Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A success constant

Some things change; some things don’t.
No longer do we see engineering students on college campuses caring slide rules. No longer do we submit punch cards to white coated technicians working in the computer room. Today, calculators are on every phone, libraries fit on tiny storage units, and computations that used to take all night, are done in an instant. However, some things do stay the same.

One of those is critically important to progress in any field, in any business, in any life. It is the foundation for all success. The lack of it is one of the main contributing factors to failure. What is this special and important component? It  is the openness to learning.

Openness to learning
A survey of a hundred people, asking if they are open to learning, will probably get a hundred positive responses. A survey of those with whom they work or supervise, however, will most likely not get the same percentage. So, why the discrepancy?

There are  many reasons. The first on your list is probably the workers’ lack of understanding, or their misperception. And, there are other reasons, such as the definition of learning, a restriction on who can teach us, a belief in our own wisdom, the perception that our understanding is the understanding, and so on. While some of these may be very valid, – that is, our education, experience, perception and understanding are important – they can stifle our progress and the progress of those around us.

First, it is important for us to realize that while we may know much, we do not know it all. There is no one bright enough, educated enough, or experienced enough, to know everything.

Second, we need to be sincerely interested in learning every day. Productive learning is not a cram course; it is a bit by bit, every day a little. Taking classes and attending workshops can be important, but they should be merely stimulations to further exploration.

Third, it is important to be open to learning from all sources. Particularly in organizations, it is important to pay attention to what those in the trenches believe is real, and to willingly examine those perceptions. These people know much. We must be willing to learn from them. They know more specifics about their situation than all of the clinicians and  celebrated  business writers do.

I continually advocate management by walking around – spending time with workers and employees at all levels. There is much acclaim regarding a television program were the CEO signs up to work in the industry, then, after spending time in that position, he or she reveals the true identity. Although that is a nice idea, to me it is pathetic that the employees don’t recognize their leaders. If your employees don’t know what you look like, you probably don’t know what they think; it is time you got out of the office and spent time with them.

The bottom line: regardless of your organization – home or multi-billion dollar enterprise – the foundation for success is the sincere openness to learning.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Leadership and the flock

Leaders play the most significant and critical role as catalysts and energizers in the development of focus, goals, people and the ultimate success or failure of the organization.

Recognizing Leadership
An individual with whom I worked once asked if I knew why the lead goose in a flock was the leader. This individual had a ready wit, and this question could be assumed to have a funny or pun ending. Rather than make a lot of guesses that would probably be in error, I said, “I don’t know.” He answered, “because the other geese are following!” At first, that seemed like a typical groaner. However, as I thought about it, I began to understand the significant wisdom in that statement. Leadership is more than a spot in the formation, or a title or slot on an organization chart. True leadership is identified by followership. A human leader, just like the lead goose, breaks the ground in front and makes it easier for the rest of the flock. Human leaders also set the pace and the direction.

A Quick Check
 If you are titled as a leader and find the group straying and determining to push off without you, or if they are following because they have to, it is time for a careful check. Sorry to break the news, but if they are not following willingly, you are not leading.

This May Mean You
 It is critically important you realize that this discussion is not just about CEOs, directors, managers, or what have you. Remember, even ducks have leaders. You may be a line worker, a laborer in the field, the mother in the home, a teacher, or the president of Ford Motor. Regardless of your title or position, there may be several ducks following you (even little ducks, mom). How are you helping your "flock?"

[Additional reading: The Wrong Bottom Line. . . Still]

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Million-dollar word: good or bad

Listening – particularly to the people in the organization – can be worth millions. It can provide valuable information and can boost support and morale. But it is only the key that unlocks the door; someone still has to actually open the door. While usually helpful, the process can also be destructive – a couple of examples.

Example one: A large chain has an open door policy. Personnel may address the regional director without negative consequence. That is an excellent policy. However, the organization does not take the next step of responding to the information.

Example two: an organization decided to espouse an idea, provided information to the staff about the new changes, then operated as usual.

The success formula is: Ask →Listen → Respond.

That does not necessarily mean you must do.  It does mean you will acknowledge and implement the ideas and recommendations where possible and where they will prove productive.

