Freedom Costs | The Opportunity Costs of being Complaint Free

emotional_rollercoaster_slide

Wow, What a roller coaster ride!  You never know how much potential a situation has to escalate until you find yourself saying absolutely nothing.  You ever see that angry stormy guy in the office, who looks like he’s one off-the cuff comment from exploding on you? Yeah, that’s the kind of energy I’ve been staving off over the past couple of weeks. And I mean, I’m not above admitting it’s been something I’ve been really wrestling with.  I spent a good portion of the first part of this period in CYA mode.  I didn’t realize how much documentation I really had in my possession but it’s actually enough to disrupt the operations of my entire department (so I’ve been trying to determine what my ethical responsibilities are) since I know that I’ll be asked to complete an exit interview when I leave the organization about my reasons for leaving.

If you were in my position, what would YOU say?

I’m actually waiting for my performance review (which should be coming up in the next month) to address a lot of these issues. This approach was recommended to me by someone who used to work in the HR department, and since things have been tense enough around the office for me to understand that it’s going to come up in my performance review, I’ve already included my intent to discuss it in my self evaluation under the portion where I’m supposed to evaluate the work I did this year as a supervisor.  And when I say I have a LOT of documentation, I mean that I literally have piles of student performance records, anytime I worried that there may be a problem escalating due to conflicting directives, client complaints, etc. I have put it into writing.  I even thought very seriously about creating a histogram outlining the staff behavioral progressions/regressions that compliment their policies and the effectiveness of the boundary constraints under which I’ve been placed. But I’ll probably save that for my memoirs or something, idk…

In the meantime, I’ve been really working on “sharpening the saw,” so to speak so that I understand what my responsibility is in terms of the energy I bring to the space, the boundaries I articulate, taking the steps I need to ask for what I need and document those efforts, going through the necessary final steps before I make a decision about whether or not to go through a formal reporting process, and to what extent, etc.

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sharpen-the-saw

I’ve also had to go through a pretty strict regime of filling out job applications, scheduling play, coordinating restorative meal plans and making myself get back into my workouts (which I’d been blowing off to fill out job applications). Because let’s face it, I’m terrified that I will sabotage the very thing I am working toward (being a happier, healthy person and an effective leader), if I stop taking care of myself.

Then yesterday afternoon, we had a festival in town. I had scheduled the time off from my routine and bam, I had a great time.  The Facebook status I left at 2am read (I know, who uses Facebook anymore):

I couldn’t have prayed for a better evening; incl. randomly running into an old college buddy in the park, hanging out with an old professor he was meeting in town, having a brownie and a milkshake while swapping jokes with these really funny guys I hadn’t seen in awhile, spending time at the bluegrass festival with some of my local artisan friends, getting to see one of our vendors (and friends from one of the local businesses) fire dancing, followed by an impromptu bourbon guitardy at my place that degenerated into hilarious cat whisperer reality tv (upon the recommendation of one of my artisan friends). If today was any indication of the rest of my weekend, then I am truly blessed beyond belief.

And it worked.

I woke up this morning feeling like a whole new person. It’s amazing what a difference it can make when you go out of your way to surround yourself with the people and activities that you love.  I think right now I’m having one of those Bucky Fuller moments where I’m beginning to wonder; how would my life be different if I only surrounded myself with people who inspired me, encouraged me or made me feel valued and loved? Or if when I couldn’t help who I was around that I filtered my attention toward creating the kind of environment where I encouraged other people and made them feel valued? Then I suddenly realized, that’s what I do. It’s what up until recently I have always done.  Except with those who I didn’t feel contributed to that environment, albeit through poor ethics, lack of accountability, whatever.  Which means that I need to re-evaluate how I treat the people who are actively triggering these storm shifts.

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And I may not say anything to actively discourage them, but my body language has always just shifted to neutral, or if I feel as if I am being asked to do something with questionable ethics, I have been very direct in asking them to clarify the boundary constraints of what they are asking me to do. (e.g. The supervisor who told me not to assign tasks and to email him when his workers are off task, often forgets that he has done this, chooses not to respond under the guise of being too busy, or shrugs things off which he doesn’t believe to be important). So I’ve been pretty wound up lately because things have more or less degenerated in our office, because he, queen bee, and level 6 have opted for the de-constructivist approach to management during the time of year  when we host one of our biggest annual events, and people have begun to notice.  Sales are down, clients are dismissing our lapse in service with the transition in our staff (because half our staff grew so disengaged they just stopped coming in, or just come in whenever they feel like it).  The whole thing has just turned into one giant cluster (literally) of people partying and hanging out around my cubicle.

So cue me: I get to be hyper-vigilant guy. I’m just a huge ball of frustrated anger, sitting over in the corner judging how this whole situation is being mismanaged.  At this point I’m not even keeping data anymore, because it would literally take up more time to document than it would to put headphones in, but I can’t ignore it. And this isn’t because I’m being obsessive or anything, literally the higher I crank up my 80s power ballads so I can’t see or hear what is going on while I’m working, the more that signals to queen bee and level 6 that the behavior will go unchecked, so more people gather around our cubicle and it actually attracts quite a bit of attention from our clients and the other department who don’t know I’ve been systematically dis-empowered from being able to correct the behavior.  In all of their eyes, I’m still the one who should be accountable.

And it’s not just in this way, concurrently we had another issue arise in which I published the summer schedule, I knew we had a lot of people heading off on sabbatical this summer, so I didn’t question the scheduling gaps because I assumed that the schedule I received from upper management reflected whatever contracts were negotiated with our vendors for this period.  So when I published our events calendar, I received an email from one of our vendors asking if this meant that we wouldn’t be carrying their product anymore because upper management had never discussed the dissolution of their contract.  And it was very uncomfortable, because the vendor had been with us for a very long time, and was in a cooperative with several of our other vendors. I go to church with the rep for this particular vendor and because of the way this thing was handled, we had not only violated a business contract, but a social contract as well (and we’re in a small town where everyone including myself LOVES this rep, who brings quite a bit of social equity to our services which is one of the reasons why the contract with the vendor has lasted so long).  And even though I know that the vendors are going to hold me accountable for the decision making of the person who neglected their duty, there wasn’t much I could do within the parameters of this ethical grey area.  As frustrating as this whole situation was, I couldn’t acknowledge that the person had wronged her because of the professional ethics associated with this situation (even if it is true). In fact, the only thing that I could do within the boundary constraints I was given, was encourage the vendor to try and get in touch with the senior manager, who I knew would not be accessible and would actively avoid the conversation by saying they were too busy to make a 5 minute phone call, that could have saved us from escalating this very preventable issue. So now the other vendors are also pissed (but the senior level managers aren’t around to take the heat), so here I am, paying the consequences on their behalf.

So this is why things have been a little stormy for me.

 

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A wise woman by the name of Alice Walker once said, “no person is your friend who demands your silence or denies your right to grow.”

 

But I also know that I have a responsibility to be accountable for the energy I bring to the space, so I’ve been trying to figure out which actions I can take so that I can reassert the boundaries that I need to in order to keep the peace until I can find my next job.  I’ve got about 12 applications completed. And I’ve only applied to organizations that have been very intentional about making it clear that they only want people who value others and who share the same level of commitment that I do to ethics and creating a positive work environment.  So you can imagine I’ve been in my head a lot about what lessons from these experiences I’m going to want to take with me and what kind of energy I want to bring into my interviews.  But also, I’ve had this intense desire to really get my personal life back on track so that I can remember what it’s like to experience that, so that I can easily recognize the organizations that are genuinely good not just in mission but in practice as well.  The organization in which I work now has articulated these great values and commitments toward valuing all people, dignity in labor and so on, but there are no real mechanisms in place for reporting when senior level managers aren’t living up to that.

So our organization has lost a lot of really wonderful people who have just opted to leave and the problem still goes unreported and uncorrected.

But not being able to do ANYTHING I think has created more angst and anxiety than doing the wrong thing I think mostly because I feel as if I do NOTHING that I increase the risk of undermining my own credibility once others perceive that I am contributing to the problem by neglecting what the believe to be my responsibilities. Especially since my workspace is the most visible. So I’ve had to rock the boat a little bit and be more assertive which isn’t making things at work easier, but is allowing me to at the very least keep those boundaries.

