almost begging for an opportunity to show off our new ‘No’ skills. Before you go off dodging and ducking everything that comes your way at the office make sure you keep in mind two things before you consider a ‘No’:
If the answer to either of these questions is yes be sure to purposefully slow your decision making down and get introspective.
Making decisions about your career, involvement in work at the office, supporting your boss or other management and professional opportunities up for considered is no easy task. It’s rarely a black and white decision as moments like this love to play in the gray area. When you’re confronted with a tough decision and you feel like you want to say no quickly think about the two questions above, assess the situation then move forward with your answer. If ‘No’ is still the right choice be sure to follow Dr. Bradberry’s advice to ensure your no lands as best as possible with your audience.
In honor of Fathers’ Day yesterday I’m sharing a personal story which I’m incredibly proud of, as well as continuously inspired by.
Often I hear people say that by your late 40’s to early 50’s a professional has hit their zenith, their peak, pinnacle, apex, summit - if you will, in their career. Late 40’s? How can that be? At that age you’re only half way to retirement. What’s to become of the next 20 years?
I like to think that statistics like ‘hitting your peak in your late 40s’ is nothing other than just a data point. We only make it relevant if we live up to it.
Imagine this - at the age of 51, could you completely reinventing yourself professionally? Not because you have to but because you want too.
I know someone who did just this and it happens to be my father, Steve Smith.
After a tenured and very successful career in consumer products, “condoms to caskets” our family used to say, my father hit a pivotal point in his career. He had just exited a senior leadership position with a large multi-billion dollar company in 2008 and found himself in a predicament. He was looking for his next career step at the age of 51 and at the same time the economy was starting to come crashing down.
Needless to say it was a tough time back then. The uncertainty in this country was thicker than pea soup. We didn’t know which way was up or if the recent paycheck we received would be our last. As companies were closing down left and right someone I know took a bold stand and decided to open up a company.
Looking back at this point in my life I didn’t appreciate or quite frankly understand that moment in my fathers’ life. How he felt, the challenge of reinventing oneself, the stress of having a family to care for, etc. I just knew he was tough as nails, he’s always been a superhero in my eyes, and would figure it out. Worried, I was not.
And figure it out he did.
In the middle of the largest economic downturn of our lives my father chose to become an entrepreneur starting a business in executive and small business coaching. He vowed never to return to corporate America to work for another man/woman as this time he was working towards his own dreams under his own rules.
At the ripe and spry age of 51 he became an entrepreneur. He hustled; he got out and met with people 3-4 times a day. He shook hands and kissed babies, maybe not so much on the baby side but I’m telling you he worked hard. He outworked even me, someone at the time half his age. His determination and mindset was flawless, at least it was from the outside. What’s just as impressive is that our family, mainly my sister and I, never saw him sweat. He was starting a business from scratch, something he had not done before and was doing it with the poise of a statesman.
It didn’t come easy but sure enough my fathers’ business eventually started to grow. He leveraged relationships, made new ones, offered a niche service and delivered impeccable results. He kept his word and delivered the goods. Nothing in life comes easy or quick for that matter and my fathers’ story is no different.
Fast forward, both my sister and I are entrepreneurs who have started our own businesses from scratch following in our fathers’ footsteps. I must give my father credit because he showed our family that you can be successful and start a business from scratch, it just takes time, effort and the mindset to see it through. As a result I was encouraged to follow my own dream, just like my father did.
I’ve learned a lot from my father and the experience he went through some 10 years ago. I’ve learned that age is just a number. Your mindset is what will carry you through. I’ve also learned the importance of having a support system to help you along the way. That credit goes entirely to my mother who stuck by him and continues to do so today. Lastly, I learned that taking risks in life is important. If we constantly live saying ‘what if’ we run the chance of missing out on a lot of rewarding experiences. If we are going to make a bold step in life the best way to go about that is by giving all of ourselves to it. That’s a choice, one we can exercise freely.
Today my father, Steve Smith, runs a successful executive and small business coaching company. I see firsthand what he does for his clients and am continually amazed at what he’s doing to inspire, impact and develop other people not just professionally but also personally. As if that wasn’t enough he’s having fun doing it as he lives the American dream.
Honored. Humbled. Appreciated. Dad.
