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Managers…Are You Stingy With Praise?

Quick! Think of the best coach, manager or teacher you’ve ever had. Now think of some of the characteristics that made them the best. Chances are they were knowledgeable, good communicators, and great at giving constructive criticism. But I also bet they were good at giving praise. And if you happened to think of the worst coach, manager, or teacher you ever had, they were probably stingy with praise. Sincere praise is so meaningful, I can still remember the two best compliments I’ve ever received. One was from a complete stranger with no agenda. The other was from two business owners I worked for. I had been working at their company for about six months when they asked me to lunch. They took me to Horizons at Woodcliff, one of the nicer restaurants in the Rochester, NY area at the time. While we were waiting for our lunch to be served, they raised their glasses in a toast to me and said, “You have made the biggest difference in our company. We can’t even remember what it was like before you came and we hope you never leave.” There are a few moments in life that really make you feel acknowledged and validated and this was one of them for me. Although that was two decades ago, I can close my eyes and see the scene all over again. This is the power of praise. Most of us don’t receive enough of it. And here’s the irony, we tend to be pretty stingy in doling it out, as well. Not all of us and not all the time and not with everyone. But my guess is that there are people in our lives who could use a little more praise and acknowledgment. WHY IT’S SO HARD TO DO If praise means so much to us when we receive it, how come it’s so hard to give it away? Since I don’t know of the deep psychological roots of this, I can only come from my own experience. And I know that giving praise seems to take a combination of awareness, confidence, and humility. The awareness part of the equation is obvious. We must be alert to the opportunities to praise people. Even if something is expected, does that mean we can’t compliment someone when it’s done? Many managers claim that “It’s a part of their job – why do I have to coddle them by telling them they did well?” I usually ask those managers how they feel if when they do something expected (doing the dishes, cooking a meal, mowing the lawn, etc.) if hearing “Thank you honey. That looks nice,” would feel good? They usually reply yes. So even if it’s something someone is supposed to do, find a way to thank them for it. And if you recognize yourself as a bit stingy in the praise department, give yourself the homework of praising one person each day for a week. Just seven days. You might be very pleasantly surprised by the result. Confidence comes into play when we feel a bit of competitiveness or jealousy of the person who has just done well. Sometimes it’s hard to celebrate other people’s successes especially if we aren’t feeling very successful ourselves. As managers, occasionally when we have a “star” employee, we may feel threatened by their accomplishments and, unconsciously, withhold praise. But as you will see, celebrating other people’s successes actually elevates you in the eyes of other people. More importantly, praising others will make you feel better about yourself and thus, raise your overall confidence. Praising others also takes humility. To let other people shine, to not...

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Mean Girls – in the Workplace?

In the past month, I’ve had two clients contact me with almost the exact same problem. A female employee, newer to the job, was quitting or had quit because of two other women in the office excluding them, not supporting them, and essentially, being mean. I have to admit hearing the stories took me right back to school where there always seemed to be a group of girls who were very cliquish. If you were in with them, great! You probably had an easy time of it. If you weren’t, your school experience could have been like a nightmare. Because of our cyber-world, bullying among kids has gotten much increased attention. But what is happening with otherwise, very capable adults, acting like children in the workplace? Without going too much into the psychology of the characters in this scenario (though there is clearly a perpetrator, victim, and savior) and writing pages and pages about what is behind the bullying traits of the Mean Girl and the wounded traits of the Victim, I am instead going to address the manager. Why? Because in both of the scenarios above, it was the manager who contacted me. And in many of these scenarios, the Mean Girls don’t have the desire, nor does the Victim have the tools or authority, to handle the situation. If they did, the situation wouldn’t exist in the first place. To the Manager: If you are dealing with a Mean Girls situation, you may have already had many conversations, back and forth, between those involved. That’s part of the problem. When meeting with employees separately (any employees who have conflict), you find yourself in a “he said – she said” kind of scenario. Each employee, out of earshot of the other, tends to share their version of events which is filled with all sorts of opinions, exaggerations and interpretations. So when they have your ear, all you are getting is their version. Then when you talk to the other party, you get their version. You will drive yourself crazy trying to reconcile these two versions because everyone sees the situation from their own perspective. And remember, their perception is their reality! The solution is to call both parties in together. And believe me, they will hate it! But this is really the ONLY WAY to get to the facts of the matter (facts are observable, things that were seen or heard). You see, when people have to share their version IN FRONT OF THE OTHER PERSON, they will have to drop all their stories and exaggerations. • What the MG tells you privately: “She is incompetent, unqualified for the job and should never have been hired in the first place” (labels, opinion and exaggeration) • What the MG says in front of the Victim: “After the training, you were still asking me questions that the answers can be found in the manual” (fact) • What the Victim tells you privately: “She is so superior and thinks she is better than everyone else” (labels, opinion and exaggeration) • What the Victim says in front of the MG: “Since I started, you have never asked me to lunch” (fact) Do you see the difference in the amount of “juice” in these statements? Facts are so much easier to deal with because they are neutral and less controversial. It’s what we make the facts mean that give it so much potential to cause drama. I have seen conflict that has been going on for months clear up after one conversation that was fact-based. So help your employees stick to the facts. What did they see? What did they hear directly from...