The problem is, all of this hyper-vigilance and fear based tension is marginally effective and frankly exhausting. I’m hoping that the performance review will give me the opportunity to be direct (albeit minimally confrontational) so that I don’t have to continue doing things that I know are making my work environment increasingly hostile (e.g. pulling my supervisor aside to ask whether he has assignments for the people congregating around my desk and explaining how their presence is hindering my ability to do my work, and yes I would prefer that he provide the directive since he has already established the precedent that the workers no longer have to uphold our organizational policy if it comes from me).  Or having to ask him to resolve the issue with the vendor because he did not seem to understand the  ramifications of his judgment and the effect it had upon the other vendors because he wasn’t the one who had to be here to deal with the consequences. Yeah, it doesn’t matter how composed and professional you are, implying that someone else isn’t pulling their weight is never a fun topic, which is why I generally try to avoid it.  And of course I didn’t state it that way.  I’m much more direct and in these situations I will start with asking for what I need, and then if it’s questioned

do you happen to have task list on hand for these guys?”

…and after it’s kind of shrugged off then I get into the meat of it…

when we spoke, you asked me to do ___ and I have made it a point not to step outside of those boundaries, but the outcome of said policy has resulted in ___ behavior, so if you would like me to continue to operate within those constraints, I am going to need for you to uphold your end of what we discussed.”

…yeah, it’s kind of bitchy, if you’re not used to being in the kind of environment where you have to share accountability… but necessary if you’re in the kind of environment where expectations have yet to be clarified and norms need to be established…

At most I’m met with an eye roll and the problem is then corrected, then I try at the very least to keep things courteous to reinforce the behavior for the rest of the day.  But this is only in extreme cases.  Most of the time I’m much more cooperative than that, mostly because I empowered my workers to take ownership of the policies and to remain accountable to one another using peer influence.  I never thought I’d be witnessing the downside of peer influence. Thankfully, the regression in overall behavior hasn’t occurred significantly in anyone that I’ve directly managed. Unfortunately, many of those workers have made arrangements to transfer out or to go on sabbatical during this transitional period. I don’t blame them. Heck, if I could get away with it, I would too.

So this brings us back to my dilemma, is it more important that I ask the organization to create a better mechanism for reporting or is it more important to focus upon re-evaluating how I treat the people who are actively triggering these storm shifts.  I don’t know if you had the opportunity to check out the cat video (I can’t believe I’m saying this), but the cat whisperer has some really interesting points that I hadn’t considered.

 

This is where my motivations fall.

documentation

And although I initially viewed my documentation as an opportunity to correct and reinforce positive behaviors, the moment that I stopped doing that, I began acting solely in my own self interest (or CYA mode).

This is where I'd like to be.

This is where I’d like to be.

This is where I’d like to focus my attention. And I can’t do that if my attention is focused upon the behavior of my colleagues, which is hard, because as of late it has been rather disruptive. I’m going to have to find a way to be proactive about bringing constructive and affirmative energy into the space so that I can be a more effective and accountable leader, both personally and professionally.

So I’m not entirely sure what that entails as of late, but I certainly have some really fascinating work ahead of me, esp. if there’s a chance I can find a way to make something positive of this situation or to resolve it effectively.

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The Camel’s Back

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I spent the better part of last night trying to come to terms with the fact that I’m going to have to find a new job.  Before I had just been researching and only sending resume’s to jobs on a case by case basis, most of which were kind of a stretch due the the number of years of experience they wanted because I didn’t really want to leave my job.  I just wanted this job to work well, and in a lot of ways it has.  During my tenure:

Client engagement was the highest it had been since the 1970s

We completely turned around a workforce and boosted their performance and productivity and increased our lower level leadership retention and their effectiveness (they work well together because my position doesn’t authorize me to solve their problems, my options are to either report concerns that merit attention from my direct supervisor or to involve those at the lower levels in critical thinking discussions with one another so that they can listen to and work together to understand each other’s perspective, decide what’s going to be the most effective solution for all of them and to share accountability for the decision making) and I record the outcomes.

Even my direct supervisor admitted that we were in a much better place than we were last year (since they restructured my role)

Mrs-Hughes

Unfortunately (and you must forgive the duplicitous nature of these writings; they’re written to try to make sense of something I find incredibly vexing not to criticize or condemn anyone for their inexperience), my supervisor seems to believe that this progress happened under queen bee’s watch, because he implicitly trusts her  (and she does a lot of thing well) but when looking at the performance records the retention of knowledge, skills and dispositions for the workers she supervises is considerably lower because she only knows how to tell workers to complete tasks; she doesn’t clarify the standards so we have considerably more disciplinary issues under her watch (and we have evidence to support that) and my workers end up picking her workers’ slack (which has provided some great opportunities to engage my workers into the discussion about why the work they do is important and they seem to be receptive to it).

But all grumbling aside, my workers really have been happier and more productive than they’ve been in the 6 years I’ve been a part of this organization. Our clients comment to me about the differences they’ve noticed since I became involved in the oversight and training.  But now that my workers understand that their contributions and effort will not necessarily be rewarded, which was a surprise to me given our institutional mission (one of my workers upon hearing about the promotion of the ill equipped colleague angrily grumbled “yep, I should have realized; it’s all about who you know!), I’ve been wrestling with how to keep them intrinsically engaged with their work, so we’ve been talking a lot about higher ethics and the goals of our organization and how these lessons will make them more effective and equitable leaders once they transition to real jobs and are responsible for the livelihoods of others after their contracts have ended.

Ironically enough, I found myself in the position of having a similar conversation regarding ethics and expectations with my direct supervisor yesterday.  We seemed to be at an impasse because we have different expectations regarding what the standards of our department within our organization should be.  He advocated for more of a constructivist model in which we just let our newly promoted supervisors feel their way out, which I’ve adhered to but may not necessarily agree with, but admits that he doesn’t have a clue what’s going on in our organization most of the time because he’s stuck in his office trying to sort out whatever the crisis du’ jour is at the time.  I am of the school of thought that the time that we invest in training our workers on the front end pays off, because once we’ve clarified our expectations of them, it becomes easier to acknowledge and positively reinforce good performance. And as they build skills and accountability we can provide a structure for them to operate with a degree of freedom within those parameters and to equip them “as they are ready” with the training and guidance they will need to be able to diagnose and troubleshoot how to prevent some of the operational issues that arise from not having a clear sense of what your role is, or what’s expected of you.

It kind of reminds me of the following exercise:

I initiated the discussion because one of my workers lost it with me during the morning shift.  She was one of queen bee’s buddies and was pretty upset with me for putting her on cleaning detail (which is more or less her job description).  She had grown so accustomed to blowing off her shifts, or hanging out and goofing off at the desk with queen bee while others were working, that she perceived that I was treating her unfairly by asking her to complete the items on the cleaning checklist for the one room which she was assigned — something that has been asked of every worker who has been on cleaning duties.

When I asked her get started yesterday, she immediately lay into me.  I spoke with Queen Bee and your direct SUPERVISOR and they said I don’t have to do that and that the level of detail that you ask me to clean (and she made sure to reference even when it’s the bathrooms) isn’t necessary because someone just cleaned it two days ago. I don’t know whether I made a blank face or  not (more than likely it was probably any combination of these):

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What I took away from this discussion was that albeit my goals were in alignment with the overall organization, that the top leadership in my department had elected to opt out from participating in this vision, but also felt it necessary to actively discourage my participation in it.  And I suppose it makes sense. I’m the only one in the department who attends the trainings, forums, and other organizational events. I am the only member of the department active in the planning committee, so I feel liable for my workers and colleagues, because the other departments perceive the success and failings of my own department with what they believe to be my level of accountability. And the department doesn’t have the best history, which they explained in my interview as their justification for hiring me.

But every time I receive a new set of instructions or they restructure the department (it’s happened 6 times in the past 2 years), I only get bits and pieces of information about how it changes my responsibilities.  In the context of the lego exercise, the instructions I receive are as follows.  At any given point in time, I can be any of these: but let’s say that we start our way from the front-line and work our way up.

Person C

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I don’t know what the hell we’re building anymore (besides a mess).  I have two runners giving me very different sets of information.  They can’t see one another although theoretically they really should.

Runner 2 is very adept at hiding because 2 doesn’t want  runner 1, who also acts as 2’s director, to know that they don’t really understand what they are doing.  Runner number 2 fears a loss of control.

And I sincerely believe Runner Number 1 really wants me to succeed (because they really invest a lot of effort into affirming my contributions and have spent a good deal of time and resources in equipping me).

No. 1 has really been intentional about defining my success as being interconnected with the success of the entire organization. I haven’t really received any indication that Runner number 2 is looking out for my best interest even though I’d like to believe that 2 wants to be sensitive to those needs.  In fact, runner number 2 often gives me instructions that make me wonder what their idea of success looks like because it’s so far off the organizational standards for our institutional vision,  and they don’t spend enough time on the ground to really even know what parts I’m working with or what process are involved in the process of building that I feel less inclined to trust their instructions even though I know I am required to abide by them.

