Drawing the line

Drawing the line

Making decisions is not always easy and clear cut, but sometimes it really is just a case of drawing a line and stepping over it to move forward or even drawing a line for others to know that they have reached the boundary of your toleration or patience. My coach tells me sometimes that when you reach a point of dissatisfaction in whatever scenario in life or business that this is an ideal point to examine the boundaries and maybe look at whether they need to be reset and adapted.

In the last couple of weeks I have had to make a few important decisions, which definitely stretched my comfort zone in terms of boundaries. So whether you have business decisions, personal choices or even staffing questions to answer, this may well be relevant to you and useful processing or questioning.

In this economy a lot of small business owners are facing important decisions regarding staff, investments etc. What was acceptable behaviour or at the most tolerated from staff in a boom economy, now has become obvious as non-constructive or even unhelpful. Because there is more management time for observation and analysis, clarity is coming forward often like a blinding flash of light. More and more frequently these days, I have conversations with clients regarding toleration levels and at what point to draw the line.

Here is a good yardstick: we assume you are unhappy with a situation…

Ask yourself, what effect is this having on me, on my business, on my clients, on my time, on my health, etc.

Then establish your boundary line or the point at which you say ‘I have had enough’.

When you know at what point the line is reached, all you need to work out is how to deal with the changes that inevitably will have to be made. From the line forward you need a plan of action, whether this is parting company, giving up a business, a client, a supplier or letting go of a staff member. Once you know your options, the best course of action often jumps out very clearly in your research process. On rare occasions inaction is the correct approach.

I find that a lot of clients and friends are blaming the economy for not making decisions, because the impact it may have on other people, but they forget they are only ever neglecting their own boundaries. Crisis can lead to indecision and sometimes time and distance will lead to perspective. But let’s face it, the recession is going to be around for some time and it is very much a case of let’s draw the line of moaning about it and stepping over it and designing a plan of action for yourself as to what you will do from here on in.

Energy wasted on what-if scenario’s isn’t always helpful and if you are born with the analysis gene, be aware you could be affected by analysis paralysis just as easily. In actual fact the time for lining up ducks and crossing t’s is not a time of crisis, where really only decisive action is the way forwards.

It does mean gathering the courage to hold difficult conversations with people that have really stepped over the boundary for long enough and have gotten away with it for far too long. It also means sometimes embarking on scary new actions, when your confidence may be screaming out for the opposite to action. It may mean becoming a portfolio worker with more than one job or string to your bow. It may even mean moving to a different location, job, etc.

Only you can decide when you need to draw that line and enforce the boundary. Tolerating people pushing the boundary consistently is ultimately bad for you, your sanity and definitely long-term also your good health. It is perfectly justified to explain to someone that enough has been reached, just say it with calm diplomacy and a smile, even if in your heart you feel like punching or screaming their head off. It takes a bit of practice, but even I master calm diplomacy on occasion even when my blunt and direct approach is edging to come out. In my mind I try to see it from their point of view, which on occasion is hard to do.

When you are going through a particularly difficult time, you may find a lot of people come along who will offer advice willingly and with positive intentions or if like me you have quite a few coaching acquaintances you may find yourself in a full-blown coaching interrogation without an invite on your part. Drawing the line in this kind of scenario is vital. If you invite the advice, then take it for what it is worth, but never forget to process it under your own value filter. Trust your own ability to make decisions you will know what is right by you in the end of the day.

The fear of upsetting other people in the process of enforcing your boundaries is far outweighed by the freedom and sense of relief you experience once you actually go ahead with those difficult communications. Honesty may not always be the most comfortable approach, but it is way more liberating and healthy than tolerating things that shouldn’t be tolerated.

So for all of those caught in economic crisis one way or another, I dare you to draw the line and step over it. Accept it will be around for another while, accept that some bad things may have happened to you as a result, also accept that dwelling on them is not helpful forever, do your best to learn the lessons, but above all draw the line and focus on actions that will lead to a happier future.

A close friend of mine recently put it absolutely accurately ‘I don’t want to know the past shit, we are in the present now.’

I dare you to draw that line and claim your power back.

Are you the village gossip in your workplace?

Are you the village gossip in your workplace?

Large organisations and small towns have one thing in common, namely the village gossip. We have all met them, that one person that is constantly going around trying to find out the dirt about other people or the latest on updates on whatever topic takes their fancy whether it is a company restructuring, internal relationships, bullying, promotions, you name it… they will know or find out about it.

