Hey did you hear? Prime Minister Trudeau admitted there was an ‘erosion of trust’ occurring in his office; he was unaware of it (based on what came out in the recent Canadian justice committee inquiry). Imagine his disappointment to find that people did not feel comfortable coming to him with concerns.
Well sadly, he is not alone, many leaders realize a little late that there are issues or an underground culture (where they are excluded) in their workplace. It may not come to light until exit interviews, employee surveys or worse, formal complaints.
There may be hints that you're being left out, despite having an 'open door policy' :
You already know that it is the leader's responsibility to create an atmosphere where people feel safe to be forthright and candid. But to maintain the openness, your team need to know:
The good news is there are things you can do to create more of a trusting environment where people will keep you in the loop!
7 Ways to Develop More Openness & Trust
1. Show You Are Open to Different Views
Encourage your team to bring forward a different perspective than yours, welcome it... often. Why not hold meetings where you deliberately poke holes in plans; promoting debate to differ and discuss deliberately. Hone in on healthy scepticism focused at making things better.
Caution: Your role would be to probe, ask for more information and demonstrate interest vs convince them of your way.
2. Really Listen
Practice active listening by reframing what you hear when people open up in meetings or within the office, illustrating that you understand their point. Resist inferring your own ideas or disagreement which may shut them down or cause them to do an 'end run' around you.
Caution: These are times for you to listen and encourage, not squash!
3. Be Interested in Them as People
Get to know each of your team members more personally. A great way to develop good relationship is understanding where people come from, what their family situation is like and what they do on the weekends. Show that you care about them by celebrating their work anniversary and/or birthdays (with permission).
Caution: You are not their best friend, be interested but not involved in their life!
4. Lose the Labels
Avoid putting a label on anyone. Some mistakenly tag people as a troublemaker, not a team player, or loud-mouth when they are a vocal team member. Speaking negatively about others creates a lack of safety to speak up. It also appears disrespectful and judgemental when overheard.
Caution: Careful not to name-call bosses, clients or your peers either
5. Participate in a 360 Feedback Assessment
Show your team that you are interested in what they think about you as a leader. Then openly and humbly share insights that you discover. Be sure to say thank you! If you've already had one, reflect on what you learned? How healthy is communication in your workplace?
Caution: Do not negate any feedback by assuming you know who it came from!
6. Be Available
I hear 'my boss is too busy to meet' all the time these days! Don't be that person. Show your people you make them a priority. Protect meeting times in your schedule without cutting them short. Put your phone down, leave the computer alone and don’t bring either along when meeting with them. When you say your door is open it means leave the door figuratively and literally open and that you will MAKE time for them!
Caution: Your actions speak louder than words!
7. Remain Professional at All Times
Remember, as a leader, you are being watched by your team. This means paying attention to how you act both inside and outside of work hours. Avoid sharing awkward personal information and negative opinions about the company – these can erode trust or repel working relationships.
Caution: If you go out for drinks with your team, careful you don’t drink too much!
Don't get caught off guard! To avoid hearing about issues after the fact, keep working on the kind of environment that is inclusive and open to differences. This is what builds a strong healthy team! The more you listen, learn and demonstrate your own trust, the more likely they’ll include you in their triumphs and their troubles.
Reach out to me if you struggle with a team that has cut you out. I offer a number of custom solutions to help teams to reconnect and open up!
Image by @raw_pixel CC0 Unsplash
By now, you’ve surely read the news that Steve Bannon, the ever-controversial White House Chief Strategist was let go after just 7 months in office. He joins Anthony Scaramucci who was fired (or removed from office) after a mere 10 days on the job as White House Communications Director. The ‘Mooch’, as he liked to be referred to, was quick to show his true colours within a few short days on the job with inappropriate comments and bombastic tirades.
While the White House may have substantially different hiring/firing practices than many businesses, these departures underscore why ANY company should act fast when an employee–particularly those who hold a position of trust - damage the reputation of a business, or presents them with ‘cause’ to terminate.
