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How To Deal With a Psychologically Unsafe Workplace – The Authentic Way

For those who were able to attend our webinar on Psychological Safety we want to thank you for attending and for the overwhelmingly positive responses. If you missed it, here is the link: https://youtu.be/80oVGPcXimc
Please pass along this link to anyone you believe would find value from it. Our hope is that it will generate some productive dialogue with your team and the people in your life.
The number one question we received from the webinar is, “How do you effectively deal with a psychologically unsafe workplace?”
Here are ten suggested strategies. We get it. You’re likely busy today. If you don’t have time to read all these go straight to the last one.
We sincerely hope to see you in the upcoming Masterclass.
Know you aren’t alone. When you are in an unsafe situation and feel like you can’t be honest, it’s natural to feel isolated and alone. However, in reality, everyone meets this kind of experience at some point in their life and chances are many of your colleagues are dealing with the same experience. You’ll want to resist the tendency to create a “culture of complainers,” but it is important to create a support network – people who provide encouragement and who challenge each other to take responsibility to change.
Be honest about the avoidance and assess your investment. Reflect on how you have avoided facing the reality of the situation. Hiding is an understandable and human response, done in a variety of ways: gossiping, complaining, blaming, or simply withdrawing. Although it is safe for a while, the problem with hiding is that you stay stuck wherever you are hiding. Honestly and carefully evaluate if you are committed to facing this. It is a risk to courageously stand up in any relationship that does not feel safe. We can’t promise that this will be an easy, comfortable journey or that it will result in a transformed workplace or relationship. What we can guarantee is that you will come out of it a better, stronger person.
Connect before you expect. This is a fundamental leadership principle that we teach in all of our leadership programs. However, it doesn’t only apply to your team or to the important relationships in your life. It can also apply to people that you don’t feel safe around. Before going any further, be sure that you have done everything you can as far as encouragement, appreciation, recognition, and commitment to your work.
Identify precisely what you don’t feel psychologically safe about. Ambiguity is a formula for mediocrity. If you are going to change something, you have to shift from a vague, inarticulate emotion to a well-defined understanding of the problem. For example, do you feel judged, dismissed, or evaluated unfairly – and if so, how? Do you feel someone is bullying or harassing you – and if so, what exactly are they doing? Do you feel that someone in a position of authority is expecting something from you that compromises you in some way – and if so, what exactly are they demanding? Do you feel like your ideas are not respected and valued – and if so, how?
Distinguish between safety and security. Safety is not the same as security. Safety is external in that it originates from the environment around you; security, on the other hand, is internal. It originates from within you. While the line between the two is sometimes muddled, be careful that you don’t expect your boss to make you comfortable, secure in your position, or happy. Facing some discomfort, increasing your confidence, and growing your job satisfaction are on you, not your boss.
Face the lack of safety responsibly. Approach the person you don’t feel safe around, or your manager, with both honesty and personal responsibility. This means being as precise as possible about what is happening – without blame and without compromising who you are. Express your commitment to do your part to learn from the experience and to make the necessary changes on your end, without diminishing your self-respect.
Control what you can. It’s never a good investment of time or energy to attempt to change another person. If you set out to change someone else, you’re destined for frustration and despair. It’s simply not realistic. That said, although we can’t completely control the world around us, we can influence how we act within it and the way we react to it. Each person’s behavior impacts the formation of an organization’s culture, and your small, seemingly insignificant contribution does matter, even though its impact might not be immediately apparent.
Ask for an agreement. While listening to the response to your concerns and requests, at some point you need to identify a clear request and get a well-defined agreement as to whether the person you don’t feel safe around will make the necessary changes. What is within your sphere of influence is to identify a request and seek an agreement to respond to that desire.
Weigh your options. If there is no good will, the responsibility lies on you to assess whether it supports your self-respect to stay in that relationship. One option is to leave. Another is to decide to leave at a later date. Another option is to stay as authentic as you can be and remain in the relationship even if it isn’t 100% safe. Another option is to continue to hide in a toxic situation and avoid facing the reality. What’s important is to recognize that the choice lies in your hands.
Assess your growth – and persist. Every challenge creates a growth opportunity. While you may find yourself saying, “Enough already! I’ve had enough growth opportunities this past year to last a lifetime!” keep your chin up and keep walking. Know that if you are committed to staying authentic, growth will be your reward. Dag Hammarskjöld, the Swedish economist and diplomat who served as the second Secretary-General of the United Nations, put it this way: “When the morning’s freshness has been replaced by the weariness of midday, when the leg muscles quiver under the strain, when the climb seems endless, and suddenly, nothing will go quite as you wish – it is then that you must not hesitate.”
A psychologically unsafe workplace is not something anyone should have to tolerate, but unfortunately this is the reality for far too many. For committed leaders, creating a psychologically safe workplace is among the most important steps you can take. For those grappling with how to deal with the situation, sometimes the best you can do is to honestly face your emotions and find a residue of growth. What’s important is your own self-respect. Don’t let anyone take this from you.
Feel free to reach out to us for support or guidance.