Thankfully, runner number one (who shares that outlook and whom I trust and trusts me) has been gracious enough to inform me that I will be responsible for building people who have good work ethic, who feel valued, who act with integrity, who treat each other with respect even when they don’t always agree and so on.  I can buy into this vision.  I may not always be able to recognize the pieces that I have to work with, but I have built people before.  I’ve seen it go well, I’ve had moments when I didn’t know what I was doing because I didn’t have anyone helping me identify the pieces before and things fell apart.  But as a general rule, I have a good understanding of how to listen, how to identify when I need to listen and when I need to speak up, and how to make decisions about what kind of feedback I need so I can ask or equip myself with that support.  So as long as I have one runner who I know is willing to do everything to support me I just try to make the best of things and do the best to stave off any fires that may get out of control when I feel signs they’re igniting.

 

Well you know, I certainly couldn't say sir...

Well you know, I certainly couldn’t say sir…

When I ask runner number 2 for operating parameters because they haven’t taken the time to articulate their needs, or to even gather feedback to ascertain that I understand what it is that they would like from me; I get nothing. This is mostly in part because they’re too busy doing damage control in their area, so I doubt they have even really taken it into consideration. And when I ask, and we finally agree upon a solution, it doesn’t get communicated where it needs to, which has generated this recipe for conflict with queen bee and company.  And God forbid I even try; even in an open and inclusive format, to make any attempt to recommend anything because even though I rank higher in the organization, in the department I no longer have the positional authority for her to feel like she has to listen to me, even if there’s a cliff on the other side of her next step.  And she walks right off the edge just about every time.  And I don’t harangue her about it.  My workers just pick up the slack and try to pick up the slack and try to re-build some sense of normalcy, so we don’t appear to seem so mismanaged or disorganized.

So I suppose my job in real world terms has devolved into the role of putting out those fires so that we can free up our supervisors to avoid scrutiny.  But in lego terms,we can prevent those fires by working to build an organization that understands the value and the process of fire prevention so we can provide a meaningful resource to our clients to use within the greater community.  Runner number 2 doesn’t like the clients or the community because they call a lot of unnecessary attention to the very serious fires number 2 is (unsuccessfully) masking.

That being said, in role C I am not being told not to build people, just to train them not to build fires. And interestingly enough, I have found that the best way to do this is integrated in the way that I build up people:

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Hey, so I notice that we have a fire here that’s getting out of hand… yeah, it sucks… well it doesn’t have to. It really just depends on how we manage it. What are some of the sensations you’re experiencing that lead you to believe you might not have a handle on controlling this fire…. well, they keep getting mad at me for not adding sticks, but I’m allergic to sticks so I have to use this shovel and it makes it really hard to control how many stick I’m putting into the fire… hmm’ have you checked with Gary to see whether he happens to have an extra set of gloves, perhaps he might be able to direct you to where you can get some… that actually makes a lot of sense, thanks for the reminder.

Yesterday when I discussed my role confusion with my direct supervisor, especially since we’d seen an increase in fires pop up since I stepped out of the role of builder and into the role of go-between or runner.  I was essentially being asked to train without giving instructions (in my job description and the departmental structure it is outlined that my role is to train them with skills, that I am liable for the work that they do in my functional area and that my role is to assist in the absence of a designated supervisor. I am also liable to the rest of the organization if I watch the fires happen but don’t intervene to try and stop it, but queen bee and my direct supervisor complain that they are too busy to be accountable for their areas so when I don’t intervene the area goes neglected and inevitably a fire pops up).

I think part of the problem is that queen bee and I work opposite shifts.  And my direct supervisor works during an overlapping shift, but really he spends most of his time working with queen bee.  Because they work the evening shift, when they come in, a lot of the work of running the facility is done mostly by the morning crew. So the perception of the need for oversight may not be as high on their end because my crew ends up doing all of the damage control and can’t do any of that stuff because that’s during the peak time for our facility when it generates the most traffic.  Queen Bee scheduled her buddies to share that shift, so for the workers who are used to working with me, during the time when we are frequented by departmental administrators, and some of our higher value clients, the expectations about what is required to remain in organizational and OSHA compliance is clearly defined and executed, not just by me but also the supervisors that I train who assign those tasks.  And since I’m literally the only point of contact representing our organization during that shift for days at a time, I can understand how these factors may have generated queen bee’s perception of competing loyalty (but I think that’s because she’s used to viewing it through the lens of a silo-ed organization because that’s the only model with which she’s been trained.

When QB’s workers have to make up shifts (that they’ve blown off to go to the tanning salon) or get caught hiding in the restroom snap-chatting and tweeting for hours at a time for days on end (they do get pretty pissed when I ask them to go back and complete a task that they’ve blatantly half-assed).  Yesterday’s eruption had to do with one particular instance in which one of QB’s social media all-stars finally got pulled from her regular cleaning duties, and asked to wipe down an area directly within eyesight of the service desk (an area that we have to keep clean because not only does it collect a lot of pathogens daily, but also an area gets a considerable amount of traffic and that we would be extremely liable for if someone were to get hurt or an infection).  She cut a lot of corners and came back to my desk five minutes later.  It takes our biggest under performer who was not scheduled to clean the area that day at least 40 minutes, so I asked her whether she had finished.  Her reply to me was: “finish what?”

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After considering it for a moment, I concluded that it was a fair question given that she hadn’t had much experience performing the duties outlined in her job description and showed her the duties for the assigned area we had outlined on the cleaning list (which are visibly displayed at the supervisor’s desk (who just happened to be out for a doctor’s appointment) with guidelines pulled from the departmental files so that they were consistent for everyone. All-Star flippantly stated that she hadn’t done them but that she also didn’t see a point to having to do it (she was looking for an excuse to duck into the bathroom to update her profiles again) and I explained to her that since we didn’t have anyone scheduled to come in and that since we were responsible for keeping the area clean considering the usage and risk of infection, that we needed to focus upon cleaning that area, since it was often neglected (which is true, we have morning crew workers in there every week working upon items from the list that under-performer blatantly neglected). The worker was pretty angry by the end of her shift.  I typically just give it enough time to blow over and then discuss it with them during their next shift so that we can establish mutual respect and ground rules for what the expectations are moving forward.

So when All-Star came in to work yesterday morning, the moment I asked her to get started she was out of the gate, “getting me told” so to speak before I could even initiate the topic. I could tell she had rehearsed it.

“Well I talked to Queen BEE and Runner no. 2 and THEY said I don’t have to because it was cleaned two days ago and I know for a fact…”

I let her air out her frustrations at the desk, mostly because I didn’t have the coverage to be able to redirect our venue to a place more appropriate for the discussion.  As I engaged in standard active listening pose, I noticed something fascinating out of the corner of my eye. Queen Bee was THERE (she wasn’t even scheduled during my shift)!  She was literally hiding in an alcove trying not to be noticed (in a neon pink shirt) watching the whole thing go down.

evidence

So I replied with the very textbook explanation (albeit firm and direct I still kept it very respectful) that any discussions that had taken place with her supervisor had not been communicated to me, that I would be happy to speak with them on the subject but in the meantime she was not being asked to do anything inconsistent with what had been asked of her peers. That her concerns for having to clean that particular area were valid, but for different reasons. And that if she had in fact spoken with Queen Bee and runner no. 2 that she must have been made aware that she was being assigned to the space because of concerns that she was cutting corners or neglecting her responsibilities altogether and hiding out in the bathroom stall. So while the intention wasn’t to initiate conflict, the assignment was given to protect her interest and to provide her with a task that we knew she was very capable of performing. That she was welcome to disagree with me if she felt uncomfortable completing a task as I understood it my responsibility to create a safe and respectful environment, but her approach, given her tone, indicated to me that she was more interested in pursuing conflict than in coming to a peaceful agreement.

Naturally she was very defensive, probably more so since she had the audience. She argued that she wasn’t hiding and I pulled out pages and pages of documentation and asked her if she knew what the forms were for (that I had collected the information and just because I chose not to address it with her did not address it with her directly did not mean that I did not notice and that it was my responsibility to report it if I noticed that it was a recurring issue), but rather that we (I wasn’t the only one of her supervisors who noticed) that when we provided her with other opportunities to give her the benefit of the doubt that it had only confirmed the concern (but while the intention was to confirm the behavior, correct it and move forward, not escalate this into a larger issue). So if there were concerns that I was treating her differently, I would not deny it, but that the deviations were based upon the merits of her performance because I believed her to be disengaged with her regular assignment, but that I wasn’t sure of the degree until she raised this issue.