I have often wondered what drives these people: is it low self-esteem, jealousy or begrudgery or even just an inate nosyness or curiosity about things that are quite frankly none of their business most of the time. They just can’t seem to help themselves, it’s as if it nearly a compulsion or something larger than them. They don’t tend to spare anyone, not even their closest friends as long as it serves in the pursuit of more (mostly useless) information. And guys, if you are reading this, the most damaging village gossips I have seen in action have been men, but the ladies tend to be more devious and cover their tracks better, but neither gender is immune to gossip mongering.

The scary part is that some company cultures thrive on gossip and deceit and they make for very stressful places to work in. I have seen people reduced to tears, confidence and all perspective of self-worth eroded purely down to office gossips being let damage reputations of great individuals. When you don’t know the source of the venom it is hard to counteract and manage your reputation and if then management buys into the rumours often not based on any fact, you become less and less trusting and in most cases you will start questioning yourself and your abilities for no reason.

What the village gossip doesn’t realise is that people around the office soon or eventually find out who was the rumour starter and they become branded as someone that cannot be trusted. I always hope that at some level they have a conscience that balks at the horror of spreading lies and that when they get caught out badly enough they will actually change their ways. However if it is a compulsive mental disorder, there is only professional help and not just management that needs to intervene.

When I used to work in an office, I used to have great fun setting the village gossip up with outrageous things, to see how long it would take before it would come back to you, usually completely distorted and out of proportion. I don’t suggest it as an approach to use as a rule, especially not if it can potentially hurt other people, but if the village gossip is the only one out of the information loop, they may actually learn the lesson.

Gossiping in general is bad for office morale, it encourages negative and political game playing and tends to only serve only those who start the rumours and it damages people’s reputations and careers sometimes beyond belief. At the same time there is a distinction between gossip and genuine concern or frustration with situations and people, which is always the case in offices where a group of people work together.

So how do you avoid it?

As a personal policy, only ever go on facts as opposed to hearsay and ask the gossip distributor whether it is fact or fiction, they usually have no answer for it if it isn’t fact. There is no better way to shut them up than to point out the facts objectively and calmly or just to question them whether they have it from a reputable source.

If you are the individual that is prone to gossip, my suggestion is a count to 10 silence policy and only when you have factual evidence to back up your communication do you allow yourself to talk. It may take a bit of lip biting and shortened sentences, but in the end of the day it is better for your personal reputation. Gossip tends to be seen as a sign of weakness and lack of backbone, so I guess it is a choice whether you want to be trustworthy or to be avoided as a person in your career.

As an office policy encourage 0 tolerance to gossiping and when and where you can intervene by calling the village gossip into your office and explaining that you don’t tolerate rumours and ask upfront if they have an issue with you or in the office they care to share or vent about. Equally nip rumours in the bud by holding communication meetings both formally and informally to put an end to speculation. As a manager keep an open door policy for people to ask question regarding changes etc and answer them with facts. It may take a bit of effort to eradicate a gossip culture, but be proactive and reactive at the same time and stick to the factual evidence either way.

Actions speak louder than words

Actions speak louder than words by An Coppens

How many times have you promised in words that you would do something for a friend or client or even someone you don’t really know all that well, but when it came to the delivery you forgot, something else got in the way or worse again your promise was just a hollow empty one, which you never intended to follow up on. When you are on the receiving end of this promise, you can only take it at face value and hope the other party will deliver, in my case I usually expect people to do as they promise.

Call me naieve if you like, but when someone promises I do believe them unless there is clear evidence of a track record that they can’t be trusted or they are known to make empty promises.When you can deliver on promises in one area of your life, it shows you have the skills to deliver, when you then deliver only in the areas of your choice, it can tell quite a different story: from where you really care, to intentionally hurting or neglecting other areas.

The same thing in life is recommendable as is in business namely underpromise and overdeliver, always!!!

Sometimes we are afraid to take action for fear that it may upset or it may not actually make a difference, my experience tells me that usually honesty in action is the best approach and even a small difference is good enough. Even if all it did was a make a difference to one person. If you can give people a time expectation by which you will deliver, especially with this financial crisis continuing on promises to pay are hard to keep up when you have nothing to give or there just is plain nothing to work with. Best approach again is honesty.

Where you can let your actions do the talking, if you care about someone show them with actions. Especially with those special people in your life whether they are a partner, a friend or family, most disputes come from empty promises. If you know you will have trouble delivering, then at least set the expectation correctly as opposed to promising something, because you know or think that this is what your friend may want to hear. 

