Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Who Should Confront Coworker Problems?

ducks-fighting1When an employee is rude and unpleasant to a coworker, who should confront  it–the coworker or the manager?

The answer to that question can be found through a few other questions:

1. Does the coworker lack the authority to require different behavior? If he or she can’t require courtesy, it may ultimately be up to the manager to require it.

2. Has this employee acted discourteously often before? If so, having a coworker confront the behavior probably won’t make a difference.

3. Is there a chance the rude employee might do similar things to other coworkers at another time? If so, the manager certainly should want to stop it.

4. Might the behavior affect the willingness of others to want to work with that employee or ask for assistance in the future? The workplace is the supervisor or manager’s responsibility.

5. If the employee used a similar tone or acted in a similar way with clients, would that be a problem? If it would be, the manager or supervisor should be very concerned about that potential.

If the answer to any of those is “Yes”, the manager should investigate. If the behavior was inappropriate the employee should be told so, why it was inappropriate, and what should have happened instead.  Then, the manager should ask for a commitment from the employee to act differently in the future.  There probably is a need for longer-term observation and development about effective behavior.

You or someone you know? You may know supervisors who push coworker disputes back onto the complaining employee. They probably justify their actions by saying that employees need to learn to deal with their own conflicts. 

The problem with that approach is, some employees do not have the confidence or skill to deal with personal conflicts effectively. So, while one employee may stand up and stop the rude behavior, others are distracted and upset and avoid working around the rude person.  Even employees who are willing to confront the behavior may do so by responding in a similar manner, which makes things miserable for everyone–and doesn’t keep the behavior from happening again.

Think about this as well: If an employee can’t be trusted to be consistently courteous and helpful to team members, how can they be trusted to be courteous and helpful to those outside your team?

Fulfill your role as a supervisor, manager and leader:  If you become aware of rude, discourteous, unpleasant, insensitive, or inappropriate behavior in your workplace, use it as a chance to develop people and the team. Talk to the employee who acted unpleasantly and find out what was behind the behavior. Make sure the employee knows it can’t happen again and knows what he or she should do instead. Then, bring the team back together by keeping them focused on work and by commending the good work that is being done.

You will find much less bickering and upset when everyone knows you expect people to behave courteously, professionally and in a way that encourages cooperation and effectiveness–and that you will deal with it immediately if you become aware of a problem.

A bonus question to add to the five above:

6. Who is ultimately responsible for the effectiveness and well-being of the workplace–employees or the manager? You know the answer to that one!

October 2nd, 2011 Posted by | Personal and Professional Development, Service to Customers, Clients and Coworkers, Supervision and Management | 4 comments

Reach Out To A Nodding Acquaintance.

Identify someone at work who is credible and respected, at about the level of your job position, but with whom you have not communicated very much–maybe because you just haven’t felt enough of a connection to make the effort.

This week, purposely talk to that person for a few minutes. You can even tell him or her why you’re doing it: “I suddenly realized I rarely do more than nod or say hi, so I thought I’d stop for a minute.”

“Even though our jobs are different, we have some of the same customers, it seems like a good idea to do more than nod once a year!”

“The way things develop, we might be working together sometime, so I wanted to stop and say hello.”

“It seems like we hardly ever get a chance to do more than say hi, so while we have a few minutes I thought I’d better take advantage of the opportunity to see how work is going for you.”

You may find that one short conversation will last you (or them) for awhile! But, you may also discover someone who shares some of your values, seems interesting in general or who could be a good resource for you or someone else you work with, or you for them. It’s not calculated networking or aggressive friending, it’s purposeful out-reach.

You probably nod to a dozen people a day who you have never really gotten to know. They don’t know you either. Sometime in the next two or three days–don’t wait longer–make it a point to do more than nod.

August 20th, 2011 Posted by | Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development, Service to Customers, Clients and Coworkers | 4 comments

KCBT to Graceway in 68 Years. What About You?





Quite A Change!

