Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Do You Need New Ways To Be Annoying?

If you're annoying don't complain if you get swatted.

I’ve sometimes wondered if the person who is driving me crazy is only that way in a specific setting (the one I’m in at the time) or if he or she is always that way. Fortunately for my peace of mind, I don’t consider the idea that I might be annoying as well. Highly improbable!

My friend Jeff Adams wrote a post last month about annoying airplane travelers.  I could relate to all of his descriptions–especially the passengers who hold up everyone else while stuffing their over-sized bags into the overhead  bins. Then it’s slam, slam, SLAM, while they try to close the door.

My neighbor, Larry Homenick, has a list of annoyances he encounters at casinos. (I don’t go to those places, so I’m taking his word on these). They include the Button Pounder, the Slot Machine Expert, the Slot Machine Hog, the Over-Your-Shoulder Starer, and the Childishly Excited. (Oh my gosh. Oh my GOSH! OH MY GOSH!!!!!!! I won two dollars!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

Last week I was checking out at an Office Max and the guy in front of me was so preoccupied talking on his cell phone, he couldn’t respond to anything the sales clerk was asking–the sales clerk was visibly annoyed and so were those of us standing and waiting. We all have stories like that nowadays. They are as common as the annoyances of having someone scrolling through email while you’re teaching or conversing; talking on the phone loudly, as though others want to hear or won’t notice, or forwarding silly emails or urban legends to you and fifty others.

There are traffic annoyances; personal habits that are annoying; repetitious words and phrases that were charming, witty or interesting the first thousand times the person said them, but aren’t anymore; inside jargon; annoying children, annoying sounds (whistling, humming, snorting, etc.) and a myriad of other things. (And saying we should overlook those things is annoying too. It’s always easier to tell someone to ignore an annoyance than it is to ignore the thing that annoys you.)

More ways to be annoying: In case you don’t have enough ways to be annoying, I’ll give you an excerpt from the list you may have already seen. I haven’t found out the correct attribution–the source listed by some sites hasn’t proven to be correct. Very annoying!

  1. Learn Morse Code and have conversations with friends in public consisting entirely of “Beeeeep, Bip, Bip, Beep, Bip, Beeeep…”
  2. Specify that your drive-through order is “to go.”
  3. Sniffle incessantly. (Note: Or cough, pick your noise, scratch your arm, neck or face, etc.)
  4. Insist on keeping your windshield wipers running in all weather conditions to keep them “tuned up.”
  5. Reply to everything someone says with, “That’s what YOU think.”
  6. Follow a few paces behind someone spraying everything they touch with Lysol.
  7. Finish all your sentences with the words, “in accordance with prophecy.”
  9. Repeat everything someone says, in the form of a question. (Note: That’s why “active listening” techniques can be annoying.)
  10. Demand that everyone address you as “Conquistador”. (Note: I knew a guy who wanted me to call him Tarzan, but it might not be the same concept.)
  11. Stand over someones shoulder mumbling as they read. (Note: That’s still not as bad as standing behind a stranger and watching while they play a slot machine.)
  12. Deliberately hum songs that will remain lodged in co-worker’s minds. (Note: Like Mike O’Neill and Art Hutchison used to do to Gary Gosage with “Sh-boom, sh-boom. Ra-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta, sh-boom, sh-boom…”)

I saw a sign the other day that undoubtedly is appropriate for all of us:


Sh-boom, sh-boom. Ra-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta, sh-boom, sh-boom……

January 3rd, 2010 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development, Service to Customers, Clients and Coworkers | 18 comments

What Excuse Will You Make For Them THIS Time?

From www.thelmagazine.com. Just a small ererr. Unacceptable  Excuses

* “Uh, Herman forgot to cover your car when he sprayed the paint on your house. Poor guy, he’s had a lot of problems at home lately, so I didn’t say anything to him. There’s no point in making him feel worse.”

* “You won’t be getting  your paychecks this month. We’re doing more with less over here in Budget, so Mathilda completely forgot about the payroll. She feels awful about it, but I can’t blame her what with all work we’ve had to do.”

* “I know Roberto promised your invitations would be done in time to mail before the wedding, but you won’t be getting them until the week after that. Just a snafu, you know how that goes! You’ll be on your honeymoon by then anyway, so the delay shouldn’t be a big problem, right?”

