Is Your Office a Monkey-Free Zone?

Is your office a monkey-free zone?

Performance Support Partners - Monkey Free Zone

“What?” you say.  Let me explain.  If I didn’t laugh, I would cry over some of the stories I have heard about experiences in the corporate world.  It amazes me that so many managers go down the wrong path in trying to motivate their employees to behave differently.

My friend relayed a story about how his office decided that there was too much negativity in the work place and they needed to do something about it.  Negativity can be contagious, and eliminating workplace negativity would be a positive thing.

Their strategy was to create a rule that if an employee said something negative, they would have to keep a monkey (a children’s stuffed animal) at your desk at all times.  The only way you could get rid of the monkey was to wait to hear someone else saying something negative and then give the monkey to them.

I am sure that the intent was to motivate people to be more positive and create more awareness around when employees were being perceived as speaking negatively. And, I am sure this was meant to be funny.  However, treating adults like children never brings out the best in them.  And making them keep a monkey at their desk is akin to making them wear a dunce hat and sit in a corner. It is bully-like behavior and its purpose is to shame.  Shame creates bad feelings. Bad feelings shut down creativity, dampen morale and it shuts down higher order thinking skills (HOTS) which is possibly a much worse consequence than ‘negative’ talk.

One consequence at his workplace was it created what can be facetiously called themonkey effectIt caused a lack of trust and a hesitation to speak openly about issues that could be perceived as negative.  When prodded for more information, they began to ask “is this a monkey-free zone?” before being willing to provide input. In meetings to solve problems where it is important to discuss challenges that need addressed, staff were hesitant to discuss their thoughts and opinions for fear of it being perceived as ‘negative’ talk.  They didn’t want to be shamed with the monkey.

So, I ask, is your office a monkey-free zone?

What can you do about negativity in the workplace? While there is a long list of things we could talk about, let’s start with the most easily identifiable form which is a complaint.  Instead of putting up a sign with a red circle around the word complaints, here are some tips to turn a negative into something more positive, by making someone feel heard, feel empowered and possibly even create positive change.

Listen to complaints with a mindset that there is valuable information in the complaint.

Victim language is a pattern in language which usually indicates that the person feelspowerless to make a change.  Complaints are a form of victim language. (Now that you know this, you are going to complain less, now aren’t you?!) This sounds like a bad thing, but there are a lot of benefits and valuable information that can be obtained from listening to complaints.

What are some of the benefits and valuable information you gain from complaints?

 Complaints shine a light on something that can be fixed or streamlined to be made better, improving the work environment and possibly morale.

  • If one person complains, chances are that there are 10 other people that have the same complaint that won’t speak up.  Instead, they will silently withdraw or leave.  Listening to the one person that is willing to speak up gives you the opportunity to take action early.
  • A complaint tells you what the person is committed to or what the person values.  For example, if they are complaining about something that is inefficient and ineffective, you know that they are committed to or value something that is most likely opposite of their complaint – a work environment that is efficient and effective.  They may not even be aware that they have these values.  It may be unconscious. It gives you an opportunity to understand them better and to acknowledge the values that you are observing to build a better relationship.  The more awareness someone has about themselves, the better decisions they tend to make.

Guideposts for listening to complaints

Here are a few guideposts to using your advanced communication skills to make the person feel heard and understood, find the value in the complaint, and give them a path to feeling empowered again.

