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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Greetings! A Simple Act of Respect

     Maybe you're not a morning person.  Maybe you're deep in thought about what's ahead and not attuned to your surroundings.  Maybe it wasn't something that was important to do around your house when you were growing up.  But greeting people when you first see them each day is a show of respect.  It says to an individual that you "see" them--meaning you acknowledge their presence, that they exist, and that they are important enough to address.

  
     This issue comes up regularly when I am conducting internal customer service and self-awareness training sessions.  For many, saying hello to a colleague first thing in the morning isn't a big thing.  But for others, it's everything.  Those who believe it matters are usually offended by the dismissive response they get from a coworker who walks through the office and passes their office or desk and never looks in their direction.  They are particularly irritated when they offer a greeting first and the other person doesn't respond.  They feel overlooked, minimized, neglected.  It's very much psychological.  It's about how we think others see us.  And if we think they see us as insignificant, we feel disrespected.  Especially if we have a high degree of respect for ourselves.
     For those who don't care whether they get a greeting or not, they think the other side is making much ado about nothing.  They weren't raised to walk into a room and say "good morning" or "good afternoon" so it doesn't mean as much to them.  They tell me that they aren't trying to be disrespectful and don't see the lack of the gesture as being rude.  It's not personal with them.  They will make the effort when it's brought to their attention, but in the grand scheme of their day, saying hello when they walk through the door isn't a priority.  Getting coffee is!
     In an office setting, however, the act of not "speaking" to a person when they are first encountered can damage professional relationships.  Coworkers want to feel that they matter.  To be disregarded in something as simple as a greeting indicates to the person being ignored that their existence is unimportant--so unimportant that they don't deserve the smallest of acknowledgements.  In the south where good manners determine how you were raised, the negligence of a greeting carries even greater weight and may even call into question the quality of your upbringing.
     When I've seen heated exchanges among team members at work about this topic, I've often found that the behavior is split down cultural and regional lines.  It's not just how a person was raised but also where they were raised that distinguishes the opposing views.  According to the participants, greetings are usually a behavior that starts from early rearing.  It becomes a requirement (or not) in the home, so by the time a person reaches adulthood, it is a common practice.  For those who don't follow this practice, they say it wasn't something emphasized in their home.  For those who do follow the practice, it is a hard habit to break.  Not that they want to.  They believe acknowledging others is polite, shows kindness, and warms up interactions as much as a smile does.
     As a matter of resolution, I usually advise those who don't regularly offer greetings (especially managers and supervisors) to weigh the importance of doing it versus not doing it.  It only takes two seconds or less--literally.  Good morning.  Good afternoon.  Hello.  A nod of the head and a smile.  If it matters to the other side but not to you, then what is it costing you?  Put the needs of your coworkers first.  Do what builds better relationships.  The antithesis, however, does bring a cost and it looks like this:  an undercurrent of resentment between managers and direct reports, a wedge between coworkers  because the greeting that could conjoin them doesn't exist, and a loss of respect for the offending party.  Remember, respect is earned, not always automatically given.  But automatically giving a greeting can certainly earn respect.  Try it.

Friday, October 13, 2017

10 Reasons Why Morale May Be Low in Your Office



    

     For companies that pay attention to it, the condition of morale is an essential part of determining if the company’s environment is healthy and poised for growth.  When morale is high, people are ready to come to work and be productive.  Alternatively, when morale is low, people (mostly) come in, and they perform the minimum until they can escape at the end of the day.
     In a low morale environment, it’s easy to find a lethargic, stagnant staff largely going through the motions but not inspired to color outside the lines.  The resentment felt throughout the office is as heavy as a winter coat weighed down by a cold, rainy day.  So why do these dismal, drab feelings occur?  What is causing morale to suffer near the bottom of the pile of office ailments?
     No doubt there are a plethora of reasons, but we’ll try to narrow them down to the top ten.  See if you recognize any of the ten in your work environment:



1.    An overbearing boss. A boss who controls, commands, and micromanages is probably the most common reason employees start losing zeal for their jobs. Bosses who fit this bill need to lighten up. Motivate. Don’t dominate.
2.    A boss who does not listen to input from others. Many employees want to be able to tell the boss when they feel something isn’t working. Too often, if bosses are married to a process they created, they aren’t likely to entertain feedback from someone they feel is shooting down their idea. Rejected often enough, employees won’t feel like their opinions matter so they stop contributing, and some grow resentful.
3.    A boss who stifles creativity. For those employees whose bright minds are constantly clicking through possibilities for improvements or something new, they thrive on testing out some of those possibilities. But when a boss regularly dismisses their ideas, their vibrancy dims, and they look for another environment where they can shine.
4.    Employees who don’t feel valued because they receive little recognition. Almost everyone wants to be appreciated for the hard work they do. But many times they are overlooked—inadvertently and intentionally. Great bosses actively seek opportunities to praise their employees.
5.    Trust is missing and little effort is made to find it. When trust is M.I.A., the environment can easily slip into hostility. Ignoring that it is a problem is like feeding oxygen to a raging inferno. Eventually everyone gets burned.
 