* “OK, so my guys forgot to put brakes in a few hundred cars last week. They’re only human and they make mistakes now and then. How come no one mentions the hundreds of brakes they put in like they were supposed to?”

* “I’m sorry about your incision coming open and your intestines falling on the floor. If you had double-checked to make sure we sewed you up correctly, maybe it wouldn’t have happened.  However, I’m not going to play the blame game at this point. The important thing is that it was a learning experience for all of us.”

Stop Making Excuses For Late Work, Bad Work and No Work!

For all the times supervisors and managers complain about the work or behavior of employees, in most cases there are a dozen times when they make excuses:

  • “My guys are really busy.”
  • “She’s got problems at home.”
  • “We were under a lot of time pressure.”
  • “She feels unappreciated.”
  • “No one understands the stress we’re under!”
  • “He felt frustrated.”
  • “It was really your fault.”

If you care about an employee, work with them to help them overcome stressful or unpleasant circumstances by putting their focus on their responsiblities. You don’t help them or anyone else–certainly not yourself–by making excuses or lowering standards. (If that sounds harsh, consider how many times you have complained about getting bad service or bad work in stores or businesses–don’t you wish excellence had been the standard?)

If an employee can’t behave or perform correctly, teach him or her to do it the right way. Then, provide oversight and assistance to ensure quality work. An internal or external customer should not  be the guinea pig on which an employee practices. Do quality checks while the work is being done, not when there is a complaint. (Sadly, many of the things that diminish your reputation and the reputation of your group will never be formally complained about.) 

If an employee can do the work acceptably but doesn’t, apologize to the person who received the poor service or a poor product and make it right. You don’t need to apologize in a way that demeans the employee, but there should be no doubt in the mind of the client or customer that you are sorry and you will make it right in the way they want, if possible.  

If the problem involves conflict or poor service within the work place, look for the primary contributor rather than automatically saying everyone was at fault. Sometimes only one employee is creating the problem–hold that employee accountable rather than talking to everyone in a meeting or memo.

Don’t be too mild when you tell the employee about the problem. Many supervisors make the mistake of downplaying the seriousness of a work problem, as a way to help the employee save face or as a way to avoid conflict. However, when you talk to the employee, you should make it clear in what you say and how you say it that the behavior or performance wasn’t acceptable and that it must improve, starting immediately. Try to involve the employee in the actions required to make-up to the customer for the poor product or results. Consider The One Minute Manager approach, which calls for brief but specific conversations.

Support and praise good work and don’t accept bad work. Never allow a culture of mediocrity to develop. You owe that to your organization, the people you serve, employees who are doing the right things, the employee who didn’t do the right thing–and you owe it to yourself. The first time you hear an excuse, call it what it is and don’t accept it. There might be reasons that are justified–a needed item didn’t arrive, someone else didn’t do their work, someone was gone legitimately. Even in those cases, often someone could have prevented the problem if they had been on top of the situation.

The next time you make an excuse, let someone off the hook, back down, change a deadline, approve substandard work, or are too mild in your critique of bad work, think about all the times:

  • When you have planned on an assignment being done and found out it wasn’t;
  • When the work product was a big disappointment to you but you accepted it anyway;
  • When you have been more worried than the employee about a problem;
  • When you re-did something or got someone else to do it, but didn’t tell the person responsible;
  • When you had to back-pedal and make excuses to someone higher than you;
  • When you have had to smooth things out, field complaints or put a good spin on something;
  • When you have taken the heat for something someone else failed to do or did poorly, and they didn’t even say thank you.

Aren’t you tired of that? If it happens tomorrow, what excuse will you be quick to provide? What excuse will you accept? Why should you accept any excuse at all, especially if even one other employee is doing good work with good behavior in the same circumstances?

How would this one set with you?

“Hey, I know you told Jake you wanted your tattoo to read,  ‘I’m a Lover’, but you gotta’ admit, ‘I’m a Loser’  is close.” 

