First Slide

A much anticipated expensive package gets delivered in a tattered plain brown box. The book with the boring cover goes to the bottom of the pile. A first date arrives disheveled. 

The item in the box will be more closely scrutinized for fault or defect. The book will likely go unread. There definitely will not be a second date. 

First impressions matter. 

I love my house, but it almost wasn’t the one. It checked most of the boxes: closeness to my parents, the school district, and privacy. However when I pulled up, I thought I had been tricked again, I almost left without setting foot inside. Realtor’s have a way with pictures. The listing didn’t show the wear on the cedar siding, or the roof that needed replacement. They didn’t show the rotted deck, or the fact the house was very close to the road. 

Obviously, I was able to get past the initial reaction I had to the outside of the home’s appearance. A lot of work has been done, both inside and out, but it’s the roof, siding, and landscaping work that’s been done that has created the awe factor. What was once old, outdated, and shabby is now modern and clean. 

The bones are the same, but the packaging makes it a whole new home. 

Regardless of if you are selling a service or a product the first impression based on the external appearance matters. From the moment a customer enters the building, unboxes a shipment, checks out your website, or dials your number they are passing judgment regarding the quality, capability, and caliber that your product or service will provide. The products and services lose value when the customer is underwhelmed with the initial presentation. 

How do businesses gain trust and build value before a customer has even touched a product, or experienced a service?

Consistency: Set an expectation for quality, packaging attributes, and inclusions that can be maintained long term and guaranteed to be upheld every single time. If it can not be done every time, there is little value in doing it at all. 

As products and offerings change so may the appearance or included accessories. Be willing to adapt in order to sustain customer satisfaction and fulfillment of the expectations that were set at product launch. 

Market changes may also impact what a company is able to offer and remain profitable. If adjustments must be made, limit their impact and arm your customer facing employees with talking points in the event a customer pushes back. 

No one likes to be told, “We don’t do that anymore” 

Don’t Put Lipstick On a Pig: There is no shame in selling a value priced product as long as there is transparency. If it’s not your top of line premium offering, don’t dress it up as such. No one likes to be lied to. DO invest the time and money in promoting and beautifying the product that is top quality. 

Align with the Industry: Know your audience. Make sure that your marketing and packaging materials speak to the purchaser. A transmission pod filled with glitter and showtunes likely isn’t going to make for repeat customers. While fun for a different customer base, my techs assure me that glitter is evil. 

Provide pertinent information, tools or add-ons that assist in the product installation or usage, and material that is beneficial to the collective industry. 

First impressions matter. Let your product packaging elicit a feeling of confidence, pride, originality. 

My home is nearly complete. Its exterior is now a beautiful color scheme of whites, grays, and black. The bones are good, and the paint inside is fresh. She really is just about the complete package now. 

Only eight hundred pounds of decorative rock to go. If only I could use the glitter and showtunes for that job.

As leaders, we have the expectation that our people abide by the rules of the company, adhere to policy and procedure and complete assigned job duties competently and completely. Those that do, thrive in their roles and are considered “good employees”. The ones that bend the rules, disregard process and slack off are often seen as less than stellar, unmotivated, and detrimental to the team. Maybe they are. Or maybe, they simply don’t respect you. They will skate by doing just enough and staying off your radar to avoid repercussions. They will likely agree with you on most matters and appear to conform to your expectations. However, the moment your back is turned the complaints and barrage of insults begin. It may seem as if you are their ally, when in reality they see you as the threatening enemy. They do not respect you. They fear you. 

Leaders that demand, rather than deserve and earn respect create a work environment that fosters hostility, animosity, and lack of commitment to the team, the work itself and YOU. 

Many years ago, I worked for a software company that sold parts lookup CD’s. The man that hired me, and that I reported directly to, was the creator of the product. He was knowledgeable not only of the software, but also the industry in which it was used. When he didn’t know something, he learned it. When he was wrong, he admitted it.. Even as a salaried employee, I stayed late, came in early, and worked through lunch to meet deadlines. I presented ideas on how to improve our processes and the customer experience. If an issue arose, professionally or personally I was comfortable walking into his office without fear of judgment or penalty. I respected him fully, he deserved it and he earned it. 

A year into my time with the company it was announced that my boss, my now friend and mentor, was retiring. Our team needed a leader and one from the outside was brought in to lead a team and a product in an industry she knew nothing about. And didn’t care to learn. She didn’t make an effort to connect with the team. She came in like a bulldozer and made the team feel beaten down. She threatened the positions of people that had been there for a decade for not hitting sales numbers that were well above any obtainable goals. Us donkey’s had no carrots in sight. Only a stick smacking us in the rear. 