My Arkansas City, Kansas High School friend, Geoffrey Adams, is now Jeff Adams, Ph.D. and the senior pastor of a very large urban church in Kansas City/Raytown, Missouri. Here is how they describe themselves on their website:

…you’ll quickly see that we don’t look like a typical Midwestern church. We are a multi-cultural, multi-generational congregation. Our church family consists of members of all ages from over 30 countries. Over 35 languages are spoken within our walls, including Spanish, Mandarin, French, Korean, and Swahili.

When the church was founded in the late 1940’s, Kansas City Baptist Temple sounded just fine. Pastor Adams speaks with respect and appreciation about the foundation that was established then and that has been maintained for decades through the commitment of members, pastoral teams and staff. But, in recent years the members and pastors felt the name was not effectively describing the message of the church to those they wanted to reach.

At first they took the Kentucky Fried Chicken to KFC approach. Most members said KCBT and hoped no one would ask them to explain what kind of Baptists they were and why Baptists would have a temple, especially one that didn’t look anything like a temple. Finally they decided it was time to develop a new name that would take the emphasis off the description of a building and put it on their faith and what they felt it had to offer to others. Thus, Graceway.

I think the congregation will see their membership–and a resulting positive impact in the lives of members–grow dramatically over the next next year, as the new name allows them to be viewed differently by those who drive by or read or hear about them.  It’s not that the message of the church has changed, it’s that a potential barrier has been removed and replaced with an open door.

 What Barriers Keep People From Knowing The Real you?

In June I wrote an article about how we change and improve over time, especially in our knowledge and skills at work. I was inspired by watching the first Tron then the new one.  I heard from many people who could relate to the concept. It may be, however, that there are barriers  preventing coworkers, colleagues and others from seeing you as you really are, even when you know you have improved. Some of the most significant:

1. Appearance:  Even if it seems there is no expectation for good appearance at work (and it seems there isn’t in some workplaces), you should dress tastefully, appropriately and in a way that reflects good judgment for the work situation. Hairstyles, makeup, jewelry, fragrance and clothing choices should be an enhancement not a distraction to internal or external customers. The appearance of your workspace counts too! If anyone has ever “joked” about some aspect of your appearance, figure they were serious.

2. Conversation and Verbal Style: Habitual movements and gestures, speech patterns, tone, volume and rate of speaking, verbal habits and what you talk about most often, all can irritate, frustrate and distract people or engage them. Ask your best friend to tell you habits you have that someone might find problematic. Try to not let it hurt your feelings!

3. Results: Even though you may feel you have more to offer than others realize, they are looking for proof. If you aren’t getting positive results most of the time, living up to your promises and fulfilling the tasks you’ve been given, feeling new and improved on the inside won’t matter.

The bottom line:  Make sure you’re right about what you have been contributing and what value you can offer to others and the organization. Then, identify and remove any barriers so people can get to know and appreciate the real you for the first time or all over again. If Graceway can do it after 68 years as KCBT, you can!

August 14th, 2011 Posted by | Personal and Professional Development, Service to Customers, Clients and Coworkers | 19 comments

Make Promises and Keep Them

In a February, 1942 Popular Science magazine I found this article and was intrigued by the first few paragraphs. The writer didn’t say, “J. Edgar Hoover never told us he intended to smash kidnapping rackets or stop murderous gunmen, but that’s what he did.” Instead he uses each promise Hoover made to illustrate the point of his article: J.Edgar Hoover says we’re prepared and you can trust him.

Whatever flaws might have been disclosed about Hoover later, the fact was that he and the FBI made our country more safe at a time when crime sprees by vicious criminals and their gangs were to the level of domestic terrorism. He was respected as well as feared, because he kept his promises.  

J. Edgar Hoover did two things you should do:

1. Make promises. Say what you will do and when. “I’ll have that to you by 8 a.m.” “I’ll get it done the way you want it and have it to you for review before Friday.” “We’ll take care of this for you.” “I’ll take care of that problem.”

2. Keep your promises and remind people that you did. “Attached is that write-up, as promised.” “I said I’d get that to you by Friday but we worked extra hard and have it for you today.” “I knew you were upset about that situation, so I worked on it with Jim and I’m happy to report that it’s been handled and you won’t have to deal with it again.” “I told you I’d get this approved for you by this morning and here it is” 

Say the words, to let people know that you came through not only as promised but because you promised.