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Then I added that in the absence of a supervisor that I was who would be responsible for assigning tasks, so given that we were both in this situation that her options were to either let me know what it was that she was willing to clean or that she we was welcome to clock out and come back during a time in which she felt more comfortable when she could work with queen bee.

Then she left. I wanted her to.  I don’t like power plays but I am also wise enough to know when I need to clarify a boundary so that I don’t get run all over.  I think the hardest part is that anything that deviates so much from my cooperative style of communication, makes me feel as if I’m mismanaging the situation.  It’s like handling lego bricks that I’ve never seen before. I can feel the nodes and know that they assemble to something, that they have a defined boundary and specific use, but I have no sense of whether I’m using it right even though that’s the tool I’ve been instructed to use (healthy boundaries).

I could hear her venting to Queen Bee who was still standing off in the corner (total ninja fail btw). And I could feel my entire inner being shaking.

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I went back to my work, and during moments of distraction when I could feel my mind start to wander back to that place I’d look at the post it note of a Marianne Williamson quote that I keep taped to my desktop monitor:

“Everything we do is infused with the energy with which we do it. If we’re frantic, life will be frantic. If we’re peaceful, life will be peaceful. And so our goal in any situation becomes inner peace.”

I didn’t feel peaceful. If anything I felt scared.  And I didn’t want to transfer that energy to anyone, even if they really did deserve it.

So the moment I got coverage I left my desk for a bit, went outside and I cried.  Then I prayed for a little while.  I prayed for peace.

Apparently the mass text had been sent out because after I got back I kept getting crazy looks from All-stars friends who had made it a point to drop in to the facility so that they could establish solidarity by snubbing me.  And I can understand their sense of loyalty and willingness to protect their friend.  But I didn’t dare challenge them with reason or try to amplify the shortcomings of their friends.  I had no interest in focusing upon all of that.  I was still pretty distraught when I spoke with Runner No. 2 about it that afternoon.

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“She was probably just upset because we had already talked to her about it.” was his reply.

“She’s the one who initiated the conversation,” I informed him.  “The conversation literally started with me asking her to get started cleaning and she leapt out of the gate telling me what it was that she did and didn’t have to do.  And from what I observed of Queen Bee hanging out in the corner, who made no effort to intervene, it sounds as if you discussed quite a few things with her that I had to hear from the worker that were not communicated to me… and she’s not a good hider.  I’m not sure what that was about, but it sounds like you all have discussed concerns about me that you’re avoiding discussing with me. ”

No. 2: Well I’m not here very much and it sounds like you and Queen Bee have very different standards (I do have a tendency to go for the win-win or at least to stay within compliance of established standards since we have so many volatility that erupts from our fuzzy boundaries).  So I don’t really know what’s going on around the building but I trust Queen Bee to tell me.

Me: But we go for long periods in which I’m the only one in the building and if we don’t have a supervisor scheduled then that creates a position in which the responsibility falls upon me, and I’ve asked for parameters for what you and queen bee want on more than one occasion and since you haven’t made a decision about what those should be, I have to go based upon the guidelines outlined by our organization.

No. 2: Well I was going to sit down this summer and try to figure out what I’m going to put into their training. I mean it’s hard, we only get 3 days and then that’s it.

Me: Well we have supervisors returning. Do you think it would be useful to have newly promoted Queen Bee involved in facilitation training and some of your strategic planning so that she can learn how to run some of those trainings? The organization kind of expects that departments conduct continuous on-going trainings since that’s kind of the goal of our institutional programs. When we had it structured, it took my staff 3 months to learn how to do their work well enough to be unsupervised, and that was just in my functional area.  You’re giving them only 3 days to learn how to operate this entire business without any supervision or senior level experience and if you don’t figure that out, the organization’s eventually going to notice.

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…but not necessarily…

And it sort of went on like this.  We agreed on the need for a lot of the same things.  For some reason he was under the impression that I didn’t and I had to clarify that.  I also explained what my front line experiences were and referenced the performance records. He suggested that when I noticed problems occurring that I should make an effort to bite my tongue and just email him to let him know that these problems were occurring, so that I wouldn’t step on Queen Bee’s toes.  And I reminded him of the pages upon pages of unread reports lying in the disheveled pile upon his desk (in addition to the emails) that provided him with all of this information before any of these situations escalated, and that I had made a special effort to bite my tongue because I didn’t want to create any perception that I had made any of my observations under bias, but that in the absence of feedback with how to proceed, I begun to rely heavily upon the performance records , institutional guidelines and my documentation for an accountability mechanism because that critical component of our working relationship had been neglected, and that the confusion about my role also fueling this confusion and relational conflict (p.10) that we were experiencing because of the way it was being managed.

What on piggly wiggly earth do I dang diggly wigglly do woo oo?!

What on piggly wiggly earth am I expected to dang diggly wigglly do woo oo?!

I kept calm as we discussed it and I know I probably sounded hypercritical.  And I did make sure to mention that I didn’t like complaining, but that this was something that I really was struggling with in my role within the department.

Meanwhile, I have other departments who have been trying to poach me from the beginning, and the improvements we’ve made during my tenure would signal disruption if I applied for a transfer which is why I’ve been trying to figure out this whole job search thing for the better part of a year now. And I’m nowhere near as bitchy or cynical as I feel like I come across in my criticisms of these colleagues. But I’ve been pretty silent for the better part of a year, and now that I’ve received affirmation from the organization that the behaviors in which I’d been actively discouraged from participating in were actually expected from the organization all along, I think I’m starting to feel angry (like genuinely angry) about it, not just at my colleagues, but also because of all of the fear based, overly cautious excuses I made for their behavior.  Hey, runner No. 2, wanna hear something?:

You’re not too busy; you’re just disorganized.  And the person that you implicitly trust the most might actually be crazy…! I’d call her a narcissist but she spends a little bit too much time focusing upon what I’m doing for that to be the case entirely.

(Do I give up my job security, benefits, etc. to go somewhere else? And if so, what indicators do I look forward before even applying that will help me trust that I’m moving into a healthier, more organized environment?) I can embrace a lack of structure if the organization has an open culture (what I’m used to) in which we can discuss observations and make suggestions in a way that people still valued and engaged to be accountable for their contributions.  And if I’m looking for the right things in the wrong place, what danger do I risk to my professional reputation if I leave without having made a genuine effort.

It’s unsettling to have the esteem of other departments and my workers, but not the colleagues in my department. But I also don’t think I can continue to take anymore of this either:

 

I can be patient to a point, but in light of the way things have escalated, I’m losing the will to stay because I can see how it’s affecting my attitude, my imprinting and my capacity for patience.

 

No Rhyme nor Reason

Click image for brief anecdote.

Click image for brief anecdote.

 

Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict — alternatives to passive or aggressive responses, alternatives to violence.”
Dorothy Thompson

Yesterday I attended a conflict management workshop that I’d signed up for since I didn’t want to squander the opportunity to make use of the professional development resources that my workplace offers.  You know, I’ve booked our venue for that particular facilitator before and our management staff would always make snarky commentary about the fact that the facilitator would book the room to set up for the event on the night before. I eventually was able to steer to conversation back on topic by looking wide-eyed and really uncomfortable and then delicately following up with the comment, “I’m sure he means well…” and then those that encouraged the behavior would start to feel a little bit uncomfortable, the laughter would die down and that would sort of be the end of it.

After attending today’s training session, however, I can see where the extra planning went.  The facilitator did not just read off a bunch of slides to us or or even force us to talk about uncomfortable issues, he really took us through an artfully facilitated experience.  It was so well-executed in fact that I knew about 5 minutes into it that when I got home I was going to more than likely blog about it.

Healthy approaches to Conflict, and knowing when to use them, can provide a variety of benefits

Healthy approaches to Conflict, and knowing when to use them, can provide a variety of benefits.  Mindmap

One of the major emphases of this session that he wanted us to focus upon was upon understanding how our own personal conflict styles impacted our perception of the way others approached conflict.  So he took us through a Kraybill Conflict Style Inventory and then had us read over and discuss whether we noticed correlations within our behavior when we experienced what he referred to as “storm shifts” in behavior as we watched conflicts escalate.

I scored almost identically under the cooperative conflict style for my primary (calm) and secondary (storming) mechanisms for approaching conflict.  Some of the costs associated with over-using this particular style included

  • fatigue & time loss
  • distraction from more important tasks
  • analysis paralysis
  • exhaustion from fear of “too much processing”

particularly if the person using this framework is unskilled in dealing with conflict.  The benefits, however, include a high potential for increased creativity and personal growth, a better understanding of the situation, the opportunity to build team cohesion and self knowledge.

