Category Archives: Coaching

Fake It ‘Til You Make It

Perhaps my favorite confidence-building saying is, “Fake it ‘til you make it.” What does this mean? It does not mean, “Pretend to have knowledge you don’t have,” or “Lie to your supervisor about what you’ve accomplished.” It’s more of an attitude: “I lack expertise in this area but I am going to working on developing it and in the meantime behave in a confident manner.”

 More deeply, it means you feel some confidence in yourself even though you are far from an expert in whatever it is, knowing that if you apply yourself and stick with it, you will improve and eventually “make it.” 

I myself have used the saying many times, particularly when I first went into private practice on my own. And later when I did training on conducting investigations at a time when I had done only a few of them myself. (I did a lot of research….)

 How is this relevant to the workplace? It is a good tool for employees to use for personal confidence-building – and for supervisors to use when coaching employees who lack confidence or who are starting something new and unfamiliar. It gives employees permission to be in a learning mode and lowers their personal or professional barriers to learning.

It also encourages employees to solve problems and take risks. Implicit in this saying is the notion, “just because I haven’t done something doesn’t mean I can’t figure out how to do it.” Also implicit: “And in the meantime, I will not whine or freak out, but will remain calm and professional.”

 What else does “Fake it ‘til you make it” say to you? ~Amy Stephson

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More on Teaching Mr. Spock

A couple of weeks ago I talked about the problem of supervisors who channel Mr. Spock from Star Trek.  Mr. Spock, if you recall, has tremendous technical expertise – but lacks people skills.  He was likely appointed to his position because of that technical expertise and loves solving all the tough problems.  By the same token, he really doesn’t like the people aspects of the job.  The reality is that you get higher pay for being a supervisor because  it’s hard to do the people stuff, and the expectation is that you’ll do it as a major part of your job. 

So, here are several more ideas to help Mr. Spock be a better people person, and thus a better supervisor.

  • Do some warm and fuzzy stuff: ask employees how they’re doing and actively listen to the answer, remember who told you about their child or parent or hobby (it may be necessary to keep a few notes after employee interactions as reminders), express sincere concern for what’s happening in their lives without being inappropriate or intrusive (yes, boundaries are important).  No need to fake friendliness and suddenly become touchy-feely.  Just let that inner caring person come out a bit.
  • Compliment employees in a meaningful way: acknowledge good work (that’s important to most employees) by being specific about the skills the employee demonstrates and how those skills made a real difference in a particular situation.  For example, don’t just say, “Good job, Joe!”  Say, “Joe, I saw you with that upset customer.  You quieted your voice, politely asked her to explain the problem, paraphrased what she said to be sure you understood and thanked her for bringing it to your attention.  That allowed you to fix the issue and have her leave happy so she’ll likely return.  That was really great customer service!”  If saying it is too hard, write a note or an e-mail, and be sure  to remember these things when it comes time for performance appraisals or bonuses.
  • Ask employees to help: Involve employees in real ways to improve matters, but don’t ask them to be involved when you already know what you’re going to do.  I’ve seen lots of supervisors get into trouble when they ask for employee input without really meaning it. So, ask for input, and be clear about what you’re going to do with it.  Say, “We’re considering buying a new floor waxer.  Tell me what bells and whistles you want and we’ll do our best (within budget) to get one that includes those.”  Don’t say, “What brand do you like?” and leave it at that, because that communicates you’ll get the brand the employees tell you they want – unless that’s actually what you intend to do.

 Again, these are all skills in interacting successfully with subordinates.  They probably seem awkward at first, but practice them and you’ll become a much better supervisor! 

Are there other points you’d like to pass on to Mr. Spock?  Let us know!  ~ Daphne Schneider

 

 

Don’t Channel Mr. Spock!

There have been many times that I have been called into a workplace because employees are up in arms against their supervisor (we’ll call her Bella,) while management can’t see the problem since she is delivering great work.  Again and again in these situations I find the following:

 Employees tell me Bella is unfair, mean, angry, cold, doesn’t care about them, never compliments them, doesn’t listen, micromanages, and even lies.  They say good employees have left because they can’t stand to work for her.