If you are passionate about something, show us how and demonstrate your skill. Nobody will knock someone that at least will go for what they believe in. If you are unsure what actions to take, let your heart rule your head on this one, it tends to choose right or at least come from the best intended vantage point.

Below is my favourite story, which I always go back to especially when I get a bit disillusioned that my actions are not making any difference. I would love to make a big difference and make this planet a little bit of a better place than it was when I arrived, but at best I can only affect those immediately around me and vice versa. Occassionally we have a further reach through our work, writing, speaking and that is great, but often we don’t know that we are effectively making a difference to anyone at any given time. Best we can do is hope that it does to one. Not even trying in my view is equal to failure beyond proportion.

“While walking along a beach a man saw someone in the distance leaning down, picking something up and throwing it into the ocean.
As he came closer he saw thousands of starfish the tide had thrown onto the beach. Unable to return to the ocean during low tide, the starfish were dying. He observed a young man picking up the starfish one by one and throwing them back into the ocean.

After watching the seemingly futile effort, the observer said ‘ There must be thousands of starfish on this beach, it would be impossible for you to get all of them, there are simply to many. You can’t possibly save enough to make a difference.’

The young man smiled as he continued to pick up another starfish and toss it back into the ocean.

‘It made a difference to this one’ he replied. ”

Next time you think your actions are futile, maybe all you are required to do is make a difference to one person, don’t let them down with an empty promise…

Respectful reflections and little white lies

Respectful reflections and little white lies

Respect is one of those concepts where you often only realise someone is not being disrespectful when they make it very obvious, but it’s a lot harder to notice when people are showing you respect apart from some obvious gestures like opening a door for example. More often than not respect is a silent transfer.

Equally I think most of us have a different definition of what constitutes respect. A few days ago I had an interesting debate with a client about respect and how for some people it comes with standards they have for others, but then when they apply it for themselves it does a 360 value drop. For example the staff member liked a friendly good morning as they walked in from the receptionist, but when she was asked to man reception during a break she was probably one of the least friendly you could meet. It is amazing how quickly standards can be turned on their head.

Recently I had a friend complaining about how another friend had taken liberties by showing up unannounced then using the hosts place as their home, but then when the complainer visits others they did exactly the same thing. I found it funny to observe without comment and wondered, whether what we want the most from others we consistently do wrong ourselves?

Think about it, when you become annoyed about someone is it because they show you a part of you that you don’t like or is it a part of you that you have standards around or is it something completely different again.One of my personal bug bears is integrity and telling the truth, I absolutely hate it when people lie to me either with intent or to cover up a little indiscretion. I actually have walked away from friendships for this reason and I most of the time pull people up on their mistake when they do it. What fascinates me though is that some people go in the defensive, whilst they know very well that they were the wrong party.

Isn’t it funny that in our society, the following perception seems to rule namely that it better to lie than forgive someone for the truth?

Personally I work the opposite, I would rather forgive than tolerate lies, most of my friends know that and I struggle to respect people that offend this on a regular basis whether they are personal friends or clients.

I actually think I only ever fired client for telling me lies consistently on their performance, their promises of action and then the truth being a stark complete opposite. As a person I have often been accused of being too honest and sharing too much, at the same time in most cases it is also what I get paid for by clients.

Looking at the whole lies scenario from my earlier question of whether this is a part of you that you don’t like or you have standards around. I honestly have a sick feeling in my stomach if I have to use a lie and I am also chronically bad at it, my face usually tells the true story if my mouth hasn’t already done the same, but I sure have standards around it. Maybe that is exactly the root cause of having standards around the whole area of indiscretion, that I just don’t master it and I am not good at it, so I just created a whole range of standards around it. My other explanation is around values and integrity is high on mine, hence I would rather be blunt and honest as opposed to be kind and lying. I can’t say for sure why or when it started but I really find it offensive when people lie.

If I listen to politicians and their carry on about the banking system, it absolutely galls me, the same with the bankers behind the scam. So it’s not even a case of a personal connection it goes further than that and that is where the respect factor comes back in I have very little respect for those that consistently lie for whatever reason, whether it is politics, career, business, little indiscretion or anything.

I ask you to wonder what your respect factors are and then to put it through the same test, is it because you dislike that side of yourself so much or you just can’t do it or is it because you have standards around it? Then examine whether you can trace the root of the standards.