But did you know, you can actually fire anyone, anytime–with or without cause?
Yes, let that sink in for a moment…
You can fire anyone. Yes, even in Canada! BUT don’t get ahead of yourself…there can be consequences and ramifications for doing so, depending on what led to the decision and how well you managed it.
If you fail to treat the employee appropriately, you could face all sorts of trouble and/or additional expense. For instance:
I’ve worked with many leaders in different industries (both big and small) to plan terminations, and in most cases they were extremely conflicted about making the final call. Let’s face it; this is not an easy thing to do. You wonder if you have enough information to back yourself up, you question if you’ve ever said or done anything inappropriate that could later ‘bite you in the butt’ and you worry about what to say on that dreaded day–the day you actually let them go.
Whether it is a directive from the top of corporate to downsize your team or it is a lingering performance or behaviour issue, letting someone go is one of the hardest actions you will ever have to take as a manager. And so it should be. I always say if you don’t feel a little sick inside when affecting the life of someone else then you really shouldn’t be a people manager.
That said, there are times where you know very well that somebody needs to go – and as aggravating or grueling as it may seem to be, there are some very important things you should consider before you ‘pull the trigger’. Lets call it CYOA! (cover-your-own-ass)
So how do you CYOA?
Long before you have that tough conversation, it’s important to consider if you’ve covered yourself properly. Have you:
1. Been fair?
Do you have favourites on your team, or are there people who you don’t really like? If I spoke to others on the team, would they tell me they’ve observed a lack of fairness with this person? How did you arrive at a decision for this person to leave and how fair did you apply these selection criteria across the team? Have you let others with the same performance level or behavioural issues remain on the team or did you provide all of them with the same type of feedback and given similar chances to improve but this one individual hasn’t measured up? If I can find out you were not fair in treating this employee, you can bet the court can too!
2. Been consistent?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard how terrible an employee’s performance is, only to read their previous reviews–all of which were glowing. Do not assume an employee just ‘knows’ when they are not performing because you think you’ve told them. It is your responsibility as the manager to ensure the issues have been clearly expressed, both verbally and in writing with a clear-cut plan to improve. This plan becomes your supporting ‘back-me-up’ information. At the very least, be sure to document stern conversations by sending a follow up email after your meetings to reinforce what you’ve spoken about and include the steps required to improve. Now, I have a test for you… pull out all of your notes/emails or reviews to this person over the past year, and re-read them as though you’re the lawyer defending this case. Does your evidence support the termination? Have you been consistent with your feedback and directions; will this information reinforce your case? Or is it wishy-washy and non-specific? When you say one thing verbally, but record it differently in performance reviews and/or emails, the written information will be taken as the truth every. single. time!
3. Provided ample opportunity to improve?
Everyone deserves to be given a chance to improve–yes, everyone! I have heard many leaders tell me somebody ‘just has to go’, but when asked, it becomes apparent no one gave the employee clear feedback with an opportunity to improve within a realistic time period. If challenged legally, you’ll have to show the proof that you gave the person helpful, specific feedback on what needed to change, and how to improve--within a reasonable timeframe. So ask yourself–did you give them adequate feedback? Did you provide clear actions they need to take within realistic time period – did you create a performance improvement plan? If not, now’s the time to do it!
4. Provided training or progressive discipline?
If the issue is a ‘skill gap’ you need to show that you’ve provided the employee with adequate training to acquire the right skill level.
However, if it is a behavioural/attitudinal issue, the only way to help someone change is to provide him or her with progressive discipline in a formalized way – some may call it performance coaching or corrective action. When I say formalized, I mean well-documented (notice a theme emerging?) keeping track of meeting dates, a summary of each circumstance/situation, and a record of feedback (provided to the employee) so that there’s a trail of the intensifying consequences. In formalized progressive discipline you use formal warnings, beginning with simple verbal warning to correct the behaviour, escalating the consequences according to your company discipline policy (if you don’t have one, you should create one… pronto).