Appropriate ideas should be brought up in staff meetings and the originator acknowledged. Where appropriate, a committee can be formed to examine the idea and report back to the group with possible action recommendations. Put the idea originator as the chair of the committee.– even if it is a clerk, a checker, a stock boy. This will have a profound affect on the personnel. Do review with your associates prior to the implementation of this proposed process so they know what to expect.

As I observe different organizations, I hear words like “team” or “crew,” or “associates.” Some are real and some are not. If yours is one of those, make it real.

(For a suggested process, see: Wrong Bottom Line Still: Critical Components, change activity 25, page 128).

Monday, September 17, 2012

“Million-dollar” follow-up – Critical Information

In an effort to not add my clutter to your e-mail load, I have made it a habit to write only once a month. However, because of the tremendous response to the million-dollar word article, I felt it important to add the second part of that concept.  I will keep this short.

This facet of listening is essential.

First, the most important persons for you to listen to is your employees. No, it isn’t your patrons. They are important. It is the people who work for you, who day-to-day spend time in your shop. These are the people who see what goes on. They have important insight about procedures, habits, and practices in your organization.

Second, do not give out lengthy questionnaires. No one likes to do them, and they often don’t ask the right questions anyway. Your people do not need something more to do.

Do give them a  questionnaire that asks them four questions:
    1. What do you like about the organization that you would like not to be changed?
    2. What do you like least about this organization and that you would like to see changed?
    3. What do you like about me as a leader that you would like to see me maintain?
    4. What about me as a leader would you like to see changed?
Additional comments:

Do not do as I heard about a company this week, hire an expensive consultant to evaluate your group. Your group already knows what you need. And, a clerical person can compile all of the comments from your people.

If there is some mistrust of leadership, or if you have any thought that some individuals might not give you the honest truth, there are ways of making sure that the information is anonymous, and that they know it. All of this and much more is in the book “The Wrong Bottom Line . . . Still” chapters 8 and 10, but you don’t have to buy the book (although I don’t discourage that idea) You can actually read pages 91 and 92 on Amazon – (just click; I have it already marked--you may have to put "Activity 16" in the "search inside the book").

Promise not to bother you until October. Of course, if I can be of help anytime just email or call (; 208 249-1280).

Friday, September 7, 2012

Million dollar word

A particular company once had a motto: one picture is worth 1000 words. That may be true. But there is one word that if internalized is worth not pictures or words, but thousands of dollars – even millions of dollars. And this word  was taught to me by a 17-year-old boy. You may have heard my story before–I relate it in my book “The Wrong Bottom Line . . . Still,”– but it holds the key to the million dollar word.

A number of years back, one of my sons came home from a high school event. He was upset – very upset. I, the all-knowing father, began to “fix” the problem. In frustration, this young man exclaimed to me “dad, shut up and listen – please just listen!” I was stunned. My children did not talk to me that way. Caught off guard, I stopped talking. At that point my child began to unload a flood.  After he had purged his frustration, he then asked for my input.

The word and the concept I learned at that point was to shut my mouth and open my ears and my mind to learning– to listening.

Too many bosses, too many directors, too many supervisors, too many teachers, too many parents talk too much and listen too little. The foundation for the greatest success is built on openness and willingness to learn. We don’t learn much when our mouths are open. We do when we close our mouths and open our ears–when we listen.

Listen to your patrons. Listen to your associates. Listen to those you supervise. Don’t listen as a courtesy. Listen to learn. In my interview with worker after worker, I find great ideas that no one in the upper bracket wants to listen to. Listening builds teamwork,. Listening improves operations. Listening builds morale and support. Listening saves businesses and increases profits.

