December 03, 2009

I tend to trust OR not trust this person

It’s a game. You have photo cards of the people you work with. You need to quickly sort them into those piles or a third one, 'I don’t know this person well enough to know whether I trust him or her.'

This exercise helps determine the credibility of people in your organization.

We are judged every day. Am I credible? Am I believable? Am I someone people (including myself) trust?

Four elements of credibility
Stephen Covey in ‘The Speed of Trust’ lists four key elements of personal credibility.
Two elements deal with character
• integrity
• good intent
Two elements with competence
• credentials
• demonstrated capabilities

Building credibility is a key behavior of leaders
You can work on improving every one of these elements. To test your credibility, go to Find Out Who Trusts You is a short survey you take and then you can invite colleagues to take a survey about your credibility.

October 13, 2009

People out of the communication loop are fearful…particularly in tough times

Foster strong relationships by
showing respect
caring for others
being authentic

Relating to your boss
Be well prepared with notes.
Talk about “getting results.”
Understand and support your boss’ goals.
Ask what information your boss wants, the best way to present it.
Answer questions. Explain processes. You’re knowledgeable about your job.
Admit you don’t understand or are confused. Asking for help shows humility and a desire to learn.
Ask for meetings, for explanations.
Offer suggestions. Offer to help when you see a need.

Working relationships with co-workers
Be friendly and sincere.
Encourage ideas.
Ask shy people to contribute.
Know how to direct the conversation back to the topic.
Take issue with problems and ideas, not the people involved.

We all fear the unknown
Good relationships and communication help reduce stress and improve civility.

This was part of my presentation promoting civility in the workplace at the Iowa State University Extension Office Assistants Development Conference.

September 15, 2009

Be slow to be offended

Wednesday one of my daughters flew in from Seattle for a job interview in northeast Iowa. That made us a family of three sharing two vehicles for several days. She wanted to use my van Thursday for errands and to meet a friend for lunch. Wednesday evening I told her she could drive me to work but that I had a 9 a.m. meeting so I needed to be on time.

She was still on Pacific Time and had dealt with a canceled flight on her way to Iowa, so I wasn’t surprised that she was still asleep when I was ready to go to work. I drove to work. At 9 a.m., my cubemates made no move to go to our meeting. I asked why. We were notified yesterday we don’t need to attend, they said. One suggested I knew because I responded to the cancellation email. I asked her to look at the email and see if I was a recipient or had responded; I wasn’t and didn’t.

Being offended is often an initial reaction
Should my daughter be offended because I didn’t wake her up?
Should I be offended because I didn’t receive the email canceling the meeting?
Should my daughter be offended because she had an unexpected 5-hour layover in Denver?
Should I be offended because one of my coworkers thought I knew our meeting was canceled?

We were probably offended in varying degrees. The crucial question is what did we do? Being offended can lead to anger triggered by stress, frustration, fear, annoyance, resentment or unrealistic expectations.

Be slow to be offended with these steps:
Build a sense of self-worth
You are more easily offended when you feel insecure. Listen attentively to advice, complaints and criticism rather than looking for someone to blame.
Look for the intent
When you feel offended, think about the other person’s intentions. Frequently, you’ll discover the actions were an oversight or offered in an effort to help.
Respond slowly with reconciliation rather than revenge
It is easy to react quickly to offenses. The conversation can escalate from one caustic remark to another. Civility doesn’t mean you put up with rude behavior. You may want to tell the offender how the action made you feel. You don’t need to escalate the situation by involving other people.

Judge each situation carefully
Everyone feels offended at times, but not dealing effectively with your feelings can create relationship problems at work and with family and friends. Is a response necessary?

When you let emotions dictate a hasty response, you relinquish control of yourself and of the situation. Be slow to be offended.

September 03, 2009

The charismatic person is other-directed, empathetic

Because I am intrigued by how charisma and civility intertwine, I’ve searched for more on charisma. Some of the things I especially like in the two articles I’m citing --

Think before you speak. Reduce the fluff and filler material in your daily communications. Try to make every word count, and think about how you're going to phrase something before you open your mouth. If you don't have something important to say, remain silent. With continuous effort, the right words will come to you more easily. It may seem surprising but limiting the amount you talk will make what you have to say more interesting.

Your listening skill...Rarely taught and infrequently practiced, listening is nonetheless a key to communicating and making others feel special in your presence.

Tony Alessandra, author of ‘Charisma: Seven Keys to Developing the Magnetism that Leads to Success’, writes “A person who develops his or her charisma is likely to do well in all aspects of life. That's because, on several different levels, they better connect with people. By definition, the charismatic person is more other-directed, more empathic.” From his column ‘Why Charisma Matters

wikiHow has an article on ‘How to Be Charismatic’

Psychology Today’s definition
Charisma is the ability to attract, charm and influence the people around you. Charisma is often said to be a mysterious ineffable quality you either have or you don't, but it's actually easy to break down many of the factors that make someone charismatic: confidence, exuberance, and optimism, as well as a ready smile, expressive body language, and a friendly and passionate voice.

I’ll close out charisma and civility with this thought.
The opposite of charismatic (repulsive)
It’s those who can turn any conversation into one about themselves. In today’s society where people share intimate details on cell phones in public places and type their movements into social media on the Web, where’s the charisma?

September 01, 2009

Caring in a meaningful way is a mark of civility, perhaps even charisma

The phone calls, hundreds…thousands of them to constituents. The encouragement to people he met on the streets, to his staff that might have been having personal struggles. These were efforts that took a great deal of time. That’s what impressed me over the weekend as the nation honored Senator Ted Kennedy. Seemingly much of this was done without the senator seeking to impress anyone. He was a person showing care for other humans and empathy with their situations.

As I tried to decide what to write about this week, I looked through some recent notes. One was on charisma. Was Ted Kennedy charismatic?

Here’s what Wikipedia says about charisma
The word charisma (Greek "kharisma," meaning "gift," "of/from/favored by God/the divine") refers to a trait found in persons whose personalities are characterized by a personal charm and magnetism (attractiveness), along with innate and powerfully sophisticated abilities of interpersonal communication and persuasion. One who is charismatic is said to be capable of using their personal being, rather than just speech or logic alone, to interface with other human beings in a personal and direct manner, and effectively communicate an argument or concept to them.

I think a great deal of charisma focuses on caring about others, being inclusive, listening, asking questions and not seeking personal attention but furthering specific ideas. Many of those traits apply to civility when the ideas work for the public good.

Several years ago a British psychology professor led a study that concluded charismatic people have an infectious personality. The good news is Professor Richard Wiseman estimates charisma is half innate and half learned. The BBC News Magazine article about his study published a list on how to be more charismatic.

Whatever his faults and mistakes, Ted Kennedy seemed to be genuine and humble in his caring for others. Perhaps he was charismatic. His time spent reaching out to others was a mark of civility.

August 13, 2009

Strive to squelch the defensive retort

A civil person does not endure rudeness in silence. A civil person tries to make the community better for everyone. Here are some typical requests and comments you might hear in the workplace:
• Would you please take your cell phone with you with you leave your cubicle or silence the ring?
• It is an inefficient use of the group’s time to have to repeat what you missed. Could you come to meetings on time?
• Would you use your headphones so I don’t have hear your video?
• The sounds of flatware scraping on china makes me think I’m in a restaurant. Would you please not eat in your cubicle?
• I wish you had not forwarded my email message.

It’s pretty automatic to give a defensive retort when we feel we’ve been criticized.
They might be something like these:
• I’m waiting for an important call.
• I was busy doing other work.
• This won’t take long.
• I can’t imagine it would bother you that much.
• It’s not a big deal.

That defensive retort is fast and automatic.
Sometimes we regret what we said or hopefully at minimum think about whether we violated common courtesy. I’ve observed few people who have the self-discipline to remain silent and simply listen or apologize.

The people who have self esteem, who are really comfortable with themselves, seem to be the ones who can accept or discuss well-meant criticism. That is a mark of civility. It encourages good working relationships and communication in the future.

And those who never seem to let go of defensive retorts get cut out of communication and collaboration because it’s too difficult to work with them. It’s a lonely and uninspiring way to work.

Try this instead.
The next time someone makes a comment to you that seems a criticism…clamp your lips together, take a big breath and listen. Focus on what the person is saying and think before you respond. There can be some real peace in listening and certainly it’s civil to respect the requests and perceptions of others.

July 21, 2009

Social networking vs. professional knowledge networking

Networks are about relationships. Social networking can include your interests and activities and gossip. Certainly it can be more but contrast it with knowledge networks.

Professional knowledge networking is knowing and being able to reach people who can help you find the knowledge you need to work smarter and faster. Robert E. Kelley in his book ‘How to be a Star at Work: Nine Breakthrough Strategies You Need to Succeed’ concludes the chapter on ‘Knowing Who Knows: Plugging into the Knowledge Network’ with this:
“Without networks, the stars know, they are on their own. And to be on your own in this mind-boggling knowledge economy is to be lost.”

This is one of the 100 best business books of all time and I’m fascinated by this chapter because it is a smart way to work efficiently and effectively. There’s a whole lot of civility in it. Let me tempt you with some questions:

Do you have relationships with people of different job talents and skills?

Do you know and readily admit what you don’t know?

Do you build on what has already been done or is known?

Do you know people you can go through to connect with a person who has the information you need?

Is the best networking done face to face, on the phone or online in a group?

Do you break networking rules such as being rude, being demanding and trying to contact experts without an introduction?

Kelley writes that knowledge networking works on a barter system.
You need to have a specialty area you’re willing to share or be a valued connector. You need to understand the cost and benefit of asking for someone’s time. You need to give long before you receive. He talks about the critical importance of small courtesies and considerations, of being a model of Victorian manners. “In an economy where knowledge is the stock-in-trade of so many businesses, there are no reputations worse than being pegged as an idea thief, as a pseudo-star who stands on stage and acts as if there were no supporting players, or as a taker who doesn’t reciprocate.”

The book was published in 1998. Kelley spent 10 years researching the characteristics of star performers. I encourage you to find a copy. Maybe I’ll do more posts on the book; I’m only 90 pages in. His site has a survey which I didn’t realize when I decided to use questions for this post.

July 14, 2009

Autry: Our organizational lives exist in relationships

How people behave and what they do in organizations depends on the leadership.

A servant leader
• Is caring
• Builds community
• Lets go of his or her ego
• Creates a place where people can share
• Pays attention
• Loves him or herself and others

The work bond is second only to the family bond
People need to find meaning in their work. Executives today are often obsessed with short-term results and efficiency which can be the opposite of effectiveness.

People find meaning in work by being valued
To be valued, people have to understand how to contribute and where they fit; that happens by understanding the organization’s
Vision—why are we here?
Mission—what do we do?
Values—how do we behave together?

Workers need workplace support, not fear
Honesty—to be told what we aren’t doing well, what we do well. “People keep secrets to assure power.” Live your values rather than trying to be a different person in different places. It’s not honest to have one personality at home and a different one at work.
Trust—you should be able to trust everyone in the workplace. If you don’t trust someone and you’re in managerial role, why does that person work for you?
Talk directly to people to establish honesty and trust. Deal with people one at a time. Be compassionate. And finally, reflect and meditate.