     Want more?  Sign up for our monthly newsletter at www.thesharpersolution.com/enewsletter.htm.  The entire article will be sent to you.  Also, leave us reasons you've experienced low morale in your workplace.
     If you want us to help with ways to improve morale, contact us at Sharper Development Solutions, Inc. by clicking here:  http://thesharpersolution.com/contact_us.htm.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

How to Listen Without Judgment



 
     Choosing to listen while in a conversation is not a passive effort.  Making the choice is an action that is thoughtful and vital to the life of that communication.  To listen well requires concentration.  It requires tuning in and removing distractions that compete for the listener's attention.  As much as we know this, it is difficult to do.  Many of the distractions that cause us to tune in and out several times in a given conversation come from within our own minds.  We have this constant murmur of chatter going on underneath the discussion in which we're engaged.  While someone is speaking, we're responding to their comments silently; formulating opinions in our minds that we can't wait to share.  We're not totally listening; we're just waiting to reply.  Even worse, in some cases, we're not even permitting the speaker to finish their thought.  We interrupt with our often not-so-well-thought-out opinions.
     Of course not every conversation requires your undivided attention.  But for those that do--the substantive and critical ones--tuning in matters.  Sensitive topics are one of those important discussions.  If two people have differing political views as we're seeing so prevalent today, then disregarding the other person's point of view as if it has no merit is not respectful.  Pushing hard to get other people to accept your argument is how confrontations occur.  But listening with curiosity and not necessarily with judgment lends itself to better outcomes.
     A healthy debate is always more acceptable than insolence and stubbornness.  More ideas can be shared; better discussions can be had.  When we sit in judgment of the other person, we've essentially shut down openness of thought and receptivity to differing opinions.  We've essentially shut down the conversation.
     Moreover, some people share out of a need to vent, confess or ask for help.  They may be wrong in some way, but more importantly, they may be remorseful.  Listening without voicing judgment even though you may be feeling judgmental can help them work out their faults.  They may be willing to hold themselves accountable and express their regrets.  Sometimes the communication is all about the listening part.  It requires no verbal input from you. 
     So how do we listen without judgment?  Here are three simple things to consider.
     1) Shut off the subconscious chatter and be intentional about listening.
     2) Be open-minded and listen to understand the other side.  This does not mean you have to agree.
     3) Even if you decide you don't agree with the other view, at least accept that they have the right to have an opinion.  Believe in their right to disagree with you.
    4) Practice listening without offering a lot of verbal input.  And even when you do speak, say something neutral if the other person "gets it".  Say, "It looks like you realize your mistake.  So how do you avoid making it again?"  Let them arrive at their own discoveries.  This is much more valuable than a tongue-lashing from you.
     But if you feel you can't accomplish any of these, do this to be sure--just keep your mouth shut. Regardless of the judgments floating around in your head, remember that everything doesn't have to come spewing out of your mouth.






Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Why Controversial Discussions on Social Media Don't Work

     We've all seen heated discussions on social media regarding everything from political views to personal attacks when someone feels they've been wronged.  Notwithstanding the trolls whose main intent is to get a rise out of people by spewing hate, we should keep in mind that the idea behind social media is to be just that--social.  Anything outside of that is antisocial.  Here's why:
     First, social media is about connecting to other people.  It's about building and strengthening relationships through shared opinions, interests, and friendships.  Even when "friends" don't share the same views, this medium is not designed to drive a wedge between them.  When you see this occurring, don't participate.  You're misusing the medium.  Healthy debate where no one gets "unfriended" is fine.  Arguing is not.  Be considerate though, and try not to post anything that would offend others.
     Second, social media is not a place to have a lengthy discussion about a controversial topic or when your feelings have been hurt.  It's not a place to write announcements about how you've been mistreated.  It's also not a place to stalk, trash, threaten, and embarrass another person.  Since most of the posts on social media are written, a meaningful conversation can get lost in the back and forth.  As one person writes their opinion, then they have to wait until the other person(s) responds.  That could be right away or hours and even days later.  The delay takes away from the momentum of a worthy dialogue.  Social media and written comments should never replace face-to-face interaction when it's needed.
     And third, too many other people can get involved in your conversation.  If it's a personal matter between two people but it's out there for the whole world to see, then opportunists and opinionated folks can intrude on the conversation and make matters worse.  (Some people thrive on mess!)
     Social media is all communications.  Whether written or spoken in a video, you are inviting people to connect with you.  Do so with grace, self-control, and respect.  Only then can you get the full benefits of the "social" in social media.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Unwholesome Talk