Meanwhile, Bella’s boss, Harvey, and her peers tell me she’s made a huge impact on the quality of work being produced, has straightened out any number of problems, improved efficiency, always responds quickly and effectively to whatever they ask her to do, is extremely knowledgeable and helpful.  

When I talk with Bella, she gives me perfectly logical explanations for decisions she has made that her employees labeled as unfair, uncaring and mean.  She explains why she pays attention to the details of the work and how that has resulted in improved work products and increased efficiency.  She describes how she has complimented employees, recalling she told one employee of whom she thought very highly, “I’ve assigned you to X, the toughest job we have, because you’re so good at what you do and this is important to the program.” (The employee’s view was that she was  being punished and her protests about not wanting to do this task fell on deaf ears).  Bella also tells me she provides information to her employees as appropriate, and that sometimes that information changes or evolves.

Are employees, manager, peers and Bella herself talking about the same person?  Is she simply behaving differently depending on the audience?  Or?

The answer is yes to all of these questions.  But more than that, Bella is channeling Mr. Spock – remember him from Star Trek?  He was a highly effective, efficient and task-competent, fact-oriented creature who had zero emotional intelligence.  That’s Bella.

It takes much more than task competence to effectively manage people.  Management sometimes forgets that when they promote a highly competent technician to a supervisory position.  Although in today’s world many supervisors and managers also perform tasks, their primary responsibility is to supervise and manage the people who report to them. 

What to do?  Here are the first steps Bella needs to take to build her relationship with her employees: 

  • Acknowledge and apologize: Before changing her behavior (even to improve it along the lines below), Bella needs to acknowledge and apologize for not being as good as she might have been at interacting with her staff in the past, and tell them she is committing to doing better.  She needs to ask their help in improving.  I know this is tough, but it’s very important in making a fresh start.  If Bella just starts changing some of her behaviors, her staff will likely notice and will most likely not trust that her efforts are well-intentioned (since they don’t trust her now.)  This could make things worse, rather than better.  This is a small scale version of the approach taken by the South African Truth and Reconcilliation Commission in moving past aparteid.  Then,
  • Actively listen: paraphrase, be genuinely open to input.
  • Frequently demonstrate empathy: acknowledge employee concerns, hearing both the content and the feeling behind the content.  Actully name the feeling, for example: “It sounds like you’re frustrated,” or “I’m guessing this move is scarry for you.”  Let the employee respond as to whether the feeling named is correct or not – being right matters much less than acknowleding that there is feeling involved  and attempting to understand it.  Remember: demonstrating empathy is not the same as agreeing.

These are the first skills to demonstrate when moving from Mr. Spock to someone with emotional intelligence.  Like all skills, they can be learned.  But if you’re Mr. Spock (or Bella) it won’t be easy and may feel like a waste of time.  It’s not.  Successfully supervising employees (not just the tasks they do, but them) is one of the most critical duties a supervisor or manager has.  In future blog posts I’ll talk more about some of these and other related skills.

Are there other critical employee supervision skills that Mr. Spock (or Bella) need to learn?  Have you had to learn some of these – or had supervisors who should have learned them?  Tell us your story – we’d love to hear from you!  ~ Daphne Schneider

Rx for Workplace Victims

Recently, I read an online Bloomberg/Businessweek article entitled, “Three Types of People to Fire Immediately” by G. Michael Maddock and Raphael Louis Vitón.   The tagline was, “Want a more innovative company? Get rid of these folks. Today.”  It also quoted an unnamed but successful CEO: I wanted a happy culture. So I fired all the unhappy people.”

The three types of employees discussed were the victims, the nonbelievers, and the know-it-alls.

The article was a bit of a fantasy, as anyone in HR or employment law knows, since it’s not that easy to fire people. However, it got me thinking about one category: the victims (which the article did say to handle with care because they tend to sue). They are legion and they can thoroughly poison a workplace. As the article defined them: “Victims are people who see problems as occasions for persecution rather than challenges to overcome.”