My particular pattern typically played out the following way: my first reaction to conflict is to tend and directly address the issue at hand to negotiate for the win-win, but if these attempts are rejected I respond to the shock I experience by withdrawing momentarily to gather relevant data and information, so that I can assess it in a calm and methodical way in order to comfortably enter negotiations and resolve them efficiently once things have calmed down.

I might look for relevant details, plans, options, weigh costs, check for policy compliance, and precedents from elsewhere before making that decision, and if the situation requires a directive, I either make it and do the best I can to explain what course of action I’ve taken, who’s involved in that process if they want to appeal and my basis for evidence that led me to the decision.  Occasionally those discussions may take place retroactively, but once I have better information it becomes easy to let the person I’m experiencing conflict with make a decision about how they are going to react to this conflict, what they stand to benefit and what’s at risk should they choose an action that doesn’t reflect everyone’s best interest.

Click this image for a lovely anecdote about trust and healthy conflict management

Click this image for a lovely anecdote about trust and healthy conflict management

What I also learned is that your previous experiences with a particular conflict style (e.g. I associate those who raise their voice or snap at others in order to be dismissive with prior associations in which those who used that style, often people who I cared about very deeply, resurfaced that conflict because of some previous form of conflict they hadn’t resolved previously that left them feeling un-affirmed, hurt and afraid of being abandoned when they encountered that previous conflict… and those patterns of behavior, that imprinting was passed on.  Often large, demonstrative expressions of anger reflect

  • accumulation of resentment due to needs that haven’t been acknowledged or met
  • a fear of being perceived as weak or threatened when approached to engage with someone they haven’t built trust with but have been approached by to engage in conflict
  • resistance out of the belief that one is being denied the right to be validated for simply being themselves
  • inability to articulate of boundaries

According to the book that was recommended to us to supplement the assessment: Style Matters, when dealing with those who have a more in-your-face conflict style or a history of abusing others, my best plan of action is to withdraw to safety but I need to express when I do so a clear intention to return and work on things once things cool off.  Otherwise it will escalate their anxiety and increase the likelihood of the behavior increasing.

Susan Wheelan states that:

“We know from our experience that it is easier to develop trust in another person or in a group if we believe that we can disagree, and we will not be abandoned or hurt for our differences. It is difficult to trust those who deny us the right to be ourselves.”
5 styles

 

Kraybill seemed to believe that a direct correlation existed between the way a person approached a particular conflict style and the importance we placed upon whether we valued our agendas more over our relationships.  I realize now that the emphasis I place upon how important the agenda I’d like to convey definitely determines the approach I display when working through conflict because I absolutely hate the idea of giving up on a relationship, especially if I find the relationship to be important.  But the moment that I realize that the other party places little value upon the relationship, the easier it is for me to divest and redirect my emphasis upon confirming my rationalization (coming up with evidence for whether/why I’m right in case I have to protect myself) rather than placating the other person in order to try and salvage that relationship.

So I suppose in a way, I can be a bit willful myself.  But I think having that self knowledge and understanding which considerations I need to make (e.g.

  • whether the circumstance requires that I place more importance upon the relationship or the issue,
  • the time and energy constraints for addressing the conflict,
  • weighing potential consequences,
  • and alternative approaches to mitigate any damaging effects).

 

We may be able to move forward and to develop more healthy and appropriate avenues for working through workplace conflict.

And I Have to Spend All Day with These People?

Suzy Welch (endorsed by Oprah) wrote an interesting article about how to deal with difficult co-workers or “un-teammates” as she referred to them.  In her article she gives tips for how to deal with:

 
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  • Boss Haters: Most Boss Haters persist, using every kind of subterfuge from eye-rolling to outright belligerence, until management loses patience and ousts them. Some Boss Haters are hard to extricate because of union rules or special skills.
  •  Stars: many key players are Stars largely because they are the best kind of employee, inclusive and inspiring, but some Stars can develop into real bullies. Sensing they are untouchable, they will bulldoze their ideas through the team process and ridicule anyone who dares to disagree. They may also passively disrupt discussions by not participating, their silence sending the message “This nonsense is beneath me.”
  • Sliders: former Stars, resting on their laurels and undermining their teams with apathy. Their unspoken excuse is “I’ve proven my worth around here; I don’t need to scramble anymore.”
  • Pity Partiers: un-teammates who have an excuse for every act of inaction.  The most expert Pity Parties concoct long-running sympathy stories: bad backs, bad marriages, bad childcare, and so on. I don’t want to sound harsh. Sometimes people really do need time off or special accommodations, but Pity Parties make an art form of wriggling out of responsibility, and you’re left wondering if you’re a heel for resenting them—or a dupe for helping them.
  • The Self-Promoter: like “Look at Me” Margaret (not her real name), who saw every team assignment as an opportunity for personal advancement. In their pursuit of fame and glory, Self-Promoters occasionally sabotage peers. I once had a co-worker who used staff meetings, with the boss in attendance, to vociferously attack every other writer’s work as “hackneyed” or, her favorite word, “superficial.” If we pushed back against her critiques, she accused us of being competitive with her. There was no way to win. Usually, that’s the case with Self-Promoters. They can drub you with their narcissistic “logic”—they’re right; you’re just defensive—and wear you down with their egocentric career campaign.

 

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If you’re curious about how Welch recommends dealing with these work-place offenders, be sure to check out her article.

 

While I find the article interesting, because I definitely recognize many  of these types, what I would have liked to have seen and will probably investigate more is suggestions for how to develop a culture of accountability if you aren’t in a position of authority so that you can eliminate the need for these behaviors.  One of the reasons that I opted to use the bully tracker is that it eventually eliminates the need to avoid conflict (which is the primary source of most of my anxiety — I’m used to being able to being able to address grievances directly and to ask for what I need).

 

I found an article from Harvard Business Review and was relieved to discover that I had followed the standard conflict resolution protocols before even reading these articles, but found that once I finally entertained that the person initiating the conflict might be unreachable that I might have begun to head into dangerous territory, which is why I keep compulsively trying to reject that idea.  The article shares:

 

When a colleague’s agenda is seemingly opposed to your own, it can be tempting to demonize him. Distorting other people is a common response to conflict, but not a particularly productive one. In fact, doing so undermines your ability to exert influence.

 

bad-manager

 

Most of the time when insubordination (or in the way we’d define it within the framework of behavioral economics competing agendas or interests) emerges within the workplace, most people attribute the problem to ineffective management.  And considering the circumstances, I definitely see evidence that would support that.  But given that I am considered by our clients, patrons and stakeholders to be accountable for the successes and failings of management, you can see why I derive so much anxiety regarding now knowing how to work around this.

 

Surprisingly enough, I did find an article on performance management that recommended that I approach this challenge with the exact same methods that I’d previously intuited.  And as you can tell, I really like the performance management approach because it gives you the advantage of tangible metrics that you can accessibly work with.  I can’t imagine that Welch’s approaches to conflict management yield a very high rate of return upon her investment.

 

What you may also find interesting is that I am currently reading a book about predictably irrational behavior and have just finished the chapter about how marketers us anchors in imprinting, and it occurs to me that it might be valuable to reassess how this experience has realigned my own anchors so I can set concrete goals about what I’d like to achieve so that I can perform an assessment of how I can go about creating achievable goals for my problematic worker so that we can modify her  behavior through consistent peer modeling and habitual re-enforcement (especially since peer acceptance seems to be one of her motivational drivers).  At the very least, if I can focus upon equipping her subordinates to fill in the gaps in the areas which she lacks leadership, it will make the team much more resilient through these new cultural norms.

 

 

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And I feel pretty confident I can do that.  She isn’t well versed in management or leadership enough to feel threatened by me working with the other leaders.  We have an organizational Youtube channel that I trained my office workers with, so that might serve as an excellent vehicle to clarify our policies, strategies for securing buy in and communicate these institutional norms.  Sweet! 🙂

Sizing me up

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So problematic worker surprisingly enough was in a good mood yesterday.  I spent the first part of her shift under the Martine’s protocol (only contributing to the conversations when I could add something pleasant, taking an interest in the other participants and politely excusing myself to work on another assignment when I began to feel myself become too anxious or hyper-vigilant). This worked well until the shift change when her clients and peers left and I found myself alone with her in the cubicle.

Thankfully we had a events occurring at our venue later this week and there was a day when they’d scheduled to turn the water off, so it allowed me to concentrate very intently on producing and distributing good signage around the building.  After I’d hung about 27 signs on each of the 3 stories, I came back to my desk to determine what other work I could do, but I suppose she was lonely or something, because she whipped her phone out and asked me whether or not I wanted to see a picture of her friend’s puppy (her friend had initially texted her to inform her that she’d planned on going out to get a tattoo and somehow came home with a puppy instead).  Then she told me about new phone cases she bought and some other stuff and I made an attempt to appear to be listening while I began to work on my next project because I didn’t expect her good mood to last long.

