Categotry Archives: Respect

The Thorniest Part of Solving Conflict?

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In my dealings with solving conflict, one of the biggest roadblocks is simply “how do I start the conversation?”. A common way people start a conversation about a conflicted situation is by simply saying “We need to talk!”

I don’t know about women but I do know that nearly every guy in the history of mankind cringes when he hears those four little words “we need to talk”!  When I hear them, the first thing I want to do is run for my life. Early in my career, when I was a department store young men’s fashion buyer, occasionally I would have vendors say to me “you need to buy this product”. Every time I heard that line, whether I should be buying the product or not, my first thought was “I don’t need to do anything”. How come? Let’s think about it: what the vendor did was take away my right of choice. I considered it to be theft and automatically my brain triggered a primal instinct for survival. There is nothing collaborative about the statement “you need to…”

The same thing happens when someone says “we need to talk”.  The primal brain is hearing “this is NOT going to be a pleasant experience and I have no say in this whatsoever!”

Instead of stealing someone’s right to choose and causing an instinctual negative reaction, what would happen if you opened the conversation by giving someone a choice?

For instance, what if you started out by asking permission to talk? How about something like “may I be totally honest with you?” or “do you mind if I share with you something that’s been bothering me?” The receiving person’s primal brain thinks, “sure, why not? I don’t have to do any work; all I have to do is listen.” This is no big deal; I’m in! You have now given the other person a choice and they made it.

The Myth of Workplace Politics

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I’ve asked countless people to give me a single word or phrase that they think of when I ask “what instantly comes to your mind when you hear the term “workplace politics”?

Here are a few examples of what I’ve heard:

  • Back stabbing
  • Money grubbing
  • Deceit
  • Power playing
  • Kiss up
  • Manipulating
  • Gossiping behind peoples back

Most everyone thinks that workplace politicking is negative. Not only that, it can be personally disruptive and easily cause a dysfunctional work environment.

Can there be positive workplace politics? Of course! It happens all the time but we don’t always notice it when work runs smoothly without drama.

I think there is a simple reason negative workplace politics is more prevalent.

It is easy to be manipulative, back stabbing, deceitful and a gossip. People can be negative without the requirements of any effort or reasoned thought. All it takes is being confrontational with others while caring solely about your own self interests.

I think when you practice positive workplace politics you must also practice the traits of empathy, concern, affirmation, collaboration and, possibly the most difficult trait, trust. None of these traits are directed inward. They are all practiced with the well being of others in mind.

So what is the reason we don’t practice positive politics? I think the answer lies in the word “practice”. Like anything, being good at something requires a great deal of energy and “practice”.

Engaging in negative politics is lazy and takes virtually no energy or thought at all. Lazy minds are not allowed in an environment of positive workplace politics.

Thus the myth that workplace politics is   only negative!

CEO Sets the Company Culture

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As one of the young men’s fashion buyers at The Bon Marche in Seattle, now Macy’s, it seemed like every other word that came out of our mouths was a swear word! At the time, our CEO at the Bon was a hard charging merchant and an equally hard charging drinker who loved a good party. All of us thought of him as a great role model in the world of retail. We had a great time but our moral compasses weren’t exactly on tract. That’s not to say we weren’t ethical because we were but in sense, we worked in a dysfunctional workplace. We all were young and thought this hard charging manner was the way we should act in business. Of course, this wasn’t true.

The moral of this story, regardless of what you may think, the CEO of a company always sets to tone for the culture of the company.

#2 – Listen: Pelzie’s Principles (Part 3 of 4)

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“Listen” … the second of Pelzie’s three principles. I sometimes ask myself how that simple word “listen” can end up to be so complicated. When I was as young as Pelzie’s children are now, I remember being pretty prolific at talking, and I certainly had my share of difficulties trying to master the other half of communication that I wasn’t accustomed to: listening.

After I retired as CEO of Ex Officio Inc., I used to think, “I wish I could have had someone like myself to coach me.” But, honestly, I’m not sure if I would have been secure enough to listen even if I had. Secure enough to listen? By all appearances, I was a secure and confident guy. After all, wasn’t I leading a successful company? Sure I was but, my typical modus operandi was listening so I could rebut instead of listening so I could understand.