These are my notes from James A. Autry’s speech June 8 at the ACE/NETC conference in Des Moines. Autry is an author, poet, consultant and retired president of the magazine group of the Meredith Corporation. ACE and NETC are two professional organizations of primarily communications and information technology workers in land-grant universities.

June 11, An expert in servant leadership lives in Des Moines

Autry's Web site with links to his YouTube channel
Click on the books for an overview of each. I encourage you to find at least one Autry book and read it. If you live in central Iowa, his books often show up at used book sales in public libraries and other organizations. I buy extras and give them away.

April 29, 2009

Will you stay in touch with those who leave the workplace?

Or in your former workplace if you’re the one who leaves?

Friends are a hot topic in Ames
Last Thursday evening, Jeffrey Zaslow talked about writing ‘The Girls from Ames’, a story of 10 women who graduated from Ames High School in 1981 and although scattered across the country, remain close friends. The women were present and offered glimpses into their friendship. They talked about supporting one another through cancer and how some of the proceeds from the book will go to a new AHS scholarship to remember their eleventh friend who died in her 20s.

Zaslow said he writes about matters of the heart. (He wrote ‘The Last Lecture’ with Randy Pausch.) The book about the Ames friends had been out only a day or two. He said the initial reactions were the book reminded people of their own friends.

Think about your workplace friends through the years
Do you stay in touch?
Frequently or infrequently?
It seems to me we instinctively sort out those we really connect with and those we don’t in any separation of people who work together.

Friendships are important
One of the reasons for incivility is our isolation from others. The not knowing the people next door syndrome, the lack of meaningful friendships.

I encourage you to keep up the friendships that are severed when you no longer work together. Not only will it help with civility, it’s also good for your health. See Friendships: Enrich your life and improve your health from the Mayo Clinic.

And now it’s time to post comments about your former coworkers who are still friends.

April 28, 2009

What do you say to a co-worker who has received a lay-off notice?

Most of us want to ignore that difficult conversation with a colleague who has received a termination notice. Or vent. How you react, to act with civility, depends upon your relationship and the laid-off person’s reaction to the announcement.

If you don’t have close ties, then the laid-off coworker probably doesn’t need to hear from you.
If you have worked closely, talk in person. It’s difficult. The focus needs to be entirely on the person who has been told he no longer has a job.

Gauge your coworker’s reaction to your initial comments. Some people react stoically; some are sad; some are angry. Most are in shock. This is a time to read body language. If it’s obvious the person is having a hard time talking without becoming emotional, then respect that and don’t talk on and on.

If you have close ties to the laid-off worker, offer to help any way you can. Offer to be on call for assistance. It can be as simple as she needs a book she left behind or she wants to talk because she misses conversations about the industry.

Tips to react as a compassionate and empathic coworker
Don’t be inquisitive if you haven’t worked closely with the person.
Talk face to face to read the person’s body language.
Ask “Is there anything I can do to help you now?”
Tell the person you will miss him or her.
Don’t turn the conversation to yourself; it’s not a time to talk about similar situations you’ve experienced.
Don’t offer empty platitudes such as assurance the person will find another job soon or this is actually a good thing.
Respect your coworker’s feelings. Don’t be aggressive about going out to lunch or helping carry out boxes.
Realize it can be very lonely cleaning out a cubicle so don’t abandon a good friend by ignoring him.
Contact the person later to continue the relationship. It’s a shock to leave the workplace and the usual conversations.

The only advice I found on this topic
How to talk to a friend who's been laid off

April 16, 2009

What happens before you get to work?

What’s the atmosphere at home?
I think about coworkers who have small children trying to get them prepared for the day and off to where they need to be. I think about the one year my son was a freshman and one daughter was a senior in high school. I live maybe several miles, at most, from the high school. I would drop them off and be glad I had not physically injured them. They bickered at home. They bickered on the ride to school… seemingly every single day. It was a really tough year to arrive at work in a good mood. Although it was a relief to be there.

And what about getting to work?
Is there a troublesome intersection for you where it would be easy to become upset? I heard a great story recently of a man who had to make a left turn into heavy traffic. Cars and cars would go by and he’d not be able to get on his way. Once in a while someone would give him room to get out into traffic. He thought about that a bit and reflected that if the roles were reversed, he probably wouldn’t let his car out into traffic. He concluded he should be more accommodating to other drivers.

This is one of those empathy situations.
Think about what those you work with may have contended with before they arrived at work. The dog ran away. They missed the bus. Their spouse was ill. If they look disheveled or out of sorts, there may be good cause. All the more reason to hold a door, give a nice ‘good morning’, be quick to make some coffee. Put some civility into the beginning of the work day for others…and ultimately yourself. You’ll feel better and hopefully they will also.

February 26, 2009

The Tragedy of the Commons

I didn’t know this dilemma until I read ‘Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations’ by Clay Shirky. (I’ll probably do other posts inspired by this book.)

The tragedy described in Wikipedia
"The Tragedy of the Commons" is an influential article written by Garrett Hardin and first published in the journal Science in 1968. The article describes a dilemma in which multiple individuals acting independently in their own self-interest can ultimately destroy a shared limited resource even where it is clear that it is not in anyone's long term interest for this to happen.

Central to Hardin's article is a metaphor of herders sharing a common parcel of land (the commons), on which they are all entitled to let their cows graze. In Hardin's view, it is in each herder's interest to put as many cows as possible onto the land, even if the commons is damaged as a result. The herder receives all of the benefits from the additional cows, while the damage to the commons is shared by the entire group. If all herders make this individually rational decision, however, the commons is destroyed and all herders suffer.

This is greed: the self-serving desire for the pursuit of money, wealth, power, food, or other possessions, especially when this denies the same goods to others. (definition from Wikipedia)

Parallel situations……….everywhere
1. The most vivid to me is the current actions of employees who fear they may lose their jobs. Suddenly some civility erupts as we contemplate and even say we will accept no pay raise, perhaps even some lowering of our pay, and take unpaid furloughs to preserve our collective jobs.

We recognize we have a limited shared resource, the money available from our employer. We’re seeing some lessening of the ‘What’s in it for me?’ ‘How much can I get in pay and expenses?’ mentality. I think that’s a very good thing.

(It reminds me of the post title I used last May about a natural disaster, Is a disaster required to produce civility? Perhaps an economic disaster can also produce civility.)

2. And I thought of The Tragedy of the Commons when I read a news article from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension about research on conservation practices by farmers in one watershed. The agricultural economics department report concluded that the role of empathy (walking in the shoes of others) could be helpful in solving environmental quality problems. The earth’s natural resources are often equated to the commons in Hardin’s metaphor. The report is at

I encourage you to contemplate The Tragedy of the Commons. What situations come to mind for you?

February 19, 2009

Giving is one of the secrets of success

Source: Alan Zimmerman’s Tuesday Tip

I'm convinced that the most successful people in business ... and the happiest people in life ... are givers. Instead of focusing on what's in it for them, they focus on how they can make a difference in the lives of their coworkers, customers, friends and family members.

1. Givers give attention.
It's the first thing they give. And it may be the most important. They notice others. They acknowledge them. And they listen to them.

If you're ever confronted by an upset customer, the very first thing you've got to do is pay close attention to what the customer is saying and not saying. It's the best chance you'll ever have of turning an upset customer into a loyal customer ... because you're saying ... loud and clear ... that you are important to me.

2. Givers give a chance.
Ernest Hemingway talked about that in his short story, "The Capital of the World." In the story, a father and son relationship had gone awry, and the son left home. But after some time of grief and remorse, the father decided he wanted to heal the relationship. He went searching for his son Paco, looking everywhere in the city of Madrid, but couldn't find him. He put an ad in the newspaper, "Dear Paco, I love you. All is forgiven. Let's start over. Meet in front of the newspaper office tomorrow at noon. Signed, Your father."

As Hemingway writes, the next day more than 800 Paco's showed up ... all of them wanting a second chance, a new start, forgiveness and acceptance. You may have some Paco's in your life. Are you known as someone who gives people a second chance? Or are you known as someone who holds a grudge?

3. Givers give lasting care.
There's a bottom-line benefit to this "caring" stuff. Research has shown that when you care ... you truly care about your customers ... two things happen: they buy more and they tell more people about you. The reverse is also true. The number one reason a customer stops doing business with an organization is a perceived lack of caring. In fact, this perceived lack of caring accounts for 68 percent of lost business.

Caring can't be temporary and intermittent. It's got to be continual and lasting. Martin Broken Leg, a professor at Augustana College, has found that a kid will stay in school if there is at least one adult in that school who shows a lasting sense of care ... and that adult could be a teacher, cook or bus driver.

4. Givers give help.
It's the ultimate win-win. You can't help somebody else without also helping yourself. As an old Chinese proverb states, "When I dig another out of trouble, the hole from which I lift him is the place where I bury my own." Or as I have often counseled others, the best way to get your mind off your loneliness is to reach out to others.

Givers give help, but you've got to make sure it's help that's really wanted. And if it is, the benefits go both ways.

If you asked the 10 people who know you best,
would they say you're more of a giver or more of a taker?

Condensed and reprinted with permission from Dr. Alan Zimmerman's 'Tuesday Tip.' As a best-selling author and Hall of Fame professional speaker, Zimmerman has worked with more than a million people, helping them become more effective communicators on and off the job. To receive a FREE, subscription to his 'Tuesday Tip' articles, go to Or contact him at 20550 Lake Ridge Drive, Prior Lake, MN 55372.

February 18, 2009

Givers and takers

Source: Alan Zimmerman’s Tuesday Tip

I've noticed that people fall into two categories: givers and takers.

I've also noticed that the takers are the unhappiest people on earth. And it's no wonder. When their entire focus is on "What's In It For Me," they're bound to offend their coworkers, customers, friends and family members and have problems with them.

By contrast, those who experience the most success in their businesses, their teams and their families are givers.

Takers seldom think about others.
They're self-absorbed ... with their interests, their desires, their wants and their needs.

A man would get so busy with his work that he would forget everything else. So his wife got in the habit of writing him notes. One morning she wrote, "We're moving today." When the man returned home from work, no one was there. He looked in the windows. Everything was gone, and then he remembered ... oh yeah, we've moved. But he had no idea where. He sat on the curb and wondered what he should do. It was then that he saw a little girl passing by, and he called out, "Little girl, do you know the people who used to live here? Do you know where they moved?" The little girl said, "Come on, Daddy. Mamma said you wouldn't remember."

We can laugh at that story. But the sad truth is you may know people like that.

You may have a manager who seldom thinks about how the changes will affect the staff or seldom asks for staff input. You may have coworkers who act like customers are an interruption of their work instead of being the main reason they do work. And you may have a family member who is so preoccupied with his TV programs that he fails to connect with the other family members. They're all takers.

Takers are seldom satisfied with others.
They always want more ... even though they give very little in return. I see it in organizations all the time. I see it when a manager gives a performance review and says, "Overall, you've done a good job, BUT ..." I see it when a manager tells her organization, "We accomplished our goals this year, and that's great. But that's nothing compared to what you'll have to do next year." I see it when a father reviews his child's report card showing 4 A's and 1 B ... and then asks, "How come you got a B?"

All this taking behavior is demoralizing and demotivating. And if it goes on long enough, the recipient thinks, "What's the use of ever trying?"