Is Your Boss A Bully? Or Just A Poor Communicator?

In recent months the topic of bullying has surfaced in my leadership development programs. Although I haven’t thoroughly researched the topic, my observation is that there is an increase in abusive and bullying behavior in the workplace. Perhaps it is related to the economy, increased stress at work, or maybe people are getting more courageous, bringing it to the forefront and are no longer willing to be abused. Even if you are not experiencing bullying, I hope the following will help you to communicate in any of your relationships.

A coaching client shared a recent experience with her boss that went something like this:
“My boss asked me to come to her office. As soon as I sat down she laid into me about how unproductive I was, how my performance had slipped drastically in the past six months, and how I needed to step up my performance or in my next review she would start to document my work with ratings that would put my future career in jeopardy.”
While this behavior is obviously indicative of a controlling, bullying person, how do you determine if this is a bully or a boss that doesn’t handle stress well and is a bad communicator?
Following is a process that I suggest you can use to find out.
Step 1. Don’t communicate when you are in a high emotional state. As I learned from my colleague and friend, Valerie Cade, an expert in workplace bullying, “to be honorable, you have to meet dishonor with honor.” Getting angry or defensive in response to destructive communication is only throwing fuel on an already damaging fire. If you are hurt, angry, or in any way upset by this kind of feedback (and who wouldn’t be), take a few more moments to listen, then give yourself permission to say something like, “Thank you for the feedback. I want to get to the bottom of this, and in order to do so I need to step away and get some perspective. Let’s come back when we can problem solve this rationally and strategically.” Then politely excuse yourself.
Step 2. Get support from a confidant. Allies are trusted friends, colleagues, or coaches who provide perspective, wisdom, encouragement, support, and honesty. It is vital, in the work of leadership, to know we aren’t alone. The most important kind of allies are confidants: people in your life who create a safe space to be who you are, who will listen to your truth and will, in turn, tell you the truth and help hold you accountable. Confidants ask questions like, “What’s going on? What can be learned from the mistakes and failures? Can you learn something for the future? What are your options?”
Step 3. Once you let go of the emotional reaction, schedule a time to meet with your boss to problem solve a solution that responds to their concerns. When you meet next, bring a notepad and ask only one question, “What do you need from me to ensure that I get my performance right, so that you will never again accuse me of these things. I want to understand exactly what I need to do to turn this around.” Then sit and listen and make notes. You don’t have to agree or disagree. The goal is to understand what your boss is asking for. If they need more time to clarify this on their own, then of course, give them the time to do so.
Step 4. If your boss starts to attack you, stop and ask them to clarify what behaviors they are expecting. Reiterate that you are here to solve the problem, to be a part of the solution moving forward, not the problem going backwards. In any of these steps, do not allow yourself to be put into a situation where you are being criticized, demeaned, or bullied. Take charge of the conversation to shift it from criticism to identification of solutions or requests.
Step 5. Once you hear your boss out and list the behaviors they are asking you to change, then negotiate an agreement between you. Conflict comes from unmet needs. You don’t resolve conflict with more conflict. You resolve conflict by getting to the root of the problem. The negotiation process may take a few meetings. Give yourself and your boss the time and the space to carefully clarify the expectations, agreements, and needs for support from each other.
Step 6. Assess Intent. This is the step where the rubber hits the road, where you assess if your boss is a bully. Bullies have no intent to work toward a solution. Bullies have themselves been bullied. They have no interest in problem solving, in helping you find a solution, and in helping you succeed. They only have interest in criticizing, controlling, and manipulating with the intent to bully. You can assess their intent by giving them (with an open mind and a spirit of generosity) a few chances to move toward a solution. Give them the benefit of the doubt in the first meeting. Maybe they are just stressed and are communicating poorly. But if after a few tries they still have no interest in moving toward a solution and helping you understand and change your actions, take the appropriate action toward taking care of yourself. If they are, in fact, a bully, here are a few options to consider:
a.    Get support from a trusted outsider – either an HR manager inside your organization or an outsider who specializes in bullying. Don’t ever attempt to deal with a bully who has positional authority over you on your own.
b.    Take full responsibility for your willingness to work on a solution, and be honest about what you are up against.
c.     You may have to consider leaving your organization. Be sure you have  covered all your bases, documented all of your interactions and done everything possible on your end to resolve the issue.
Please note that these are very general points. If you need support with any of these steps, contact our office for a confidential and complimentary half hour consultation, and we’ll help you find the resources and support that you need.