  1. Listen to the complaint with non judgmental awareness.  What is non judgmental awareness? This means that your tone remains charge-neutral, you do not judge, you do not try to ‘fix’ anything but stay curious and explore further if you want more details. The ability of the mind to observe without adding layers of bias, criticism and unnecessary analysis make the awareness non-judgmental.  An example might be watching a leaf drop from a tree in the autumn season. You don’t know where it is going to float to next and you just observe its motion floating and swirling naturally in the air.  There are no projections of what will happen in the future because you are only observing what is happening now and nothing else.
  2. Confirm your understanding. If they said, “I should have gotten a better raise.”  Confirm your understanding of what they said.  For example, you might say “I hear your frustration.  You feel you should have gotten a better raise.”
  3. Ask if they are just venting, or do they want your help? This is a clarifying question that helps bring awareness to both of you as to whether they just needed an understanding ear to hear them out, or if they really want some help from you.  Because if they are just venting, the worst thing you can do is to try to fix or solve the problem.  They are not engaging you to solve the problem, they just want to vent.  They may not even be aware of this themselves.  If they confirm that they are just venting, you might say, “Okay, I want you to vent another two minutes to get it out of your system, but then we move on to happier and fun things. Agreed?”  This brings awareness to them that you want to be there for them to vent, but not forever.
  4. If they aren’t venting and want help, ask yourself, “What are they committed to?” or “What do they value?” This is usually something opposite of what the complaint is about.  Once you understand what they are committed to or value, acknowledge that by stating it to them. This is a powerful technique to make a person feel heard and understood. It also helps you to uncover the positive intent of a complaint.  For example, you might say, “It sounds like you are committed to good wages” or “It sounds like you value good wages.”  They may not even be consciously aware that this is a value they hold in themselves, until you state it.  Hearing it from you may be very eye opening.
  5. Ask an open ended question that empowers and challenges them to make a change. This must be asked with non judgmental awareness as described above in a charge-neutral tone.  Avoid yes or no closed ended questions.  You might ask, “What do you think is your next best step to earning more money?”  Or, “What do you think you would like to do about it?” This step helps move the person out of powerlessness into a sense of empowerment into the possibility of taking an action to initiate a change.

Examples:

How do you listen to complaints - Performance Support Partners

Employee: “We have too many meetings.”
You: “You feel we have too many meetings.”
Employee: “Yes. They are a waste of time.”
You: “Can I clarify – are you just venting?  Or do you want me to brainstorm about it with you?”
Employee: “Good question.  I hadn’t thought about that.  I think I really want to brainstorm ways to improve it.  For one, thing I think they could be made so much more productive if we had an agenda.”
You: “I know you are committed to making productive use of meeting time”.
Employee: “Yes, it would be beneficial to everyone.”
You: “What do you think are some things you could do to make them more productive in addition to an agenda?”

Employee: “My boss micromanages me.”
You: “You feel that you are micromanaged”
Employee: “Yes. It drives me crazy, and I can’t do my best work that way.”
You: “I can tell that is frustrates you.  Can I clarify – are you just venting?  Or do you want to talk about how you might address it with your boss?”
Employee: “I have no idea how to address it.”
You: “I know you are committed to doing your best work and you need more autonomy to do it.  What do you think would help you most in addressing it with your boss?”
Employee: “I just don’t know how to bring it up or what to say.”
You: “Would you like to set aside some time to brainstorm things to say and ways to bring it up in a way that is productive?”
Employee: Yes, that would be great.  I would like that very much.

There are many things to look at when addressing negativity in the workplace.  However, please do make it a monkey-free zone. By shifting your mindset from a complaint is something negative to a complaint is an opportunity to streamline your work environment, gain valuable information and encourage action or change is an excellent start.  Using these techniques will make a person feel heard, model a way to communicate when listening to a complaint, as well as support them in moving out of feeling powerless and into feeling empowered to make a change.

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Want to go from stressed out to streamlined?  Wishing you could spend more time actually doing the work you love?  Mia Turpel’s know-how as a business and career coach, speaker, project manager and trainer will help you do just that.  Discover how to find Your Best Work in the Your Best Work, Find It, Love it, Live It telecourse.  Want to chat with Coach Mia?  Contact Coach Mia.

Work is for Joy

I grew up with the idea that you go to school, study, get good grades, and you get a good job, and go to work from 8 to 5.  This is a framework that I adopted from my environment – which included my parents, my family, my school, my friends, and my culture in general.