‘Three strikes you’re out’ may not be necessary or on the other hand, it may not be sufficient; it really depends on the seriousness of the wrongdoing, the situation, the history of the individual and whether there were any justifying circumstances or not. Most progressive discipline practices use these culminating stages: verbal warning, formal letter of warning, suspension and then termination. It is really important you follow through with an action each and every time they act inappropriately. And again, you have to conduct yourself the same way with all employees.
Tip: The test I use to know the difference between a skill gap or a behavioural issue is to ask, “If you paid them a million dollars, could they do this correctly?” If the answer is no, then it is likely a skill gap and training is required. If the answer is yes, then chances are you have a behavioural/attitudinal issue on your hands.
5. Treated them with respect?
Of course, you likely know this is important while they work for you to treat them with respect, but did you know it’s equally as important after they no longer work with you? If after someone leaves an organization they can prove you were talking disrespectfully about them or their performance to someone who had no right to know, the organization may face defamation claims in addition to wrongful dismissal suit. Limit discussing negative qualities about any colleagues or team members at any time–the less said, the better! Only management/HR of the employee should be involved with these discussions. This kind of gossip can not only cause legal issues, but also trust issues with other team members, as they begin to wonder if you talk about them in the same way behind their back.
The bottom line is this–you can avoid most wrongful dismissal lawsuits and/or Human Rights violations when:
It may seem onerous to have to complete performance improvement plans, provide verbal and written warnings, have performance/behaviour coaching sessions, keep desk notes and provide follow up emails, but these are your best tools to help you CYOA. It’s absolutely critical that you be in control the information that could be used against you.
When you’re dealing with an employee with difficult behaviour or you’re at the end of your rope and are about to let someone go, book me for a consultation. I have tips and tools to help you get organized and I have 25+ years experience helping leaders plan and prepare for the ‘dreaded meeting’–including their follow up discussions with the rest of the team.
And to help make sure you properly CYOA, I will challenge you with tough questions to help you move forward. After all, wouldn’t you rather it be me asking as opposed to the courts?
You’ve been there–it could be a pain-in-the-butt colleague, a troublemaking employee, or worse, a devil-boss who makes your workday torture! Regardless of who they are, they all have one thing in common…nasty bullying behaviour.
Sadly, if you don’t find ways to manage it, the stress may cause your health to decline, you disengage from work resulting in your performance taking a hit or you have the sudden urge to quit because you simply have no other way out.
Dealing with a workplace bully wears us all down. Repeated over time, you may actually believe what they say, sparking self-doubt and eroding your self-esteem. They yearn for this power and as such, once they’ve set their sights on you, they do what they can to take you down.
I’ve helped several clients rise above these difficult people. It takes a little bit of work but in the end, they feel a sense of accomplishment once they triumph!
It’s important to note that if what you are dealing with is an extreme case of bullying or a possible harassment case, there are Human Rights laws to protect you. Handling those situations requires a formal process. The Ministry of Labour (Ontario) provides guidance to both employers and employees regarding these laws in my province.
What I’m talking about today are the scenarios where someone is staying within the bounds of the law, but making it unpleasant for you to work with them. These people know how to get at you but management may not see it, may choose to ignore it, or it just may not be bad enough for you to want to raise a big fuss.
The ‘Bully’ Profile
These nasty people often share similar characteristics, they:
So what CAN you do to battle this kind of unpleasantness? Lets look at some simple tactics to disarm these bullies and take back your own power:
1. Let them shine
It may seem counterintuitive but people who are problematic are typically seeking some kind of attention.
Take time to assess this person’s underlying insecurity; ask yourself the following questions to become aware of what is really going on:
With this information in mind, look for a moment to praise them when they do something you can comfortably acknowledge: “Jane had a good point”, “Jane was absolutely right, ‘Thank you Jane for xxx” “Jane I quite liked xxx”.
These comments begin to neutralize their need to be nasty because their own esteem rises.