So what’s an employer (or coworker) to do about the victims among us? First, it helps to identify them as such. Two caveats, however: (1) you want to make sure that they are not in fact a victim of discrimination, harassment or other illegal workplace behavior; and (2) you don’t want to get into any psychological issues the person may have: this is inappropriate and opens employers up to disability discrimination claims.

Once the employee is identified as being a “victim,” the next step is to try to refocus their thinking. Victims’ lives revolve around problems: identifying them, being upset and anxious about them, and attempting to resolve them. This is a deadly and unhappy cycle because even if one problem is solved, another one won’t be far behind.

Your job as supervisor or coworker is to try to get the victim to develop a larger work-related intention, goal, or desired outcome that energizes them. Maybe it’s learning a new skill or reorganizing a process; maybe it’s something larger and more personal; maybe it’s multiple goals.  The idea is it’s something proactive, not reactive.

The next step is to get the employee to figure out how to approach that goal and to focus on reaching it, through baby steps if necessary. Problems will still arise, of course, but if the employee can focus on being a creator who is moving, however slowly, in a positive direction, that is a far different mindset than that of the victim.

A more detailed version of this shift from victim to creator, as well as a discussion of the Dreaded Drama Triangle (Victim, Persecutor, Rescuer) can be found in David Emerald’s book, “The Power of TED*.”  TED stands for “The Empowerment Dynamic,” and while the book was not my cup of tea as a read, it has many valuable insights and practical applications. David is a local guy so if you’re interested, you can attend his workshops or hear him speak.

What other approaches have you taken to employees stuck in the victim mode? ~Amy Stephson

Finding the Right Bait

In her post last week, Daphne wrote about using the right bait — self interest — to motivate recalcitrant employees who just won’t seem to shape up.  Much as managers and supervisors wish they could say, “Because I said so!” that’s not the reality of the modern workplace (if it ever was). 

The trick is determining the appropriate bait. This is where coaching questions can be very helpful.  First, however, the manager wants to set the stage: after all, the task at hand is actually not optional.  So the manager wants to start with something like: “We’ve talked about your [extended breaks … chatting too much with co-workers … spending too much time on personal cell phone calls … not proofreading your work … ] several times and I am not seeing any changes.  I don’t want to have to escalate this.”

Having set the stage, the manager can now ask questions that hopefully will surface the bait and a plan:

  • What is going on?
  • So what is getting in the way of your doing [x]?
  • What are you saying when you don’t do [x]?
  • What would help you do [x]?
  • What would energize you in your job generally?

Other “what” questions can also work. The trick is to get the employee, not you, talking. And to come up with an enforceable action plan from there.  And to enforce it.

Any other ideas on how to find the right bait? ~Amy Stephson

Using the Right Bait

How do you get someone else to change their behavior?  That’s an ongoing challenge for many of us, whether we’re first line supervisors or colleagues, top level managers or parents.  You simply can’t make someone else change unless they have some incentive to change. 

Unfortunately what many of us do is identify our motivation for the other person to change, and assume that’s their motivation.  For example:

  • I ask you not to yell at me because it hurts my feelings (and I assume you care about that).
  • I tell you to clean your workspace because I hate starting my shift in your messy space (and I assume you’ll do it just because???)
  • You’re told to fill out the medical history form because that’s the physical therapist’s policy before they’ll treat you, but you’re there for a sore leg (and not interested in providing information about other parts of your body).
  • You tell your subordinate to stop taking extended breaks (and assume, because you’re the supervisor, he will comply). 

All of these sound like reasonable requests and might work if the other person is amenable to doing something a different way.  However, if the other person is resistant, they are unlikely to work because the incentive is not there. 

So, what do you do when you’re faced with someone who won’t do what you want them to?  We are often tempted to threaten…do it this way or else.  However, most threats are ineffective – and are ignored.  For example,

  • If I already don’t like you I may not care if you threaten never to talk to me again if I yell. 
  • If I know our supervisor doesn’t care whether or not my workspace is messy, your threat to tell her on me (kind of like third grade) will have no effect. 
  • The likelihood they’ll refuse to treat your sore leg if you don’t  fill out their form is…zero.
  • And even if a threat might work, it will only work if you’re watching.  Without my buy-in, the threat to fire me if I’m late returning from break will only be effective in getting me back on time if I know you’re watching every single time I go on break.