Hire For Character; Train For Cashiers

The title of this blog came from an executive at Nordstrom Department Stores when I asked him about his hiring philosophy. “We hire for character; we train for cashiers.” Far too often people get hired on the basis of competence, and fired on the basis of attitude.

I am often asked, “So how do we hire for attitude? How do we ensure that the right people are hired? How do we ensure that just because a potential employee has technical competence, that they are the right fit for our culture?”

Here’s a five-step process for hiring the right people in your organization.

Step 1. Clearly define the kind of culture you are committed to create and the kind of attitude you need from your employees. Be sure you have an answer to the following questions:

  • What values do you need your staff to exhibit?
  • What behaviors do you expect from your employees that will demonstrate the kind of attitude you expect?
  • What behaviors do you expect from every employee that will demonstrate your espoused values?

Step 2. Be committed to take your time in the hiring process. The management guru, Peter Drucker, had a favorite saying: “Hire s-l-o-w-l-y; fire quickly.” Depending on the position, the best organizations are prepared to take up to several hours getting the right people on the bus.

Step 3. Bring the right questions to the interview process. Note that accountability is described as:

  • The ability to be counted on
  • The willingness and ability to take initiative
  • Taking ownership for the environment you work in
  • Taking responsibility for the mistakes you make
  • Seeing all blame as a waste of time
  • Choosing service over self-interest
  • Choosing gratitude over entitlement

Here are some sample questions for the interview to help you assess if a candidate is accountable. You can adapt these questions to any of the values that you are hiring for.

  • What does accountability mean to you?
  • Why do you feel that accountability is important in your work and in your life?
  • Where did you learn to be accountable? How was accountability instilled in you?
  • Tell me about a time in your work when you took initiative, ownership, and personal responsibility. What was the result?
  • Tell me about a time when you weren’t accountable. What was the result?
  • Tell me about a time when your accountability was tested under pressure, or when it was easier to be lazy and complacent or have a sense of entitlement instead of being accountable? How did you respond? What were the consequences?
  • When have you had to stand alone from the crowd in order to live this value?
  • How do you anticipate living this value (e.g. accountability) in the job that you are applying for?

Step 4. Be sure that all stakeholders – or as many as possible – in the organization who will depend on this person have an opportunity to ask these questions. Be sure that the questions are asked and answered from a variety of perspectives.

Step 5. Observe the candidate in action under pressure, if at all possible. Depending on the role, a probationary period where you can observe how they are living the value in their job, especially under stress, is recommended.

In the boiler room while you wait in line for the Tower of Terror ride at Disney you will find a sign with a rhyme, written by an American poet named Ella Wheeler Wilcox. It’s fitting to include it here, as no matter how brilliant a person can sound in a job interview, you don’t really know them until they are put under pressure.

It’s easy enough to be pleasant, when life hums along like a song.  But the man worthwhile is the man who can smile when everything goes dead wrong.