As generations continue to evolve in our country so do the thoughts and feelings of people in present day.
One thing that has been consistent through the years is the questioning of authority across all sectors: government, public and private. Those who are in a position of authority certainly have a tough job ahead of them as they are constantly under fire by the very people they claim to serve, whether its justified or not.
Which leads me to an important question: Does questioning authority help or hurt us?
Let’s examine some current situations in our country:
Wells Fargo Scandal
Wells certainly isn’t the first bank to ever have dealt with a large scandal. Most of us recall the recent recession where banks by the hundreds got rich off of consumers thanks to unscrupulous business practices. Nothing new here. What is new with the Wells Fargo scandal is that it went on for a period of five years with almost zero questioning by internal management. Customers were certainly questioning Wells aggressive sales tactics however I’ve not been able to find one single instance of an internal person in management which stood up and said, “this isn’t right”. Two comments are appropriate here: 1) it’s highly possible this did happen it just hasn’t been publicly released; 2) when you’re an internal employee it can be incredibly scary to blow the whistle on your own employer, especially when your employer is the largest banking institution in the world. In this case, the lack of questioning authority proved to be harmful as thousands of customers were negatively impacted, jobs lost and countless tax payer dollars will be spent and wasted dragging this banking giant through the legal system.
CDC & DTaP Vaccine
In June of 2016 the CDC (Center for Disease Control) announced in a 13 page report that one of the nationally required vaccines, DTaP - which all children are required to take to enter school, has now been linked to cause autism. In 2016 it is expected that 1 in 68 children will develop autism in comparison to 1 in 150 in the year 2000. Autism is a major issue within our country with its occurrence rate doubling over the last 15 years. While this information is still very new to the general public it was eventually brought to the surface thanks to hundreds, if not thousands, of parents who stood up and demanded transparency from our government. In this case, questioning authority has proven to be helpful as the general public will now have more transparent information in which to make decisions by.
Societal Altercations with Law Enforcement
It’s a tough time in our country to be in law enforcement. It’s equally tough for many of our fellow Americans who feel their rights have been stricken from them as a result of discrimination. Regardless of which side of the fence you’re on its one of the most sensitive topics in our country today. As shootings during police altercations continue it’s increasingly difficult to discern what is justified versus what is crossing the line, infringing on the rights of the common person. When we question authority in these moments it is vital that we do so with a quest for transparency and truth. This is why I believe Martin Luther King Jr. was so successful as he believed violence was not the answer toward successful activism and change. As a result he was able to lead our country through some of the largest equality reforms in our nations history. In this instance questioning authority is appropriate however the way we go about it can either support or diminish our cause which is why it’s important to think before we act.
Kaepernick Takes A Knee
Colin Kaepernick, NFL Pro Quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, started a movement which makes a statement about the inequalities within our country, addressing the law enforcement altercations mentioned above. While he certainly has the right to a peaceful protest are his actions impacting change or causing further issues? Furthermore is the forum in which he’s doing it, employed by private organization (which the NFL is), appropriate? While I may not agree with all the things that go on in our country I still respect the flag and our national anthem as they symbolize the freedoms which were brought about by men and women who gave their lives so we could enjoy a life of choice in this country. There are plenty of other countries in this world who have much harsher living conditions, sometimes I think we forget how good we have it here even with our current day challenges. Are there equality reforms which need to be made, certainly, but we can’t lose sight of what’s important just to make a point. In this situation I believe Kaepernick’s questioning of authority and the way he is going about it is actually counterproductive to what his original cause is.
I’m a believer that questioning authority or the status quo for that matter is always a necessity however perhaps the real question isn’t ‘Does questioning authority help or hurt us?’ Perhaps the better question is ‘What is the best way to go about questioning authority to drive actual change?’
Please feel free to share your thoughts and remember to be respectful of other people’s views – it’s what ultimately makes this country great.
Last week a friend and I had an interesting conversation over dinner having to do with hiring new grads from college. The two of us agreed that we have seen a rise over recent years with the number of people coming out of college ill-prepared for the working world. But why?
We discussed the disparity that exists with some new grads and their ability to actually put their years of scholastic achievement to work in the real world. Regardless of their GPA many of them struggle and it has employers concerned, especially in the engineering world.