If you're going to have a team that works, it's got to be filled with givers, not takers. If you're going to have loyal customers, you've got to have employees who care more about giving the customer what he needs than taking his money. And if you're going to have a personal relationship that works, both parties need to be givers. The great actress Katherine Hepburn talked about that. She said, "Love has nothing to do with what you are expecting to get -- only what you are expecting to give -- which is everything."

I challenge you to be a giver ... to avoid the all too easy trap of being a taker.

Condensed and reprinted with permission from Dr. Alan Zimmerman's 'Tuesday Tip.' As a best-selling author and Hall of Fame professional speaker, Zimmerman has worked with more than a million people, helping them become more effective communicators on and off the job. To receive a FREE, subscription to his 'Tuesday Tip' articles, go to Or contact him at 20550 Lake Ridge Drive, Prior Lake, MN 55372.

January 29, 2009

Walk the talk on collaboration

I’m enamored by collaboration and can get really excited about it.

But I think about previous experiences when managers and administrators say there will be collaboration. They often fail to walk the talk. Somehow they just can’t let go of the command and control tactics.

Failure #1. My first boss in extension wanted to implement self-directed work teams. We talked about the concept and the methods. We created the teams. It soon became obvious my boss couldn’t really let go of command and control. She was one of the best bosses I’ve ever had. Whether due to the structure above her or her own misgivings, she couldn’t walk the talk.

Failure #2. Fast forward 10 years to a several day workshop on LEAN. Each team was asked to map a process. One of the managers I worked with mapped a process on her own at home. At least in that instance, I was alerted immediately that nothing about that process was going to be improved. She didn’t want to know what we did in the process so our suggestions for improvement would not be needed.

Success #1. I needed to help on a project to recruit students from China. I knew almost nothing about the culture but one member of the team was from China. The question was: would I take over leadership of this effort? Ever hopeful that there could be collaboration, I said yes I would lead it. We pulled different people into that team at times to get more ideas and help. We had a very clear goal and timeline from the director but he stayed out of our work. When we gave him progress updates, he’d ask questions and offer comments. He was a part of the collaboration in a different way from the team members who knocked out the details of what we did and who was responsible. We recruited more Chinese students than the program could accommodate.

Show me by your actions, not your words
Collaboration is a great word and many use it. Do they allow new methods, new processes and new ideas? It’s no wonder we say—walk the talk. That’s civility to respect others and do what you say you will do.

Do you have similar experiences?

January 23, 2009

New on the job: listening, asking and building trust

It doesn’t make too much difference whether the new job is
president of the United States
or something far more ordinary such as a new manager in our office,
a new assignment in our old office or
a new volunteer role.

The goal is to create high-functioning relationships that get work done.

An article in the Jan. 10, 2009 Salt Lake Tribune adds the twist of being in difficult times, but I think the advice is applicable any time…and I’d go so far as to say it’s a reality check where you’re a new or seasoned manager or leader. It’s just good advice. It’s civility.
On the Job: New managers face tough task during difficult times
“…… new managers -- before setting any agenda for their staff -- should first listen to employees and spend time asking questions about what each person does, the challenges they face and what each employee needs to get the job done.
Next -- and perhaps the most challenging given the current business climate -- is to establish trust with workers.”

Read the article at:

December 02, 2008

How is the chemistry in your workplace?

One definition of chemistry is the way individuals relate to each other–interpersonal attraction or repulsion.

The chemistry among workers makes a great deal of difference in how enthusiastic or reluctant you are to go to work each day. How motivated you are at work.

Some factors leading to interpersonal attraction
Propinquity—the physical or psychological proximity among people. People in the same office, for example, have a higher propinquity than those in a different office of your organization. Propinquity can also mean a kinship (a close connection marked by interests or similarity in character) among people.

Complementarity—People seek out others with characteristics that are different from and complement their own. Workers recognize areas they lack expertise and seek counsel from those who complement their strengths and knowledge.

Reciprocal liking—A person who is liked by another will tend to return that liking. Ideas are valued and respected. People enjoy the company of those who ask their opinions and respect them.

Reinforcement—People like those who give them positive feelings, who can brainstorm problems with them rather than criticize.

When there’s toxic chemistry in the workplace
Opinions aren’t valued and probably not sought. The atmosphere is one of control. The reinforcement is negative. There is little collegiality in the work being done. Workers are demoralized and disenfranchised. Productivity and creativity are lowered.

I thank some sports announcer who talked about a head football coach who had worked with the same assistant coaches for 10 years. The announcer’s assessment was they had good chemistry.

Good chemistry in the workplace is civility in action. It's respect for others.The workplace with toxic chemistry thrives on incivility. Do you have other thoughts about chemistry in the workplace?

November 25, 2008

How much can you express in three words?

I thank you.
Gratitude is an exquisite form of courtesy. People who enjoy good relationships are those who don’t take daily courtesies for granted. They are quick to thank others for acts of kindness, whether it be holding a door open or helping finish a project.

Maybe you’re right.
Stephen Carter in his 1998 book Civility has a list of 15 rules. One is
'Civility requires that we listen to others with knowledge of the possibility that they are right and we are wrong.' Certainly these words can help diffuse a tense conversation and calm emotions.

Let me help.
The best of coworkers see a need and try to fill it. They often don’t wait to be asked. It could be taking over some work or the need to talk through a problem.

Please forgive me.
We all make mistakes … act without thinking … speak when we should be silent. Never be ashamed to admit missteps and ask for forgiveness.

Significant messages can come in three words. They enrich relationships.

Happy Thanksgiving.

(These three word sentences work just as well with friends and family as they do with coworkers.)

October 30, 2008

Illinois study finds high school social skills predictor of better earnings

The skill of getting along well with others
A new study out from the University of Illinois finds that social skills and behaviors such as conscientiousness, cooperativeness and motivation need to accompany traditional academic learning for success in the workplace.

The researcher studied the success of high school students 10 years after graduation. Employers stressed in their response surveys there’s a need for workers who can get along well with each other and get along well with the public. The study points out how schools need to help students improve their social skills and behaviors in addition to traditional academics.

If you’ve had a surly person wait on you at a fast-food restaurant or a client who implies she knows far more about your field (and it’s not her specialty) than you do……….then you’ll not find the results of this study surprising.

The researcher applied many controls including race, family socioeconomic status and educational attainment after high school. I find the results after applying those controls more surprising. News release on the study:
Ten Years On, High-School Social Skills Predict Better Earnings than Test Scores
Published Oct. 15, 2008

How we respect and treat one another, civility, does impact success in the workplace.

September 18, 2008

You will be happier if others like you

More than just this moment matters
One of the hallmarks of the likeable personality is the ability to register another person’s values and opinions. The long-term thinker uses this skill to look into the future.

Interdependence is one of the goals of any great family, civic organization or company.
Individualism is waning. Synergy occurs when two or more people produce more value together than they could produce individually. Interdependence isn’t the same as dependence. It’s a relationship in which, by relying on another, you become stronger.

Harmony is key to any successful team. Technology has made cooperation and collaboration possible in new situations. The loners now need to join groups.

Success redefined
It means having a job you enjoy, coworkers you like and a pleasant environment within which to work. A positive workplace is so important that most people would make a financial sacrifice to achieve it. A Nov. 2003 survey by the research firm Robert Half International found that ‘one third of all executives surveyed believe the work environment is the most critical factor in keeping an employee satisfied to today’s business world.’ Unlikable people can’t buy affection and loyalty.

Likeability improves your capacity to understand others’ emotional expressions and respond to them as well as understand the implications of your own behavior.

If you make people feel great, they will listen to you, think about what you said and store it.

This is the final post from The Likeability Factor: How to Boost Your L-Factor and Achieve Your Life’s Dreams by Tim Sanders.

August 21, 2008

Four critical elements shape your likeability factor: No. 1 Friendliness

Friendliness is…
your ability to communicate liking and openness to others.

Few of us are taught how to tune our personality, how to resonate with other people with civility. We may understand an engine needs all parts working to run well but we don’t have insight into the components of likeability. That we aren’t likeable when one or more parts are out of sync.

Friendliness is the most fundamental element of likeability.

It’s the threshold of likeability. You need to persuade others you represent warmth, comfort and safety when their guard asks ‘friend or foe’?
Reciprocation is one of the main reasons people like or dislike one another.
When you are friendly, others want to be with you and they want you to succeed.

If others don’t perceive you as friendly, then you aren’t friendly.

Friendliness is a communication event. Albert Mehrabian, a communications researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, concludes 55 percent of the like/dislike cues people send are visual, mostly facial. 38 percent are transmitted via tone of voice. The remaining 7 percent are the actual words used. If you send mixed messages, people believe what they see or perceive more than what is said.

Signs of friendliness
Make eye contact and use your eyes to show emotion.
Use your eyebrows to show expression.
Keep your smile genuine and use it to greet others.
Hold your head up when you talk.
Maintain good posture.
Display openness with your body.
Add variety through modulations in your voice.

Try the Likeability Factor self assessment at
Post 4 inspired by ‘The Likeability Factor: How to Boost Your L-Factor and Achieve Your Life’s Dreams’ by Tim Sanders.

August 13, 2008

What is your personal value?

This is a third post inspired by ‘The Likeability Factor: How to Boost Your L-Factor and Achieve Your Life’s Dreams’ by Tim Sanders.

Each of us has three different values that make up our personal value. It’s what we offer others minus what we require.

People go through a decision-making process to decide how they value you.
First, they listen, particularly seeking a return of attention.
Then people decide whether to believe or not to believe what they’ve heard. They consider the source and then the message. People check these against other information they have and their beliefs.
Finally, they assign a value.

Your functional value is your ability to perform and do something well minus how much money or support you require.

Your emotional value is how you make others feel minus the negative feelings you create via being overly critical, pessimistic or highly emotional.

Your social value is how you make others feel showing respect and admiration minus the costs if you generate complaints or dissension.

You can be a liability in any of these values.

A likeable personality improves your overall value.
You haven’t given anyone reason to believe you will produce emotional or social problems.
You don’t send out warning signals that you have a negative attitude or temper tantrums.
You’re perceived as creating warm feelings and positive attitudes. You’re conscientious, emotionally and socially mature.

Your values and likeability are not static.

They move up and down with the work you do and your civility.

August 07, 2008

The ultimate act of unfriendliness is a display of anger

Ask yourself two questions.
Will this fix anything?
Is this how I want to be remembered?

Dealing with anger through anger management
• Delay your anger gratification, postpone your response a day
• Reframe the situation, recast the person you’re angry with in a different light. Does this person mean me ill? Will yelling at the person improve the situation?
• Commit to acknowledging no anger and no unfriendliness aloud. Say “I do not want to be angry with you. Can you help me?”
• Remove yourself from the situation. Pretend you’re a diplomat. Don’t show your hand. Leave if you need to. Politely excuse yourself.
• If you need to vent your anger, do it in private or with a trusted friend.
• Even if you can’t control your anger, it’s not over. If you are unfriendly, try to understand which technique would have worked better and use it next time.

Adapted from “The Likeability Factor: How to Boost Your L-Factor and Achieve Your Life’s Dreams” by Tim Sanders, Crown Publishers, New York 2005

Today’s example: civility in the workplace of the Green Bay Packers
This from a Yahoo! Sports article: Favre to blame for nasty divorce

Nonetheless, publicly and privately, Rodgers did what Favre can’t seem to do these days: He kept his cool.