December 16th, 2009 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Service to Customers, Clients and Coworkers, Supervision and Management | 7 comments

When A Coworker Is Getting On Your Nerves

There are many civil ways to say "Stop." Part of maturity and effectiveness at work is learning to deal with (translation: Smile, grit your teeth and tolerate) the behavior of others who have different styles, traits, habits and perspectives than yours. However, there comes a time when a coworker is negatively effecting your work or your mental or emotional state or when you are making unreasonable adjustments for their benefit. What can you do then? The answer isn’t the same in every situation, but some guidelines can be applied:

1. Make sure you aren’t part of the problem.  Could it be that the irritating behavior of others is a reaction to your own quirky behavior? If others have hinted to you or joked about something you do or say, or if you are well known for an approach that is irritating to others, face up to the fact that you might be part of the problem. Work to change before you work to change others. You may want to acknowledge your part of the problem to the other person and negotiate what you will both change.

2. Consistently and appropriately be clear about what what is bothering you.  Don’t expect someone to know you are upset if you ignore it most of the time, laugh or joke about it sometimes but only now and then act upset.

3. React in a way that is appropriate for the situation. Don’t react in a way that is rude, disruptive or hurtful.  When you fire back a nasty retort, use obscenities or rude gestures, or gossip and complain excessively behind somone’s back, you become the problem as well–and you lose the support you might have had. What you say or do will depend upon the severity and impact of the actions of the other person. You may say something with a reproving smile and gentle tone or you may have a frown and sound briskly adamant, according to the situation.

 Trying to suggest phrases is always difficult because there are so many verbal nuances that are missed, and you have your own verbal style. However, here is a mix of  mild, moderate and strong responses you might make.

“Stop. Stop. Stop.” (This can be said with a smile, a frown, while holding up a hand or while leaving the conflict, according to the situation. When you have the attention of the other person, talk directly but courteously about what is bothering you.)
“Uh oh, that’s getting close to being over the line!”
“Don’t.” (You may have to say it more than once, but often it is all that needs to be said.)
“That’s really distracting. Would you please stop?”
“Lisa, what caused that tone of voice?”
“I don’t understand why you did that. Tell me.”
“You sound upset, but I don’t know why. Are you?”
“How did you mean that the way it sounded?”
“You said that jokingly but I think you were serious. Were you joking or serious?”
“Greg, please don’t do that anymore.”
“That kind of remark makes me feel (how?).”
“Tricia, what would make you think I would respond well to that? I don’t. So don’t do it again.”
“That approach doesn’t work well with me, so you might as well stop it now.”
“Matt, I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt about your motives, but this has got to stop. Now.”
“OK, I can see this isn’t going well. Let’s talk to (the supervisor or manager) and get this worked out, now.”

3. When your direct, appropriate communication doesn’t help the situation, get assistance. If you have communicated about a problem clearly and the coworker is aware of your feelings, but continues to do the same disruptive things, go to your manager, Human Resources section or someone else who can either advise you or assist you.  Don’t complain incessantly, vow revenge, play dirty tricks or seethe inwardly. Go to your manager and ask for advice or make a formal complaint, according to the seriousness of the situation. You will get stronger results if you write your concern or at least ask for a formal interview time with your manager, rather than complaining in a general sense but not asking for action to be taken.

 Be prepared to hear your manager sound less concerned than you are.  However, if you are told to continue to accept the behavior of the other person, courteously stand your ground and insist something must change–unless you feel you have no other choice in order to stay out of trouble yourself.  Many (if not most) managers hope a conflict or problem will go away so they don’t have to deal with it.  They are more likely to take action about something that effects work performance than they are about behavior. So, link the behavior to how it is effecting your work and the work of others or to the final work product.

Until you have directly talked to your manager, don’t make the assumption that nothing will be done. If you only complain in a general way or if you are a big part of the problem, you are less likely to get action.  But until you have tried to get help from a higher level, you don’t know for sure what will happen.

4. If the action continues, escalate your complaint but still stay appropriate. If you believe the situation merits it, write a strong letter requesting your manager investigate and intervene to ensure the behavior stops. If that doesn’t work, go higher. Take it as far as you need to take it, within reason for the situation. (Just make sure you are being a valuable employee at the same time.)