Then she did something surprising, she complimented me.

 

foxy

 

I forgot that I’d mentioned I’d bought this little bauble on ebay only it turned out to be much larger than I realized, so it felt kind of gaudy to wear daily, but I’d paired it with a sand colored shirt layered over a chambray top and topped with a brown quilted vest.

 

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She really liked the fox, to which my response was, “…what this little ole thing? well thank you.  It’s so big I wasn’t sure when I would have the occasion to wear it.” Then she complimented me again, but made sure to note specifically that she thought that I also looked “super cute” on Friday, the day of “the clipboard” incident.  Apparently she was a big fan of not only the scarf, which had generated a lot of buzz by lunchtime, but also the other accessories I’d paired with it — over my white long sleeve shirt and black trousers.

 

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So I felt pretty good about things, for awhile.  I’d overheard that one of the clients who happened to linger a little longer at her desk than usual had just asked her out, so I kind of hoped that would be a good enough distraction to keep her occupied and in good spirits for awhile.

I was just grateful to see that she was making an effort to be nice.

Things even went well into today for the first hour of her shift.  I kept up as many social graces and just focused upon rapport building with our clients.  She did mention that she didn’t have breakfast this morning and she thought it made her mean when she hadn’t eaten.

Then after awhile, when I redirected the conversation back toward work and opened up a discussion asking her how she made decisions about what she prioritized for cleaning, because we had a few areas that were time sensitive, she got really nasty with me, so I literally just rolled my chair back into the corner and went back to my computer.

Later she tried to joke with me about one of her peers who had given her a Snicker’s Bar last night because he’d told her that, “she got really mean when she was hungry” I responded by saying, “well yeah, I wasn’t really sure how to respond to it, so I just figured it was better for me to find something else to do.” Then she told me a story about how she unnecessarily berated one of her friends over something really petty hoping that I’d understand.  But I didn’t.  I simply replied, “I suppose we should probably look at keeping some food back here then” and went back to my work.

Consequently, our cubicle right now is dead silent.  I’d actually started this post last night because I was looking forward to acknowledging that something positive happened and that perhaps I was being hyper-sensitive.  But I suppose when you’re in a capacity where you’re responsible for teaching someone else but you don’t have any real authority over them, sometimes you have to recognize that some people just aren’t receptive to being helped no matter how much you try to take an interest in them.

I would like to be able to say that I have an excellent ability to build rapport with people, and for the most part that is honestly true.

But there are certain patterns of behavior that really hinder that process, and I don’t know how to convey that to any person who knows better but does not respect themselves enough to value their relationships. I know technically by drawing a nonverbal boundary and making it evident that her emotional outburst are not acceptable, goes contrary to the rules of establishing rapport:

Rapport is important in both our professional and personal lives; employers are more likely to employ somebody who they believe will get on well with their current staff.  Personal relationships are easier to make and develop when there is a closer connection and understanding between the parties involved – i.e. there is greater rapport.

 

But I don’t believe it’s wise to set a precedent where I condone that kind of behavior or reinforce it as a behavioral norm. From what was articulated to me, it either sounds as if her friends have either enabled her behavior our of fear that they won’t be accepted or they’ve given it right back to her, which is what I’d more than likely do if she didn’t work for me.

 

I’ve done it with my peers (and am hereby known as the preppy feminist one), but have mitigated the incidents of considerable bullying.  I just worry that if I do cross that line I run the risk of being perceived as a bully.  And as we all know, perception may not be reality, but it can definitely have similar impacts and can also escalate very quickly. So it isn’t my preferred method of conflict resolution unless I have the resources and support I need to address things directly and ethically.

 

So I’m hoping that once I am able to formally address her about her behavior, we can put a stop to this although it’s good that she’s starting to think about these things. What I don’t want to happen is that I move to soon and exacerbate the situation to where she increasingly recognizes that she does something wrong but feels entitled to make poor choices anyway (which is a variation of the unhealthy behavior I had been witnessing).

 

I’m reminded of a quote I read fairly recently from an article that mentioned that
Although these problems are serious, it is important for supervisors to see the difference between employees who don’t do their work properly because they choose not to and employees who don’t do their work because they need help.
This is one of those things that I already know, but when you don’t have the authority to do anything about, it can cause you to second guess yourself. Several weeks ago I had no problem acknowledging that this was a person who valued being accepted more than they did being led, and that her unwillingness to contribute was what made her an outlier more than her lack of expertise.
There’s always a fear that focusing too much upon these kinds of issues will create a pattern of damage or mis-align focus and energy that I could be using to be productive.  But I just read an article that shared

 

When our brain attempts to solve a problem, it wants to be energetically efficient. So it begins by searching for surface answers—those that are easy and obvious. When it’s addressing a question, the brain combs the data “files” of what popular culture thinks of as the “left hemisphere” to find out if it’s seen the problem before. It doesn’t want to invent a solution if one already exists.

 

If there is no familiar and readily available response, that’s when our brain dedicates more energy to draw on deeper resources. It invites the more intuitive and imaginative right hemisphere to participate in solving the problem, scanning remote but possibly relevant memories and abstractions that could provide it with a solution. This information would normally be tuned out by the left hemisphere but has become available in a time of need. (Read: When we’re in that corner.)

 

In other words, solving higher-order, creative problems, requires the types of people who can activate the entirety of their brain, the analytical and the insightful, in order to push, poke, prod, plumb their contents and experiment with that content in order to tease out alternate solutions.

 

So perhaps wrestling with this challenge for a little bit will direct me to some good information about how teachers use classroom management techniques and other administrators have been able to clarify boundaries and create breakthroughs to correct challenging behavior.  I believe it will ultimately come down to finding a way to reinforce acceptable norms so that the worker understands what is healthy and acceptable behavior.  I have a book on how to create a nurturing home environment for step children, but one of the things they emphasize is creating shared expectations and a partnership among both parents, which in this case, I’d have to really work to create leverage before I gain that level of support.  Standard protocols for these approaches that I’d have to develop strategies for include:
A Sample Protocol for Resolving Challenging Behaviors
1. Maintain ongoing observation and documentation of every child.
2. In reflective supervision, review these questions (Wittmer and Petersen, 2006):
a. What is the child experiencing? What is the child’s perspective on the situation?
b. What, when, where, how, and with whom is the behavior occurring?
c. What is the child communicating that he wants or needs? What is
the purpose of the child’s behavior? What is the meaning of the child’s
behavior?
d. What do I want the child to do?
3. Meet with the family to deepen and share understanding.
4. Determine a consistent plan for intervention.
5. Continue observation and documentation to provide data for evaluating improvement and ensuring the consistency of the intervention.
6. Consult with a mental health professional if the child is not responding and the persistence, frequency, and duration of the behavior is not improving.
7. Determine whether further referral to community resources is necessary through discussion with family, the supervisor, and the mental health consultant.

 

So what’s the lesson from all of this?

For millennials: I’d be sure to keep in mind that when you are in the workplace that people aren’t going to want to invest in you if you build a reputation of being hard to manage or difficult to get along with.
For employers: Please make sure that your organization has a mechanism for mediation, or that you train your management staff and hold them accountable for their workers so that conflicts don’t arise from poorly articulated  boundaries.
If you’re suffering from this problem: Give yourself permission to lighten up when you can, but don’t take on too much guilt if you find yourself compulsively working to find a solution to the problem.  Just be sure to take care of yourself (diet, exercise, rest, play, etc.) and don’t be afraid to seek out help.

The Bully Tracker

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After much deliberation, I think I have opted to go with the Boss Tracker system.  There should be quite a few advantages to using the system including:

1) help me keep a record of my own responses (labeled “re:”) so that I have a record of efforts made to be accountable.

2) compile quick usage data using this simple documentation template to catalog this increasing trend in intimidating and antagonistic behavior

3) remove the need for hyper-vigilance so that I can reinvest my attention back toward creating a safe and positive workplace experience for my other staff.


The instructions for the template are as follows:

Just fill in the bubble in the appropriate time slot to indicate whether the interaction was positive, negative or neutral. Then indicate whether interaction was in person (IP), via phone (Tel) or via some other form of electronic communication (EC). And this should provide you a useful tool to keep yourself accountable for policy and ethical compliance when dealing with recurring challenges without hemorrhaging time needed to stay on task and provides a mechanism to directly address conflict in a way that’s more healthy and constructive.

But I may modify the format so that I can input the data electronically and eliminate the risk of leaving the paperwork lying around.  I wish someone would convert this into an app.