After a stay at a Marriott Hotel where I experienced great service from every employee all weekend, I asked the checkout clerk if everyone gets training in good customer service. After a moment of reflection, she responded, “Well… you can’t train someone to be nice. What we do here is hire nice people and train them how to use the computer.”

A well-designed culture starts with hiring the right people. I’d love to hear from you about how you use in the hiring process to get the right people on board.

How To Build A Respectful Workplace: It’s Not A Program

I recently overheard a manager talking with a colleague about how he was being sent to a “Respectful Workplace Program.” I couldn’t help but interrupt and ask him about it.

“Yes,” he explained. “Everyone in our company is required to attend a one-day training seminar on how to build a respectful workplace.”

Be assured that I am respectful of whoever might, with good intentions, be running a workshop on building respect in an organization. And even without any knowledge of what will be presented in the workshop, I’m sure that this program will undoubtedly bring valuable information.

But with all due respect (pun intended!), respect can’t be taught like mathematics. Building a respectful workplace, like building respect in your home or community doesn’t come from a training program. Respect isn’t about speaking to each other nicely or holding hands or hugging each other. While we could all use a refresher in good manners, respect goes much deeper than techniques or even behavior.

If you want improve a disrespectful workplace you have to get to the root cause of the problem. A respectful workplace is achieved – and sustained – through one critical element: respect for yourself. When you have self-respect you won’t tolerate bullying, inappropriate, disrespectful comments, or people acting unprofessionally. You have the same standards for yourself as you expect from others. When you have respect for yourself you don’t demean others or act in ill-mannered ways. You have better things to do with your time, and you have no interest in being disrespectful to others. You won’t find yourself entangled in hurtful, useless and hurtful arguments. And you won’t let others disrespect you.

Here are four strategies for increasing your level of self-respect. Just as anyone can be a leader, anyone can put these into practice, beginning today. As you do, notice the positive impact and benefit to your workplace by increasing the respect around you.

  • Never make a promise you aren’t prepared to keep. Self-respect, like confidence, is an outcome of right choices, not a prerequisite. Learning to keep promises, whether it is to your child to attend his baseball game or to yourself to keep up good health habits, results in personal integrity. Keeping promises to yourself and others, even in the face of discomfort and the tendency toward complacency, gives you confidence to get through the hard times. As the late Stephen R. Covey used to say, private victory precedes public victory.
  • Create focus in your life. Clarity around your highest values, a sense of purpose, daily disciplines around your health, and an ongoing personal development plan are all ways that contribute to how you feel about yourself. People who respect themselves take care of themselves. And they spend their time being of service to others. When you start paying attention, you will notice that people with focus and clarity in their lives aren’t part of the gossiping crowds. They don’t have time for complaining or blaming others or being a part of disrespectful conversations. They are too busy focused on being useful in the world.
  • Take the high ground. If you are wondering why people yell at you or degrade you or act in disrespectful ways, it’s simple. Because you let them. You don’t have any obligation to tolerate disrespectful behavior. You don’t have to become lazy even if the people you work with are lazy. You don’t have to get involved in ill-mannered arguments. A leader I have high regard for told me once, “Never argue with an idiot because they will bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.” Live on the foundation good principles, even if the people around you don’t appreciate it. Do the right thing, because the right thing will make things right inside of you.
  • Be a light, not a judge. The disciples of a Hasidic rabbi approached their spiritual leader with a complaint about the prevalence of evil in the world. Intent upon driving out the forces of iniquity and darkness, they requested that the rabbi counsel them. The rabbi’s response was one that can help us all come to grips with the malevolent forces of darkness that at times seem to surround our world. The rabbi suggested to his students that they take brooms, go down to the basement, and attempt to sweep the darkness from the cellar. The bewildered disciples applied themselves to sweeping out the darkness, but to no avail. The rabbi then advised them to take sticks and beat vigorously at the darkness to drive out the evil. When this likewise failed, he counseled them to again go down to the cellar and to protest against the evil. When this failed as well, he said, “My students, let each of you meet the challenge of darkness by lighting a lamp.” The disciples descended to the cellar and kindled their lights. They looked, and behold! The darkness had been driven out.