 The bottom line: Most problems between coworkers are never confronted openly and courteously, they are only complained about. Or,  the complaining employee will covertly sabotage the work or reputation of the other employee.  That is how conflicts develop and why they continue and get worse. You don’t need to be harsh to get your point across to a coworker whose work style or habits are bothering you. On the other hand, if you never say you are bothered, why should the other employee be concerned? As usual, honest but appropriate communication is the key to making things better.

Do you work with someone whose manner or actions disrupt, irritate or disturb you or make work more difficult? The situation won’t improve on its own, so do something effective about it–or at least try.

December 2nd, 2009 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Personal and Professional Development, Service to Customers, Clients and Coworkers | 5 comments

How Far Should A Manager Go To Work Within An Employee’s Style?

Different styles can work--if they are not disruptive.

Personal Style or Pain in the Neck?

Each of us has a unique style based on an infinite number of contributing factors. A personal and professional challenge for each of us is to be what seems comfortable and right to us, without creating problems. A manager’s job is to work with the unique styles of all employees as much as possible. What should be the limit to those efforts?

1. When an employee’s quirks, traits, appearance or actions disrupt work or harm the work product or the organization.  A manager’s responsibility is to be alert for the very first indicators of problems and to take action immediately to ensure the employee corrects them.  

 In some work places one or a few employees have been disruptive for weeks, months or years! Of course, the employee should have enough sensitivity and awareness to see what he or she is doing and change it. And, coworkers should have enough confidence and conviction to do something about the things that bother them.  But, ultimately whose responsibility is it?

2. When unreasonable adjustments have to be made. If allowing the employee to work within his or her personal style would require adjustments of performance or behavior standards or the work environment, or an unreasonable tolerance by coworkers, the manager must ensure the employee adjusts to fit into the bigger picture, not the other way around.

Each of us wants the freedom to incorporate our personalities, preferences, experiences, knowledge and skills into our work. An effective manager faciliates individuality as much as possible.  Nevertheless, all employees should be hired, evaluated and retained based on their performance and behavior—and part of that involves adapting personal styles to the larger work environment.

The bottom line: It is possible for everyone to be comfortable within their personal styles, while not imposing those styles on others unreasonably. However, â€œThat’s just the way he is”, is never a reason for tolerating ineffective performance or behavior.

Do you know someone who creates many problems at work and everyone else makes adjustments to deal with that person? Who is that employee’s supervisor or manager? I hope it isn’t you.

November 27th, 2009 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Personal and Professional Development, Service to Customers, Clients and Coworkers, Supervision and Management | 8 comments

Calling All Malingering, Gossiping, Inept and Boring People!

A photo of my last class. Training is supposed to be helpful and focused on motivation, improvement and expanded thinking. I think my training and presentations accomplish that–but the people who really need the training are never there. All the participants in my classes are incredibly high performing people who are carrying the load for everyone else and who are great team members while constantly striving to be an example of excellence and service. 

I’m not complaining, because I almost always really, really like everyone in my classes–I  truly do! But, I also would like to talk to a few of those people I’m always hearing about. For example, I want to meet these types:

Drama Queens (I’ll even settle for Kings). I know there are Drama Queens because I hear about them all the time, but they never come to anything I teach. The people who tell me about how vicious and evil their coworkers are and how they almost throw up every time they have to work with one and how that has been true in almost every place they have worked, have said those are the people who fit the description of Drama Royalty. However, so far I’ve been out of luck on meeting any of them.

Speaking of vicious and evil–where are those people when I’m teaching? I don’t want to have a demonic spawn of satan in every class. Nevertheless, since so many coworkers and bosses are described to me as being evil, vile, malevolent or sadistic, you’d think just one of them would give me a break and attend training now and then. But noooooooooo…I only get people who are nurturing, supportive and pleasant in spite of provocation. Sure, I love’em, but a little variety would be fun.

Are you unethical, uninspired, unenthused and disloyal? Send me your email and I’ll give you a discount on my next class. I want to meet you! I have met and admired many participants who are above reproach in every aspect of their work life and I’d like to see what the weasels they work with look like.

Lazy malingerers who lie and gossip apparently never get sent to training for any topic at all and never volunteer to attend. Instead, the rosters get filled with hard working people who speak up when they hear gossip or see unfairness and put a halt to it right away. They’re the same considerate people who never forward virus warnings or talk on a cell phone while driving–and their kids were never allowed to act-up like some of the brats you see in stores nowadays. No wonder I have a fun time teaching–I’ve got the cream of the crop in front of me!