If I have any incidents occur in the next couple of weeks I can make a decision about whether I want to report it or not, depending upon how quickly things escalate.  Who knows, once I have a good body of evidence, I might even throw her a bone and let her know about the documentation (I’d have to digitally record that conversation to mitigate the liability risk though) so that she has the opportunity to correct the behavior on her own.

I’m pretty sure I’m protected by our company’s whistle blower policy.  So I may as well do what I can to protect my own reputation until I can gather enough evidence to hold management and the worker accountable for her behavior.

I’d really be doing both the employee and the organization a disservice if I didn’t do SOMETHING to try and ethically correct this behavior.

Frankly I’m more interested in putting a stop to the bullying and intimidation than in getting her into trouble.  So maybe, if she realizes that I am documenting her actions and that she actually will have to be responsible for her behavior the problem will correct itself.

Hopefully, now I’ll be able to give myself permission to breathe a little easier so I can focus my attention back on the aspects of my job that I enjoy.

I Would Rather …

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Today I came into work and found that my problematic worker had collapsed in front of my desk.  The person who was covering the shift before me thought that it might be a low blood sugar issue or dehydration since they were on a sports league together and the coach had been pushing them pretty hard.  But when I offered her assistance, she pretty willfully refused even though she couldn’t even hold herself up.  So next came the dilemma.  It is my responsibility, if she was in as bad a shape as she seemed to be to notify someone and get her medical attention.  If it turned out there was a problem and I didn’t intervene, that had one set of really daunting consequences.

But if it turned out that she was not that bad off but just using it as an excuse to be willful and melodramatic (which was plausible since her refusal of medical attention communicated to me that she was not in the state of mind to make decisions that best reflected what was in her best interest), there were another set of unfavorable consequences associated with making the call to force her to take medical attention and would divert resources away from people who really needed it.  So I quickly made a decision and pursued a third option.  I went and got someone else (someone that she trusted from management) to attend to her so that they could make the call.

tbo.com

Three sips of water and a snickers bar later, she was fine and I went off to do work in another part of the building. When she saw me coming around the corner, she took off.  She came back to work later still in a pissy mood; only this time, she had an audience.

She’d brought another woman from her sports league.  I noticed that many of them had started acting weirdly around me at the gym, so I knew that my actions had been misrepresented by some form of malicious gossip, and they were constantly looking for some indication or behavior to confirm what they heard was true, but alas I hadn’t yet given them that satisfaction mostly because I just kept behaving consistently.

The worker camped out at a post in front of my cubicle and I sat back in the corner, which faces the wall and worked on something quietly.  Behind me I could hear discussion taking place about the impending deadline for labor contracts.  Rather than ask the person on duty, who she’d had a clash with, or any of the other people standing around on her shift where she could find the form (they were due that afternoon), she called across the cubicle to me.  I should probably note that I have nothing to do with that process, don’t receive input or emails regarding that aspect of our business, so any information I have I simply overhear.  …and I had just happened to overhear the person who coordinates the labor contracts tell the person on duty that he would be left with the forms to distribute to any workers who hadn’t yet submitted their forms.

So when I answered, “Bob has them,” it was about exactly the same time that “Bob” also replied to her that he was in possession of the forms.  And she didn’t seem to hear either one of us so she asked again in a much more forceful tone.  To which I calmly replied “Bob has the forms” to make it clear that I was actually addressing her question because I didn’t want to see the situation escalate.  Silly me.

At this point, the sports league friend had also overheard what was happening and told her “I think she said that Bob has the forms,” and the woman got out of her seat and started to lay into me, unprovoked, and for no reason.  ” NO, I’M ASKING where to get the labor contract FORMS.” I could feel my eyes widen and I looked at her friend who also seemed a bit startled and perplexed at the quickly escalating situation.  I felt just a brief spike of adrenaline, followed by crippling exhaustion and I replied again quietly and calmly (and everyone could tell from the tone of my voice that I had grown pretty tired of this but also didn’t want to invite any further conflict).  “Bob has a clipboard, that has the labor forms on it.  You can get one from him…”

Bob also chimed in with bewilderment.  “Hey, I told you, I have the forms right here…”  Then she looked around.  Her friend looked horrified (and a little bit guilty).  I felt a small twinge of relief (and possibly dopamine) that she’d just made an ass of herself… followed by my own guilt.

I don’t want to pattern myself to feel rewarded when someone fails at displaying good character. I can’t condone being cruel at another’s hubris even if they deserve it or they’ve earned it by being rude

I skimmed through several articles about corporate hubris and workplace bullying, but realized that it isn’t really a topic that’s discussed very often even though it seems to be (from what I understand from discussions I’ve had with entry level millennials) to be a pretty real and reoccurring thing.

I’m always wary of acting as a perpetrator of Queen Bee Syndrome, which is why I try to focus more so on performance metrics and upon equipping my workers both male and female to build their capacity for leadership because I know how it feels.  My last boss (don’t worry, it’s not chronologically aligned with what I have listed in my resume) was a bit of a queen when it came to his treatment of female workers.  And I’d worked for another who would take down half the hive to get back at one bee that fell out of line.  So I am not exactly thrilled about having to watch the safe space culture I worked so hard to build dismantled. But because I am not her supervisor and there will always be suspicion that I’m not assessing her equitably since I’d raised concerns prior to her promotion it kind of leaves my hands tied. My options include, but are not necessarily limited to the following:

a) I can address the issue with her directly (I’d need a tape recorder before I tried anything that risky)

b) document her behavior and my attempts to get upper management to get them to issue a stop order (which has its own set of risky ramifications)

c) do nothing (which seems only to escalate the situation since she seems to interpret that as some form of complicit behavior).

d) egg her on silently and let her tire herself out until she either crosses the line or experiences a breakdown publicly

e) research the matter more (although frankly I find the whole thing exhausting.  Once upon a time, in another job when I was allowed to fire people, I would have let her go and the entire staff would have totally backed me).

As you can imagine, I’ve made the decision to go with option e… although there are many moments when I wonder whether option d would be the most effective option.  I’d prefer to build a culture where we build each other up, so I hate to focus upon this one person when I have a lot of incredible workers who are just a pleasure to work with.  It just sucks that it’s so easy to let the actions of one person disrupt my ability to remember that, which in turn only makes me angry with myself.  Perhaps there’s an approach I can pursue that incorporates forgiveness….

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I know that there have been a few other initiatives to end workplace bullying and create inclusive cultures that reflect the desire to advance workers equitably, but I am not sure yet of the best way to navigate through this, I just understand that it’s not only causing me to lose sleep, but it also takes away my focus from creating the best customer and workplace experience for our employees.  What are some ways that you’ve approached this in order to remain accountable to your staff but also eradicate the problem without incurring the liability yourself of being misrepresented as a workplace bully.

“Every second you waste fretting over one hater is one second you can spend making a loyal customer happy.” ~Derek Halpern

I checked for reading recommendations for how to manage someone w/ poor self management/ emotional intelligence.  Do you have any resources you would recommend for how to manage these toxic and unhealthy behaviors (when firing is not an option)? Otherwise I may have to start taking advantage of this boss tracker.

Workplace Bullying Emerging As Major Employment Liability Battleground
Workplace Bullying: What Should You Do To Stop It?

In the meantime, in the spirit of lightening up, I thought I’d post a few “I would rather … than …” jokes that I can mentally refer to the next time one of my workers refuses to take advantage of something that would rationally and reasonably serve their best interest.

would-you-rather-halloween

(Just to spite you) I would rather … than to receive your medical attention

Suck the hairspray out of Donald Trump’s comb-over

Vacation at Abu Ghraib

Sit on my glasses — naked

Gulp every last pill in Liza Minnelli’s medicine cabinet

Lose my Social Security card and identification in Arizona

Pogo-stick across I-75

Move to Crimea

Base jump off a wind turbine

Eat a 48-oz. breast-milk cheeseburger

Re-watch media coverage of Justin Bieber getting arrested

Listen to Kanye West talk about himself nonstop for 72 hours

Sleep on a bed of used NFL jock straps

Convert The Godfather to 3D

Direct Breaking Dawn

Chew the head off Iron Man 2‘s evil cockatoo

Handwrite all of the dialogue to every Police Academy movie, up to and including Michael Winslow’s voice-sound effects

Adopt a derilect drug addict

Own Haliburton

Smoke a menthol cigarette through an asbestos filter

Clean up after one of Hugh Hefner’s parties

Drop my smartphone in a toilet

Be stranded out in backwoods Mississippi

Tumble down a flight of stairs

Cancel baseball season

Yodel the Ten Commandments

Appear in drag on Chatroulette

Dethorn the entire White House rose garden with my teeth

Lick pigeons

Stare into an atomic explosion

Convert to Scientology

Lose my house keys

Perform a bris

Go on tour with Milli Vanilli

File for bankruptcy

Re-enact the Phantom Menace (including Jar Jar Binks character)

Wash, dry and detail all the taxi cabs in New York City

The Big/Little Bash

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Not an actual picture of me btw, but I did take this photo of a pretty hype friend of mine.