Work was something that you did, but play was for after work.  Work, by definition, was something you didn’t necessarily love, but was accepted as part of life unless you won the lottery or inherited lots of money.  It was great if you could love your work, but, that wasn’t really expected.  And, you worked hard all of your life and put away money so you could have a heyday when you retired at 65.

This belief came from the society I grew up in, the schools that I attended and my family.  I adopted it – rather unconsciously.  The only way to earn income was to pimp your knowledge and skills by becoming employed.  Which was fine, except when it felt like your soul was being sucked out or your unique contributions and creativity were being squashed into this little box.

Freedom 2Thomas Leonard, considered the father of coaching, teaches a concept called frameworks.  One of the frameworks is “Work is For Joy.”  For me, this is an intriguing and attractive idea.  It is “outside of the box” of my existing framework.  The idea that your greatest gift to the world was an extension of what came easily to you, was uniquely you, was fun for you, and used your greatest talents every day was invigorating.  “Work” instead of a drudgery, was your unique contribution to the world – a contribution that the world needs.

This is a real shift for many people – adopting the idea that Work Is For Joy.  They can’t imagine what it could be like – which is precisely why they may not achieve it.

The 8 to 5 working concept is a comfortable concept – like ‘the devil you know.’ It means life is ‘on hold’ until the weekend, or until you retire, when you finally start living and enjoying life.

I grew up with a belief that this concept provides security.  Quitting a job that paid well, even if it crushed your soul, was not the smart responsible thing to do.  Pursuing your own dream, your own joy, was okay as long as you did the safe thing, the responsible thing, and still held your life sucking secure job.

I challenge that belief. You should too.  So does Timothy Ferris.  He is the author of the book “The Four Hour Work Week.”  He encourages a concept called ‘mini retirements.’ Like all people who challenge beliefs, some people might read his book and call it ‘heresy.’  I say, be a heretic!  So does Seth Godin in his book “Tribes.”

To quote Seth Godin“Heretics are the new leaders, the ones who challenge the status quo. Who get out in front of their tribes, who create movements. The marketplace now rewards and embraces the heretics … and for the first time it’s profitable, powerful, and productive. This shift might be bigger than you think. Suddenly, heretics, troublemakers and change agents aren’t merely thorns in our side they are the keys to our success.”

Try this idea on for size.  Wear it for a while, see how it fits.  Is your life on hold until retirement?

Life is a journey – in the present moment. The nature of a journey is that each juicy moment is to be lived to the fullest.  For example, you wouldn’t plan a vacation, but decide before leaving that you might as well not go just so you can return sooner. That is silliness.  The whole point of the vacation is to enjoy the journey.  Can you transfer this concept to the work area of your life?

Questions for thought:

What are your frameworks and beliefs around work and life?

  • What did your parents teach you about school, and about work?
  • What did society teach you about school and about work?
  • What are your beliefs around security?
  • What are your beliefs around the concept “Work is for Joy?”
  • Are you moving away from what you don’t want (i.e. lack of security– or are you moving toward what you do want (i.e. your dream of pursuing work that you love)?

How would your life change if you lived the framework, Work is for Joy?

“It isn’t work, it is just long hours of fun.” – Sam Waterson, Actor, speaking on his work playing a District Attorney on Law and Order.

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Mia Turpel is life, career and business coach.  She takes you from stressed out to STREAMLINED in your life, career or business so that you can spend more time on the things you love.  Interested in more?  Be sure to sign up for STREAMLINED ezine atwww.performancesupportpartners.com for news and information on these topics and more!  Interested in coaching? Click here to sign up for a complimentary 30 exploratory session – you will be sure to go away with insights about your big game in life.

It’s Policy, Committed Sardines, and Small Groups That Make Big Change

Does it burn you as much as it burns me when you hear the words “It’s policy” when it is an obstacle to progress, improvement, efficiency and more? Come on! Even if it is BAD policy? Even if it is counterproductive to everything you know? Even if it doesn’t support your current business direction?

Here is what I know about policy: People make policy.