I guess one reason I like all the participants in my classes so much is because they are like I always was in my career–diligently doing their best but held back by incompetent supervisors, managers who don’t have a clue, and weak, spineless so-called leaders.  I feel a kinship with every one of them.

Still, in the introductions I would like to have someone openly admit they are treacherous, diabolical backstabbers or even just boring, milk-toast, managers who are afraid of their own shadows.  If you aren’t practically perfect, please sign-up for a class or two. Why be content to make life horrible in your workplace when you could have a captive audience and a trainer to practice on?

See you soon, I hope!

October 19th, 2009 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Personal and Professional Development, Supervision and Management | 15 comments

How Long Are You Going To Put Up With That Behavior?

This kind of behavior is only interesting from a lizard--not an employee. There are many workplaces where employees, supervisors and managers devote 50% of their time to work and 50% to dealing with the obnoxious, frustrating, divisive or weird behavior of one or two employees. If you are in an office like that, how long are you going to put up with that situation?

If you are a peer: Let the coworker know, in an appropriate way, when you are frustrated, angry or concerned about the behavior. Then, as with a bad-acting child, withdraw your support until the behavior improves. That doesn’t mean ostracism from work, but it does mean not pretending to support or be friends with someone who treats others badly, just to avoid being a victim yourself. Be civil, be courteous but don’t be a tolerant pal.

If the behavior is having an effect on your work and you have tried to handle it directly–and in a courteous effective way–document the behavior, witnesses if any, and the effect it had on you and the workplace, and submit it in writing. If nothing is done at least you are no worse off–and there will be documentation.  You should talk directly to your manager as well. But, if you don’t put it in writing, it often is seen as merely griping, not requesting action. 

If you are a manager or supervisor: Although I advise the coworkers of rude or difficult employees to put their complaints in writing,  they shouldn’t have to do that if you are an observant and concerned manager or supervisor. When you  know there is a problem, it’s up to you to do intervene without being pushed into it.

Stop bad behavior when it first starts–not after it’s habitual. If it’s already gone to that point, talk to HR or others who can help you ensure you are approaching it correctly. Then, talk to the employee directly about what you have observed and the reasons it should stop and change. Be able to say what behavior and performance you want to have stay the same, what the employee should do more of and what the employee should never do again. Don’t weasle about that–be direct and adamant.

There are a variety of ways to intervene, to correct and redirect and to restore the employee back to the team, but they all start with stepping up and stopping the bad behavior.

How long are you going to put up with it?

June 30th, 2009 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Personal and Professional Development, Supervision and Management | 7 comments

Who Should Confront Discourteous Behavior in the Workplace?

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?

2. Has this employee acted discourteously before? 

3. Is there a chance the rude employee might do similar things to other coworkers at another time?

4. Might the behavior affect the willingness of others to want to work with that employee or ask for assistance in the future?

5. If the employee used a similar tone or acted in a similar way with clients, would that be a problem?

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 employees. 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?

April 9th, 2009 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Supervision and Management | 6 comments

Toxic, Harassing, Abusive, Evil, Micro-Manager, Slug—Workplace Labels Are Not Necessarily True and Are Almost Never Helpful.

Labels about people and work environments often take the place of accurate description and clear thinking. It’s easy and sometimes helpful to use a descriptive term to give someone an overall idea about someone without doing into great detail. Unfortunately, those terms are often over-dramatized and invariably unpleasant.

In addition, pop psychology labels or sarcastic terms often replace an effort to understand a problem and develop a solution.  It is much easier for someone to refer to a workplace as toxic than to admit he or she might be causing many of the problems, or to work for an improved workplace. It’s easier to say the boss is abusive and you are being victimized, than to analyze why so many others think he is a decent person and think you are an ineffective communicator.

Even if the accusation is true, using a label can make a conflict worse because it shuts down attempts to improve things. Once you have decided an employee is a slug, you will tend to stop treating him as though he can learn to do better and wants to do better, with your support. Once you say your boss is a micro-manager you will tend to view every request or direction as irritating and unnecessary.