Businesses can be saved, operations made more effective and efficient, disputes dissipated, relationships improved, and sales increased, if we but employ the million dollar word: listen.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


Sometimes we applaud the fast thinking, ever correct abilities of computers. My usual response to that is that they are glorified adding/text machines. However, there are times when I think they show more intelligence than we humans. Sometimes our actions make little sense. Let me share some examples as an encouragement to use our abilities to “think.”
    People willing to help me out – or out of my money
    I received a card in the mail inviting me to a complementary dinner accompanied with some sage advice. The topic for the evening was entitled, “The Government Wants YOUR Retirement.” Using my ability to reason, that offer either sounds like: out of the goodness of our hearts, and because we have your best welfare in mind, we are paying for your meal and providing life-saving information,” or, “we are looking for non-thinking clients who we can stampede into signing up with us so we can make money, and we are willing to invest in a dinner because our return will be worth it. Further, we mail these to individuals who are in retirement age because they will react more strongly, and are more likely not to be as sharp as younger folks.” So, if I were to partake of their recommendations would I be a benefactor of their kindness, or would they become benefactors of my money?
    Asleep on the job
    As a supervisor, have you ever noticed workers falling asleep in their cubicles? Perhaps you have even noticed some extra nodding during your discourses at meetings. Is your first response to ding them on the supervisory reports or their evaluations? Do you have thoughts of replacing them? First, review your own actions. Certainly, you have never had the sleep bug bite you at your desk. Of course, you have never felt sleepy – even closed your eyes – during a long meeting. Well, some of us have. So what do you do with your employees?
    First, what is your focus, your objective, your goal? It should be to assist those you supervise in being as productive and successful as possible. That being the case, reprimanding and treaty employees negatively will be of less value than meeting their needs – even if it goes against your traditional grain. In light of the overall objective of moving forward and producing effectively, it would be of greater value to encourage the tired individual to take a break – even a 15 min. nap. If you do, you’ll find a very appreciated worker who will come back refreshed and more productive.
    The plea here is to treat human beings as human beings – to think instead of just compute. No, it is not babying people. It is being considerate and treating them as you would like to be treated. It is not only the humane way to operate, it is the most honest way; it is also the most productive way.
Of Related Interest: Cost of Hiring

Saturday, July 7, 2012

      As we celebrate America’s Birthday, we often think of the way American businesses are innovative. Sometimes, however, we may note, how they have failed to look ahead.
     In order to maximize our potential, it is important we look into the future and anticipate and create appropriately. Although there certainly have been some significant business success, there have been some significant misses as well. A “miss” often not recognized is the one that deals with people. It is also one that can have lasting ramifications. While commodity production can be altered significantly within a comparatively short time, there are personnel problems on the horizon that will be much more difficult to manipulate.
    Many American workers feel they are being exploited. That is, they are paid poor salaries and expected to produce more. Exacerbating the problem is a belief that the money is there to pay better wages –  leadership is being paid exceptionally well. Because of the tough economic situation and extensive layoffs, workers are willing to accept these conditions. This will not go on forever. As the economy improves, if worker conditions do not improve, several personnel factors will begin to impact the business world.
    First, as businesses expand – as they eventually will –  there will be a need for more workers. That will provide new opportunities for people to make choices – find better jobs. Individuals who work for companies that take advantage of them, will have opportunity to find better situations. The resulting lack of needed skilled workers will create problems, expenses (see: Hiring - The Cost)  and lower quality for those organizations.
    Second, with greater personnel needs will come competition. Those organizations that refuse to improve wages and conditions, will find  fewer competent workers willing to accept positions. And, even if improvements are made, reputation and past practices will have an effect on the quality of the hiring pool.
    Third, many workers who have found it difficult to find employment, are changing  occupations. Many have chosen to go to school and become qualified in higher demand fields. This shift will further stress businesses as they look for qualified employees.
    Fourth, as the low-end worker pool decreases in size, there will be a tendency to continue outsourcing to countries with lower pay standards. However, as the world continues to move toward become one giant connected industry, the standards of all workers will elevate, and the cost will rise; that is already happening. That coupled with the fact that maintaining offices in foreign countries will become more expensive, will result in that avenue becoming less attractive.
    Lastly, the longer it takes American businesses to take this trend seriously, the greater problem it will create. That brings us to the foundation for Critical Cornerstones for Success.
    Critical Cornerstones For Success, systematically considers the essential components required to achieve maximum success in any endeavor–business and profession to success in the home (see:: The Wrong Bottom Line . . . Still: Critical Components.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Graduation or commencement