It is possible that the person that made the policy made it for a very good reason at the time. It is possible that business processes, directives, and the business climate has changed since that person made the policy. It is possible that the reason that policy is still in place is because nobody challenged it. Nobody asked, “who made the policy?” Does anyone regularly ask, “how is this policy serving us now?” Is it possible that the reason why it is still policy is because there is a lot of sheepwalking (a term I adopted from Seth Godin) going on? Perhaps people have been conditioned to just accept the status quo when they are told “it’s policy.”

TTWWADI – The Big Rut

Ever heard of TTWWADI? It’s an acronym for “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” TTWWADI is a big rut. Policy that serves as an obstacle to achieving business goals very often is a TTWADI rut. It is easy to get stuck in the rut because most of us want to do the right thing, and follow the policy we have been taught. Questioning policy can often put us on a radar screen that we weren’t on before, shining a very uncomfortable light. However, if we don’t question policy, what is it costing us?

One of my favorite quotes is from General Eric Shinseki, retired Chief of Staff, U. S. Army. He said, “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.” So, you think change is hard? What about being left in the dust? What happens when your most talented people constantly bump up against ‘policy’ that doesn’t allow them to use their greatest talents on the job? It tends to become motivation to leave.

Policy is meant to be a guideline for streamlining, not an obstacle. Guidelines by their very nature have variations and exceptions. I recently watched an episode of a television hospital drama series where a patient had been bitten by a raccoon that was discovered to have rabies. No worries. Yes, rabies causes certain death. But, there is a vaccine – if administered before symptoms appeared!

The bad news was that the hospital was out of the vaccine, and had to find another source. While they found a source, ‘They’ had a “policy” to not release the vaccine without written permission from the patient. Knowing that the patient in her current condition could not be present to give that permission, the nurse, in exasperation cried, “Of course the patient gives her permission because she will DIE without it!” Yet, they still insisted that it was policy to have written permission from the patient and would not release the vaccine.

While this was fiction (at least I hope!), I can say I have experienced corporate ‘policy’ that was just as much an obstacle to achieving the stated goals of the business. And what astonishes me even more, is how many people followed that policy, agreed that it was an obstacle, and yet still followed it without question.

Does it remind you of the Authority song by John Mellencamp? ( I know you have danced to it!) Does this ring a bell? “I fight authority, authority always wins.” Maybe you need to be a committed sardine.

Pause for effect.

“A committed sardine?” you question. Okay, let me explain. I recently found a website dedicated to excellence in education whose domain name is “The Committed Sardine.” I liked it, so I adopted the term as part of my vernacular. That’s how I roll. Anyway, it references the fact that blue whales being one of the largest mammals on earth can sometimes take two to three minutes to make a 180 degree turn, while schools of fish – sardines for instance, that are just as large as a Blue Whale if not larger, can make a 180 degree turn almost instantaneously (or so it seems).

How do they do this? If you look close, you’ll notice that although the fish all appear to be swimming in the same direction, in reality at any time there will be a small group of sardines swimming in a different direction, against the flow, against conventional wisdom. It rattles the cage a bit and causes discomfort for the rest of the school.

But finally, when a critical mass of truly committed sardines is reached – not as large as what you might think, only 15 to 20 percent who are truly committed to a new direction, the rest of the school suddenly turns and goes with them – almost instantaneously!

I don’t know about you, but I want to be a committed sardine. Are you compelled to question policy when it is an obstacle to doing More Great Work? People make policy. You could be one of those People that also change policy. Or, at least, you could be a catalyst for change.

I close with this quote widely attributed to Margaret Mead. It is a reminder of how powerful one or a small group of people can be: “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world -indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

I, for one, believe this is true.

Mia Turpel is life, career and business coach.  She takes you from stressed out to STREAMLINED in your life, career or business so that you can spend more time on the things you love.  Interested in more?  Be sure to sign up for STREAMLINED ezine atwww.performancesupportpartners.com for news and information on these topics and more!  Interested in coaching? Click here to sign up for a complimentary 30 minute exploratory session – you will be sure to go away with insights about your big game in life.