 

“One of the greatest gifts you can give to anyone is the gift of your attention.” — Jim Rohn

So I must be doing something right ; ) but it appears that I’ve also still got a long way to go.  So in previous posts I mentioned a need I had to reconcile my new role after raising concerns that one of my workers had been promoted without any of the other eligible candidates being offered an opportunity for an interview.

I previously settled upon making a resolution to take a step back (appropriately so, I believe) to allow the new supervisor to embrace her new role (without generating any misguided suspicions that I might attempt to sabotage) her new position.

I maintained that stance for about 2 weeks just to de-escalate the situation.  But I noticed that with the supervisor that my apparent disengagement seemed to create a fair amount of tension, and I noted definite improvements in her engagement levels with the other workers, as she stepped in to try and prove that she could be more empathetic and more understanding than I could be when they approached me hoping I could help them address some of their concerns and issues.  And I simply explained that with the evolution of the new roles, I didn’t have the information but to check with their supervisor who might be able to provide them with better information.

But I did begin to notice a pattern of disengagement begin to set in. After I spent the first week or so finding other work spaces to complete my tasks, or meeting with vendors, or prospective clients, there was a tension that definitely existed from not being informed or included.

Concurrently the tensions also began to mount earlier this week as I began the pilot of our big/little mentorship program.  We had a few people ask what the purpose of the program which was;

to bridge the leadership gap between our inexperienced workers and senior level leaders by creating mentorship opportunities for our lower level workers so that they can begin to learn the magnitude of the responsibility of mentorship early and begin to cultivate the attributes they would need to be more effective leaders, in a safe, experiential, nurturing controlled learning environment.

And it was communicated to everyone we polled when we were trying to gauge potential interest that the program was voluntary, anyone could opt out at any time, and would not be a formal program due to the variance in desired level of participation.  And most workers expressed excitement about it; many even expressed preferences for who they would like to be partnered with.

I shot this. :)

I shot this. 🙂

So this week we started assigning “bigs” and “littles.”  We only had two conflict (ish) moments with two workers classified as “littles” wished to be claimed by more than one of our “big” participants, but the matter was quickly resolved by explaining the situation to the “bigs” and asking the “littles” for their top preference.

I did discuss the idea prior to launch with the incoming head supervisor after she expressed some apprehension about the program because she was concerned some might not be interested and she didn’t want to force participation.  But once she found out that the program would actually benefit her by providing participants an opportunity to go to one another for guidance and assistance, rather than flood her phone and inbox with messages (as it had done inconveniently so with the incumbent who held her position), she expressed that she thought it was a good idea.

Then today I was approached by our building manager, asking me to explain more about the program because he’d received a complaint about the initiative.

Someone had expressed to him that we shouldn’t have the program

…out of concern that people might be forced to participate in the initiative.  It was the incumbent.  He didn’t have to tell me who it was.  I already knew, because the incumbent had already expressed those concerns to me and I had already expressed to this person that the program was voluntary and that anyone who did not want to participate simply had to express that they wanted to opt out, which is why we were discussing whether workers would even be interested prior to launching the program, and what we’d like the outcomes of the program to be so that they could be flexible but still provide maximum benefit.

The person also expressed later criticisms about one of the big/little pairings because the mentorship arrangement would be across genders. I knew that the worker felt personally responsible for the “little” and even though I reassured the incumbent that the deliberation had taken longer to consider been made and that since the incumbent would be devoting so much time to the upstart that we didn’t want to neglect the needs of the “little” since she had expressed interest in the program, I reassigned the “little” to the incumbent since they had a natural affinity for one another and I acknowledged that it could foster a meaningful relationship.

The little was “thrilled.” That’s probably an understatement.  When I mentioned that one of the first assignments would be for the “bigs” and “littles” to assign nicknames to one another, her response was “OhmyGOD that’s so awesome.  We could be big A___ and little A___!” Although it was probably more of one very rapid run on sentence.

*of course names and images have been omitted to protect the identity of the people involved or mentioned

I took this.

I took this.

And as similar reactions came from other “littles” who relayed how much fun or how much cooler they thought their “bigs” were once they had spent a little time getting to talk with them (as in the case with the social butterfly and outgoing Air Force aspirant we’d paired with the anti-social kid in the corner who built functional crossbows out of pencils and rubber bands who wanted to join the Marine Corp and went home and built fully functional combat gear every weekend) I noticed the incumbent begin to act more withdrawn.

And the few of those who had already expressed that they wouldn’t be interested in the program or would be minimally invested were either kept off the list completely or paired with someone who’d expressed a similar level of commitment. And those who were on the fence seemed content to learn that they had the flexibility to choose their own level of participation.

We did get some eye rolls from the building manager, however, before today’s discussion (mostly because he isn’t a huge fan of any of the practices derived from the Greek system).  But after I reiterated that it was explained to all participants that the program wouldn’t be formal and that the intent of the program was to provide them with opportunities to build the soft skills they’d need to become better mentors and supervisors since we were going to have SOOO many people in leadership roles next year and our predecessors hadn’t really provided any leadership development options (‘m not quite willing to throw out the baby with the bath water just yet, as I think that the biggest lesson our younger workers can learn is how to respond in healthy ways whenever they find themselves unexpectedly in conflict since that wasn’t being modeled well by our top leadership).

I did request that he encourage those with criticisms of the program to come and speak with me in person, or at the very least remind them that at any time they can express to me that they would not like to participate and that they would always have that option.  I wanted to follow up with the reminder that they are all supposed to be adults, but felt that albeit true that it was probably wise that I left that omission.  So he agreed to allow the program to continue and that he would keep his ears and eyes open.

In the meantime, my “little” and I; I only landed one because she requested to have me specifically, are planning a little spirit quest of sorts.  Since neither of us expressed a preference for a nickname (I did give her that option), and we both like to run the trails (although I’m not familiar enough with “big coaster” to run out there without another person), she’s agreed to spend an afternoon out there more or less goofing off and creating some shenanigans on our quest to create a narrative about how we got our names so that we can create our own story.

I’m actually extremely lucky as far as “littles” go, because mine’s pretty, rad and popular, but she’s still uninhibited enough to get weird and nerdy.

She’s even got her boyfriend excited about participating and the plan isn’t really even formed.  We hadn’t even fully explained to him what the spirit quest was when he belted out, “does this mean I get to use a sword?!”

I took this.

I took this.

When I came home this evening, I did want to confirm whether my concerns that the attempts to disband the program might have been initiated by the incumbent because there was something I’d contributed, or not contributed in the early stages that I could have one differently. But after skimming through some articles about workplace envy [trust me, it’s a real thing] and remedies for it I learned:

Workplace Sabotage Fueled by Envy, Unleashed by Disengagement & Incidents of workplace sabotage spread if not addressed by managers

But I was also pleased to learn that:

“Smart managers, of course, try to avoid these dynamics by spreading around the opportunities, giving people a range of assignments, and basing recognition on measurable accomplishments.”

And I do feel as if this initiative could be really effective at accomplishing some of those goals, even though it may seem at a glance to be frivolous and unnecessary (at least to those who don’t understand the value of play and trust building simulations and the impact it has upon stimulating dopamine receptors as workers

  • cultivate a sense of belonging,
  • intentionally create small acts of kindness,
  • provide recognition for these gestures and these acts of kindness
  • coach, confide and encourage one another during times of stress or conflict,
  • discover confidence and gratitude as they build their proficiency in some of these areas
  • create positive associations and bond with one another through these multi-sensory experiences

I do, however, really like the idea of being able to choose how I respond to this –and if the initiative is successful– then I’d like to feel proud of the way we’ve worked around this barrier, and that we rose to the occasion as the authors and heroes of this story.

So I don’t know what the outcomes of all of this will be, but I am really looking forward to gathering some good metrics on growth of engagement since we have such a variable level of interest, to provide good research controls. Plus, my “little” and I discussed possibilities this afternoon of inviting other bigs/littles out for pac-mixers, pranks, competitions and other outings. If Derek Sivers is correct about his theory regarding how to grow a movement, perhaps this initiative to provide fun and fellowship will prove to be a glowing testimony and replication of his work on the rapid growth of cultural shifts spurred by grassroots engagement.