This is where our conversation hit a crucial point and where the rubber meets the road for our recent college graduates: theory versus application.
In academia theory is served up on a silver platter. Students learn by lecture, book and lab. They learn the ideal setting and framework of hundreds of concepts. What they learn is ‘HOW’ something works, where it comes from and should you need to replicate it follow these guidelines, etc. Kind of like a recipe for baking a cake. Follow these instructions and the result will be a nice red velvet cake. My favorite!
Unfortunately what we get a lot of times after the supposed recipe has been followed by new grads is not red velvet cake at all. It’s a pile of crap that doesn’t remotely resemble a cake nor is it edible. Simply being able to follow a recipe, or recite a definition for that matter, does not mean you truly understand the concept which can be a really rude awakening for a newly hired recent graduate in the working world. Our recent engineering grads may be able to tell us the definition of Ohms Law, reciting it verbatim however they struggle to actually use that same theory in practice in the working world when it actually counts.
What academia fails to accomplish is teaching and engraining in its students heads the ‘WHY’ part of the recipe, not just the ‘How’. Learning the ‘WHY’ behind a concept provides us with a larger frame of understanding rather than just surface level information. This articulates the important difference between information and knowledge. (information = theory whereas knowledge = application) When we know why something exists we can better apply said concept to real world settings and or make suitable adjustments when things go array. The ‘WHY’ piece also addresses creativity. When we’re confronted with an issue or challenge in the working world there’s no professor or recipe to help keep us on track. No directions that say ‘substitute this for that if this happens’. One has to be able to draw on their creative juices AND theory to come up with possible solutions.
Why do recent grads struggle with applying their education in the workplace?
My humble opinion falls on two primary contributors:
Don’t worry employers. Fret not new grads, we can fix this challenge so that everyone comes out on top.
How can we change this to help our new grads?
Back in December of 2015 I wrote on a topic that was near and dear to my heart as it is something I came across often in business, matter of fact still do today. It’s a challenge which all companies deal with quite frequently and seem to struggle creating a sound solution to the problem.
What is the challenge you ask?
It’s transitioning an individual contributor into a management role for the first time and doing so successfully.
Identifying a person, let alone the right person, to take on management responsibilities is becoming increasingly more difficult. HBR put out a stat recently which indicated companies fail to choose the candidate with the right talent for the job 82% of the time when hiring for management roles.
If it is so tough to hire for management than imagine the challenge and stress a person feels when they do get the job and are new to the role. I’ve been there and can share from direct experience that most often you get thrown into the deep end, left to tread water with a giant weight over your head. The majority of companies out there don’t offer formal training programs to their newly promoted managers therefore the sink or swim mentality is a very real and potentially frightening hurdle people looking to be promoted need to be aware of. Without the right training, development and mentorship it’s incredibly challenging how tough management jobs can be.
Have no fear my friends. Even if you find yourself in a management role without the necessary training and development there are many things you can do to improve your likelihood of success. If you follow these 13 steps you will be on your way to building a future that is purposeful and aligned for success as your lead your team to victory. (or a full write up and details of how each step below works click on the following links: part-1, part-2 and part-3)
1. Read “The Go-Giver” by Bob Burg and John David Mann
2.Have a 1:1 (One-on-One) with Your New Boss
3. Communicate Your Plans to Your New Team
4. Learn About Your New Role and How It Impacts the Business
5. Identify a Professional Mentor Outside of Your Immediate Company
6.Schedule 1:1 (One-on-One) with Your Team
7.Create Performance and Professional Development Plans
8.Develop Time Management Structure
9.Develop Relationships With Other Leadership
10.Create A Department Game Plan
11.Present Game Plan To Your Team
12.Create Systematic Communications & Follow Ups
13.Plan A Team Event
These 13 steps are to be used as an outline to reach success as you step into leadership. My best advice is to use this framework in combination with a style that is authentic to who you are as a person and who you want to be for others.
It is my belief that anyone CAN be successful in leadership so long as they have the right attitude, mindset and care for others. This is the foundation for which you need to be successful in leadership. Having a leadership game plan along the way merely keeps you on track, increasing your chances for success and happiness, providing you the best opportunity to serve those lead.
