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Put-in Peggy.

Put-in Peggy

Put-in Peggy

When a group of people set off on a river raft expedition, the initial launch site is called the “put in.”   Recently, my husband brought together a group of 16 people, a year’s worth of planning, hundreds of travel miles and countless logistics to begin an epic raft trip through the Grand Canyon.   At the put-in, he was met by the assigned park ranger named Peggy.   Our friend Peggy carried a clipboard and an overzealous want of authority.   Peggy’s mantra was: “No…   What is the question?”

Park Ranger Peggy was doing her job.   She needed to check all of the boxes on the sheets on her clip board to make sure this group of people met the requirements of setting off through the national Grand Canyon treasure.    Peggy knew she had authority to make or break this trip, and made sure the group knew that too. She held the investment of money, time and coordination of 16 people in her hands.

How often in the workplace, or in life, have you encountered a Peggy?   I’ve experienced this many times with vendors, at the DMV and with the cable companies.   The scenario is this:   I need to get something done and the person (gatekeeper) can only operate according to script, follow every rule to the “t”, cannot see the forest through the trees and is not the least bit interested in solving any hiccups…and a little drunk with authority.     For me, this scenario is maddening.   Instantly I can feel my blood pressure rise and find it easy to move to a defensive posture.   And I consider myself a professional that deals with people and behaviors regularly.   Imagine how difficult this can be for our kids at home that do not yet have the tools to successfully manage situations with “box checkers” in authority?

Thinking about the experience with Put-in Peggy gives an opportunity to cover some tips when a situation arises with someone who holds authority over the situation, refuses to communicate logically and cannot see beyond the boxes they need to check.   It is critical to future success to have these tools to guide through such situations.   They are inevitable.

  • Breathe: Take a deep breath and even tune out a little if you have to.   Sometimes the opening statements given by the person are required and the person saying the words just needs to get them out.   Listen patiently and tell yourself that you can take on this challenge and win by winning-over.
  • Read the classic “How to Win Friends and Influence People”: This is the handbook to dealing with people in the workplace and in life. I think it should be required reading in high school. People can be the best part of a job…and the worst.   Arm yourself with education.   This human interaction blueprint is timeless; first published in 1936.
    • Lessons:
      • You can only get someone to do something if they want to do it.
      • You can’t win an argument.
      • And how to get cooperation.
  • Ask questions: By engaging the person to offer their own expertise, the conversation can switch from a dictative one to an interactive one.   A better outcome will result.
  • Admit fault: Be willing to throw yourself under the bus a little.   This can ease any power struggles and allow the person continued authority but without any threat.

Learning to handle these situations calmly and smoothly can be a challenge but the long-term payoff is worth the extra efforts.   Ultimately the winner is you.

keep_calm_and_listen_to_a_park_ranger_mousepad

Retaining your kids.

Johnsons 2012. Photo credit:  Kristy Renee Behrs

Johnsons 2012.
Photo credit: Kristy Renee Behrs

Many of us hold organizational culture and the specific culture of our workplace in high regard.   If we are job seeking, we use tools like Glassdoor to help us peek inside  a potential employer and get the real scoop on culture.   When the culture is great, the business thrives.   Employees stay and A players send resumes to join the team.   A great culture isn’t a matter of luck or happenstance, it is great leaders that drive the beliefs that manifests into behaviors that are supportive, innovative and fun.   Consistently pay and shiny options are not at the top of the wish list for workers. Instead, it is culture.

How many of these workers, that believe in culture and make it their mission to seek certain jobs based on culture, go home to their families at night and “manage” with a completely different standard?   A manager may speak patiently, use manners, motivate and make constructive decisions during the day.   Then go home and bark orders, yell at family members and ask children what they want for dinner when the choice is in no one’s best interest.   Why?   Does this create future workers that will thrive and eventually lead their own organizations with enviable cultures?   No.   I am guilty of this too and if I were taking a moment to recalibrate, here is what I would try to do:

Define the mission:   It might be as simple as deciding dinner, or more complex like planning a trip.   Communicating the plan and gathering feedback gets buy-in.   Dictating orders does not.   Sound decision-making is what helped you professionally. Gathering ideas and input and making decisions that are focused and best for all is part of your job.   Then, does it make sense for your 3-year-old to tell you that they should eat macaroni and cheese again? Take control in the same collaborative and consistent way and keep the mission on course.

Communicate:   Sometimes the last thing I want to do is to remember to convey more information.   The list never, ever ends.   And I know that when the kids know what is coming and what we are planning, it all goes smoother.   Driving the vision at home is just an important as it is at work.

Speak kindly:   No one wants to work for someone who yells or over reacts.   A manager’s actions are under the microscope and the position does not forgive meltdowns.   Not one.   What if parents thought of their actions in terms of a manager and the kids were employees?   Would the daily characteristics change?   Would the parents act more “professionally?”   How we handle ourselves will be the direct lesson in how our children one day handle themselves at work.

Keep the turnover low:   Of course you won’t turnover your kids (though sometimes you want to).   But you can lose their engagement with the family at times.   Explore the cause.   If you kept losing good employees, would you start considering reasons?   Of course.   Your kids are the biggest investment of all and benefits can come from looking at the family from the perspective of the logical manager brain.

Mistakes happen:   When an employee comes to you and makes a mistake, are you forgiving?   Usually.   What about at home?   My kids have made a lot of mistakes.   I try to remember to tell myself that it isn’t the end of the world and not over react.   It is their mistake to make. Not mine.

People are waiting to join the team:   If I don’t think about the culture in my home, others will have a stronger influence.   There are a lot of people out there recruiting my kids and not all of them have the right motive.   Culture is powerful, whether it is positive or negative.   If the culture in the home is not worth staying for, eventually your kids will find another one…just like workers do in the workplace.

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