Using a descriptive term can be convenient–just make sure you define your term and that you discuss the whole person not just one aspect of his or her style that you don’t care for. All of us are more than a label can accurately describe.

Negative labels often just reflect the perspective of one person. I receive many emails about workplace issues, and I understand the concerns many people have. However, I become frustrated and irritated at how quickly writers assign an unpleasant, negative label to people they don’t like and situations with which they have problems. You may recall me talking about this in my articles about abuse and harassment. My view was that abuse and harassment are much more than discourtesy and insensitivity. Yet, often when people say they have been harassed or abused, the details only indicate incivility and dislike–often from both directions.

Not long ago I received an email from someone who said her supervisor was a Dinosaur Brain (from the book of the same name.) She used jargon from the book as well as a magazine article she had read to “diagnose” the problem. I asked for specifics, and it turns out her boss has many good qualities, but doesn’t incorporate most of her suggestions for work. That may only mean her suggestions are not very good. Or, it may mean her boss wants to be in charge of everything or that he must go by another protocol. His actions may indicate many things, but calling him Mr. Dinosaur Brains behind his back and assuming his actions are solely because he is small-minded and unwilling to change, is disrespectful and as hurtful to their working relationship as if he referred to her as Ms. Ditz Brain. (And he may.)

The Bottom Line: Watch yourself when you start throwing around a term that sounds nasty enough to fit someone you don’t like or negative enough to describe your workplace–the way you perceive it. Only use the term if you can also fully describe what behavior that person is exhibiting and why you think the term is appropriate, or what preponderance of evidence you have to show that almost everything at work is harmful to people working there. Be able to say what you have done to help make the situation better, apart from popular jargon and name-calling.

For every label or description you think about using, make the conscious effort to describe specific behavior or situations to illustrate your point. Be able to define your terms so others will know what you mean and upon what you are basing your remarks. Doing that might help you realize that while you may not like a person or situation, things aren’t quite as awful as your dramatically horrible label would indicate. Or, it might reinforce your perceptions with supportive evidence.

So there, you Vile Troll, you.

February 21st, 2009 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Personal and Professional Development, Supervision and Management | 9 comments

Apologies That Mean Something

Self Indulgent Apologies

“I’m sorry. What more can I say?”

“Yep, go ahead and blame me. It was my fault. I’m an idiot. Kick me if you want.”


“OK. I admit it. I’m only human and I made a mistake. I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry I reacted like I did, but you made me do it.”

“I’m so, so, SO sorry! This will never happen again. I swear!”

Saying “I’m sorry” isn’t always enough–and often isn’t anything. Flimsy apologies are often used in an attempt to get off the hook or merely to mouth acceptable words without any real significance. Often the tone is flippant, dismissive, irritated or resentful. But, what about that last example? It sounds sincere, doesn’t it? It also sounded sincere the five other times over the last month that the employee did the same thing and apologized profusely.

Using the analogy of domestic violence, “I’m sorry” is usually the honeymoon time that starts another cycle of abuse. In workplaces “I’m sorry” is often just the brief time before yet another problem behavior and/or performance situation.

In one personnel action I reviewed, I noted that the employee apologized for her actions over fifty times in six statements and interviews. I also noted that the supervisor referred to the apology as if it was mitigation for the bad behavior. “My recommendation is based, in part, on the fact that this employee apologized for her actions and has promised she will not repeat them.”

At one point the employee apologized to a coworker, but the coworker wouldn’t accept it and said she didn’t believe her. The supervisor wrote, “I think in this case Lisa did all she could do to apologize and I am disappointed that Sandy won’t accept it in the spirit in which it was given.” (I think Sandy knew the spirit in which it was given!)

Clarifying apologies as a supervisor: If you are a supervisor or manager, there is a temptation to accept even a sullen apology as a way to end a discussion about bad behavior or performance. Don’t do it! Be honest about the tone you are hearing, or the fact that an apology has not resulted in changed behavior in the past. Follow even sincere sounding apologies with these questions: “What are you going to do to make this better, right now? And, what are you going to do to keep it from happening again?”

Repentance, in any context, is worthless if the person doesn’t purposefully turn away from the wrong thing. As a supervisor you can help make that happen by insisting that the employee tell you what he or she will do instead of the wrong thing.