Repeated broken promises are usually considered lies

Many people toss out promises they don’t ever intend to keep. “Sure, I’ll get that for you!” “No problemo, it will be done next week.” “I’ll take care of it.” Then, when the requester asks them about it on the due date, there are heavy sighs and excuses for why it isn’t yet done. 

If you remember that a broken promise is viewed by most people as having been a lie to begin with, maybe you’ll get motivated to live up to what you promised.  If you simply can’t fulfill your promise, at least let the person know the reason for your delay and get the work done ASAP. However, make sure your reason is more than, “I got really busy.”  Or,  “Yeah, I know it’s not done yet, but it wasn’t really my fault.”

Look for chances to give your word, then keep your word.

Let people know, through your commitments and the way you live up to them, that you are someone to trust–no matter how they might feel about you otherwise. One day you may not be able to deliver on a promise, but by then you will have a long history of dependability to your credit. What you’re after is to have someone say, “If he promised to have it, you don’t need to worry, it will get done.” Or, “She says it will work out fine, and if she says it you can believe it.”  Sounds good, doesn’t it?

August 7th, 2011 Posted by | Law Enforcement Related, Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development | 4 comments

One More Time: Avoid Embarrassing People In CCed Emails

Think Before You CC

This may seem to be my One Tune Topic for the last few months, but it seems that it cannot be emphasized enough. Consider these snippets from emails, all which were copied to several people (some not even part of the organizations involved.)

• “If you don’t have the skill to do it, at least send it to someone who knows how to do their job and stop wasting my time.”

• “Your email makes no sense at all. Rewrite please.”

• “I have tried to resolve this situation amicably only to face your nastiness time after time.”

• “I reviewed the work of you and your committee and frankly am amazed that you would consider this to be the quality I expected, especially from someone who is supposedly trained to do this kind of thing. If this is an example of your work, we need to be talking about getting you some additional training. There is no way I could list the problems in one email, so apparently I will have to take the time to meet and work on this with you. I’m available Friday afternoon but after that will be gone for two weeks, so let me know if you can meet then.”

• “Re: Your request to attend the conference. No.”

I’ve changed some details in those emails to protect the organization and those who sent the examples to me, but they are all essentially real. How would you like to be CCed on those? How would you like to be the recipients? How does it present the sender? Will any of them improve things?

What If Nothing Else Is Working?

In one of the examples above I was blind copied but several others were obviously copied. I immediately called the sender to register my dismay. She said, “Well, nothing else has worked and I figured if I embarrassed her maybe she would finally do something.”

Do you think that will happen? Even if it does, will the damage ever go away completely?

If the performance or behavior of an employee you supervise concerns you, talk to the employee directly by phone or in a personal email. No employee I’ve ever met develops a more positive approach to work as the result of being chided in a message that is copied to others. If the thing that concerns you is something that others need to be reminded of as well, handle it with a training approach for all, after you have dealt with the other employee personally.

If a coworker is the source of frustration or anger, talk to your manager or supervisor and be factual about what is concerning you. If you CC your manager in an unpleasant email you may find that both the employee and the manager resent your method of informing. That doesn’t mean you should ignore problems, it just means you should be direct not sneaky.

If you have something unpleasant or discomfiting to say to anyone, say it to them alone. Don’t wait until you are in an email “room” and bring it up. Have you noticed how brave or tough people can be when they are showing off for others!

“Look what a tough leader I am?” “Look how direct I am.” “See how I tell people where I stand?” “Notice that I don’t take anything from anyone?” “See how saintly I am compared to that other person?”  Those are the underlying messages conveyed by unneeded CCs. 

If you receive an awkward, embarrassing or inappropriate copied email, let the recipient know you would prefer to not be included on such things. If those who CC were told it was unnecessary or uncomfortable they would be far less likely to preen over their rough and ready approach. If you are a manager, stop such copying when you see it happening. If you are a subordinate, consider doing what one employee told me about: He wrote back directly to the manager and said, “I don’t think I was supposed to be included in that correspondence, but I want you to know that I have deleted it and won’t say anything about it.”