Self-respect doesn’t guarantee that others will treat you with respect. What it does do is guarantee that you won’t tolerate disrespect. When disrespect is no longer tolerated, it will soon cease to exist.

I’d love to hear from you about some of your organizational challenges if you are working in a disrespectful workplace or relationship. Send me your thoughts on my contact page. I’d be glad to schedule a complimentary ½ hour session to discuss your situation.

5 WAYS TO REWIRE, REIMAGINE, AND RECREATE YOURSELF AND YOUR WORKPLACE

There is little doubt that the environment where we work and live impacts our lives. However, by taking charge of how you perceive your environment, you can make incredible changes in your life. Rewire your thoughts about your environment, reimagine the reality of your environment, and you will recreate your environment.

Quantum physics has discovered something that many mystics have long since known: that your perception of the universe actually invokes the very universe that you observe. If you change the way you view the environment around you, the environment around you changes. This means your creative imagination literally affects the very blueprint of your reality. How our universe manifests itself depends on how we both individually and collectively dream it up. The real power, then, is in the viewing – the lenses we look through as we observe the world around us.

There is a wonderful story of William James, one of the leading thinkers of the late nineteenth century, who, as a young man, went to Paris to study. He was depressed and suicidal at the time. However, he decided to take a wager suggested by a French philosopher, to act each day as if the universe was full of purpose and meaning. By the end of his studies, he had discovered so much meaning and purpose that he changed his life. He became a great philosopher who influenced many.

You play a role not only in how you experience your universe, but how the universe will experience you and continue its creative expansion through you. It is important to note that at any moment you can effortlessly step out of your various dilemmas. You can stop endlessly recreating a toxic or negative reality. The key is whether you recognize how you are feeding into, supporting, and hence helping to create the very problem you are reacting to. As the philosopher, Jean Houston, puts it: “Don’t keep feeding chicken soup to your pathology.”

Another way to say this is that through our perceptions and our choices we are actually creating the culture that we so enjoy complaining about. Deciding that you have co-created the world around you – and therefore you are the one to step into healing it – is the ultimate act of accountability. In order to do this, every so often you need to stop, rewire, reimagine, and recreate the world around you.

Below are five practical strategies for rewiring, reimagining, recreating your current reality.

  • Work as if you have the perfect job – now.
Regardless of whether you like or dislike your job or the environment where you work or live, act every day as if this were your ideal career in an ideal workplace. Imagine that this is where you have always dreamed of working, with the kind of colleagues you always dreamed of working with, doing the kind of work you have always fantasized doing. Act every day as if your current environment was full of purpose and meaning, and observe how the environment around you changes.
  • Create a vision. Without a vision you perish. And if you don’t perish, you will likely get depressed. Rewiring, reimagining, and recreating means stepping back every so often to clarify a vision you are personally moving towards. Organizational vision statements will have little meaning for you until you have a sense of your own personal vision. What gets you up early? What keeps you up late? What inspires you to go the extra mile? What keeps you going on the darker days? Regardless of whether you are working toward a goal in your personal life or work life, be sure to make time to work for a dream that engages your unique talents and that is bigger and more powerful than simply “getting through the day.”
  • Choose service over self-interest. Imagine ways you can make the world you live in better for others. Decide, just for today, that you are going to be a giver – by your smile, kind words, encouraging attitude, and generosity. Decide, just for today, to be a contributor, a helper to others rather than expecting so much from others. Decide, just for today, to replace unearned entitlement with gratitude. Make it a point to say thank you three times each day. Decide, just for today, to “lift,” rather than “lean,” to build rather than tear down. Ask how you can best be of service and grant some grace to your fellow human beings.
  • Make yourself happy. Make a decision to enjoy the environment where you live and work. You don’t need to have the “right” job or the “right” boss or the “right” family to be happy or engaged in your work. Happiness is not a destination; it’s a method of travel. You can decide to be happy. It’s an attitude, a mind-set, a choice. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Happiness comes from the inside; it is not a matter of externals.
  • When the horse is dead, get off. Maybe recreating your current environment means doing just that: finding something new. If you are in a job that you hate, and you need more than a renewed reality in your current environment, then cut your losses, quit your job, and start again in a new environment. Most importantly: STOP COMPLAINING, starting right now. Sometimes relationships need to end. Rewiring, reimagining, and recreating may mean starting over in a brand new environment with brand new relationships. One important word of caution: before you leave any relationship be sure that you are not running away from something you need to face, learn, and contribute to. If you seek a geographic cure, be prepared to meet the same problems in your next environment.