Dealing with apologies as a co-worker: If you are a coworker being given an apology that sounds shallow to you, civil honesty is also the best approach. “Beth, I hear what you are saying, but I don’t feel you mean it because you continue to treat me and others this way. Even your tone is more like you are being forced to say it. So, tell me…what are you going to do to make this right, and what specific things are you going to do to keep yourself from doing this again?”

If he or she has an adequate response, at least you will know the person is sincerely trying. If not, you are correct to not fake an acceptance of a fake apology.  Try this response: “I want to believe you, so I’ll wait to see if what you say is backed up by what you do. That’s when I’ll feel I can accept your apology as sincere.”

If you need to apologize: Say you’re sorry. Say what you are going to do right now to try to make things right. Say what you are going to do to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Live up to it.

Don’t apologize to keep someone happy, when you don’t really mean it, and don’t apologize when you have done nothing wrong and are only trying to keep the peace. Say you are sorry for the things you truly would do differently if you could, and that you feel badly about. But, if you should apologize, make it have significance. Hopefully you won’t need to apologize very often!

I’m sorry this article is so long. I’ll make it right by stopping now, and next time I’ll edit my posts to keep them shorter for easier reading. I promise!

February 12th, 2009 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development, Supervision and Management | 6 comments

When It’s Time To Correct and Control, Don’t Hint

If you are responsible for stopping incorrect, inappropriate or problematic behavior or performance at work, the easiest way to do your job is to speak to the employee directly, courteously and unequivocally. Say what is happening now, what is required instead, and what action you will take if the unacceptable behavior or performance occurs again.

Ironically, many supervisors think it will make things easier if they soften their statements by laughing, joking, hinting or talking around the subject. Then, the supervisor is surprised when the employee continues to do the wrong thing.  It may be because the employee doesn’t fully understand what he or she is expected to do or not do in the future. Or, the employee may not realize how serious you were about it, or figures you won’t have the courage to take more serious action.

Another side effect is a loss of respect by everyone who sees the situation. What message does it send about you, if managers, other supervisors and other employees, observe someone behaving or performing incorrectly, and knows that you are either unable or unwilling to control it or stop it?  

Your approach will vary a bit based on your work situation, how long you have known the employee and other circumstances, but your remarks should be direct and absolute, as well as friendly and courteous and with a tone of positive expectations. 

Words and phrases that are not effective: 
“It’s no big deal, but………..”
“I don’t really mind, but some other people have said something about it……”
“Could you sort of not do that so much?” 
“If you just try to do better, that’s all I can ask.”
“Watch that in the future, OK? ”

Words and phrases that get your point across:
“Don’t do that again.” (Or a variation of that concept.)
“Stop.” (“Stop it, now.” “OK. That’s enough. Stop it.”)
“That is a direct violation of our policies. Don’t ever do that again.”
“Your actions are disrupting work for other people. You have to stop doing that right now.”
“If you do that again you’ll get a disciplinary write up.”
“This quality of work isn’t acceptable.”
“What will you do the next time this situation happens?”


Words and phrases that give support as well as providing correction:
“I know that this isn’t like you and I’m confident we’ll never have this situation again.”
“I’m looking at this as a learning time. Now you know, so you won’t do it again.”
“Your attitude about it this has been great and that means a lot to me. I know you’ll do the right thing from now on and I think you still feel good about the job and working with me.”
“You know not to do that again and I know you want to do the right thing. That’s all that needs to be said about it.”
“I can tell you’re upset about it right now, but I’m confident you’ll get through it.”

If there have been chronic problems you should be more forceful to ensure that the employee understands how serious you are. Do not warn that something will happen if you know it is likely not going to occur. Use your supervisory leadership and influence in a positive way to ensure that behavior or performance is corrected.

The bottom line for your effectiveness: Stop hinting, cajoling, suggesting and pleading for an employee to correct wrong behavior or performance.  Say what you mean, directly and clearly and get it over with. Don’t over-talk the subject, unless the situation is complex (and it almost never is!). Ask the employee to say back what he or she understands. Have a demeanor that shows you are concerned. Then, watch the situation to make sure the behavior or performance is corrected right away.

Do your job effectively!

November 21st, 2008 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Supervision and Management | 6 comments

« Previous PageNext Page »