The other question is what are you tolerating when it comes to being respectful? Most of us want to be respected for who we are, yet at the same time we have people question parts of us consistently and we let them. I have been guilty of it in more than one personal relationship, friendship and even in a work setting, at some point I have always reached a line that either ends the respect factor or the friendship or even the working agreement. Over time my tolerance levels have come down, also for myself when I catch myself doing things that I don’t like others doing to me. Once I am aware of it I do my best to change the behaviour around and come back to a clean slate with it, even if that at times means eating humble pie.

When you work in the field of self-development, everything is up for questioning most of the time and I tend to listen until I have a clear answer for myself and will then share the same. What I see with clients is that immediately defensive mechanisms kick in to play and it becomes a justification process. The question I then have is who are you justifying this to?

I guess this turned out to be a rather reflective blog and I hope it does make you think and question what you do in the area of respect. I dare you to ask yourself the questions is respect about the things you dislike about yourself, the things you don’t master or something you have standards around which are value based? Then the second question I would urge you to ask on a regular basis, what are you tolerating from others but even more importantly from yourself?

Enjoy the respectful reflections…

Manager’s dilemma: are you being played?

Manager’s dilemma: are you being played?

In my work as a trainer and business coach to managers and teams in companies of all sizes, I often wonder whether managers realise how much they are actually being played. In some of my coaching I would equally equip corporate clients to manage both upward and downward. If you want to build a career in the corporate world it is an essential skill to learn, and if you are the manager then awareness of it happening to you is paramount as you may be drawn into someone’s agenda unknowingly.

I coach newly promoted managers in one multinational organisation and their biggest initial challenge is that they are no longer one of the team members. The fact that they gained a title and access to meetings where higher level decisions are made is the first factor that sets them apart as well as the fact that they may now have to give feedback to people they used to be very friendly with. The common ground of all being in the same boat has changed. It is sometimes the downside of stepping up and furthering your career.

In other multinational organisations managers join the company from abroad and have no network of friends in their new base, which makes work the only point of social networks and contacts. The challenge is to be a manager and to make friends at your own level, often I see managers becoming very friendly with team members, which invariably causes envy and an opportunity to be played by staff.

In my view the best and most objective approach to management is to clearly draw a professional line. If that means creating a little bit of distance between you and your former team or new team, it will put you in a stronger management position. It is easier to be objective and detached about business decisions involving people.

Wanting to be seen as one of the ‘boys’ is something I come across a lot in large companies and the after hours drinking or sports becoming the common factor. The risk with this is that in your drunken moments you do let out company confidential information or you become persuaded by your team members of an injustice even if the view is completely tainted by their personal opinions and circumstances. I have seen serious under-performers playing managers out of hours and when it comes to dealing with their under-performance managers don’t do it, which in terms creates a culture where as long as you are friendly with the boss, you can get away with just about anything. It is a breeding ground for bad practice and often bullying by the perceived ‘untouchable’ party.

Strong and skilled staff typically appreciates professional and supportive management with transparency in decision making and communication. They will challenge the poor variety and they will start playing the system if that is the only way up in an organisation or else when it really doesn’t reconcile with their values they will leave.

You can spot the influencers, because they always have a reason to come and talk to you both during working hours and outside them. You will receive the most random invitations from them. They will do their best to give inside information, which is intended to help you make better decisions, however usually some information will be subjectively tainted and would require objective verification on your part.

As a middle manager you are always the conduit in the middle of the conversation, you are doing your best to implement the messages from senior management as well as listening to the issues from the team. It is a delicate and often fine balance to be caught up in and when you are in this boat you have 2 sides that are playing you at the same time. The only way through is to find your happy medium and at all times do your own research so you can make an educated and objective decision. Most employees will enjoy working for a fair and professional manager, yet the statistics continue to read that the main reason for leaving an organisation is bad management.

At times being a manager can be an isolated role at any level of an organisation, because as a human being you want to reach your targets as much as the next person. You would like to be perceived as fair, objective and good at what you do; more often than not you are being questioned on those very things often by people with their own very coloured agenda’s. The biggest fear of CEOs of top companies is to be found out that they don’t know everything and that sometimes they are not so sure whether the next decision is the right decision, but they still have to sell the strategy and vision of where they want to go.

In my view as a manager what is key is to work with your own values in mind and some can be non-negotiable, I place a lot of importance on integrity and would have major issues when the wool is pulled over my eyes or in business dealings when other people are being compromised. I have to say what is on my mind most of the time, which is why I make an excellent coach as you will receive instant feedback, but as a manager this isn’t always the best policy. The other part of being a manager is staying professional and if that means creating a little bit of distance to allow objective decision making, just do it. In any case watch the players and learn the rules of the game.