For many Americans career progression is as important to them as the air they breathe. When we’re at a point in our careers where we’re looking for the next best thing or a new challenge often times it means taking into consideration a management role.
To be successful in management, or leadership for that matter, it requires a completely different set of skills which are typically very different than the skills which were needed to be successful in a staff level role. When we are a staff employee, meaning we don’t have any direct reports, our focus is to ensure we do the best individual job possible. Regardless if we’re a part of a team or not, when we’re a staff employee we really have one main concern – make sure our butts are protected by doing a great job.
Being in a management role is very different. While it’s important the manager does a good job, she is also responsible for a number of direct reports and therefore is responsible for their contributions as well.
The transition to management can either be a dream come true or a living nightmare. Regardless of which camp you may be in it’s important to consider two things before you make the decision to throw your hat in the ring for the next management opportunity:
What the statistic above from HBR and Gallup tells us is that it’s incredibly tough to make a good decision on who will be successful in a leadership role. While the decision to hire or promote someone into a management role ultimate rests with the company, what happens thereafter is largely attributed to the individual in the role. Let’s make no mistake about it, a move from staff level to management can be an incredibly rewarding opportunity but to be successful in the new venture you need to know beforehand if you’ve got the foundation for what it takes to be successful leading others.
Before you consider a career in management think about how you deal with these five foundational leadership questions:
1.Do You Genuinely Care About Other People?
I’m going to take a hard stance here and simply say if you don’t care about others and aren’t willing to put others before yourself you’ll never be truly successful in leadership. I choose the word ‘never’ because you may see some success early on however in the long run a lack of genuine care for the people will always bring about challenges which are near impossible to overcome. The best leaders out there, regardless of their titles or the size of the company they work for, view leadership as an act of service and truly care about the wellbeing of their employees. “Leaders eat last.” – Simon Sinek
2.How will you handle ‘The Technician Syndrome’?
This is particularly important for people in a technical capacity to consider. The word ‘technician’ refers to a person who is in an individual contributor role focusing on hands-on work. When you make a transition into management you are stepping away from some or most of your daily technical hands on duties. There are some exceptions to this, for example if you work for a start-up or small company and are a ‘working executive’, however most of the time management roles focus their time and energy on their people and a strategy for getting work done. People who have technical backgrounds tend to struggle with this change as often times their original passion which has guided them to this point in their career was focused on being hands-on in their role, creating, building or testing things. (a Mechanical Engineer that designs new products)
3.Are You An Influencer or a Dictator?
What is your natural working style when you are in situations where you are working with others? Do you have a tendency to listen, support and coach or are you the type that would rather just tell people what to do? Successful leaders do more listening than they do talking. They understand the importance of giving their people an opportunity to contribute ideas, take risks, do things their own way, etc. Managers that don’t do this have a hard time motivating their employees as they view their employees as workers who are to be told what to do, when to do and how to do their work.
4.Can You Delegate?
Can you give someone else an opportunity to take on a project or work? Are you able to allow someone else the chance to take the spot light and recognition? Do you trust others to get the job done? These are all important questions which tie into delegation. Successful leaders delegate frequently because they know firsthand that it isn’t wise or feasible for them to do everything. Delegation also has a unique outcome which communicates trust and ownership to your employees whereas not delegating sends the exact opposite signal.
5.Are You Willing to be a Shrink?
It’s not the prettiest part of the job but a consideration nonetheless. A very real part of management is dealing with people problems, like a shrink would, and working constantly in conflict resolution. This aspect of the job often sends people screaming for the hills as dealing with people problems can be challenging and often viewed as a waste of time in the corporate world. Successful leaders view the people interaction part of the job as an opportunity for improving themselves and their employees while further developing a deeper relationship. They look forward to the moments to learn from, listen, coach and guide their employees. They do this because they genuinely care about the welfare of their employees both at work and home.
If you’re considering going into management take the time to think about how you show up with these five foundational leadership questions. What’s important to consider is that if you don’t have these intangible skills now can you develop them over time? The answer is most definitely yes, it’ll just take time, patience and a willingness to always be learning.