    This is the time of year of excitement. Having been a high school principal, I can tell you from experience that there is a lot of anticipation, difficulty in concentration, and even craziness among seniors. Stop any member of that class in the hall and they can tell you exactly how many days until graduation – that starts sometime after Christmas.
    Then, there comes a change. Particularly during the graduation ceremony – even though there are a lot of smiles and joyous sounds – there come some tears and soberness, and a realization that what they longed to leave, doesn’t look so bad; it will be something that many of them miss. No longer will they have the schedules, checks and balances, and concerned adults. In their new life, they may punch a card, but an absence will still be an absence whatever the excuse. If they go on for advanced schooling and don’t show up for class, the attendance secretary won’t call to see if everything is okay.
    These confident high school seniors begin to realize that graduation is not merely the end of something; it is the commencement – the beginning of something new.
    At graduation ceremonies, these “mighty” seniors remind me of kindergarten children; they actually have that look in their eyes. Now, some may disagree. My recommendation for those individuals, is to visit a nearby university. I have also had the opportunity to teach at that level. It is amazing how young and often unsure the new freshmen look and act. They seldom resemble those recent self-assured seniors; a transformation has happened.
    There is a message here for everyone. Regardless of the business you run, the organizations in which you’re involved, or the household in which you dwell. Commencements don’t come in twelve years, in four years, or in two years. Commencements come every day. You have never lived this day before. You have never lived tomorrow. In fact, many will not live tomorrow – some know that, and others don’t. There is no time to be disrespectful to patrons, condescending to employees, surly at parents, mad at kids, or generally hurtful to others.
    It is wise to remember the old politician’s saying (not remembered by many politicians) when you are slinging mud, you are losing ground.
    Make every new commencement – every new day – something positive, exciting, and beneficial. If that brings a groan, do an attitude adjustment. Remember, the beauty and enjoyment of life is not in a plushy casket at the end; it is in the process along the way.

[While you are pondering all of this, go visit the Book Nook, Hastings, ShopKo, Walmart, and the many other local stores, and pick up a gift for your favorite graduate – high school or college.]

Friday, April 27, 2012

Leadership sets the example

Recently, there has been a discussion on Linkedin entitled “ is it okay for a leader to bend a rule or policy?” Although the answers have come back mixed, a number have been quite supportive of the idea that it is okay for leadership to disregard rules and policies to some extent.

On the plausible and positive side there are some reasons that can make sense. For example, to lean toward the accommodation of a customer even though policy may indicate a different path. And perhaps applying common sense in a poor-policy situation sounds like an acceptable variance. But these are traps, and  there are better ways.

First, in arguments against deviation from policies by leadership, are legal issues; bending the rules is a legally dangerous choice. It opens the opportunity for successful lawsuits and grievances, as well as criticism and the loss of jobs – as in the recent Secret Service escapade.

Second, if leadership sets the example of disregard for policy, it opens the gate for everyone else in the organization. For the boss to proclaim or demonstrate that he or she can do whatever because he or she is the boss is not only poor leadership, it creates tremendous resentment within the group.

So, how does one get around  policy.

First, policy that is inappropriate, outdated, unnecessary, or just plain stupid, should be dumped. If, on the other hand, it is one in which some discretion in favor of the customer, for example, really needs to be made, change the wording. Instead of an ironclad decree, try substituting the word “recommended.” “At the discretion of” can also be a way of accepting the intelligence of the individual involved while at the same time providing a checkpoint that must be considered.

A good test is to put yourself in the subordinates position: how do you like it when your superiors disregard rules and policy, but you get called on the carpet for little infractions? One of leadership’s goals ought to be to build a team. That doesn’t happen when one individual can do whatever while the rest have to  follow the rules. In a way, to you, this boss person feels like a cheat.

The best leaders play the game fair. If it doesn’t work, fix it. Otherwise, observe it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Building others–and you

It really doesn’t matter how old you are, how famous, or what your position, personal attention makes a difference.