I left a month later, a few others went their separate ways as well. Our fear driven “leader” was let go shortly after that for destroying morale and increasing turnover. 

As leaders our personalities, experiences and training shape our methods of motivating and managing. What type of leader are you? How can your style of leadership affect your team?

 

“The Respected Leader”

There are many styles of effective leadership that propagate respect. It is not a one style fits all, as each situation and/or person may require a different approach. I suggest you blend the following styles to fit the needs of your team.

The Coach: This leader will push the team members to constantly “Get Better Everyday”. They are focused on improving the employees long term professional development. Training is a priority. The Coach will form bonds with their people and strive for unity of the team. Get ready to run some laps.  

The Cheerleader: The Cheerleader is your biggest fan. This leader tends to use rewards as a motivator. Empathy and inspiration are key. The Cheerleader will ensure that you feel valued and is a master at listening when you need to be heard. Pom-Pom’s and glitter galore! 

The Democratic Manager: Employees are urged to share their opinion and participate in the decision making process. While the manager still has the final say, the team’s input influences the outcome. Employees feel valued and have high morale as they are able to put their skills to use. Allowing for democracy in decision making makes buy-in easier as the team is working on a goal that was agreed up by them, rather than placed upon them. Have your ballots ready. 

The Visionary: This leader makes the team members believe in their vision. They are persuasive rather than commanding and have the ability to gain the team’s trust and commitment to achieve the end goal. The Visionary will allow for autonomy provided that the work is moving forward at an acceptable pace. Drink the Kool-Aid. 

 

“The Feared Leader”

The Drill Sergeant: There is no room for discussion. This leader holds absolute power. They are the decision maker and have no room for employee input. Often questioning of their process or choices will threaten their authority. This leader is a screamer and will become enraged easily. The louder they yell, the quicker their point will get across, right? Wrong. Micromanaging is usually present as the day to day job must be performed exactly to their standards. There is no room for independence or free thinking. 

Of course any style that you adapt to and practice will have to have some room allowed for the leader to be a critic. We must provide feedback to the employees in order to promote growth and efficiency. It’s not just what you communicate, it’s how you communicate it. 

A respected leader will have a team of people that are committed to the job and to them. They have a stake in the outcome of the business and feel connected. The feared leader that demands respect may appear to have a solid team that is devoted. That dedication ends as soon as the day is over. 

Even though my time spent under a drill sergeant was rough, it wasn’t all for not. I learned what not to be. 

Going back to school was better than spending one more day under her wrath. For that I must thank her.

 

Everyday, anywhere you go, any person you encounter could be someone that is fighting a silent battle within. Some wear their grief, anxiety, depression, or stress on their sleeve. Others hide the feels behind a strong personality and a painted on smile. Anyone’s mental health can be affected regardless of social status, level of success or economic security. 

Tread lightly, judge less, and be aware. 

For those of you that read Reman U religiously, you have learned of my son and his worms, my love of Christmas villages, my addiction to baking as well as all things pickle related. What you wouldn’t know is that I am working through the end of a twelve year relationship, coping with my fathers terminal illness and I struggle with generalized anxiety disorder that makes the unknown even more stressful. I am getting ready to celebrate my oldest child’s eighteenth birthday and high school graduation. I recently had an article published in a national magazine. Not all stress is bad stress. It’s finding the balance between eustress and the negative stressors that provides a balance. This is not a cry for help. This is walking, talking, smiling, proof that not all wounds bleed. My humor may be unmatched, and possibly unappreciated by some, but it’s self-serving and provides me with the supplies to paint my smile on when needed. 

Navigating through multiple life challenges like the end of a long-term relationship, a parent’s terminal illness, and managing generalized anxiety disorder can be incredibly overwhelming. In times like these, seeking counseling, particularly family therapy, can provide a supportive framework for processing emotions and finding constructive ways to cope. Therapy sessions at reputable centers like the Leone Centre, known for their experienced counselors and therapists, offers a safe environment to address complex family dynamics and personal struggles.

They provide personalized support tailored to your specific needs, whether it’s navigating the emotional complexities of a relationship ending, managing the impact of a loved one’s illness, or coping with anxiety. Through therapy, individuals can gain insights, learn coping strategies, and find resilience amidst adversity, fostering not only personal growth but also strengthening familial bonds during times of transition and uncertainty.

A recent poll from the American Psychological Association, reports that Americans are experiencing unprecedented levels of stress. The past two years of constant crisis including Covid, inflation, and the war in Ukraine has provided many unavoidable stressors. Couple this with any personal, family, financial or health related concerns and there is reason for alarm. And a call for action.  