Whatever you do, don’t even inadvertently encourage the kind of rudeness that is the hallmark of unnecessary CCs or BCs.

The bottom line: There is a time for putting your concerns or frustrations in writing. Not all unpleasant mail is inappropriate. However, when you intend to correct someone or negatively critique their performance or behavior, think, think and think again before copying others. There may be rare times when it is needed, but most often, it is not. You and your reputation and effectiveness will be diminished in proportion to how many people you CC unnecessarily.

August 1st, 2011 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development, Service to Customers, Clients and Coworkers, Supervision and Management | 5 comments

Correcting Work Problems With Precision

Two Big Questions About
Performance or Behavior Problems At Work

When a supervisor or manager becomes aware of an error in performance or behavior the first two questions to consider are these:

1. What was done wrong? 

2. Who did it the wrong way?

Before you cringe at those tough questions, consider how crucial they are for ensuring precision about correcting problem performance and behavior at work. Without that initial analysis of a problem supervisors can make mistakes that create huge levels of resentment and frustration–and work problems can continue for years. (As they often do!)

What Was Done Wrong?

A precise statement about the behavior or performance error will help keep the focus on the primary concern. Secondary issues may be disclosed and may be part of solving larger problems. However, the problem that started it all should be corrected immediately with direction or assistance from the supervisor or manager. Or, the employee should make a clear committment about his or her plans to ensure the error never happens again.

Who Did It The Wrong Way?

Supervisors should discover precisely who didn’t turn in their widget budget, what shift most often loses widget folders, what is the average experience of those who have failed to tighten the widget bolt, who was late to the widget meeting and who hung up on the person calling about widgets. That information will ensure precision about how to focus retraining or corrective actions and how to prevent future problems. 

Being precise about responsiblity will also prevent scattergun correction in which all employees are retrained or lectured for what only one person did incorrectly. If a supervisor or manager is concerned that one error is just the tip of an iceberg, it would be appropriate to discuss a process or program with everyone. But those discussions should not imply that everyone has done something wrong–especially when they know precisely who did!  

The bottom line: There are many other questions to ask and answer on the way to correcting performance or behavior problems at work. But, thinking back over your career, wouldn’t it have been a good thing for your managers and supervisors to have been more precise about what was done wrong and who did it–and what they were going to do about it?

July 19th, 2011 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Personal and Professional Development, Supervision and Management | 3 comments

Replace Businesslike With Professionally Pleasant

How Do You Look and Sound? 

The concept of sounding and looking businesslike seems as though it would be appropriate for a business setting. Unfortunately, it nearly always translates to an unfriendly facial expression and a disinterested, bored or angry tone of voice. 

Test it by looking in a mirror with a “businesslike” expression. See how robotic and cold you look? Hostile, even? Practice a phrase with what you consider to be a businesslike tone. Can you hear how curt and unwelcoming you sound? When there is no welcome in your voice, it doesn’t matter what the words are, you sound unpleasant.

Now, test yourself by smiling (not a grinning, just  smiling) and asking, with a friendly tone, “How can I help you today?” Smile while saying,  “I’m happy to be asked questions and I’ll also be happy to answer them.”

Whatever you say, say it with a sound that is encouraging and pleased to be asked for help, not discouraging and irritated that you’re being bothered. You will feel differently and sound differently. You will certainly make a better first–and lasting–impression. (This applies to your internal customers at work as well!)

July 7th, 2011 Posted by | Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development, Service to Customers, Clients and Coworkers | 4 comments

Ownership, Mountain West Farm Bureau Insurance Company–and You

                                                          Is Ownership Part of Your Character?

 The history of an inspiring company culture: In 1946, the Wyoming Farm Bureau organized an insurance committee to see if it would be feasible to establish an automobile insurance company for its members.  The idea became a reality and for 60 years there has been a great multi-line insurance and financial resource available to people in Wyoming and Montana. I have had the privilege of working with Mountain West Farm Bureau Insurance on several occasions. I was first introduced to the great team there by Cindy Romero, Vice President of Operations, in Laramie, at their handsome–even though windswept–headquarters. I’ve also enjoyed working with Jeff Suloff, Vice President of Claims.