Ever been in a situation where you witnessed something go from bad to worse and all you could do was stand and watch? Maybe it was bad enough where you had to avert your eyes, turn away and pretend like it wasn’t happening. Watching from a far you might have even said to yourself in the moment, “what are they doing?!” followed by a couple choice expletives.
If you’ve experienced this before then you know EXACTLY how I felt this past weekend watching my Cincinnati Bengals lose the first round wildcard playoff game on Saturday against our arch rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Bear with me here as I am going to do my best not to drone on and on about the awful showing my team put up the other evening as there’s actually a great learning lesson that came from it which is incredibly applicable to our professional lives. Applicable indeed, especially if you are in a leadership position or hope to be in a leadership role at some point in the near future.
Poor leadership impacts everyone around it, everyone being you, me, the company, the customer, in this case the fans, etc. In business this typically shows up in the form of poor communication, discipline issues, bad decision making, people working in silos, losing one’s ‘cool’ and under performing in key situations. As for myself, I’ve done a couple of these in my leadership tenure and learned a lot from it so I can share first hand that these are some of the biggest leadership killers out there.
Ironically, those characteristics of poor business leadership I just shared are also the things we witnessed in Saturdays NFL playoff game when the Bengals single handedly gave away their win to the Pittsburgh Steelers. First, let me say that if you’re reading this and you happen to be a Steelers fan…congrats on the win, well played. You all deserve to keep your season alive. Now that I feel better about myself for playing nice and being a good loser I’ll continue my rant on Cincinnati’s poor leadership.
Before we move into the meat of things, it’s important I set the stage with some background info in the event you’re not up to date on your Cincinnati Bengals trivia. Heading into Saturdays game against the Steelers, my Bengals came to the table with some stats which certainly point in the direction of this game being incredibly important. Here’s the bottom line on the boys in orange and black:
Needless to say, it’s tough being a fan of Cincinnati at the moment. Regardless of your thoughts and feelings on the NFL, the stats above tell a very clear and frustrating story. It seems as if the executive team and owners of the Bengals franchise overlook these statistics of poor leadership performance, while as a fan looking from the outside in its plain as day to see the issues and how to resolve it. The Cincinnati Bengals (like many businesses we’ve all worked at) struggle to realize that their inability to be successful is a direct result of their leadership. A lack of good leadership makes it difficult for even the best and brightest talent to perform at a high level.
Back to Saturday’s game. Cincinnati’s loss will go down in the books as a complete and utter meltdown. Let’s examine the last two minutes of the game so we know what happened and why the Bengals lost:
The last two minutes of that game came down to a team being able to perform under pressure (Steelers) and a team imploding from their own lack of discipline and selfishness. (Bengals)
Since the game, commentators have cited the players as the issue as the reason why the Bengals lost. I happen to have a different perspective. When teams win or businesses succeed, the best leaders are always quick to give praise to their team indicating the group effort and high performance as the reason for the success. However when good leaders are faced with unfortunate circumstances rather than cast that blame on the team they shoulder responsibility for themselves. That’s what good leaders do…they give praise for a job well done and take blame when things go bad.
When it comes down to it leading is more than just a title and a seat up on top. To be good in leadership you first have to care about those around you, then build a platform for people to be wildly successful. Excuses, mediocrity, bad attitudes, a lack of accountability, what have you, have no place in this world for those who want to be successful. To be great you must think and act for others first, yourself always second.
While I never would wish bad things to happen to another individual, such as Marvin Lewis the Head Coach of the Bengals, my hope is that ownership wakes up before the beginning of next season and makes some changes. Without those changes we’ll continue to be a mediocre team falling short of what could be a great program for years to come.
As they say, “There’s always next year”.
Last week I had the chance to reconnect with a former colleague and friend to get caught up on life over a brilliant sushi buffet. Heading into the meal, little did I know that our soon to be conversation would forever change my perspective on leadership. For the purposes of this article we’ll refer to my friend as King Salad. (weird to say this but he’s got impeccably styled hair [aka salad], and if you’ve seen a picture of me you’ll know why I’m saying this as I’m a bit lacking in this department)
Eventually conversation with King Salad drifted into the inevitable “how’s work coming along this year so far”. King Salad’s first comment both surprised me and caught my attention as he said, “I’m focusing my energy in 2016 on ‘Managerial Courage’. Not to say that I wasn’t interested in the conversation prior, certainly not the case, but without knowing it he had just triggered something in me which made me ultra-alert and increasingly interested to learn more about his perspective of Managerial Courage.