“If I was going to get mad, or throw something against the wall, what difference would it have made?” Rodgers asked rhetorically. “All I can do is control the attitude I bring into every day, stay positive and think about leading this football team to the best of my ability.”

Good resource
Anger Management ala George Anderson,

August 06, 2008

Likeable people bring out the best in others

Tim Sanders defines likeability in ‘The Likeability Factor: How to Boost Your L-Factor and Achieve Your Life’s Dreams’…

“Likeability is an ability to create positive attitudes in other people through the delivery of emotional and physical benefits.

“Someone who is likeable can give you a sense of joy, happiness, relaxation or rejuvenation. He or she can bring you relief from depression, anxiety or boredom.”

Likeable people outperform
Likeability helps create a positive feedback loop—the positive feelings you invoke in others are returned to you. A 2003 study by researchers at the University of Michigan found that ‘friendly and positive employees are more productive because they possess greater communication capabilities.’

Likeable and friendly people engage more deeply in conversations around projects and tasks, and people pay more attention to them. Misunderstandings are eliminated. Others feel empowered to assume leadership roles.

Did you catch the components of civility?

Great communication through deep conversations
Empowering others

The likeable manager or leader tends to be skilled at convincing others to act and helping them to understand exactly what needs to be done.
Robert Levering, the primary researcher for Fortune magazine’s ‘Best Companies to Work For’ studies, found that organizations with positive employee relationships produce 15 to 25 percent more. Managers enjoy loyalty from their employees. The employees look for solutions, and they don’t need to be micromanaged because they want to see the manager succeed. Inspiration and respect are at the core of productivity.

Did you do your best work for a manager or leader you liked?

July 15, 2008

Ego's purpose

Guest post by the Rev. Paul A. Johnson

We sometimes claim that we have difficulty working with someone because they have a big ego. What we mean by that is often unclear.

We seldom notice when our ego gets in the way of our conversations and relationships.

It is difficult to define what “ego” is; however, we can more easily speak about the purpose of our ego.

The purpose of our ego is to
• Be right and make others wrong.
• Win and not lose.
• Invalidate others and avoid being invalidated.
• Avoid intimacy.

When another person is displaying what we consider a big ego, we can choose to engage our own ego. That produces confrontation, conflict and fighting.

We can choose to avoid the person. That may invite resentment and often means that differences remain unresolved.

We can carefully monitor our own ego
and shift the context and conversation. We can decline the implicit invitation to fight. That will not be easy because, for many of us, engaging our ego has become a long-standing habit. But think about how our life and our community would be different if we made civility our habit instead.

Paul Johnson is the interim pastor at Ames United Church of Christ-Congregational.

June 25, 2008

Networks are linking without hierarchy

Louisville, Kentucky -- Networks live on participation, hierarchy on authority.

Michael Wesch, cultural anthropologist at Kansas State University, talked to the national eXtension community of practice conference today. The people attending are content experts from land-grant universities who work collaboratively across state lines to put peer-reviewed unbiased information on the national Web resource,

Wesch said to make working collaboratively successful
• Empower your members
• Engage them in meaningful projects
• Make room for creativity and play
• Listen
• Inspire the members of your community

“Nobody is as smart as everybody.”
Wesch attributed the quote to Kevin Kelly, founding executive editor of Wired magazine and a former editor/publisher of the Whole Earth Catalog (1952- ).

Social media is impacting our lives in profound ways we may not realize, a cultural revolution, Wesch says. He talked about the power of networks citing Reed’s Law, the assertion of David P. Reed, American computer scientist (1952- ).

Reed's Law
The utility of large networks, particularly social networks, can scale exponentially with the size of the network. This grows much more rapidly than either the number of participants or the number of possible pair connections.

It’s civility in action— empowerment, engagement, creativity, inspiration and accountability.

Michael Wesch, Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology,

"Reed's law." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.'s_law

June 23, 2008

Compassion when a coworker’s parent dies

I found a blooming azalea ‘Promise’ at my mother-in-law’s memorial service several weeks ago. It was from my coworkers. Del’s mother-in-law died while we were at the ACE conference; he left to go directly to Muscatine. And Dennis, our coworker from Utah who worked a sabbatical with us, also left the conference to go to St. Louis. We coworkers sent memorial donations.

In times of family illness, deaths and other life tragedies, coworkers and friends become family…at least here in Iowa. Compassion…empathy…friendship…thinking of you…civility.

Dennis sent this tribute about his mother’s last seven hours. I print it with his permission.


Unless you are in close contact you can’t really hear a person’s heartbeat.

But breathing; you can hear that from a spouse, your dog or a snoring neighbor. Breathing is rhythm and heartbeats are percussion.

When my mother was in Intensive Care I could see and hear all the beeps and blinks of her monitors but her breathing was almost drowned out.

When they decided there was nothing more they could do to improve her condition, they moved her to “comfort measures.” Not really a hospice, but a private room with no instrumentation and lights you could turn off.

By this time mom was only a shell. She was unresponsive to touch or sound. I don’t like the term “brain dead” but she was unaware.

At first her breathing was loud and labored and I cowered in the corner of the room checking my email and looking at baseball scores to try to distract myself from the sound of fighting death. Then it turned to almost snoring but still unbearably loud. I just wanted it to stop, I wanted to go home and have someone tell me when it was over.

But ever so gradually the volume went down to that of a contented nap, to that of a snoozing dog, to that of a sleeping child….until it became so faint that I had to move closer to hear for sure… until it became so faint I could tell only by looking at her mouth…. so much fainter… so faint, so faint… so…..

There weren’t any last words, no dimming of the glow in her eyes, no grip left in her hands; just breathing; letting me know she was going peacefully.

--Dennis Hinkamp, June 15, 2008

June 17, 2008

Self-discipline to self-absorbed, 5 terms

Definitions from online sources --

Self-discipline, correction or regulation of oneself for the sake of improvement

Self-restraint, control imposed by oneself on one's own feelings, desires, or actions

Self-esteem, a confidence and satisfaction in oneself

Self-expression, the expression of one's own personality: assertion of one's individual traits

Self-absorbed, absorbed in one's own thoughts, activities, or interests

These terms are in a news article
Signs of the times? Civility may be at all-time low
Copyright Deseret (Utah) News, May 11, 2008

According to the survey, 67 percent say people have definitely or probably become less civil during the past decade. On the other hand, nearly half, 45 percent, say they personally have become more civil, while 37 percent see themselves as unchanged.

“People, in general, in surveys see the problem but very seldom do they see themselves as part of the problem,” said P.M. Forni, director of the Civility Project at Johns Hopkins University. He identified schools, workplaces and road as places that seem to bring out the worst in people.

Utah State University special education professor Richard West:
“Civility has taken a backseat to brash behavior, abrupt behavior and winning. A lot of this has to do with our celebration of competition over collaboration.”

May 29, 2008

Is a disaster required to produce civility?

tornado Parkersburg2008.jpg
Site of the Sinclair Elevator complex two miles east of Parkersburg, Iowa
Photo supplied by Pat Derdzinski, Butler County Extension Education Director

Natural disasters do bring out the best in the people.
It can be a tornado with 200 mile per hour winds as this one, a wildfire, flood, hurricane or earthquake.

It’s interesting that the high school in Parkersburg is where many are carting away the salvageable text books, athletic gear and other school paraphernalia. The destroyed community building is a center of attention. And the people who are directing the work seem to be the community leaders, those people who always care about others and are respected by the townspeople.

The word civility ties to city and society, to be good citizens and good neighbors.
So yes, sometimes it takes disasters to produce civility. We realize the material possessions of life don’t matter. The power or position we hold at work doesn’t matter.

To be alive, to belong to a community and to have caring leaders—those are the things that are important.

May 13, 2008

Rapport is a relationship in harmony

A relation characterized by sympathetic understanding, emotional affinity and mutual trust and respect. The strongest relationships of deep rapport have no geographical or time boundaries. They continue for years and span miles.

Natural rapport
It’s comfortable. True rapport is engaging because there are always new thoughts and ideas to explore. I think of it as pleasurable ease. You can be near another and neither feels you have to talk. Yet when you’ve not talked for some time, the conversation is spontaneous. Natural rapport is a rare gift.

Instant rapport
You immediately feel a connection with someone. You feel you have known this person for years and can extend trust. Sometimes that holds true as you get to know the person better. Sometimes the initial connection is an illusion; someone tries to make a connection thinking he or she can profit from a relationship with you.

Building rapport
You can build rapport in the workplace with components of civility—respect, empathetic listening, curiosity and humility. It’s a mutually beneficial environment in which you build relationships with appreciation for differences and in spite of them.

“The best way to build good team work and rapport with coworkers is through the four Cs—commonalities, connectivity, communication and collaboration.”
Building Solid Work Relationships
Developing Rapport with Co-Workers
© Deborah S. Hildebrand, Nov 5, 2007

“Some people think rapport is facilitated with an insincere interest in others or pretending to have similar interests. Others may think they are building rapport with a client by always agreeing with them, or being a “yes” person, and others will define rapport as changing their opinion to match their managers, or being over enthusiastic or pandering to them. None of these notions is correct.”
How to Define Professional Relationships in Rapport
By Geoffrey Ronning

“What exactly is rapport, that essential leaderhip skill? ….The way in which you interact with others has a major bearing on your success as an influencer. Ingredients for successful influence: trust, openness, comfort, acceptance, empathy, flexibility, something in common, shared understanding.”
How To Develop Rapport More Easily
by Jonathan Farrington, July 22, 2007

May 08, 2008

How long you can extend simple, wide-eyed trust? 15 questions

kid (low res).jpg
All of us have dealt with trust and mistrust since childhood. Whom could you trust? Your life experiences shape your capacity and willingness to risk trusting others. Has extending trust been misplaced or validated?

The balance between hope and vulnerability
What is your state of readiness for unguarded interaction? If you extend trust, that’s hope. You hope a person has the competence and civility to help everyone in the organization succeed. Subsequent actions, words and decisions build or erode trust. When you believe you are vulnerable and will be hurt, trust erodes.

Trust is workplace currency
People make deposits that build trust and withdrawals that erode trust.
Some questions to gauge trustworthiness
1. How quickly and publicly does this person judge people, decisions and work?
2. Does he listen and is the listening sensitive and empathetic? The most successful and influential people
3. Does she show appreciation or take credit for others’ work?
4. Does he micromanage? Micromanagement (command and control)
5. Does this person accept failure as human and learn from failure?
6. Does he have integrity? He believes in something, professes it and acts on it. Integrity if more than honesty
7. Is her assistance helpful or manipulative?
8. Does this person ask questions that contribute to understanding and clarification?
9. Does she blame others?
10. Is communication truthful, timely and as complete as possible?
11. Is he assertive, confronting problems when they arise?
12. Does she pander to her supervisor(s)?
13. Is this person unpredictable? Unpredictability evaporates loyalty
14. Does he respect people?
and my number one question---
15. Does he do things that benefit others and the organization even when it’s not in his self-interest?

The answers help shape perceptions of competence, intentions and trustworthiness
We are each unique in how vulnerable we’re willing to be and just where our tipping point lies. We have to face fundamental questions---
Do I like being cynical and angry or optimistic and happy?
How can I make the best possible situation of this relationship?
What can I trust about this person?