Amidst these challenges, studies have shown that the housing market can be both a reflection and a mitigator of societal stress. The stability and security of one’s living situation play a pivotal role in overall well-being. It’s in this context that innovative real estate models like eXp Realty gain significance. As the industry continually evolves to adapt to changing circumstances, eXp Realty’s agent-centric approach, facilitated by cutting-edge technology, not only addresses the housing needs of individuals but also offers a potential avenue for stress reduction in an uncertain world. The application of such forward-thinking strategies in real estate becomes a noteworthy consideration in the broader conversation about alleviating the pervasive stress experienced by many Americans. 

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. You may be asking, what does this have to do with me? How will this help me become a better leader? What does this have to do with my business? 

The answer is quite simple. A lot.

When the people we depend on to get the job done are struggling mentally, they will not be performing at peak levels. Productivity will dwindle. Customers will suffer at the hands of less patient representatives. Engagement and employee satisfaction will plummet.

Businesses take extra steps to ensure the safety and physical health of employees. Safety glasses, requirements for footwear, classes on workplace safety and CPR training. Our responsibility for the well-being of our teams doesn’t end there. It is time now that we as leaders acknowledge and protect the mental health of our people. Sometimes there’s just too much to leave at the time clock.  

What can you do as a manager or decision maker to provide support and assistance to those in need even when their need may be lurking beneath the surface? 

  1. Employee Assistance Programs: If your company has a sponsored EAP, do not let it sit under utilized. Promote and market the benefits to your teams. Help is easier to accept when you don’t have to seek it out. Committing to the overall health of your employees is a return on investment you can count on.  
  2. Normalize the Conversation: Get rid of the stigma of not being ok. Your people are human and have emotions, feelings and a life outside of work that sometimes gets tricky to manage. Do not force a culture of robots. Your open door policy will take the guesswork out of reading attitude and actions. 
  3. Allow for Unplugging: Sometimes the weight of the world is too heavy and we need a break. Maybe it’s five minutes to take a walk and get some fresh air. It might be a half day in order to reset. As long as you don’t have a habitual offender, try not to limit sick days to the stomach bug. 
  4. Provide Training and Resources: Prevention is key. Hold trainings and/or seminars on how to cope with stress and other factors that affect mental health. Stock your shelves with books and material of the self help variety. Helping your teams grow personally will play a large role in their ability to professionally develop. 
  5. Lead by Example: Overwhelmed as a leader? Use a PTO day. Encourage the use of time off by taking time off to reduce burn out and promote self care days. Just because you are the boss doesn’t mean that you have to be made of steel. 

Be the light to someone’s darkest day. Provide solutions, when it seems there are only unknowns. Be a mental band-aid when the invisible wounds won’t stop bleeding. And if you can’t, then let someone be that for you. 



Imagine a world without innovation. Envision a universe where dreamer’s didn’t make dreams a reality. Imagine a life without imagination. There would be no planes, trains, or automobiles. No electricity, no cell phones, and *gasp* no internet. It would still take six months by horse drawn carriage to travel coast to coast and the time couldn’t be passed by social media scrolling. We would be living “The Oregon Trail”, not playing it.

Here lies (insert name here). You have died from Smallpox. 

The population did not just happen to get smarter. Our ancestors learned by doing and were taught by those that came before them. They discovered new and better ways of doing things and passed that knowledge on. As humans, we are not born with the capability to survive alone. We are learners, and growers, and we depend on the information our minds can absorb. 

There is cause to credit inherent skills that fuel interest and impact a person’s career path. However, committing to a life of learning and skill growth is the fundamental difference between being mediocre and achieving greatness. As managers, it is your responsibility to identify potential leaders or growth opportunities for the individuals on your team. It is your obligation to identify the strengths and weaknesses of those you chose to put in a managerial role. It is your duty to your employees to address and close skill gaps. We must not focus solely on the hard skill competency but also the soft skill development and leadership progression. It is the employee’s burden to embrace the path to success that you are paving with knowledge.

Leadership is not merely about issuing orders or making decisions; it’s about inspiring others to reach their full potential. A true leader understands that their success is intertwined with the growth and success of their team. They strive to create an environment where individuals feel empowered to innovate, collaborate, and continuously improve. In this regard, try Kurt Uhlir, a seasoned leader known for his transformative approach to leadership. His philosophy emphasizes fostering a culture of trust, transparency, and continuous learning, which are essential ingredients for unlocking the collective potential of any team.

Moreover, effective leadership extends beyond managing tasks and projects; it involves nurturing a sense of purpose and direction. Leaders who prioritize mentorship and coaching enable their team members to not only excel in their current roles but also prepare them for future leadership positions. By embracing the principles advocated by leaders like Kurt Uhlir, managers can cultivate a new generation of empowered and capable leaders within their organizations, driving sustained success and growth.