As I sat on the edge of the booth listening to King Salad share with me why he was focusing on Managerial Courage a thought jolted my brain which hit me like a lightning bolt. King Salad never saw any of this but he was probably wondering why I was so enthusiastically engaged in the conversation, no longer even eating.
What was the lightning bolt that stopped me from eating my precious sushi? I realized something that I had never thought of before:
Managerial Courage is the linchpin, the cornerstone, the apex for all things related to leading successfully.
It was so clear in that moment! In the absence of Managerial Courage all other leadership qualities and characteristics suffer as without Managerial Courage we can only hope to be mediocre at best when it relates to leading and influencing others.
What is Managerial Courage anyways? Simply put – it’s doing the right things as a leader, especially during tough times. Seems simple, yet it’s devilishly difficult to act on consistently. A deeper look into Managerial Courage and we find that it can be further described as a set of actions and beliefs a leader possesses which define who they are and how they go about leading and inspiring others. These actions and beliefs include:
The more I thought about it the more I realized that all this time I’ve missed the bigger picture as it relates to successfully leading others. I even laughed at myself because the notion of Managerial Courage has been in front of me for years yet I had failed to connect the dots leading to my current awareness on the matter. I always knew to lead successfully you had to care about those you supported as well as come to grips with the fact that the decisions you make won’t always be the right ones. I knew leading was an art, not something to be achieved at a moment in time, but something to work towards continuously throughout an entire career as a student of the game.
What I didn’t realize until this past week was that the genesis of leadership, the very foundation that exceptional leadership stands on, comes from Managerial Courage. It takes great tenacity, strength, fortitude, mental determination and care to be a leader and do so successfully. You can’t fake leadership, you can’t say one thing then act another. People see right through that.
Sure, anyone can be a leader, but those who do it successfully stand head and shoulders above their counterparts. It’s worth mentioning that few people fall into the category of great leaders which is why the concept of Managerial Courage is so important.
Courage is the very essence of what leadership is all about.
I am beholden to my friend King Salad for the awareness he brought to me over our sushi meal, it was an invaluable learning opportunity one which I’m thrilled to share and pass on.
What does Managerial Courage mean to you?
Let’s face it, customers (or clients) are what keep us in business. Without the customer there would be no business, no management, no worker bee, no complimentary coffee that tastes like gym socks in the office kitchen and certainly no revenue.
Customers at the end of the day are the end all be all. Without a willing customer to buy your product or service you will simply cease to exist. The customer and the business are not mutually exclusive, they rely on one another to exist, yet the reality is that often times the one who holds the most influence in the relationship is the customer.
Influence, or power for that matter, has a strange way of changing how people act at times, creating monsters out of women and men.
When customers become tough to deal with many times what we see on the outside isn’t the full picture, to get to the bottom of it we need to dive deeper into the issue to truly understand that persons irritation or frustrations.
Which reminds me of an old story from another lifetime back when I was in high school. I was a server at a small pizza restaurant in the town I grew up in. I loved the job because I got to eat pizza all day long and interact with some really cool people, our customers. Let’s call it like it is, everyone’s happy when they’re getting pizza, so needless to say I really loved this job.
One day a customer came in to pick up a pizza to-go. I had served this customer many times before and what happened that day was the same as every other time we would interacted with this gentleman. He came in and immediately started frothing at the mouth about how his last purchase with our restaurant was awful as he yelled about how it was never on time and ‘the pizza sauce sucked’. "There are never enough pepperoni's on the pizza", he would say. In typical fashion he would then ask to speak with the manager and demand a discount, which most of the time we gave him. It was like groundhogs day, same thing every time with little deviation. I always laughed to myself because he just kept coming back for more like some evil self-inflicted punishment.
I remember thinking to myself, "If our service and food was really that bad, why did he keep coming back?"
One day our manager finally had enough and confronted the man. I’d love to say it was me but I was a pimply faced 16 year old and certainly not gutsy enough to speak back to a customer and risk losing my pizza privileges, or job for that matter. The restaurant manager interrupted the man’s banter, took him a side and asked, “Sir, why do you continue to give us your business if you dislike our food so much. You seem awfully upset and often treat my employees rather poor. Is everything okay?”