How To Handle Stinging Criticism

Usually when I publish an article or blog post, I get very positive feedback.  Everything from “you go girl” to “that was exactly what I needed to hear.”   However, once in awhile someone will react badly to something I’ve written and take the opportunity to let me know about it and usually not in such positive terms.  These are some actual emails I’ve received:   “It’s sad to see what you’ve become.” (from a former friend who shared the same religious upbringing as me) “You are preoccupied with success and money.” (from a reader who accused me of using money-mongering quotes) “Your marketing has gotten too SPAM-like for me.” (from a colleague who asked to be unsubscribed and yet has since re-subscribed)   I’ll be the first to admit that these criticisms sting.  Ironically, years ago I washesitating publishing a newsletter for this very reason. I was so afraid I would be criticized or that people wouldn’t approve of me. So you know what I did?  I chose to focus on only the positive responses I received.  Yes, I am still open to criticism – if it’s constructive.  But if someone is just looking to vent or bash me, I have no problem hitting DELETE and then UNSUBSCRIBE. The reason I feel so confident doing this (AND HERE IS THE REAL POINT OF THIS POST) is because for the exact article the people above criticized me for I received glowing accolades from others… “I am so proud to see you owning your greatness.” (from a friend) “You are spot on.” (from a former client who agreed with my philosophy around money) “You are one of the most creative, inspiring entrepreneurs I have ever met.” (from a colleague) When this happens, you really start to see that it has VERY LITTLE TO DO WITH YOU and much more to do with other people’s perceptions and opinions.  And how they perceive you, has everything to do with them.  It may sound trite to say ‘don’t take it personally’ but the truth is…it’s rarely about you. One of my mentors, David Neagle, drilled home for me this truth: “If it triggers them – it’s about them.”  So you could spend your whole life being careful not to offend someone.  And yet, you would still offend someone! Where have you put off doing something because you’re afraid of criticism?  Where have you been criticized and it caused you to shrink back?  What is one thing you would do today if you knew you could gracefully handle any criticism that came with it? Why not do that thing today? QUOTES ON CRITICISM “All you can do is keep your motives pure.  If you do offend, you’ve likely hit on something THEY need to look at – in which case you’ve done a good deed.”  ~ Joy Behar, host of Current TV’s Say Anything “I think the most profound and important realization is that most people are inhibited and sabotaged by the fear of criticism and inability to handle criticism, while high achievers are immune to it.” ~ Maxwell Maltz, author of “Psycho-Cybernetics” “Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure. You’re thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all. You can be discouraged by failure – or you can learn from it. So go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because, remember that’s where you’ll find success.”  ~ Thomas J....

Layoffs – How to Avoid Adding Insult to Injury

This week, I borrow some great advice from Joseph Grenny, co-author of “Crucial Conversations.”   Q: Dear Joseph, Our company probably has layoffs coming up. Some employees will lose their jobs, and most remaining employees will have to take on extra work to keep things going. Some of our employees have been in the same position for more than 20 years.   The “you are getting laid off” conversation is stressful, with potential for silence and/or violence, as well as wrongful termination lawsuits. Our attorney advises that the less said during those conversations, the better.   Our administrators are really dreading these conversations. Do you have any advice for them? ~ Bad News   A: Dear Bad News, Let’s be clear—getting laid off is horrible. It fills the laid off person with uncertainty. It throws a family into turmoil. It makes people doubt their worth and capacity. It spreads mistrust and paralysis through an organization.   Leaders tend to consistently underestimate the costs of layoffs and the price they’ll pay to rebuild capacity when things turn around. With that said, there are times the organization’s survival demands it. It’s better to lose 10 percent of the workforce now than lose 100 percent later.   I say all of this simply to acknowledge that no matter how well you follow the advice I offer, there will still be pain. There’s a big difference between being cut by a surgeon who cares about you and being cut by a mugger in an alley. Far too many organizations behave like muggers during layoffs.   I’ll never forget a dear friend describing what it was like to have security guards show up unannounced to his office and stand by him as he filled the four cartons provided to him with the belongings he’d accumulated over years in his position. He thought that arriving to the lofty position of vice president would have earned him a little more consideration. But the lawyers were running this show and cared only for organizational defense and not at all for personal dignity. For months he struggled, not just with the pain of joblessness, but with the insult of the process.   As a leader, I have faced these challenges. Let me share what I think turns leaders into surgeons rather than muggers. But first let me begin with a strong ethical assertion: Nothing reveals a leader’s soul more than the way he or she handles necessary dismissals. Unless you are willing to sacrifice time, money and personal pain in the service of those you are dismissing, you deserve no loyalty from those who...

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