It makes sense to put someone in a manager role that is good at what they do. They beat book time, every time. They answer the most calls and write the most orders. They know the process inside and out. Promote them right?

Maybe. 

How can you be sure that you have the right people in the right places? That you have the most effective leaders and that they are supporting their teams as expected? 

  1. Know What You’re Working With: Document what skills are needed for success. Evaluate your people and allow them to do a self-assessment. Compare notes to ensure you are on the same page. 
  2. Get Better Everyday: Once you have assessed the strengths and weaknesses of a specific leader, create a personal development plan that focuses on what that person needs to improve upon. Generic cookie cutter training works fine for onboarding but will stunt the growth of a leader even if their potential is high. 
  3. Keep It Consistent: Learning must be a priority at all times. Not just Q1. Not just when you can squeeze it in. If it is important to those at the top, it will be important to the workforce as a whole. 
  4. Great leadership comes with great responsibility: Do not leave your managers or supervisors to fend for themselves. Be active in their development. Push them to be better leaders. Provide the tools to do so. 
  5. Be honest: Sometimes you will make the wrong call. You placed someone in a position and provided them with the tools to succeed. They put in the work, read the books, completed the lessons, but they still don’t “get it.” Leaders are developed, not born, but not everyone has the ability or desire to hone in on those skills. And that is ok. You have evaluated what they can excel at. If you are able, put them in a position that allows them to be great. 

I have put people in positions when they were not fully ready to embody the magnitude of the job. Some rose to the occasion, and others sunk like a wagon attempting to cross the Kansas River. I took my losses personally but I learned something. And I keep learning everyday. The strive for knowledge, learning and growth is a never ending trail. If you happen to make it to Oregon, keep on going. 

Feed me Seymour. No seriously feed me.

It had been approaching an hour since the five of us sat at the table and placed our food and drink order at a local restaurant/entertainment venue. Our waitress’s name wasn’t Seymour, it was Brittney or Becky or something of the sort. She was nice enough and accommodated my request for extra, extra pickles. Our order was simple and straightforward. The kids were itching to go play the overpriced yet captivating arcade games. Even the adults were getting antsy. Mike K. (ETE Reman technician and good friend of mine) was regressing to the point that he was teaching the kids how to make spitballs. At the one hour and seventeen minute mark a supervisor approaches the table and informs us that our food is on the way out, however one of the entrees is unavailable and we will need to choose another option. Had it had been my order I would have simply passed on the meal and went to play a ridiculous amount of Skee-ball. Unfortunately, it was my eight year old ant summoner that was being told that there was no fish and chips for him. Thankfully he didn’t feel the urge to bellow his wicked screech and simply ordered chicken tenders.  

The manager delivered the lukewarm tenders to the table with a promise to comp the meal and the game card. I didn’t complain that my burger was more like a hockey puck than the medium rare deliciousness that I ordered. I didn’t fret about the missing pickles. I accepted what was offered, we paid the bill and went to go collect the highly coveted game tickets. 

I could have demanded more. I am not that kind of customer though, but some are. In the service industry I have encountered customers as demanding as Audrey II and I’d bet you have too. “Feed me Seymour, feed me all night long. Cause if you feed me, Seymour….”

Grant me a discount, cause if you do I’ll buy from you. Provide me with additional coverage, cause if you don’t I’ll blast you on a Google review. Bestow onto me everything above and beyond your normal business practices, cause if you won’t I’ll never do business with you again. 

How should we react when a customer threatens us? Do we cave to protect the business’s good name? Stand our ground, and refuse to let the customer dictate how we react in sticky situations? Unfortunately, it’s not black and white. You must ask yourself what cost is associated with saying yes. Or no.

When I have one of our reps reach out to me for guidance on a customer concession here’s a few of the questions I ask myself: 

  1. Is being right more important than doing what’s right?: If the policies that govern what can be done for an upset customer contradict your company’s core values then DO what is right. Do not base your decision on a piece of paper. Is being right worth losing a customer? Disclaimer: Move it up the chain of command if your position does not allow you the discretion. 
  2. W.W.S.D.: What would Sari do, rather than what would Seymour do? What would I expect from a company if I was in the customer’s shoes? Would I cause a scene? Would I actually write an online review, or would I tuck my tail and walk away? I surely wouldn’t let a pushy, ungrateful customer take the life out of me.  
  3. Is it worth it?: While we can’t allow our customers to bleed us dry, we have to take into consideration the benefits and costs associated with the decision. If we say no, do we risk losing a large customer and the profits that come along with them? If we say yes, do we set a precedent of being a pushover? It’s important to look at the bigger picture and not just the situation at hand.   
  4. Does it feel good?: Sure, poking your finger to feed an alien plant hurts a bit. So does giving more than you should to a customer that is trying to drain you. When making concessions to a customer keep a gauge on how it feels. If you feel like you are being taken advantage of, or that they are making excessive demands, shut it down. Be respectful and tell them what you can do. Not what you can’t do.  