It’s all workplace currency. You’ve undoubtedly thought about other people as you read the questions. Now ask the questions of yourself. Do your words and actions promote or erode trust?

How do you gauge trustworthiness?

References on trust relationships
Trust Rules: The Most Important Secret About Trust
We lose in every way when we lose trust

May 01, 2008

Can you be a Learner rather than a Judger all the time?

No. Accept that. Free yourself by accepting Judger is a part of you…but practice Learner.

Every one of us has these two mindsets…the only issue being which one we choose at any given moment. At any time ask, ‘Am I in Judger? How else can I think about this? Where would I like to be?’

In ‘Change Your Questions, Change Your Life’, Marilee Adams has a Choice Map that shows the Judger path means automatic reactions, is blame-focused and features win-lose situations. The Learner path leads to thoughtful choices, is solution-focused and features win-win situations.

The switching lane is where you rescue questions or course-correct questions

Notice the questions are in first person---‘I, my’.
Is this what I want to feel?
Is this what I want to be doing?
What’s my choice right now?
What humor can I find in the situation?

What assumptions am I making? What are the facts?
False or incomplete information can get you in a lot of trouble. Assumptions may be invisible chains to the past that block freedom of choice and action for the future. To make an assumption is to presume something is true without verifying it. What am I assuming about myself, about others, based on past experiences, about available resources, limitations, circumstances?

Switch to observer
When you get into a challenging situation and have an impulse to act or express a feeling, step into observer mode. Remind yourself that, just as with a ringing phone, you do not have to ‘answer’ those impulses. You can watch. Then when you take action, you can be more thoughtful, strategic and mindful of potential consequences.

Work to develop ways to make intentional, conscious choices rather than being controlled by events around you. These are essential leadership qualities.

Think like a Learner
It’s dealing with what happens rather than making judgments about what has happened. A Judger can be self-righteous, arrogant and defensive.

Shaping your questions into Learner questions is a core self-management skill, a skill of civility, one you apply to yourself and in your relationships with others.

Adams writes “Share this material with others. Feel free to download some of the QuestionThinking tools. You can print out copies of these tools to share with friends, family and colleagues. Put them on your refrigerator door and let them stimulate conversation with family members. Put them up at work, or bring copies with you to a group or team meeting where QuestionThinking might be useful.” The tools include the Choice Map and The Top 12 Questions for Success at

April 29, 2008

Are you in Judger mindset right now?

Judger mindset is critical, reactive, committed to being right, looks from its own perspective only, is win-lose and narrows possibilities. Judger in this sense means judgmental (attacking others or yourself). It usually puts you in conflict. Judger questions may lead you to feel de-energized, fearful, negative, tense or even a little depressed

In contrast, Learner mindset is open-minded, accepting, curious, discerning, thoughtful, looks from multiple perspectives and opens possibilities.

In the fable ‘Change Your Questions, Change Your Life’, Marilee Adams explains QuestionThinking, a system of tools for transforming thinking, action and results through skillful question-asking that helps you be more efficient, productive, successful and happy.

The lesson of the fable
Ask questions, lots of questions but make them skillful questions from a Learner perspective rather than a Judger mindset. Valuing not knowing is the basis of creativity and innovation. Genuine childlike curiosity is one of our greatest assets.

The questions you ask yourself can stimulate curiosity, inspire you and move you toward success OR they can drive you to despair, result in inactivity and failure. Rather than asking ‘Why can’t I meet project deadlines?’ ask ‘What’s possible? What can I learn about how I schedule my work or how much work I take on or my estimates of completion dates?’

External questions
People who spend more time in Judger than Learner can be driven and productive. They can also drive everyone around them nuts, lower productivity, cooperation, creativity and people’s ability to contribute. Operating from Judger can build resentment and conflict. An organization run by people in high Judger tends to have greater levels of stress, conflict and problems.

When you listen and ask questions from the Learner perspective, people feel accepted. They’re more forthcoming, cooperative and creative. It’s civility.

It is mindfulness as Ellen Langer says in her book ‘Mindfulness’:
Mindfulness is creation of new categories,
openness to new information
and awareness of more than one perspective.

April 24, 2008

What is the ratio of questions you ask versus statements you make?

Questions drive results. In the fable ‘Change Your Questions, Change Your Life’, Marilee Adams writes the most effective communication is about 20 percent telling and 80 percent asking.

Focus on questions and curiosity rather than answers and opinions
The ability to think productively rather than reactively lies at the heart of Adams’ QuestionThinking. Quick judgments, fixed perspectives and old opinions are out. Instead use questions for exploration, discovery, innovation and cooperation.

Accomplishments come from all the people you’re working with, not just from your solitary work.

Ask questions to--
Gather information
Create understanding and learning
Build, improve and sustain relationships
Clarify and confirm listening
Stimulate creativity and innovation
Resolve conflicts
Create collaboration
Open possibilities

Are you committed to being right?
If only one person can be right, you, then everybody else has to be wrong. It’s a collaboration of one. Enormous energy goes into being right. It’s exhausting. Find fulfillment in not finding fault. Instead commit to helping create an energetic, optimistic workplace where people contribute every day. Let go of the need to be right.

If you work with someone who needs to be right, you can tell her she is right and then give your point of view.

Change Your Questions, Change Your Life: 7 Powerful Tools for Life and Work
By Marilee Adams, 2004; Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 170 pages

April 03, 2008

You make choices that affect your work relationships

“To be successful in today’s workplace, we need to excel in areas such as communication, collaboration, motivation and adaptation to constant change. All these skills require the ability to understand and connect well with other human beings.”
--John Gottman, ‘The Relationship Cure: A Five-Step Guide for Building Better Connections with Family, Friends, and Lovers’

A person’s ability and willingness to turn toward others is influenced by
1. the way his or her brain processes feelings
2. the way emotions were handled in the home where he or she grew up
3. emotional communication skills

When you have good relationships, those that the emotional bids have been turned toward time and again----conflict is a whole new game. You’re going to disagree; you may get upset. But there’s still a connection. There are flashes of affection, interest and respect. The humor is still present. The conflict becomes a discovery and problem solving effort.

If there are not good relationships, individuals or entire work teams may feel alienated, passive or hostile, misunderstood or disrespected. Cut off from vital information. There’s low morale. If the failure is between management and employees, see Jan. 15, Management and information: the broken connection.

People make bids for emotional connection to satisfy one of three emotional needs

1. to be included
2. to have a sense of control over their lives
3. to be liked
When these needs are met, people have a sense of well-being and purpose.

We each make choices every day that affect the quality of our workplace relationships and all other relationships.

Feb. 14, Bids---the fundamental unit of emotional communication

“Good relationships make our lives good; bad relationships make our lives bad.…To learn how to be happy we must learn how to live well with others, and civility is a key to that.”
--P.M. Forni, ‘Choosing Civility: The Twenty-five Rules of Considerate Conduct’

April 01, 2008

Work relationships to stay away from or let drift away

Incivility—Relationships with hostility
A bully can certainly create a hostile work environment. Attacks occur when you least expect them. There are several ways to distance yourself. You can try to separate yourself as much as possible from the person. You can get out. You can revert to no longer caring about any work you do with this person. You have to do something to protect yourself because chances are, no one else is going to.

Stephen Covey in ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ talks about being consumed by someone you hate, putting an enemy at the center of your life. That person is at the center of your life only if you allow her or him to be.

Civility---Relationships to let go
You may find as your work or the people change, you work less with someone. Let it be a conscience decision of which relationships are worth keeping and those you can let go. If you don’t have the same values, it’s a pretty easy decision to let the relationship founder. It’s difficult to spend time where your values are if you keep relationships purely for historical reasons.

Separating yourself from one person can bring simplicity or let you strengthen quality relationships.

It's up to you to decide who you let stay, who you let walk away and who you refuse to let go.

Oct. 18, 2007--Most bullies in the workplace are opportunists and workplace politicians

March 28, 2008

Could be a fable of emotional boundaries

Although sociability and its relationship to intelligence was the point of this writer’s fable, I think it does a fine job of illustrating emotional boundaries.

“On cold days people manage to get some warmth by crowding together; and you can warm your mind in the same way--by bringing it into contact with others. But a man who has a great deal of intellectual warmth in himself will stand in no need of such resources. I have written a little fable illustrating this.” Translator's note: The passage to which Schopenhauer refers is _Parerga_: Vol. II Sec. 413 (4th edition).

The fable
“Porcupines huddled together for warmth on a cold day; but as they began to prick one another with their quills, they were obliged to disperse. However the cold drove them together again, when just the same thing happened. At last, after many turns of huddling and dispersing, they discovered that they would be best off by remaining at a little distance from one another.

“In the same way, the need of society drives the human porcupines together--only to be mutually repelled by the many prickly and disagreeable qualities of their nature. The moderate distance which they at last discover to be the only tolerable condition of intercourse, is the code of politeness and fine manners; and those who transgress it are roughly told—in the English phrase—to keep their distance.

“By this arrangement the mutual need of warmth is only very moderately satisfied--but then people do not get pricked. A man who has some heat in himself prefers to remain outside, where he will neither prick other people nor get pricked himself.”

--The Essays of Arthur Schopenhauer; Counsels and Maxims by Arthur Schopenhauer, German philosopher (1788-1860)

The next time you think of emotional boundaries, think of porcupines.

March 27, 2008

Emotional boundaries bring order to your life

Strong emotional boundaries provide a clear sense of who you are and your relationships to others. Boundaries empower you to determine how we’ll be treated by others. With good boundaries, you protect yourself from the ignorance, drama, meanness and thoughtlessness of others.

Emotional boundaries define and protect

Each person has unique ideas, feelings, values, wishes and perspectives. Strong emotional boundaries include
• the right to say no
• the freedom to say yes
• acceptance of differences
• permission for expression

Clear boundaries preserve your individuality. Boundaries are formed by your history, experiences, personality, interests, dislikes, perceptions, values, priorities and skills.

You teach others where your boundaries are by the way you let them treat you

Most people will respect your boundaries if you indicate where they are. With some people however, you must actively defend your boundaries.

Boundaries should be distinct enough to preserve your individuality yet open to admit new ideas and perspectives. Firm enough to keep your values and priorities clear, open enough to communicate your priorities, yet closed enough to withstand assault.

Boundaries protect without isolating, contain without imprisoning and preserve identity while permitting external connections. Good boundaries make good relationships.

March 25, 2008

The boundaries between work and personal life

Most of us need good working relationships to do our job. You get to know the habits, likes and dislikes and some personal tidbits—the names of family and friends, personal projects---of coworkers and bosses.

It doesn’t guarantee friendship or closeness. The best indicator of lasting friendships is shared personal values. At work, you’re focused on the mission and values of your company.

The boundaries between work life and personal life vary wildly
Notice how much a person talks about his or her personal life.

Look at the workspace. Are there photos or clues of family, pets or hobbies?

Do friends and family visit the office?

These indicators give an inkling of what you can talk about to that person and where that person’s boundaries lie.

When you hear people say ‘too much information’ or ‘mind your own business,’ you’ve crossed a boundary either telling too much or asking too much. For example, what you do on vacation or weekends and whom you do it with falls under personal boundaries. Some people love to tell you and others don’t think it’s any of your business.