However, it’s important that you approach this genuinely. Don’t do it if you don’t really feel it or it will come off as disingenuous and inflame them further.
Giving them the limelight is a powerful tool and it works in most situations.
2. Use the power of Aikido
If you haven’t heard of it before, Aikido is actually a form of martial arts. Yet, it is non-threatening and doesn’t use force.
In fact, what makes Aikido so effective is that it removes aggression from an adversary by yielding to his/her force in a way that they end up only hurting themselves. For instance, imagine stepping out of the way as someone tries to strike you–the attacker would likely fall down, hurting only themselves.
Mean people are easily unsettled when you DON'T react the way they are expecting. Because most of these people have very low self-esteem, their actions come from a place of insecurity; they lash out or belittle to make themselves feel better.
To use an ‘Aikido-like’ reaction:
3. Find your inner comic
Instead of letting these people get under your skin, find a way to make light of their behaviour. I have seen really great leaders deal with some very annoying people simply by making a quick thinking remark. For instance, in the case of an employee continuously interrupting a meeting, the leader might say, “Slow down there speedy, I’m driving this meeting”.
If it’s your boss who’s pushing your buttons, this can be a bit trickier but you can still make light of their nasty comments. Laugh out loud and say something like, “Oh, for a moment I thought you were calling me an idiot–that’s a good one”.
It may not immediately come to you in the moment, so after an interaction has happened, consider things you could say next time. The AMA has a great article on how to have the last laugh, worth a read! Try to avoid insults as you don’t want to stoop to their level–I’m talking about making light of their comment so you take back control.
4. Call them on the behaviour
We naturally try to defend ourselves or strike back when mean people put us down or make a condescending comment. These people have become experts at making others look second-rate so that they can feel superior. That is where they draw strength.
If you can’t ignore their comments, respond firmly with a response that exposes the behaviour, “That sounded like a put-down”. It usually holds a mirror up to the individual and catches them off guard.
Most of these people won’t want to ‘look bad’ in front of others and a public call-out will make them uncomfortable enough to switch gears.
Over time, this tactic can actually help them with their own self-awareness.
5. Nip it in the bud: stage an intervention
This approach takes a great deal of courage and I recommend doing this with support. Book a face-to-face meeting with the difficult person and address their behaviour head-on when you are cool-headed.
Be sure to have several specific examples at the ready. Make sure your discussion is done in a way to help them understand the affect they have on others. Conduct this meeting in private; clarify what the issue is as factually as possible and set out a plan to fix the problem offering support and guidance.
Let them know how these behaviours are making you or your team feel. Use ‘I’ or ‘I feel’ messages. For instance, “I feel embarrassed when I’m called out in a meeting in front of others”, or, “I feel disrespected when I am constantly interrupted in meetings”.
‘I feel’ messages usually resonate better because the other person is not put on the defensive–no one can deny your own feelings. If you have internal HR support, they can assist you in this discussion. If not, then consider bringing in external support to help you plan this discussion and to be present during the meeting.
Don’t let nasty people ruin your work experience. Approach them as though they have a problem and don’t let it be your problem anymore.
Typically they have developed this behaviour over many years but no one has called them on it. It is possible for them to change, but it takes work on their behalf as well as yours.
Most great companies have formal policies to reinforce values for treating people with respect. This is great for employees, but what about you as a leader?
Check out our additional posts that deal with bad behaviour like bullying at work:
- 6 Strategies for dealing with difficult people
- The Constant Critic
If you’re dealing with colleagues or team members who are disrespectful to you, I’m here to help. I can arm you with proven practices to help you manage through the tough stuff. Send me an email or give me a call today!
Elaine Adamson is a leadership consultant with Dots Leadership Solutions Inc. A natural dot connector. Passionate about coaching team effectiveness and leadership development she shares over 25+ years of real-life tips and tricks that really work!
Elaine believes you can discover and leverage strengths to forge a strong team dynamic despite business challenges or organizational change.