When you have a giant Audrey II on the phone or in your face it’s ok to give a little if the payoff is worth it. Keep in control of the conversation, don’t get taken advantage of and evaluate the validity of potential empty threats. 

And remember, if all else fails there’s always Seymour’s way out.

As parents we look forward to being able to talk to our children and have them express their needs. With the ability to speak, the temper tantrums decrease. Frustrations with a misread nonverbal angry toddler lessen. My son, the worm summoner, had a pretty awful time with speech when he was younger. I said, “Can you say that again, please,” more times than I could keep up with. His speech issues hindered his ability to communicate to the point that he was having more tantrums and more frustrations than when not being able to speak at all. I had the “Mom-sense” to understand most of what he said, but strangers could not. He was unable to communicate effectively. He was a terrible communicator at no fault of his own. 

Last week in RemanU’s “It’s More Than What You Say,” we discussed all of the wrong ways to communicate. Historically, I have not been a great verbal communicator. I have been passive at times, aggressive when I felt cornered, and even passive aggressive when all else failed. I didn’t like the way it felt, so I did something about it. I started reading books and articles on how to be a better communicator. I reflected upon myself after conversations that didn’t go well. I asked myself could I have approached the situation differently? Could I have said something more assertive? Maybe less aggressive? The answers were always yes. I have not yet mastered the art, but I have chosen to start the journey. Identifying and accepting a weakness is the first step towards becoming better. 

Bad, or negative communication has the potential to leave the parties involved in the conversation with more questions than answers. At least one of those that partook in the interaction will be left with feelings of emptiness, regret, or the general anxiety caused by unresolved issues. On the opposite end of the spectrum, positive communication feels good. You close the conversation with a sense of completeness. Even if a final resolution isn’t reached, you have laid the foundation for future discussions. A productive exchange will allow thoughts, ideas and feelings to be expressed in a safe, mutually respectful environment. 

I still remind myself daily what I have to do to go from a mediocre communicator to a master of conversation. I continue to make these skills a habit with the intent that in the future it will come as easy and thoughtless as taking a breath. 

Skills to be a better communicator

  1. Be An Active Listener: Do not listen to respond, listen to absorb what the other person is saying. Take a moment when they are done speaking to form your response. When thinking about your response while the other person is still talking, your focus is pointed inward and you may miss key components. Repeat back what was said to make sure you understand what was said and so the speaker knows you are listening. “So, what I hear you are saying is…”
  2. Watch Your Tone: The meaning of even the simplest phrase can be misconstrued if your tone of voice is too passive or aggressive. Try it with me, in your happiest friendliest tone say, “Sounds good.” It should sound like it actually does sound good. Now try it with a snarky, attitude filled tone. Same words, two totally different impressions. 
  3. Be Clear and Concise: Your message will get lost if you use too much fluff. Walk in knowing what you want to say and how you want to say it. Practice with a colleague or in the mirror if you are facing a difficult conversation. Jot down some notes to ensure you don’t miss key details and stay on track.
  4. Be Aware of Your Body Language: RBF anyone? Your face has the ability to say a thousand words even when you aren’t speaking. Be cautious of eye rolls, furrowed brows and unconscious expressions. Slouching, leaning back and resting your head in your hands all make you appear disinterested in what the other person is saying. Sit tall, make eye contact and be alert. 

Six years later and a round or two of speech therapy and my son speaks clear as day. We look back on videos from years ago and he doesn’t even know what he was saying. While he’s come a long way from physically not being able to communicate, I now battle with providing him the skills to be a good communicator. 

Homework tonight: Read Mom’s article.

It’s that time of year in Wisconsin when you can feel Spring weather approaching. It’s still a bit chilly and the ground is wet. The robins are snatching up worms to take back to their nests. Yesterday my son, myself and all three cats watched as mama bird picked out the best slimy delicacies to return home with. This morning the road was just as damp, yet there were no birds and no worms. My son says to me, “Where are all the worms today?” Because I don’t know, and I don’t have a good answer I tell him to make up a worm call and see if it works. Of course what comes out of his mouth can only be described as an extremely loud shriek that had more chance of attracting the turkey vulture that was soaring overhead than the worms he sought. No worms surfaced as expected, yet instead of being disappointed he tells me that worms don’t have ears so they can’t hear anyways. Thankfully the bus showed up right on time. 