If you want to get close to children, get on the floor with them. You will be amazed at how much more involved with you they become. If you are a teacher, paying attention to individual students makes a big difference in their success. As the top dog in your department, your store, or your organization, you can make significant inroads and great impact when you deal human to human.

A couple of examples on the positive side. I contacted the manager of the local WinCo food store. This is a large store with many employees. I had a question. I called the manager. Instead of someone down the line, he answered the phone. He dealt with my question openly and honestly even though part of the answer was not to my liking. He was fair, straight, and personal. When I went into the store to talk with him, he was very willing and friendly. Will I shop at that store again? Absolutely.

A superintendent of the Boise public schools was riding in an elevator. He was recognized by a district teacher. She introduced herself and told him about a program she was running in her classroom. He said he would like to see it and that he would drop by sometime. Not too long after that meeting, she was surprised to find him in her classroom, remembering her name, and sincerely interested in what she was doing. As she related the story to me, she glowed. He made a positive lasting impression: he really was interested in her, the classroom and what was going on with kids.

A couple of negative examples. I knew a local politician who routinely called and asked for my input.  He was elected governor. From then on, he did not even know me. Another politician – a representative to the congress – continually asked for input. However, when my input did not agree with his philosophy, I received no communication back. To these individuals, I became invisible, unimportant, and of little consequence. Would I vote for them? Absolutely not.

One of the best things you can do for your business or associations, even family, is to pay sincere attention to individuals. Not only will it be good for your business, situation, and them, it will benefit you. You will become a better listener and a better learner.

As always, when you are building others, you are building you.

[You can still get your free download of the new book: "The Wrong Bottom Line. . . Still: Critical Components."  Offer ends Monday, April 16. Email to]

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Spring and the right wall

Stephen Covey notes that it is commendable and necessary to exert efforts to “climb the ladder” to reach our goals. However, he sagely advises us to make sure the ladder is propped against the “right” wall–our energy is exerted appropriately.

As blossoms bloom and flowers begin to spring up to the warming sun, it is a good time to look ahead and back, to make sure our “ladders” and our efforts are propped the most productive way.

Sometimes we get into a habit of operating based on what we have always done. That isn’t necessarily wrong. A lot can be positively said for maintaining an established routine, organization, or process. However, have you checked that process against your focus or proclaimed mission? Spring is a good time to take a new look.

First, what is your focus? Why does your organization exist? Hopefully, the answer is tied into a benefit or service, not to just making money. Hopefully, your legacy will be more than a beautiful casket at the end of your journey.

Second, are your objectives, goals and processes aligned as closely as possible to that focus. Is all of your hard work–your ladder to climb–leaning against the right wall? Are your efforts and energies aligned to get the maximum? Is what is done the result of careful consideration or merely a holdover from the past?

While watching those tulips struggle through the soil with colorful blooms, pause and take a few minutes – or hours – by yourself, with your team, or even in your family. Review what you are all about and determine if you are moving toward that vision.

[In a short time I will be making my new book: The Wrong Bottom Line and How to Fix It… Still: Critical Components, available.]

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Force Field analysis to your advantage

In a well-established, internationally known company, there is a supervisor who is caught in a problem that a little Force Field analysis could help. Debbie, as we shall call her, is required to complete reports on a timeline set by her administrative head. However, the timelines are set so close to the end of projects that the data is not accurate.

Force Field analysis, as you may recall, involves an examination of the positive and negative factors of an endeavor. It can assist us as we review the positives and negatives of our policies, procedures, and decisions. In Debbie’s case, that is not happening.

Debbie believes that handing in inaccurate reports, regardless of the timeline, is a waste of time and a misrepresentation of information.

However, some colleagues–other supervisors–make sure their reports are provided as requested–accurate or not. This tends to make them look better, receive better evaluations, and more bonuses than Debbie.

Debbie believes the practice should change, and at the very least, ought to be examined, and the positive and negative sides be addressed.

She has talked with her administrative head regarding this concern. Nothing changed. What can she do? She has three choices: (1) turn in the reports, although inaccurate, on the timeline given; (2) continue providing accurate data, but late, receive poorer evaluations, less chance for bonasus; or (3) quit. None of these choices are good. About the only positive force in this situation, is that she has a job. She has a tough dilemma.