    

     Christians who read their Bibles know that foul language, filthy talk, and all manner of negative statements that tear down another person are frowned upon as indicated in the Scriptures.  In fact, in the book of Ephesians, the limits are clearly stated by the apostle Paul regarding what should and should not be said.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen...Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  (4:29, 31)

     Whether you're Christian or not, using profanity (especially excessively) is both unprofessional in the workplace and possibly offensive in social settings.  Because people won't always tell you directly that they're bothered by coarse language, you may think it is acceptable to proceed with profanity-laced comments in your conversations with them.  Consider, however, that though they may be smiling or expressionless on the outside, they may be cringing on the inside.  As with most people, those who don't curse tend to associate with people like them.  Therefore, if that's not the environment they're used to, they may find it off-putting when they do hear people spew our foul and/or filthy language in their presence.  We should be cognizant of the people with whom we interact.  Just because certain behavior is acceptable to us doesn't mean it's an automatic okay for others.
      Another aspect of the language addressed in these Scriptures is negative talk--gossip, backbiting, arguing, and accusations.  Even if you don't let an F-bomb drop in your confrontations, it is still unacceptable to rage against another individual when disagreements occur.  Since we know that conflict in inevitable in life, we need to better prepare ourselves for when it occurs.  There's no escaping it so we need to be ready.
     Anger that is allowed to fester because solutions have not been sought or implemented can turn into bitterness over time.  I have seen bitter people sabotage work on the job, back stab friends, and make malicious attempts to discredit people they've determined are their enemies.  Bitterness can be vengeful.  You can hear it in the hard line people take when faced with the situation that angers them.  Words like, "I don't care.  I hope he fails."  Or "She got what was coming.  I'm glad I could witness it."  These are as hurtful as any curse words.
     In the Scriptures, we are encouraged to look for ways to resolve our issues and address matters with a more conciliatory heart.  We all need forgiveness.  There isn't a solitary soul that doesn't.  Unfortunately, we don't give it as readily as we should, neither do we ask for it as often as we should. Gentleness and kindness have retreated from the hearts of many, and we seem to be more prepared to fight than to try peace.  Where is empathy and compassion?  They are not far away; just buried beneath resentment and pain.  We need to be more intentional about putting them at the forefront of our interactions.
     Words matter.  Make sure those you choose to use daily are wholesome and encouraging.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Speaking Up: A Lesson From "Hidden Figures"