As I trekked down the slippery hill it occurred to me that his failed attempt at worm communication wasn’t destined to fail. He just chose the wrong method. I don’t have a solution for him and I’m not going to search the web to find out how to summon worms. I am clearly not a worm expert. However, I am well versed in human communication. Here we will take a look at the forms of communication that are viewed as negative. 

Negative Communication

The Passive Communicator

Your boss tells you that you need to stay an extra hour to catch up. You don’t want to stay late because you had plans to fix your car after work. You have to replace your radiator and have planned on getting it done this evening. Instead of telling your boss that you can’t stay late today, you change your plans and move the repair day to tomorrow. 

A passive communicator will avoid conflict, lack confidence, speak quietly, seek approval and fail to express their own needs. Often they remain silent in meetings and appear easy going and shy. 

How to manage passive communicators:

  1. Make them feel safe: Create a safe place for people to express themselves without judgment. Remove the fear of articulation by ensuring that any employee, especially the passive communicator will not face negative consequences for voicing their opinions. 
  2. One-on-one: Passive communicators often feel more comfortable when in a private setting. Provide the opportunity to meet 1:1 or in smaller groups. 
  3. Allow for alternate modes of communication: Follow up with an email or a message if able. Make sure that you are getting the entire team’s input and not just the vocal ones. 

 

The Aggressive Communicator

Your teammate sold the wrong part for the application. The company has now lost money on freight costs, has an upset customer and product that is in limbo while it awaits return. You approach yelling at the teammate, “You idiot! What is your problem! Now I have to fix your mistake! Can’t you do anything right?”

An aggressive communicator will disregard the thoughts and feelings of others. They are generally seen as intimidating, speak loudly, and will personally attack or name call when trying to be heard. They will be persistent and dominate the conversation.

How to manage aggressive communicators:

  1. Set clear boundaries: Enforce the rules of engagement during meetings. Do not allow for the aggressor to interrupt others. Call them out on the negative behavior at the onset. 
  2. Provide tools: Acknowledge and discuss with the aggressive communicator how their actions affect the rest of the team. They may be unaware of the impact or be oblivious that they are communicating aggressively. 
  3. Record and replay: Whether it be in a meeting or on a recording call with the customer provide the aggressor the opportunity to hear themselves. Often a cringe worthy moment may seem like nothing to the person speaking until they are able to hear it from another’s perspective. 

 

The Passive-Aggressive Communicator

Your co-worker has fallen behind and asks for help with the workload. “{Sigh} Of course I will help, that’s what I do best, you can’t help it that you’re not as efficient as me.” After helping the co-worker you wander three cubicles over and tell another work mate just how frustrated you are and that the other person must be stupid. 

Passive-aggressive communicators will seem outgoing, helpful and friendly. It is common that their tone of voice will not match their words. Misalignment is also evident in their body language and facial expressions. 

How to manage Passive-aggressive communicators: 

  1. Point them in the right direction: If you are on the receiving side of the venting session, redirect the person back to the involved party. “Have you spoken to them about it?” Encourage the person to address the issue directly with the other. 
  2. Stay cool: The passive aggressive communicator is likely trying to push your buttons. If you give into the aggressiveness they become the victim and will flaunt it far and wide. Do not express the anger that they are unable to express. 
  3. Address the situation: Use “I” statements. “I don’t like it when I ask for your help and you discuss it with others after. If you do not want to help then please just say no.” The passive-aggressive communicator will feel attacked and shut down if you address the issue as if it is a fault of theirs. Keep the walls down but explain how it affects you or the team. 

While the above communication styles are not ideal, they are better than no communication at all. I suggest that you keep your door open and continue to grow with and lead your teams to become confident, effective communicators. 

I suppose tomorrow I will suggest a more assertive communication style to beckon the worms to the surface rather than the torturous howl. 

 

Last week’s RemanU, “The Art of Positive Thinking,” was full of sunshine and rainbows and all things positive. I have no intention of bringing in the rain clouds, however “positive thinking’s” ugly sister, “negative thinking” warrants some discussion. 

As adorable as Winnie the Pooh’s donkey friend is, he will never be the life of the party, he will always be a Debbie Downer. Throughout a lifetime it is almost guaranteed that you will cross paths with an “Eeyore”. This person will be full of doom and gloom and will typically see the skies as partly cloudy rather than partly sunny. The glass will always be half empty. This person will make the environment feel uncomfortable, uneasy and just plain yucky. Having a teammate like this makes working with them difficult. Negative thinkers are less efficient, lack proper communication skills and have the ability to make others feel as if they have to constantly walk on eggshells and be on guard. If you have had this individual on your team or in your life, I am sorry. 