As I ease dropped in on the conversation I was shocked at the response from the customer.
“I’m sorry Tim. (our manager’s name) I was fired from my job a couple months ago, as a result I lost my house so I’m living out of my car and pizza is the cheapest, easiest thing for me to eat. Please let your staff know how much I appreciate them as they are always nice to me, even though I’m not a very pleasant person myself.”
My mouth dropped to the floor. None of us knew why this person was always such an irritable grump, we just knew that when he came in the door he was always angry and seemed to enjoy taking it out on the servers.
Our manager decided to give him the pizza he ordered for free and invited him back the following day so that the man could watch our team go through the process of making pizzas. The manager wanted him to see that the food was good quality and we cared about our customers. He also threw in a free lunch for the guy, more than I would of done, certainly.
Best part of the story was after the customers ‘field trip’ to our restaurant ended that following day our manager offered him a job delivering pizzas so he could earn some money until he was able to get back on his feet.
I learned an incredibly valuable lesson that day which taught me to take the time to confront tough situations rather than let those situations own me in the process. As a result I’m a firm believer that you attract more bees with honey than you do with sledgehammers.
Once we understand what is driving a customer to act in a certain way we can then respond with a solution that hopefully changes the course of the relationship moving forward.
These 5 steps are a great way to get to the bottom of your customers frustrations so you can then start focusing on turning around the relationship:
“How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.” - Wayne Dyer
Adversity comes in all shapes and sizes in the workplace. No matter how hard you may try it is darn near impossible to escape adversity in the workplace as it’s not ‘if’ but ‘when’. Adversity comes in the form of dealing with a bad boss, company politics, a negative coworker, challenging deadlines or having a work load on your plate enough for three people. While these are only but a few of the typical challenges we face at work they all have tendency to lead to one area
employees being unhappy at work.Apparently there’s a lot of unhappy people at work because recent stats show that employees average job tenure is 4.4 years, with Millennials being half that. With people jumping ship so quickly in their career it makes you wonder if they ever really think about their decisions before they make them and what the impact will be down the road.
Which reminds me of my own story dealing with this exact issue.
Three years into my career I managed to hit a major roadblock. The company I worked for had hired me before I even graduated college and trained me from the ground up. As a result I was fortunate enough to get promoted and find myself in a management role very early in my career, which above everything, taught me a lot about myself and working with others.
As time went on I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated at work as expectations seemed to be mounting by the minute and my performance was beginning to suffer. Sunday evenings were the worst as I would slip into a mild depression about the thought of having to start a whole week of work all over again. After several months of feeling bad for myself I decided to peek my head out into the job market and see what else was out there – perhaps a greener pasture was waiting for me. I interviewed with several companies over the course of a month or two but in the end decided to stay with my current employer to ‘stick it out’.
The reason I decided to stay was because I felt like if I were to leave at that point I wouldn’t be able to say “I gave it everything I could, it just wasn’t the right opportunity for me.” The reality of my situation was that I was spending more time focused on my frustrations rather than focusing on how I could kick ass and take names, figuratively speaking.
What I didn’t know then but certainly know now is that the decision to ‘stick it out’ with my then current employer would prove to be a crucial decision in my career and personal life moving forward.
What I learned from this decision:
As we deal with adversity and challenge in the work place how often are we really doing our best to improve the situation before we decide to move on from it. Just as important, do we take into consideration the things we’re missing out on by making a decision, especially one as important as a new career.
While not all challenges and work place adversities can be bested it’s important we’re honest with ourselves on where the source of our frustration comes from so that we can truly understand how to combat it. If we don’t, we run the risk of having those same issues at our next place of employment which could then begin a nasty habit that follows us for a life time.
“Life is a storm…You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you a man is what you do when that storm comes. You must look into that storm and shout 'Do your worst, for I will do mine!' "
– Alexandre Dumas
About the Author
Serving over a decade in the technical services industry in Orange County, CA, Travis Smith has developed a talent for assessing technical talent and overseeing technical projects. His other areas of specialty include: leadership development, business development, resource planning and creative solutioning.