However, the company also has at least two problems: (1) they are frustrating and potentially losing effective employees–a problem that will become more critical as the workforce better aligns itself with the jobs available; and (2) using inaccurate data.

Traditions are great. Routines can be very helpful. Policies eliminate confusions. At least, that is one side of the story–don’t forget the other.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

The triple–benefit approach

The last article noted that extensive research –  involving more than 17 million employees – had been done by the Gallup organization on what they called employee engagement. They estimated that not engaging employees cost US businesses some $300 billion in lost productivity.

As we all know, studies are worthless unless they result in some kind of action. Let us talk about some actions.

Previously, we suggested that leadership’s attitude had to be ready to embrace this idea – had to be willing to learn. Assuming that step has been acquired, let us move on.

Step two is the most beneficial, simplest, and most resisted. It is listening – really listening. That sounds so trite and unsophisticated that too many leaders don’t take it seriously. Add to that the number of ineffective practices used by organizations to gather information, and it explains gallop’s setting a $300 billion loss.

First, leadership at every level must be sincerely focused on the workers’ observations, opinions, and recommendations. Put aside what you think. If they believe a pole is a tree, it is a tree to them.

Second, the approach needs to be simple. Start with a simple questionnaire. Ask four questions:
    1. What do you like about the organization (business, operation, way we work, whatever) that you would like to see continued?

    2.what do you not like about the organization (etc.), that you would like to see changed?

    3. What do you like about me (could be the CEO, supervisors, etc.), and that you would like not changed?

    4. What do you not like about me (CEO, supervisors, etc.) and/or the way I operate, and that you would like to see changed?

Be sure that anonymity is protected. The ultimate goal is that eventually each individual would feel comfortable about sharing answers to these questions with you. An important note here: even if you believe there is excellent rapport and opportunity for worker input, the first time do the four questions under a system that assures anonymity. You may be surprised at the information provided.

If done correctly, this little exercise will provide: (1) succinct information that highlights the very best and the very worst – an excellent place to begin; (2) the belief, or the beginning of a belief by the worker, that his/her opinion counts; (3) greater worker support and effort.

Yes, you can think of many reasons to throw this out and continue as usual. Of course, that may be a red flag about you or the organization. Just do it.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

People first – Gallup backs it up

We continually harp on the value of paying attention to the people who work for you or with you. In fact, that concept and how to achieve it, is the total basis for the two books, The Wrong Bottom Line and How To Change It, and The Wrong Bottom Line Still – Components for Success (to be  released within the next couple of months.)

 But we aren’t alone.

The Gallup organization has studied this phenomenon for many years under the name of employee engagement, and involving more than 17 million employees. They estimate that not engaging employees cost US businesses some $300 billion in lost productivity alone.

According to Gallup in its recent analysis from data of more than 152 organizations, there is a dramatic difference between top and bottom–quartile work groups on key business outcomes directly tied to employee engagement. It shows up in productivity, profitability, safety incidents, and absenteeism. Our own investigation shows it also affects employee attitude, loyalty, and the length of time individuals remain with the organization.

So how do you ensure maximum employee engagement? There are many ways, and we will share them with you in future articles. However, the underlying concepts – ways of thinking – are critical:

1. GNSP = HLOS (Greater Number of Successful People = Higher Level of Organization Success). We suggest you view the video: Don’t Overlook the Trees for the Forest.

2. “I am the boss, they work for me.” So often we hear this statement stated the wrong way. Don’t emphasize the first part; concentrate on the last. That is, your success as a leader is completely dependent upon the work of others. Without them, you completely fail. They really do work for you.

Do the people in your organization view themselves as mere cogs in a machine or do they feel appreciated, and as important contributors? Do they believe that their opinions count – that they count? According to the research and to maximize your success, you need to make sure they have positive answers to those questions.

Their feelings and attitudes make a big difference in the success and profitability of your organization

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Foundation for more effective dispute resolution

After last week’s article, Dealing With Angry People, a reader commented that he totally agreed. The problem, however, was how to actually put that into real life. I agree. It is always easier to talk than to implement. This is especially true where emotions are involved.