We each have different boundaries. Do the civil thing---pick up the clues and respect that difference.

March 19, 2008

Does your workplace décor reflect boundaries as well as professionalism?

That was the topic in the Indianapolis Star last October. (The link to the article no longer works.) Here’s an excerpt:
“It seems all those knickknacks that help personalize an office space can reflect poorly on a worker's professional image, according to research from the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business.

"There is this taboo in American culture against referencing your personal life in the workplace," says Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks, assistant professor of management and organization at Michigan. "This happens through photos, kids' drawings, but it also comes through subtle references you might make, comments about personal life."

Sanchez-Burks and colleagues Susan Ashford and Emily Heaphy, both of McGill University in Canada, conducted two studies with managers and corporate recruiters to see if impressions of professionalism are tainted by references to personal life. The answer was yes.

How much is too much?
Researchers say if more than one in five items that adorn your office are personal in nature, you may be viewed as unprofessional. Most of what decorates your office should be neutral. Think Monet paintings and professional award certificates.”

March 13, 2008

Protect your boundaries at work

Your relationship with your boss
“Maintain your boundaries. Remember to keep your business relationships about business. However close you may be with your supervisor, he or she is still the boss, and at times that means making unpopular or difficult decisions.” From

A boss who doesn’t observe boundaries may abuse power, sometimes unknowingly. A boss may be manipulative. It’s a pyramidal effect in the organization. Workers won’t feel safe expressing true opinions and will band together to maintain safety and self-esteem.

A boss who is receptive, fair and approachable by subordinates and who maintains excellent boundaries between himself and his subordinates fosters a healthy organization.

Your relationship with coworkers
Workplace friendships can enhance creativity and productivity. A key measure of job satisfaction is the quality of relationships we have with people in our workplace. Too much socializing cuts into productivity. Cliques can lead to exclusivity and negativity.

Peers may handle uncomfortable feelings by shoving them onto someone else. Discriminate between your feelings and another’s feelings. You can listen to another talk about feelings and not have to fix them. Differentiate what are your problems and those that belong to another. Refuse to take responsibility for feelings that rightly belong to someone else.

People need to accept responsibilities at work and if they don’t, there needs to be an honest conversation about what happened. Take out all of the personal explosions and develop an expectation that people will actually do what they say, without excuses, and, upon failing, will change the behavior that failed. You’ll be working on trust and clear boundaries.

It comes down to good communication and professionalism
A workplace thrives with people who are friendly, open and approachable, who are genuinely interested in others. A good workplace has the elements of civility: showing appreciation, apologizing when you’re wrong, fairness, superb communication, trust and all the rest.

Respect boundaries.

The most visited post in my year and half writing about civility
Do you want your boss to be your friend?
Improve your supervisor relationship and reduce stress

March 12, 2008

Build good boundaries to avoid boundary confusion and violations

Crossing supervisory roles with peer activities leads to boundary confusion. Sooner or later something happens that demands one type of response from a supervisor and another type from a peer.

Confusing coworker roles with best friend roles brings confusion. Think about why people often won’t sell an item to a friend; you have to decide which role, friend or business relationship, is more valuable to you.

If you don’t have boundaries, you use defenses such as withdrawal, control, sidetracking, creating rules, blaming others, rationalizing, intellectualizing, name calling, gossip, perfectionism, black-white thinking, threats and excessive concern for another.

All are methods of avoiding honest civil communication.

Boundary violations
Emotional boundaries are harmed by ridicule, contempt, derision, sarcasm, mockery, scorn, belittling, stifled communication, insistence on conformity, arbitrariness, the need to overpower and heavy judgments. Derogatory, insulting, disparaging remarks violate emotional boundaries.

Social networks on the Web can collide with your business world and provide boundary violations.

The healthy alternative is to establish boundaries
You need to be clear about what you want. If you have good established boundaries, you can be calm and relatively unaffected by the turmoil around you. You welcome communication and people respect your boundaries.

How to build better boundaries
• Increase your self-awareness.
• Identify those who have violated your boundaries in the past and how you feel about the offenders.
• Examine the state of your boundaries in your present relationships and clean them up.

Source for some of the boundary posts:
‘Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin’ by Anne Katherine, 1991, from the Hazelden Foundation which works in addiction treatment, publishing, education, research and recovery support.

Suggested reading
Save Your Sanity: Keep emotionally toxic people from ruining your mood by setting limits, speaking up for yourself, and standing your ground

Real Simple (magazine) March 2007, second half of article is ‘How to protect your boundaries’,21863,1588744-1,00.html

Coming next: Protect your boundaries at work

March 11, 2008

A boundary is a personal property line

Boundaries mark those things for which you are responsible. Boundaries help define who you are.
• Physical boundaries define who may touch you and under what circumstances.
• Mental boundaries give you the freedom to have your own thoughts and opinions.
• Emotional boundaries help you deal with your emotions and disengage from the harmful and manipulative emotions of others.

Boundaries are healthy
Clear boundaries are essential to a healthy, balanced life. Boundaries impact all areas of your life-- at work, in families and friendships. The boundaries change with different relationships.

The best boundaries are ones with civility, some flexibility and definite limits

All relationships have boundary limits. Boundaries move in response to situations---out for strangers, in for intimates. Great emotional closeness is possible between friends. The keys to closeness are communication and being known. For example, you probably accept appropriate anger from friends and loved ones, but believe it’s inappropriate in the workplace.

The workplace can develop all the roles and craziness of a dysfunctional family
The roles you play define the limits of appropriate interaction with others. Roles carry built-in limits. A violation occurs when the limits of a role are ignored or forgotten.

Some people expect the workplace to take care of them personally. Poutiness, meetings with hysteria and catty exclusive relationships are all about inappropriate boundaries. You can’t expect the workplace to assimilate such craziness without becoming dysfunctional. Everyone suffers.

What is appropriate? What’s your relationship to the other person? Do you look up, down or across? You need to understand the boundaries to know how to communicate.

Coming next: Build good boundaries to avoid boundary confusion and violations

February 14, 2008

Bids---the fundamental unit of emotional communication

A bid is any single expression that says, “I want to feel connected to you.” It can be a question, a gesture, a look, a touch. Bids happen in simple, mundane ways that we don’t recognize as very important. Relationships build and deepen with bids and positive responses. Trust builds.

The response to a bid can be positive or negative. People typically respond to another’s bid for connection in one of three ways.
Turning toward
Positive reaction to the bid.
A woman says she’d like to learn a new software program. A coworker asks about the program, adds his thoughts.

Turning against
Often described as argumentative or belligerent, involves sarcasm or ridicule. Hostility.
A woman says she’d like to learn a new software program. A coworker says, “The old one is just fine. Why in the world would you want to learn this new one?”

Turning away
Ignoring another’s bid or acting preoccupied. Indifference.
A woman says she’d like to learn a new software program. A coworker responds with something unrelated, “Do you know what time it is?” or the response is silence.

The research on bids and responses is from John Gottman, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Washington, and his colleagues. He founded what the media termed "The Love Lab". His research has focused on marital and family relationships. Gottman’s most recent book ‘The Relationship Cure: A Five-Step Guide for Building Better Connections with Family, Friends, and Lovers’ has many examples of relationships and emotional communication in the workplace.

An example from the book

“What are you doing for lunch today?”
“Lunch? Who’s got time for that?”
“Maybe some other time, then.”
“Yeah, some other time.”

“What are you doing for lunch today?”
“I wish I had time for lunch. I’ve got to finish this report. What are you up to?”
“I brought a sandwich. I thought I’d sit outside. But I have to go by the deli for a Coke. Want me to bring something back for you?”
“That would be nice. Can you get me a ham on rye and a Coke?”
“Sure thing.”

The researchers found people quickly loose heart when their bids are greeted by indifference or hostility. The bids stop. Civility would be turning toward another. Incivility would be argumentative, sarcasm, hostility, ignoring.

The book is fascinating, absolutely fascinating
If you too want to be more aware of how you respond to bids, read the book. (And of course, you’ll find yourself watching how others respond to your emotional bids.)

February 12, 2008

Play Well with Others: Develop Effective Work Relationships

Once in a while, I find something so in snyc with what I believe constitutes civility that all I need to do is point you to the article. Let me entice you to read it---

The top seven ways you can play well with others at work.
1. Bring suggested solutions with the problems to the meeting table.
2. Don’t ever play the blame game.
3. Your verbal and nonverbal communication matters.
4. Never blind side a coworker, boss or reporting staff person.
5. Keep your commitments.
6. Share credit for accomplishments, ideas and contributions.
7. Help other employees find their greatness.

I would expand number 3 to include---just talk. Go look the person in the eye and talk, dial the number and talk. Ask questions rather than wasting time and energy speculating. Good communication can be surprisingly effective.

February 07, 2008

Customers, clients, coworkers or colleagues?

People view these ‘c’ words differently and the associations they represent differently.

We in extension communications create products for extension subject specialists. So are those people our customers, our clients, our coworkers or our colleagues?

Think about relationship marketing
It is designing business strategies that emphasize keeping customers as much as attracting them. You invest the time and resources to know individuals. In return, you get loyalty and commitment.

Isn’t that what we do inside our organizations? Build relationships on the ability to respond to the needs of others.

A Yale University study showed that work groups’ performance suffered when members didn’t communicate well or didn’t pay attention to one another’s feelings or when individuals became so controlling that they didn’t allow others to contribute.

When people treat one another with civility, that is, with respect, the result is positive synergistic results. People motivate one another. The combined efforts are better than a person working alone.

Do we treat our customers, our clients, our coworkers and our colleagues differently?

I think those inside our organization we work with have all those labels……..but we really need to think in those terms. It’s a dichotomy to treat those we consider our customers with the utmost respect and then send a snippy or condescending email to a coworker.

If I’m snippy and condescending to everyone, then I’m consistent…….but not civil. And frankly, I’d bet you’d just as soon not work with me….whether you’re my customer, client, coworker or colleague.

January 31, 2008

Renting farmland and civility

sugar loaf.jpg
Dateline: Woodbury County where the Loess Hills meet the Missouri bottom

One new owner of Iowa farmland shows how civility can affect business

Farmers are looking for more land to rent. A man’s mother died recently. When neighboring farmers inquired about renting the land that is now his, he turned away those who had not treated him civilly through the years. He thought all the way back to high school, some 40 years. And probably he thought of the few who came to his mother’s funeral. The farmland, though few acres, went to neighbors who had helped his mother. To neighbors who had treated him kindly.

My dad did the same thing years ago when he wanted a new renter. He thought back only several years. Who drove over with a blade on the tractor to plow the drive? Who arrived unannounced with food when my mom was ill? Who drove mom and dad to an appointment in Omaha? Only one couple passed the test and that’s who was allowed to rent dad’s land. Dad made sure my sister and I understood very clearly how he made that decision.

Civility impacts morale, retention rates, productivity and profit in the workplace
Most of us don’t work in an atmosphere where the impact of civility is quite as evident and such a direct line as renting farmland. But I have no doubt that the correlation exists. The culture of the organization and how we are treated by superiors affect our productivity. How we treat clients and customers determines how much business we get.