CEO Roy Schmett, one of the other many nice MWFBI people I’ve met, speaks of the Mountain West culture with pride.  It’s a culture that we would be wise to hold and represent in all we do.  It includes: Honesty and Integrity, Teamwork, being Solution Driven, and the component that particularly impressed me: Ownership.  Here is what Mountain West Farm Bureau Insurance says about that concept (I’ve added some italics to emphasize the parts that would be so refreshing if we found it in others and if we developed it ourselves.)

Our organization is only as successful as the people who comprise it. To be successful, we show up and go about our work without coaxing. We do what we say we will do, and we finish what we start. We accept total accountability for our behavior and never blame someone or something else for our actions or our results. We own the work we process, the problems we encounter and the relationships in which we are a part. Our fellow employees, agents, members and policy holders can always depend on us to be there for them.

Does that describe you? Every person you supervise? Your team or work group? You know you have work to do if there is a lot of talk that sounds as though people see themselves as victims of the system, the organization, customers or clients or unpleasant coworkers. Those are valid concerns, but a sense of ownership and appropriate actions are needed to find solutions.

If you drive into Laramie from I-80 you will see the Mountain West Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance company building. It’s the work home of some great people who are working to keep the culture of ownership alive and well. You and I should be doing the same thing!

June 9th, 2011 Posted by | Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development, Service to Customers, Clients and Coworkers | 4 comments

How Have You Improved?

I watched back-to-back Tron the other night–the 1982 original and the new, Tron: Legacy. I have strong memories of being very impressed with every aspect of the original and thought it would be fun to see “Part Two”.  What a revelation to compare them!

It’s not surprising that the original Tron was much less technically sophisticated–29 years will do that. (It almost looked like a 1950s space invader set, in spite of how advanced we thought it was then.)

The big surprise was the tremendous improvement in the appearance, stage presence and performance of  Bruce Boxleitner and Jeff Bridges. (Both who had already established themselves as excellent actors.)

At first I thought the difference might have been because of the director or simply the script. However, David Warner did his usual superb job, so it couldn’t have been that completely. I’m also quick to say that I don’t watch many movies (as opposed to cinema, film or talkies), so I’m only an audience member, not a critic that counts. However, I am capable of comparison and there was an obvious difference. 

I recall reading that Harrison Ford won’t watch Star Wars because he doesn’t want to see his looks and acting then. I read an interview in which someone asked Cary Grant what he thought when he watched himself in his classic performances and he said he never did, to avoid embarrassment about the way he delivered lines in his younger acting days. I guess we all can spot our imperfections–and actors are likely more aware of them and sensitive to them than most.

It’s a shame you don’t have video of yourself doing routine work over a period of several days, five, ten, fifteen, twenty or thirty years ago. I wish you did, because you would see how much you have improved and in how many ways. You look older now and maybe less fit or more wrinkled. You may have looked more energized then. Nevertheless, I’ll bet that now you have many more insights and much more confidence, knowledge and skills. If you are still young you may think back a fewer number of years, but you may notice an even more dramatic difference in your approach to work and life.

No matter how far back you are thinking, situations that seemed very challenging to you then would seem easy to deal with now. Things that were confusing, frightening, stressful or angering then, would seem like minor issues now, because you know the background and you know how to respond. If you could see yourself at work years ago you would probably cringe at your youthful poor judgment, your inexperienced errors and your ill-informed perspectives. You’ve grown, matured and improved. Good for you!

Now, use that awareness to give you patience and empathy for newer employees. Talk to older or more-tenured employees and encourage them to relive some of their glory days and what they remember as good times for the organization. Smile at the reality that if you’re still around, you’ll be even better in five more years or ten years. Seriously, you will keep getting better as long as you are mentally and emotionally active and wanting to improve.

I’ll be anxious to see how much more impressive Bruce Boxleitner and Jeff Bridges are in Tron: To The Tenth Power.