Once while I was CEO, I had the bright idea to separate Ex Officio’s domestic business and its international business into two separate companies. My attorney clearly didn’t think the idea was great, but I thought, “What did he know? I know my business better than he does!” At one of the trade shows we attended, I met a gentleman who had terrific connections in Japan. His authenticity within the Japanese market seemed beyond reproach and I wanted to hire his firm to represent us in Japan. During our discussions, it came out that he was “tired” of building up other companies and wanted a “piece of the action” if he were to represent us. This seemed reasonable to me. And, because of my brilliant plan to separate the domestic business from our international business, it was eminently doable. Six months later it became clear to everyone at Ex Officio that this great idea of mine was a complete mess that took a lot of time and money to rectify.

If only I had learned Pelzie’s second principle – listen – my mistakes in this transaction would have been minimized. First, I should have listened to my attorney to understand the possible pitfalls in separating the company. Because separating the company fragmented and complicated finance, potential financial partners and investment bankers were not thrilled by my great idea. I also should have done a more thorough background and reference check on the new Japanese representatives before becoming business partners. One of my friends who owned a thriving travel bag company later said to me, “Why didn’t you ask me about this guy, I would have told you about his volatile personality.”

Why didn’t I listen? I think I made the fatal mistake of confusing being secure with being confident, and I certainly had no shortage of confidence! As it turned out, my confidence was a mask for my insecurity. Secure people are secure enough to listen to other opinions without judging them. Listening without judgment doesn’t mean you have to accept all of these opinions. Intently listening simply means you have a much greater opportunity to make informed decisions.

What a lesson in listening! So I guess you might think that after that incident I became a great listener, but that is not the case! Even to this day, I often need to remind myself to listen. Unless you are a natural listener, listening is rarely fully mastered.

#1 – Be Nice: Pelzie’s Principles (Part 2 of 4)

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Be nice …. I don’t think it would be a stretch for the majority of us to envision my friend Pelzie’s young 6 year old son and 5 year old daughter arguing, provoking and skirmishing over any number of things.

Remembering a time when my brother Walt and I were about the same age, whenever we took a trip in the car we could be found sitting in its spacious back seat. My idea of spacious wasn’t always the same as Walt’s (to his chagrin, I used to call him Wally). Predictably, Wally would draw an imaginary line delineating his theoretically protected area. To me this line only represented a place where I had to go to cross over! To this day, I vividly remember “consistently encroaching” on my brother’s territory. I can’t imagine how we must have driven our parents crazy! Be nice, to whom, my brother? Looking back, those were fun times for a kid but was I being nice to my brother? No, I can safely say, I wasn’t! Did Wally and I learn how to exist together? I sometimes wonder! I knew my older brother Wally’s emotional hot buttons and, ostensibly to survive, I was relentless in pushing them. My parents would put up with us to a point and then my mom or dad would speak. I don’t think they said “be nice” but the tone of their voice certainly implied it!

Be nice … as we grow up, I think that simple be nice takes on a myriad of meanings. Personally, I think be nice includes the basic core values of respect, empathy, fairness.

We might not understand those words when we are 6 years old but we should understand them once we enter into the real world. I think most of us have a basic understanding of respect, empathy and fairness but, I’m not so sure if we consistently live these values.

Is there a reason we don’t live them? When I was a kid, it was very easy for me to rationalize that I needed more backseat territory and, if I could pester my brother into giving it to me, well … wasn’t that Wally’s problem?

I sometimes wonder if many people today easily rationalize to not be nice, respectful, empathetic or fair by deluding themselves into thinking “in order to survive, this is how the big kids must act”! We see and hear this every day in the financial industry when certain investment banks don’t play nice by indiscriminately selling flawed financial instruments, large hedge fund managers not playing nice by using insider and unfair trading practices to manipulate markets, national politicians, on both sides, not playing nice by utilizing dirty politics. In essence, aren’t these businessmen, bankers, hedge fund managers and politicians giving all of us permission to not be nice?

Too bad these unprincipled men and women didn’t have Pelzie as a father when they were growing up.