It’s somehow easier to see the correlation when we’re the customer upset by someone working in a store or in a call center and we vow not to do business with them anymore. So think about the direct correlation of civility and the workplace as you go about answering customer and client requests and work with all the people in your organization or business.

P.S. Photo taken from Sugar Loaf courtesy of Rich Pope.
My grandpa Dorrie Steinhoff was born in 1888 in a dug-out in Sugar Loaf. His parents, first generation Americans, had just moved to Iowa from Ohio. But that’s an entirely different story. Some day I could write about the civility of his dad who always killed a chicken to give the Native Americans on their spring and fall migrations along the trail at the edge of the Loess Hills.

P.P.S. Kelvin Leibold, Iowa State University Extension farm management specialist, presents a session "The Dating Game--Acquiring Land to Rent" for beginning and experienced producers.

January 10, 2008

Civility on the bad days… with whom do you vent?

Conflict in the workplace is inevitable.
Big things, little things.
You’ll never be in perfect agreement with all the people in your workplace. You know you should manage your irritation. What if you’re having a really uncivil day?

Where do you go?
Certainly it must be someone
• who has earned your trust,
• who is a willing listener and
• with whom you can have an honest discussion and that means you may not hear exactly what you want to hear.

It may be a friend in your office, a workplace spouse, if you are sure of the confidence level. Some people plant rumors to see how quickly and where they’ll move to test the confidence level. If your office really is a dysfunctional workplace, venting to coworkers can only exacerbate the problem.

Spouses and partners may be helpful but tire of it all and tend to sympathize too much.

Look for a good confessor, a soul mate or wise counsel
Look for someone outside your box on the organizational chart or not in your org chart. Maybe you have a history of working together or mutual experiences. A good candidate is someone who is uninterested in how your office works and doesn’t have reason to judge the participants.

A good mentor may help. Another alternative is a trusted coffee buddy who listens and supports and isn’t afraid to tell you there may be other ways to look at the situation or that your vision is pretty distorted.

Talk through your problem, vent…….and let it go.

With whom do you vent on the bad days?

Study: 25% of Americans have no one to confide in, USA Today

Coauthor of this post: Bill Tysseling is Executive Director of the Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce. He was previously Director of Iowa State University Extension Continuing Education and Communication Services.

January 08, 2008

Laila has decided that she will not be crippled by resentment.

Mariam wouldn’t want it that way. What’s the sense? She would say with a smile both innocent and wise. What good is it, Laila jo? And so Laila has resigned herself to moving on. For her own sake, for Tariq’s, for her children’s. And for Mariam, who still visits Laila in her dreams, who is never more than a breath or two below her consciousness. Laila has moved on. Because in the end she knows that’s all she can do. That and hope.

I lost the privilege of your good graces
a long time ago and for that I only have myself to blame…(I) understand only when nothing can be undone. I hope you will credit me with knowing that your forgiveness is not for sale.
May you find the happiness, peace and acceptance that I did not give you.
Excerpt from Jalil’s letter to his daughter Mariam
All from ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ by Khaled Hosseini

The book has neglect, abuse, subterfuge, hostility and outrage we don’t want to know about. The relationships, ah the relationships, are heartbreaking and heartwarming. I finished the book thinking…… insignificant my problems in the workplace.

I think I can’t bear to start another book just now because I must mull over and savor the lessons of this one.

December 19, 2007

Nurture quality relationships

Every good relationship ... at home ... or on the job ... is the result of hard work and nurturing. And while there are dozens of skills you can use to build or nurture your relationships, there are three bottom-line rules you absolutely must follow.

Rule #1: Be wary of self-centeredness.

Self-centeredness lies at the root of every deteriorating relationship with your coworkers, friends and family members. When you put yourself in the center of all your thoughts, you start to kill off your relationships.

To make things worse, physicians tell us that self-centeredness, self-love, self-pity and self-interest can easily turn into physical illness.

Rule #2: Give generous amounts of time.
The quality of your time will never make up for the lack of quantity. Good relationships with team members, coworkers, customers, friends and family members take time. Do you have a wonderful relationship just waiting for you ... but you don't have the time for it?

Rule #3: Listen to the other person.
It's one of the best ways to nurture a relationship and affirm caring. Every customer, every team member, every spouse and every friend wonders if you really care about them if you don't take time to listen to them.

One of the greatest gifts you can give another person is the gift of listening. In fact, nothing validates a person's value more than close, caring, undivided attention.

The cab driver who took the time to listen

Twenty years ago, I drove a cab for a living.

When I arrived at 2:30 a.m., the building was dark except for a single light in a ground floor window. Under these circumstances, many drivers would honk once or twice, wait a minute and then drive away. But I had seen too many impoverished people who depended on taxis as their only means of transportation. Unless a situation smelled of danger, I always went to the door.

I walked to the door and knocked. "Just a minute," answered a frail, elderly voice.

I could hear something being dragged across the floor. After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman in her 80s stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like somebody out of a 1940s movie. By her side was a small nylon suitcase. The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years. All the furniture was covered with sheets. In the corner was a cardboard box filled with photos and glassware.

The old lady asked, "Would you carry my bag out to the car?" I took the suitcase to the cab, then returned to assist the woman.

She thanked me for my kindness. "It's nothing," I told her. "I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother to be treated."

When we got in the cab, she gave me an address and asked, "Could you drive through downtown?"

"It's not the shortest way," I answered quickly.

"Oh, I don't mind," she said. "I'm in no hurry. I'm on my way to a hospice."

I looked in the rearview mirror. Her eyes were glistening. "I don't have any family left," she continued. "The doctor says I don't have very long."

I quietly reached over and shut off the meter. "What route would you like me to take?" I asked. For the next two hours, we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator. We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds. She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing.

Sometimes she'd ask me to slow in front of a particular building or corner and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing. As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she said, "I'm tired. Let's go now."

We drove in silence to the address she had given me. It was a low building like a small convalescent home with a driveway that passed under a portico. Two orderlies came out as soon as we pulled up.

I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair. "How much do I owe you?" she asked, reaching into her purse.

"Nothing," I said.

"You have to make a living," she answered.

"There are other passengers," I responded. Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug. She held on to me tightly.

"You gave an old woman a little moment of joy," she said. "Thank you."

I squeezed her hand, then walked into the dim morning light. Behind me, a door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life. I didn't pick up any more passengers that shift. I drove aimlessly, lost in thought. What if that woman had gotten an angry driver, or one who was impatient to end his shift? What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away?

On review, I don't think that I have done anything more important in my life. We're conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments. But great moments often catch us.

Great moments catch us ...
if we're willing to give generous amounts of time and really listen to the people in our lives. It's part of the rules that have to be followed if you're going to build positive relationships.

Select two relationships that need more of your time and more of your listening. And then write down three ways you will do each of those things in the next seven days.

Condensed and reprinted with permission from Dr. Alan Zimmerman's 'Tuesday Tip.' As a best-selling author and Hall of Fame professional speaker, Zimmerman has worked with more than a million people, helping them become more effective communicators on and off the job. To receive a FREE, subscription to his 'Tuesday Tip' articles, go to Or contact him at 20550 Lake Ridge Drive, Prior Lake, MN 55372.

October 31, 2007

Do you mask who you are at work?

Does your work inspire and stimulate you?

Is your work environment and culture one in which you can be your authentic self?
We are social animals who live in social environments which require basic systems of morality and civility to survive. We seek an environment of trust, people with whom we enjoy spending time and relationships that nourish us.

Three options
If you aren’t inspired and can’t be yourself, you can search for happiness at work by
1. Looking for a different job.

2. Adjusting to reality (including pain) with equanimity by looking for nooks and crannies where you can find satisfaction. Develop coping strategies. If change is at the core of your unhappiness, figure out how to adapt. Blaming those who instigate change makes you feel like a victim which perpetuates your suffering. Here’s a site that shows the stages of change,

3. Thinking about right livelihood.
It’s a concept found in many faith and wisdom traditions. It’s one of the steps on the Buddhist eight-fold path. It’s following an honest occupation that respects other people and nature. You focus on ‘What is the need? How can you help people and the Earth?’ Seek a sense of peace in your work and life that can free your energies. It’s allowing yourself to grow throughout your lifetime. To do that you must find work meaningful to you so you can be your authentic self. You can embrace your present job. One expert advises running your career as though it were a small business; I think that translates to thinking about your approach to work and your life.

Today, identify ways you can make your current job more meaningful, emphasizing things that don’t rely on someone else. On the Path to Right Livelihood,

That’s three options to take off the mask.
Do you have additional ideas or reactions?

August 20, 2007

Cherish the nourishing work group

Several weeks ago I had lunch with three former coworkers. I walked out of the restaurant in a good mood. I began thinking about what made this group so good. They are nourishing people. No egos but quiet humility. No one monopolized the conversation. There were good opening questions with responses around the table. Everyone was truly interested in one another’s job, updates on families and other coworkers, where people had traveled recently.

These are people who are comfortable with themselves
They relish open communication. They respect one another and each one’s expertise. Each person is confident and apparently saw no need to impress any one else.

Many good staff people came and went in the Life in Iowa program. We each had a defined role and knew our responsibilities. We had various leaders who set clear goals. Several glimpses into that past will explain the work relationships:
• We had regular staff meetings. Tom always presented his notes from the latest administrative meetings. There was no mystery about what went on because we knew unless it was something confidential.

• When there was a search for the position Tom eventually held, we all were invited to the candidate presentations and asked to comment. We felt we had a voice in the decision.

• Hina shared many course documents and evaluations when I wanted to better understand the program to write about it. Trisha shared company names and information. No hoarding, no questions, just immediate compliance because it would help the program. There was an understanding and trust that the information was proprietary.

Life in Iowa was a service-learning project to place Iowa State students in Iowa internships in an effort to retain college educated people here. The idea was born in the Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Universities. I think the concept was ahead of its time in Iowa or needed a more inclusive base. It was a challenge. It was constant change looking for a way to make the program self-supporting quickly. It was a great work experience. We all wish the program had survived its infancy.

Work group repertoire comes down to civility
Put the pieces together: nourishing people who respect one another, who employ inclusion and acceptance, who practice superb communication. We had clear goals, roles and responsibilities. That created trust. And that’s how a workplace culture worth cherishing was born.--- That’s what made this group special. I often read about maintaining networks and relationships. It’s especially good to stay in touch with such nourishing people.

Life in Iowa Staff.JPG

July 23, 2007

The seven key needs of employees

In the ‘Do you want your boss to be your friend?’ entry for July 13, I mentioned Terry Bacon, an expert in talent management, who has surveyed workers worldwide to determine what matters most for them to be engaged at work. Bacon wrote an article for a human resources newsletter on the topic. This is excerpted from that newsletter:
1. Trust. When organizations trust employees, people behave ethically, are better stewards of the company’s resources, are more committed, provide better customer service and are more satisfied overall. Companies need policies that prove trust such as flex-time.
2. Challenge. Employees want to feel challenged, to feel they are learning and growing on the job. The best employees become bored and eventually leave if they are not challenged.
3. Competence. The workers who feel competent and skilled work harder, do better and are more creative. Every employee should have a professional development plan.
4. Self-esteem. Companies that successfully create a climate of high self-esteem treat employees in a respectful manner. They ensure that managers are courteous, listen to employees, value real contributions and recognize and reward people.
5. Excitement. Employees need interesting and challenging work. People who are engaged and energized are more committed, resourceful, creative and productive.
6. Involvement. Top companies and managers learn what individual employees feel passionate about and find ways to give them related assignments.
7. Appreciation. Many companies don’t understand the importance of formal and informal recognition and the role of managers in showing appreciation on both levels.