The key is to determine direction before emotional involvements, and to become proficient in dealing with them. Here are some suggestions.

First, there must be a belief in the philosophy. If you believe arguing is the way to solve problems, there is no need to go further. Enjoy your sessions and increased blood pressure. If, however, you think there is validity in the idea of an alternative path, you can make some changes.

Second, a procedure or practice must be developed that will actually facilitate bringing the philosophy to fruition. Back to targeting and focus. Remember that you hit only what you aim at. And, if you think you are not aiming, you still are. Sounds confusing? This is a discussion for another time. Just realize that you are going in a direction – one you consciously chose or one determined by the environment. 

Third, the philosophy, procedures,  practices, and training must be an integral part of the system. Particularly, it must include the front-line people; those individuals who meet customers, associates, students, parents, etc.  It must not be just another policy or procedure prescribed by the head office and trained at the head office. That brings us to an important issue.

We are seeing extreme salary differences between leadership and line workers. Some CEOs are paid more per day than their workers receive in a year. That is obscene and negatively affects people. That king-servant attitude also often infiltrates the training and individual development practices. The top of the ladder – kings – get the training while the bottom get only what is necessary for them to function. Of course, that is foolish.

The key people in organization image, customer relations, repeat business, and word-of-mouth advertising are usually the lowest paid and poorest trained individuals – telephone operators, return desk clerks, and cashiers. These are the people we all deal with every day. These are the people who set the image of companies. They become the company to the people who call, have a concern, or want to return an item. How much training do they receive in dealing with conflict? How many workshops are they involved in, and at company expense?

If we want to be optimally successful, we need to provide increased training in how to deal with people – that includes angry people – more professionally and successfully. And, to be most effective, it should be provided before the problem arises.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Dealing With Angry People

Whenever you think you are arguing with a fool, consider the possibility that your opponent may be engaged in a similar activity.

From time to time, everyone has the opportunity of dealing with angry – upset – people. It can be with customers, employees, employers, or even adults and children in your home. It doesn’t matter whether it is a three-year-old or the CEO, the rules for success are the same.

Rule 1: Start  with yourself.
Make sure you are not contributing to the problem by being angry yourself. Take a deep breath and intellectually and emotionally “stand back,” and look at yourself as objectively as possible. If this is an ongoing occurrence, ask an associate or an unaffected observer to evaluate how you operate. 

Rule 2: Allow the anger – in the other person. A disgruntled employee, customer, teenager, or little child is upset. The best thing you can do is let them vent – even if you know they are completely wrong. The worst thing you can do is try to cut them off. After they have let off the steam, they are more ready for suggestions and solutions.

Rule 3: Listen - but not looking for a response. Don’t cut in. Don’t inject comments; just listen. You will gain some understanding, and sometimes, the upset person will get around to providing solutions.

Rule 4: Clarify. After the individual is done venting, attempt to playback the main points you heard. Do ask for clarification as needed – do so in a respectful manner.

Rule 5: Respond appropriately. “You forgot to plug it in, you stupid jerk!” is not an appropriate response.

Rule 6: Don’t argue.
It is surprising the number of people who think they win arguments. “Winning” an argument doesn’t happen for the participants.  No one wins an argument. If you walk away from an argument with a smug feeling because you “won” that one, look again.  Arguments are lose, lose situations; no one wins. Sometimes they think they do. You may have the last word. Your opponent may be visibly shaken. However, it may have nothing to do with a change of thinking, only that the individual is worn down, has given up, or decides the whole thing is a waste of time.

I have observed many lose – lose situations. You can read some for nothing. Just go to Amazon, type in “The Wrong Bottom Line and How to Change It,” do the “Look Inside” p. 23, or click this link:, in the index, click "Think Ahead." The incidents noted there are absurd.  They are also common. These are normally intelligent people who, in the heat of battle, make no sense, and think they have won when they have really lost.
Don’t argue; you will win nothing and can lose much.

Skillfully working with angry people can be very rewarding both personally and for the institution.