Put some of these intentions into action. Pay attention to the effect they have on you and your environment. You will create a new world when you rewire, reimagine, and recreate.

6 WAYS TO INCREASE EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT

I’ve never seen more “employee engagement programs” thrown at employees, and we’ve never seen lower engagement scores. So what’s going on?

One way to look at the challenge of employee engagement is to observe the relationship between three concepts: achievement, expectations, and happiness.

Happiness results when your achievements meet your expectations. For example, if your expectation of your boss is “100”, and she achieves only “80”, then we say your happiness score is -20. On the other hand, if you have an expectation of your boss of “80”, and she hits “100”, then your happiness score is +20.

What happens when this same boss, who meets the expectations of one employee, doesn’t meet the expectations of another employee? One employee will be happy. The other will be unhappy. Maybe the problem isn’t the boss. Maybe the problem is the nature of our expectations. While bosses and organizations certainly need to work hard to achieve a highly engaged culture, employees share the responsibility of hard work to achieve their own level of engagement while simultaneously decreasing their expectations. To paraphrase John F Kennedy: ask not what your organization can do for you, but what you can do for your organization.

Lazy employees (i.e. they don’t want to achieve much) combined with high expectations, is called entitlement. And entitled people are never happy. Have you ever noticed that the most entitled people in your office are the ones that are the most miserable? Many people bring enormously high expectations to work and to all their relationships. My mother had a scholarly word for this kind of person: spoiled.

It appears to be human nature that the more we get, the more we expect. Research will bear out that the societies with the lowest GNP are often the societies with the happiest people. They are likely happy because their expectations are lower. There’s something to be said about simply being satisfied with what we have.

While I’m all in favor of bosses developing ways to create environments that engage people, I know some leaders who could deliver the moon for their employees and they still wouldn’t be happy. This is because most people who are unhappy at work aren’t just unhappy at work. They are unhappy with all aspects of their lives. We all need to examine carefully our level of expectations. To increase your happiness and engagement at work:

1) Carefully examine your expectations. It has been said that expectations are premeditated resentments. Often, high expectations stem from unhappiness in your life and expecting others (e.g. your boss) to make you happy. This is a formula for discontent, both for you and for your boss who might be trying too hard.

2) Take 100% responsibility for your own happiness. Your life will change the day you decide that all blame is a waste of time. Taking 100% responsibility means that you take responsibility for getting your needs met instead of demanding that someone do it for you.

3) Be careful about over achieving. It’s good to set a goal and achieve it – providing it meets an expectation. But if you are an overachiever who continually expects more and more of yourself (and usually others too), you’ll never be happy. You’ll always be striving for the next achievement. The only way to fill that hole is to learn to be satisfied with what you have achieved.

4) Give what you expect. My parents used to say, “You don’t get what you expect. You get what you give.” No amount of employee engagement programs can possibly fill all the insecurities and unhappiness that employees bring to work. To counter the frustration of not getting what you expect, clarify what you expect, and then give that. For example, if you expect appreciation, get so busy appreciating others that you don’t have time to feel sorry for yourself. It was Zig Ziglar who said, “You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.”

5) Realize that you can’t meet everyone’s expectations. Like a request, an expectation is not an agreement. Realizing this will un-complicate your life. It is absolutely impossible to meet everyone’s expectations of you because it is physically and mentally unattainable for any human being to be all things to all people.

6) Practice gratitude. The antidote to entitlement is gratitude. We all need to look at ourselves when it comes to employee engagement. It’s a shared responsibility. Yes, positional leaders have a responsibility. But so do employees. What you focus on grows. What you appreciate appreciates.