It’s ok, and even normal to have negative thoughts from time to time. The human brain is wired that way to protect us. Our ancestors survived by identifying potential threats. They had to imagine the worst possible outcomes, plan, and find solutions. Fear of not surviving created those negative thought processes as a requirement to persevere. Today we no longer have to hunt wild boar, scavenge for food and live simply to survive but our brains still have the ability to imagine fear and create negative types of thoughts in response. Our imagination allows us to prepare for a potential threat and come up with a fix. The brain’s ability to create negative thoughts is innate and necessary. It’s when those negative thoughts consume our daily actions and responses that we become a negative person.

Negative Thinking as a Habit

Doing anything repeatedly will create a habit. Falling into a routine of always thinking the worst will happen will allow you to become a victim to the habit of automatic negative thoughts (ANTs). Automatic negative thoughts are just that, they are automatic. You lose the control to see the sunny side. You are no longer in charge of your responses, actions, and outlooks. The negativity has consumed you and it will affect not just yourself, but all those in your proximity. You have an ANT infestation.

Think about the time that you asked a coworker, “How’s it going?”, and the answer was a stream of complaints about problems that aren’t really problems. You likely didn’t ask again. Or when you asked that friend if they wanted to do a 5K mud run and their response was, “I can’t, I won’t.” or “I’m too out of shape and I’m just going to fall behind anyways.” You probably didn’t ask again. These people have fallen into the “woe is me” mindset and they are blinded. They are unable to see the good. 

ANTs in Your Colony?

Unlike the pesky six legged insects that work together in unity, a team mate that exhibits the negative behavioral responses and thought processes has the ability to harm the overall functionality of your colony. This bad habit will cause a loss of productivity and reduced performance. Confidence diminishes, reducing the possibility for growth and success. Negativity has the potential to spread from person to person almost as if it is contagious. One bad apple can spoil the bunch. 

Fumigating your ANTs

A team that contains even just one negative person may not be destined for collapse, however it will likely not perform at its best. What can you do to turn that frown upside down when you identify either in yourself or in a teammate that there is an ANT infestation? 

  1. Identify the Cause: Finding the” why” is the first step. Why are the ANTs getting in and what is attracting them? Something as simple as a change of scenery can be a great mood booster. Is the negativity being bred from an external source rather than a personality flaw? Ask questions of yourself or the other person to understand what is the cause of the negativeness and then address the issues and make changes as able.
  2. Create a New Habit: Start building a new pattern. Instead of playing the victim, be the hero. Rather than say “I can’t,” say “I am able to.” Fight the urge to slip into the negative mindset by reacting and responding consciously and not just rolling with the norm. Take it one moment at a time and focus on the successes not the failures. 
  3. BE a Positive Person: “This is just the way that I am” is not an excuse. Once your ANTs have been identified you have the power to become someone new, someone better, someone positive.

Practice the art of positivity with every action and reaction rather than the ANTs of negativity. Don’t be an Eeyore, when you can be a Tigger.

Long before the days of posting positive affirmations on your Facebook page there was a little blue engine that thought she could. She wasn’t the strongest or the shiniest or the biggest. But what she lacked in experience and size, she made up for with determination and optimism. “I think I can, I think can, I think I can.” She was little, but mighty. 

A month ago my son found a new love for ice skating. He went to a birthday party and even though he had never been on skates, he proved to be a natural. We were not yet out of the parking lot and he was already asking if we could come back the following weekend and if I would skate with him. I have not been on skates in decades. I assumed I would be spending more time sitting on the ice rather than gliding over it, however I agreed that I would give it a shot rather than watch him from the sidelines. 

As the following Sunday approached, I was more and more nervous. I, like the little blue engine, am not the strongest. I am not coordinated and I am about as graceful as an elephant on a tightrope. 

Ice skating day finally arrived. We walked in, got our skates and sat down to lace up. My mind was racing and my heart was pounding. As we approached the entrance to the rink, I said to myself, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.” And then I did. It was slow at first and I stuck to the wall. As my confidence grew I ventured further and further from the side. A month later, I now only use the wall to stop. I am faster and more sure of myself. While I may not yet be intrepid, I have found a pace that is comfortable and kept my rump off the ice until yesterday. Lesson learned, do not play tag on the ice with the kids. Every time I get a little bit quicker, a little more graceful and a lot less scared. 

I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could, and I did. 

What power will it give you to accomplish the seemingly impossible? Can a simple mindset make a dauntless task less daunting? 

How can you instill and promote the art of positive thinking?