High-performance and high-potential employees leave
Bacon writes that high-performance and high-potential employees leave or refuse to join an organization for lack of opportunity, lack of recognition and not understanding what people really want in the workplace.

This I believe
Your skills and unique personal attributes are your responsibility. Be proactive, creative and in perpetual motion working on your professional goals. It’s your career path. For example
• Be trustworthy and conscientious about your use of your time at work, your expenses, your organization’s resources. It’s a lot about being honest. Trust creates trust.
• Ask for different assignments and volunteer for new assignments. Creativity and flexibility are valued in the knowledge economy, in this job or the next.
• Learn at work and outside of work. Read, listen to books on CD on commutes or trips. Take advantage of lectures and seminars; many are free. If they are during work hours, explain how they’ll improve your skills or knowledge and ask to attend. If you work for cooperative extension anywhere in the United States, eXtension has 30 minute professional development sessions, often on social networking topics. (If I can understand these topics, you can too.) See
• Be civil and promote civility.

The article by Terry Bacon, Retain valuable employees by acknowledging what they really need,

July 13, 2007

Do you want your boss to be your friend?

A coworker sent me an article from the Wall Street Journal Online titled “OMG – My Boss Wants To Be My ‘Friend’ Online”.

The article points out those social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace can pose a dilemma for both the boss and the employee. It’s a new awkward dimension of ‘friendship’ and the boss-employee relationship.

What do employees really want from their bosses?
Terry Bacon, an expert in talent management and author of ‘What People Want: A Manager’s Guide to Building Relationships that Work’ conducted a nationwide survey of 500 employees to learn what matters most in their relationship with a manager. The Oct. 2006 news release for the book says, ‘Ninety percent of workers rank honesty, fairness and trust as their top three needs. Bacon says what employees don’t want from their boss is fun, friendship and “interesting conversations”’.

How does civility fit in all this?
I think about respect and fairness. I think of brown-nosing (flatter with the intention of getting something). I think of ethics. How separate do you want your personal life and your working life to be? Do my age and my experience with many different bosses make me look at the demarcation line between a boss and an employee differently than my 20-something year old children would?

I think both the employee and the boss have responsibilities to maintain a professional relationship. There are bosses I would never be friends with outside the workplace and there are bosses that are definitely friends. The latter is more problematic. I think there are differences in friendships before your friend becomes your boss, when your friend is your boss and after your friend is no longer your boss. The real test for me is would I continue the friendship after the person is no longer my boss? Your thoughts?

More on the Internet
Boss or Friend? The Importance of a Clearly Defined Working Relationship,

Can the Boss Be a Friend?,

Can Employees Be Friends With the Boss?,

Your Friend, Your Boss, Perhaps Your Loss,

March 29, 2007

How are healthy workplace relationships like healthy marriages?

The Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines a healthy marriage as having two basic characteristics. First, healthy marriages are mutually enriching, and second, both spouses have a deep respect for each other.
It is a mutually satisfying relationship that is beneficial to the husband, wife, and children (if present).
It is a relationship that is committed to ongoing growth, the use of effective communication skills and the use of successful conflict management skills.

Doesn’t this also define healthy workplace relationships, whether provider to client, between coworkers or supervisor to employee?
Respect: an act of giving particular attention, consideration; high or special regard, esteem
Enriching: to make rich or richer especially by the addition of some desirable quality or attribute
Satisfying: to make happy, to give pleasure
Beneficial: conducive to personal or social well-being

And then
committed to ongoing growth,
the use of effective communication skills, and
the use of successful conflict management skills

This can apply to siblings, to other relatives, to really good friends. I like this definition a lot and happened across it while proofing a transcript for an extension project. Think about it, work towards healthy relationships...

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful;
it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends……
So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
---from 1 Corinthians 13, Revised Standard Version Bible

March 25, 2007

Love, What life is all about…

A book by Leo Buscaglia (1924-1998), published in 1972, inspired by the noncredit course Love 1A he taught at the University of Southern California. An examination of human love as the one unifying force of life.

Highlights of Buscaglia’s book in his words

I have a very strong feeling that the opposite of love is not hate---it’s apathy.

Love is the language for establishing behavior, relationships, action, attitudes, empathy, responsibility, trust, caring, joy and response. There are not kinds of love; there are only degrees of love.

The easiest thing to be in the world is you.

The most difficult thing to be is what other people want you to be. Don’t let them put you in that position. Only you will be able to discover, realize and develop your uniqueness.

Change is the end result of all true learning. Change involves three things: First, a dissatisfaction with self—a felt void or need; second, a decision to change and third, a conscious dedication to the process of growth—the willful act of making the change, doing something.

To love oneself is to struggle to rediscover and maintain your uniqueness. A great deterrent to love is found in anyone who fears change. Growing, learning and experiencing is change. It will always be exciting, always be fresh and like all things new and changing, never be dull.

The only question we can justly ask of ourselves is, “What can I do?” Perhaps I personally cannot do much about the infant mortality rate or the problems of the aged, but I may give some of my time to making a child’s day or an elderly person’s remaining days on earth more pleasant.

To love others you must love yourself.
You can only give to others what you have yourself. You cannot give what you have not learned and experienced. Since love is not a thing, it is not lost when given. You can offer your love completely to hundreds of people and still retain the same love you had originally. It is like knowledge. The wise man can teach all he knows and when he’s through he’ll still know all that he has taught. But first he must have the knowledge. It would better be said that man “shares” love, as he “shares” knowledge.

The Western culture has been a culture of competitors. If he has a larger home, a more powerful car, a more impressive formal education, he must be a better man. But these are not universal values. There are cultures whose highest adulation goes to the holy man, the teacher, who has spent his lifetime in self-discovery and has nothing of monetary value to show for it. There are cultures who value joy and peace of mind over property and busyness. They hypothesize that since all men must die, whether poor or rich, the only real goal of life is the present joy and the realization of self in joy, not the collection of material things.

To be a lover

requires that you continually have the subtlety of the very wise, the flexibility of the child, the sensitivity of the artist, the understanding of the philosopher, the acceptance of the saint, the tolerance of the dedicated, the knowledge of the scholar and the fortitude of the certain.

The perfect love would be one that gives all and expects nothing.

Buscaglia’s love quiz

One of those serendipitous things…a comparable post
Scott Adams on The Dilbert Blog Sunday was The Meaning of Meaning related to The Happiness Formula post on Saturday.

February 22, 2007

What do siblings have to do with the workplace?

In the workplace, you deal with your peers. Who were your peers for the first 18 years or so of your life?
(You probably didn’t get any weekends or vacations away from them.)

Siblings are a life-time deal, unlike coworkers, friends and spouses. Researchers are studying how as young children we learn to negotiate, to get along with our siblings. And how that carries on in later life.

The cover story for the Time magazine of July 10, 2006 was “How your siblings make you who you are”,16641,20060710,00.html

Here are some interesting workplace pieces of that story

“You learn to negotiate things day to day…Adulthood, after all, is practically defined by peer relationships--the workplace, a marriage, the church building committee. As siblings, we may sulk and fume but by nighttime we still return to the same twin beds in the same shared room. Peace is made when one sib offers a toy or shares a thought or throws a pillow in a mock provocation that releases the lingering tension in a burst of roughhousing. Somewhere in there is the early training for the e-mail joke that breaks an office silence…. "Sibling relationships are where you learn all this," says developmental psychologist Susan McHale of Penn State University. "They are relationships between equals."

“McHale studied a group of 384 adolescent sibling pairs and their parents. Overall, she concluded that 65% of mothers and 70% of fathers exhibited a preference for one child--in most cases, the older one.

Think you're not still living the same reality show?
Think again. It's no accident that employees in the workplace instinctively know which person to send into the lion's den of the corner office with a risky proposal or a bit of bad news. And it's no coincidence that the sense of hurt feelings and adolescent envy you get when that same colleague emerges with the proposal approved and the boss's applause seems so familiar. But what you summon up with the feelings you first had long ago is the knowledge you gained then too--that the smartest strategy is not to compete for approval but to strike a partnership with the favorite and spin the situation to benefit yourself as well. This idea did not occur to you de novo. You may know it now, but you learned it then.

“From the time they are born, our brothers and sisters are our collaborators and co-conspirators, our role models and cautionary tales…They teach us how to resolve conflicts and how not to; how to conduct friendships and when to walk away from them…..Our spouses arrive comparatively late in our lives; our parents eventually leave us.

“But as much as all the fighting can set parents' hair on end, there's a lot of learning going on too, specifically about how conflicts, once begun, can be settled.”

So what’s the lesson here?
Just be aware that our siblings helped shape us. And maybe it’s worth asking your coworkers about their siblings if you don’t know.

P.S. I’ll send my sister a notice about this entry so she can rant and rave once again about how mean I was. And I’ll remind her how tired I got of her being the cute little sister. And then we’ll go back to sharing e-mail jokes, the joys and concerns of life.

P.P.S.You could be working with a sibling. (Brothers & Sisters on ABC—Writers blogs are quite interesting, if you get to the real comments on the writing

“I do not believe that the accident of birth makes people sisters and brothers. It makes them siblings. Gives them mutuality of parentage. Sisterhood and brotherhood are conditions people have to work at. It's a serious matter. You compromise, you give, you take, you stand firm, and you're relentless...And it is an investment. Sisterhood means if you happen to be in Burma and I happen to be in San Diego and I'm married to someone who is very jealous and you're married to somebody who is very possessive, if you call me in the middle of the night, I have to come.”
Maya Angelou, American poet (1928-)

January 21, 2007

The new diversity

As the population of the United States changes, so has the meaning of diversity. No longer is diversity defined solely along racial and ethnic lines.

Diversity now includes
education level, problem-solving style, single versus married, children versus no children, high wealth and low wealth, political affiliation, sexual orientation, age, behavioral style, tenure with the organization, geographic origin, personality type and military service.

It’s quite logical. If we have diversity in our workplace, we have coworkers who can help us identify with and better understand the various clients in the marketplace.

Today’s smart employers are thinking about this new diversity when they look at the backgrounds and experiences of applicants. They assess what each applicant can bring to a workplace. But that’s just the beginning.

How well do these diverse workers fare in the workplace? Do we expect new coworkers to meld into our way of doing things, of thinking? We shouldn’t. We need their different points of view and different work styles because they mirror society. They help us understand the target audiences we’re trying to reach.

One piece of the new diversity--generations currently in the workplace

Generation Y (also Nexters, Millennials): born early 1980s through early 2000s
Generation X: born early 1960s-early 1980s
Baby boomers: born 1946-early 1960s
Traditionalists (also Veterans, Matures): born 1922-1945

Think about the attitudes toward authority and structure in the workplace, about the technology backgrounds of workers of these generations. As we pair with coworkers of different ages, we may be working on common goals but we don’t approach them the same. We don’t work on projects in the same way. Be open to the new diversity.
It's being inclusive to build espirit de corps.

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”
Henry Ford, American industrialist (1863-1947)