     When I saw the movie "Hidden Figures", my first thought was that every student should go see it for all of its inspiring lessons in math, science, and history.  But there was another inspiring lesson that should not be missed and could make all the difference in an individual's success--effective and powerful communications.  Throughout the movie we see women of color speaking up when it counted.  Asking for promotions, stepping in for one another when they felt wronged, and demanding to be "in the room" so they could perform their jobs accurately.  Though the movie highlights the phenomenal math skills of three black women who made a significant contribution to our nation's history at a time of heightened racism and sexism, language and communications were also pertinent skills they mastered.  Communications is an essential skill for success today as well.  Beyond science, numbers, calculations, and historical context, the women speak up and out when it is critical to do so.  Students could benefit from seeing this kind of confidence displayed in the face of adversity and unfairness.  Women who struggle with the boldness to ask for what they want could benefit from this inspiring story too.
     Speaking up can be difficult to do in a situation where the political landscape can cost an employee her job.  I have been in far too many environments where employees were afraid to speak the truth for fear of retaliation.  Unfortunately, it is all too common to find this fear in a culture where trust is nonexistent.  Employees clam up when they should be speaking up.  In these instances, management doesn't care what their employees think so they don't ask.  And because they're not asked, the employee must take the initiative to address matters that would otherwise go unattended.  But first, they must summon the courage to say what's on their minds regardless of the repercussions, and that is a difficult thing to do for many.  Mostly because the backlash is too high a price to pay for uncertain results.  As a consequence, employees suffer in silence until they retire or get another job that empowers them and respects their opinions or until they quit abruptly because they just can't take it anymore. 
     The barrier is not always the hard-nosed boss with control issues that stifles open communications.  It is also the friendly boss who the employees like.  Because the employees have developed a supportive relationship with the boss, they may be reluctant to be open and honest for fear of damaging a relationship they value.  As an example, the boss might be a non-confrontational person who avoids conflict as much as possible.  There are times when she should step up and handle a matter that is causing issues for her staff.  Perhaps it's another department that refuses to share pertinent information with her department, and it causes delays and errors when collaborating on projects.  Instead of the boss addressing the matter with the other department's boss, she doesn't want to rock the boat so she tells her team to work around the issue.  They don't feel they should yield to uncooperative cohorts and want her to say so.  But because she may become resentful or resistant to being pushed into a zone where she is uncomfortable, employees refrain from suggesting she take charge more.
     Speaking up is essential for progress, personal growth, and higher productivity.  Failing to do so when it matters is costly in all those areas.  It shows a lack of confidence by an individual in their ability to lead, and it weakens that individual's position in the eyes of his or her team.  But assertiveness can be learned.  Need help speaking up?  We'll show you how.  Contact us at betty@thesharpersolution.com or call (803) 622-4511.

Monday, January 9, 2017

BLIND SPOT: When Your Conversation Is Negative

     Jasmine sat at the restaurant table anxiously awaiting her blind date.  She had been set up by her cousin Ava with Ava's coworker Jason.  Ava had described him as a guy who was smart, hard-working, and fun.  Jasmine had grown weary of the dating scene since most of the guys she'd gone out with lately were shallow and boring.  She was looking for a fresh approach and interesting conversation.
     Jason walked up to her table and introduced himself with a smile.  She immediately felt his warmth and thought this one might actually go better than all the rest.  The conversation started easily enough, but Ava felt a shift in the energy between them after about 15 minutes.  She couldn't figure it out, but she felt Jason cool down a bit.  Eventually the conversation became stilted, and Jason seemed disengaged.  Finally he asked her a tough question.
     "Do you like yourself?"  Jasmine was stunned.
     "What do you mean?" she asked.
     "Well, you've been very negative about who you are so I can't help but wonder if you like yourself."
     Jasmine was taken aback and did a quick inventory of what she'd said up to that point.  She didn't need to think too hard because Jason ran it down for her.
     "I complimented you on your dress, and you said it was old instead of saying 'thank you'.  I told you that I'd heard you were a bright lawyer, and you said you hated your job.  I told you that I heard you had a great sense of humor, and you told me you can be difficult to deal with at times.  So far, all I've heard are negatives from you when I had such high expectations before talking to you."
     Jasmine was immediately embarrassed by what he'd said.  He was right.  She'd said all of those negative things about herself.  Worse, she was turning her new date off.  She wondered how many of her previous dates soured not because of the guys, but because of her.  She'd hardly noticed how negative she was being.  It was a blind spot for her.


     Likely you've experienced a scenario like this.  We've all been around that person who enters a conversation that is meaningful and light and turns it into a dark and difficult exchange.  They suck all the life out of the room, and people start looking uncomfortable and fidgety the more the person speaks.  Soon folks start finding excuses for why they have to leave.  After all, who wants to be around an energy drain like that?
     If you've ever been told you can be negative at times, consider your usual language.  How often are you diminishing a compliment or being self-deprecating in an effort to appear humble?  Maybe you're upset about the way things are going at work, and you talk about it a lot.  Do you come across as a whiner?  Since this behavior may be a blind spot for you, ask someone who won't hedge in giving you tough feedback.  Ask them if you present negatively in most of your comments.  If you discover that you do, then it's time for accountability.
      Now that you know, what will you do to change the habit?  It's as simple as replacing the degrading attitude, the negative thinking, and the complaining conversation with a brighter outlook.  It's about tuning in to the sound of your own voice, and paying close attention to your thoughts.  When your thoughts wander into that old territory of dissatisfaction, then S.H.I.F.T.--Speak Hope Instead of Failing Talk.  SHIFT your thinking and your language.  It takes skill and patience with yourself, but it can be done.
     If you need help in how to SHIFT your attitude, call us at (803) 622-4511 or drop us a line at betty@thesharpersolution.com.  We can help.