  1. Recognize and plan for obstacles: Acknowledging that you will likely have to jump a few hurdles or give an extra push to get over the mountain is not a negative thought process. Being aware allows you to prepare, plan, face, and conquer the obstacles head on.
  2. Focus on the Goal: Why are you trying to do what you are doing? If you are just doing it to check the box, is it worth doing? Being committed to the success of something that you are invested in guarantees a reward when you cross the finish line. It is easier to stay positive when the carrot is dangling in your face, but you have to like carrots. 
  3. Make it a Habit: You will fail at something. It will feel gross. You won’t like it. Do not fall into a negative thought pattern. Think of what you could have done better. Use the opportunity to learn from what didn’t go right. The more times you recover from a misstep with a positive outlook the easier it will be to avoid slipping down the “Poor Me” slope. Repeat after me, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.” Say it until you not only believe it, but live it. 
  4. Reset Your Mindset: Misery breeds misery. It is easier to ask, “Why is this happening to me?” Playing the victim removes the accountability, it lets you fail without blame. Failing without blame makes it easier to accept defeat. Instead, ask yourself, “How can I get through this?” This viewpoint puts the power of achievement in your hands. You are culpable for your actions, reactions and steps towards victory. Negative thinkers have things happen to them. Positive thinkers get through things. 

A positive thought process can not guarantee success, however it makes achieving your milestones and overcoming complications more feasible. You might still falter, maybe even fall on your rump, but with a positive mindset you will be right back up. 

Where’s my ice pack?

Two months ago, I got bored of the treadmill. I am not a runner, my legs are fairly short and honestly I just don’t like it. But, with it being winter in Wisconsin, my options for exercise were limited. So I took the plunge and ordered what I can only describe as the Hybrid from Hell. It is a cross between an elliptical and a stair stepper. It came with these fancy instructor led workouts. “I’m not fancy, I don’t need that, I’ll just watch a show or read a book”, I tell myself. I made it a measly fourteen minutes. It was brutal, and it was terrible, and I did it again the next day with the help of my new pre-recorded friend Jim. 

It wasn’t that Jim is 8 years my senior that pushed me to the end of the thirty-four minute workout. It wasn’t that Jim really thought I could do it, he was totally rooting me on. It wasn’t even because I refuse to let this piece of equipment turn into a clothes rack. It was because of what Jim said. Jim said, “You get out what you put in.” I gave it my all, I could barely walk down the stairs when it was over and I was a sweaty mess. I did it again the next day, and the day after that. While I still refer to the machine as the Hybrid from Hell, it’s easier now. I can push myself harder and go longer. I put in the commitment and time. In return, I am stronger, less achy and have more confidence. I reaped the benefits of my efforts. I got out what I put in. 

The amount of reward you get out of a situation depends on how much effort you put in doing the task. Think back to a time when you had a major test approaching. Did you study hard for days leading up to it? Or cram for an hour the night before? Chances are that if you put in the time to study the material you did better on the exam. 

It’s been a long time since I have had to study for a test but I do go to work everyday. Everyone has those days when the motivation to go above and beyond just isn’t there. You are just trying to get through. But the days that I sit down early with my to-do list out and prepped, and the intent to get sh*t done are the days that I am most productive. I pour myself into projects, checking off task after task. I answer questions from co-workers at the speed of light. I solve even the most difficult problems as if they were nothing more than a first grade math equation. I put in 100% of me and my output is mind-blowing. 

The people on our teams that simply tread water daily and barely meet the bare minimum are not go getters. They put in meager effort and in return the fruits of their labor are lacking. There is no satisfaction or accomplishment. There is no promotion or a “way to go champ”. They do not “Go All In.” 

The technician that just barely beats book time. The builder that cuts corners but gets lucky. The customer service rep that plays on their phone in between calls instead of getting other work done or taking the opportunity to learn something.  We see you. We know that it is only a matter of time before you quit or we ask you to leave. 

What can we do when we identify a teammate that is just skating by?

  1. Call it as you see it: As a leader, or a peer, if you see someone disengaged, confront the issue. Do not let them sit silently and continue to let them be only part of the team. Ask for more.  
  2. Give them a reason: Sometimes the people that seem to be distant just need a reason to shine. Ask for input. Question why they aren’t giving it their all.  Be there and let them know that you want them to want it. 
  3. Lead by example: You can not set the bar if your behavior exhibits the opposite of what you want others to do. Your work may be different and less measurable but your impact can be felt in your actions. Be available, be consistent and be reliable as a resource and a partner. 
  4. Let them sink: You have reached out multiple times. You have provided the tools to succeed. You have given them the chance to be the hero and yet they continue to bury themselves in disinterest and dissociation. It is not your job to save everyone. But sometimes it is your job to say goodbye. When there is nothing worth saving, let it go. 

Always reach for the stars. Put in 10x’s more than hope to get out. Your happiness is not based on what you get, but rather what you are willing to give. Sometimes there is an element of luck yet most often what you give is what is what you get. 

On that note, I have a date with Jim.