The only really effective way to get someone else to change their behavior when they are resistant is to find a reason they will want to change.  I recently saw a brilliant version of this truism at a wonderful restaurant in Colorado.  On a card tent on each table was the following small note:

MOBILE PHONE USERS…

Your call is important.

For your privacy,

Please use the lobby area.

That’s absolutely brilliant.  We’ve all been annoyed when the person at the next table talks loudly on their cell phone.  And we’ve all seen the signs that say “No cell phone use here” or even, “Please turn off your phone while in this area.”  And we’ve all seen people ignore these signs because they’re about the establishment and the other customers, not about their need to use the phone.  However, this restaurant notice was clearly designed to address the needs and interests of the person using the phone – and there was not a single person in the restaurant on the phone.  It works.  One of my favorite sayings is, “When you go fishing, what kind of bait do you use?  What you like or what the fish likes?”  Clearly, that applies to our interactions with people as well as fish.  Find what will work as an incentive for the other person, and they will change. 

Have you given someone a reason they care about to do something they might not otherwise do?  We’d love to hear it!  ~Daphne Schneider

“She’s Mean to Me!” The Shattering Conclusion

My two previous posts discussed how to help employees who complain about interpersonal problems with their co-workers, addressing both some general principles and the GROW approach to coaching.  This week, I conclude with a discussion of some of the challenges you are likely to face when coaching employees in this type of situation.

Challenge One:  The employee will want you to solve the problem for them.  The essence of coaching, however, is that the client (or “coachee”) has to own and at least attempt to resolve the problem himself or herself.  Feel free to tell the employee this — most will understand the principle, however reluctantly.  In addition, as noted in Part 2 of this series, when you work with the employee to set goals, be sure that they are something that the employee him or herself can accomplish.

Challenge Two: You will ask the employee a coaching question and get a blank stare in return. There’s an art to asking a good question — check out an earlier post of mine for some tips.  Even the best questions, however, often result in a blank stare, or “I don’t know.”  You’ll be tempted to leap in with  your own hard-earned wisdom. Don’t. Instead, first try to let silence do the work for you.  If the pause gets too long, you can then try to get the employee’s analytical juices going using prompts such as, “What’s the first thing that comes to your mind?” or  “How did you feel when I asked you that question?” 

Challenge Three.  The employee will remain emotional and want to be vindicated.  It’s important to acknowledge an employee’s feelings. At some point, however, you’ll want to tell the employee that he or she needs to approach the problem from a strategic and problem-solving standpoint, not an emotional one.  You can tell the employee that if there is wrongdoing on the part of co-workers, you will address it, but you want to emphasize that often interpersonal problems are a result of differing perceptions and miscommunication, not intentional wrongdoing. 

Challenge Four: The employee continues to use the H-word. By this we mean, of course, the word “harassment.” As in, “He keeps harassing me no matter what I do.”  Here you can try a couple of things.  You can explain that the term “harassment” has a specific legal meaning not applicable to the situation (assuming it’s not) and is not helpful in solving the problem because it is an “emotion” word.  You can also tell the employee that the word “harassment” is vague and he or she needs to describe what’s going on with much more specificity if the problem is going to be effectively addressed.

Challenge Five: The employee tries to avoid agreeing to specific action steps. Here you’ll just have to get pushy and help the employee come up with specific steps that will advance his or her goals and that are within his or her control.  You’ll also want to use the motivational technique that’s part of the GROW method (On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely is it you will do this … ?)   

These are just a few of the challenges that come to mind — coaching is not easy. But as I noted in my first post, it’s well worth the investment of time and effort.  Have you had challenging coaching experiences? Do share them!

Happy Holidays to All. We’ll be back after the New Year.  ~Amy Stephson