June 1st, 2011 Posted by | Keeping On!, Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development | 11 comments

Employee Input Has Value–But Should Be Evaluated Carefully

The most effective managers and supervisors actively seek employee ideas and opinions on a regular basis, not just when big decisions are being made. Those who are regularly doing a task may have excellent ideas for how the task can be done more efficiently or effectively. Nevertheless, it is important for managers and supervisors as well as employees to remember that ideas and opinions should be used as part of decision-making–not used in place of well thought-out decisions by managers and supervisors. 

New supervisors and managers: The idea of carefully evaluating employee input is especially crucial for new supervisors and managers. They may be anxious to build rapport with their new staff or team but do not yet have a grasp of the big picture. As a new manager don’t act too quickly in your effort to gain acceptance. Wait until you understand the totality of work and the ramifications of the ideas you are hearing.   

• Ideas for one person or group may have a negative effect on others. A new form, method or process that will work very well for John or Janet may create tremendous burdens for everyone else. In addition to listening to employees, managers should communicate with other managers before making decisions that have a larger impact. Then, explain the issues as a way to help the employee learn to see the bigger picture, even if he or she still has a preference.

• Employees do not usually have the level of knowledge about larger issues that managers have–or should have.  When the Denver Police Department was planning for World Youth Day and the visit of Pope John Paul II, two officers with a lot of tenure thought it was very funny that I was looking at information on Porta-Potties. In response I asked them how many portable toilets they thought we would need for 500,000 people, how many were in the state of Colorado and what it would take to get enough here in time. After they looked at the information and realized what a challenge it would be, one of them said, “That’s the trouble with our mayor, he says yes to everything. He should have said we didn’t want World Youth Day here because it’s so much work for the city.”

• Employees ideas may be purposely or inadvertently self-serving.  Most employee suggestions don’t mention a downside or potential problem. If you’re the manager or supervisor you need to be thinking of those. When employees have suggestions about issues with which you’re not completely familiar, ask them to provide you with the things that could go wrong and how those could be avoided. Then, get other input before deciding.

A manager of a large group commented that almost all the improvement suggestions he received involved what employees thought they could stop doing for customers, what safety procedures they could eliminate or what rule was no longer needed. He said after five years he had only received two or three ideas for how employees could provide better service or be more efficient in their use of resources. His example may not be typical–but it isn’t unusual either. I think that phenomena is called human nature.

• If there are bad results, it is most likely the implementing manager or supervisor who will be held responsible, not the employees who made the suggestion.  It’s inevitable that some decisions will not work out well. Usually those are fixable and work moves on. However, managers and supervisors should have better reasons for their decisions than, “Bill and Gloria said it was the best way to do it.” Ideas should be welcomed and carefully reviewed, not welcomed and implemented without review. 

Some of the most serious or tragic errors I have heard about–or made myself–were the result of decisions based primarily on the clamoring input of staff or group members. Often they are so close to the work they see no other options–and there are nearly always options. That is why, whether we’re talking about work, government, the military, a surgical team, a family or anything else, checks and balances and unbiased input are needed.

A good rule: If you think to yourself: I’m approving this against my better judgment, use your better judgment and don’t approve it, at least not right then.

When you’re the employee with a suggestion or opinion: Make it your goal to gain the knowledge, skills and insights needed to give valuable input. Do self-evaluation of your ideas to ensure they reflect the needs of the organization and its customers and clients. Also remember that the person to whom you’re making the suggestion may respect you, like you and want to encourage you–but still have reasons for not adopting or supporting your ideas. That’s not a slight to you, just a reality of work.

The bottom line: It is a laudable concept to seek the input and ideas of employees. However,  the responsibility of managers and supervisors is to listen, evaluate and make final decisions, based on many criteria and considerations.

In the picture above, Patton was listening to a soldier–a trait for which he was well known. He was sincerely interested in the thoughts of soldiers in the field. However, you can bet he didn’t suggest a military strategy to General Eisenhower by saying, “Private Smith said the guys all want to attack from this direction because it will save time. I would hate for them to think we don’t value their input, so let’s do it their way.”

May 23rd, 2011 Posted by | Assessment Centers and Interviews, Law Enforcement Related, Personal and Professional Development, Supervision and Management | 5 comments

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