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Today’s organizations require that workers be adaptable. Truly effective leaders know how to follow and how it feels to be a follower. Conversely, in order to be a productive team member, one must understand the difficulties of being a team leader. The daily “dance” between leaders and followers requires mutual understanding and a balance of give and take. As the great Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, said: “To lead, one must follow.” In this program, Yael Schy, creator of the Teamwork Tango® leadership training approach, shares her philosophy and methodology of using partner dancing principles and exercises for helping leaders and followers in organizations to work together more collaboratively and effectively.
Recent Blog Posts
I have a memory from about ten years ago of a snowstorm that hit Maryland. The snow touched most of the state and especially the northern part of Maryland where it hit hardest. I lived in this part of the state with my family. At the end of our long, gravel driveway where snow accumulated it would take my Dad and neighbor several hours to dig us out. During this particular snow, my Dad, who leaves for work at 4:00 in the morning, was unable to drive his truck up the driveway. So what did my Dad do? He called and asked a co-worker to come pick him up and take him to work. I watched from my bedroom window in the early hours of the morning as my Dad walked through the snow, up to the main road to catch a ride. I can recall thinking, why doesn’t he just call out? But, that’s not my Dad. I have always been impressed by his work ethic, a trait he has subtly instilled in me over the course of my life.
Since the start of the workplace series, I have been reflecting on my work experience over the past ten years, beginning with when I filled out my first W-2 at the age of fifteen. I determined that one of my biggest pet peeves in every experience I have had was when a co-worker lacked a strong work ethic.
What is a strong work ethic?
Amelia Jenkins a contributor on Chron.com identifies five factors that exhibit a strong work ethic, “Integrity”, “Sense of Responsibility”, “Emphasis on Quality”, “Discipline”, and “Sense of Teamwork”. Our work ethic is about personal values and what we believe to be most important. Most of these factors are self-explanatory, but “emphasis on quality” Amelia Jenkins mentions is a worker’s ability to provide quality work rather than just delivering the bare minimum.
When a colleague demonstrates a poor work ethic such as consistently showing up late, not meeting deadlines, or slacking off on work, other employees may become annoyed, angry, and resentful. Why is this? Because our definition and values are different. When our work ethic values clash, then these feelings arise. For me, the thing that bothers me the most is when a co-worker consistently makes excuses for why they have been unable to complete their work, rather than admitting they do not know how to do it or that they were procrastinating.
So how can one co-worker address another who is exhibiting a poor work ethic?
When co-workers show a poor work ethic, I have approached them and asked what they are finding most difficult. If they say they are struggling with a problem I have dealt with before, I show him or her how to work through it; however, if it is a problem I have never had before, I find someone else who can assist them.
Ashley Miller from globalpost.com suggests, “No one wants to come across as a goody two-shoes, but there’s usually no harm in addressing your concerns directly with your co-worker in a polite, professional manner. “ A fellow employee may be more willing to change their behavior and less likely to hold a grudge if you, for example, say, “Hey Nancy, I noticed you have been getting to work late recently, I wanted to check in with you to make sure everything is okay?” When you acknowledge the poor behavior in a non-confrontational way, your co-worker will be aware that s/he’s conduct is being noted and may be more likely to get to work on time. If something is occurring to prevent the employee from getting to work on time, then the issue can be brought up and addressed. However, it is imperative that the discussion be done in private that way your co-worker is more likely to be receptive.
Frances Burks from Chron.com advises, “Find out if your coworker understands how to complete his assigned tasks when you discuss work-ethic problems with him.” If a co-worker is struggling to meet deadlines, it may be wrong to assume that s/he are lazy or do not care. Instead, verify that they understand what is being asked of them. If the problem is they do not have the skill level to complete their assigned tasks, suggest they talk with a manager to obtain the necessary training needed. Do not take on the tasks yourself, by doing that you, as the employee will only grow more resentful.
Finally, Ashley Miller recommends, “Talking to your supervisor in a [concerned and kind] manner provides him with the opportunity to address your concerns and shows that you are dedicated to the success of your workplace.” A discussion with your supervisor should be a last resort after you have spoken with your co-worker regarding her/his behavior and nothing has changed. If the issue requires you to approach your boss, you might start the conversation with ‘I have a concern I need to address with you regarding my co-worker’.
For me, when I feel riled about my work ethic clashing with someone’s lack of work ethic, I now make a point of speaking with my co-workers rather than jumping to conclusions about what is causing their work ethic to lack. I have found that by talking with my coworkers directly in a calm and collected fashion, that most issues get resolved. Now anytime I receive praise for my strong work ethic, I always think of my Dad and how he showed me what it means to be a hard worker.
M.S Negotiation and Conflict Management
I have had the experience of working in several organizations that despite having competent employees, financial means, and a solid customer base have failed to achieve their goals ultimately. These organizations are riddled with disorganization, frustration, and an overall negative atmosphere. Why might these previous employers of mine be experiencing these issues? A lack of communication between the Upper Management and its employees is a major cause. When those in leadership roles do not converse with their employees, those in lower paid positions feel frustrated, angry, and helpless leading to low workplace morale.
Mike Myatt a contributor to Forbes and leadership advisor points out, “If you reflect back upon conflicts you have encountered over the years, you’ll quickly recognize many of them resulted from a lack of information, poor information, no information, or misinformation.” I learned in my conflict management classes that the moment people stop communicating with one another the chance of resolution diminishes. However, if what is being communicated is omitting wrong or untrue information, conflicts will also rarely reach resolution.
Chris Joseph writer for Chron.com outlines four ways poor communication can cause conflict in the workplace.
- It can “[create] uncertainty.”
- It can cause issues when employees have to “[share] resources.”
- It can generate “poor teamwork.”
- It can spread “rumors and gossip.”
If communication issues such as these four examples continue to cause conflict and are not addressed, the overall business could be impaired. So why does poor communication continue to occur?
Miranda Brookins marketing professional and writer for Chron.com suggests six reasons, “Lack of leadership, unclear goals and duties, undertrained employees, limited feedback, employees disengaged, and virtual teams.” In previous organizations of which I have worked, one or more of these reasons have been the cause of poor communication.
How can companies improve communication in the workplace?
Inc. Staff from Inc.com suggests that an organization, “Create a culture. Above all else, to the extent possible, strive to be transparent and straightforward about the challenges of your business and even about your company’s financials. Such candor fosters trust and understanding”. A contention I had with one of the companies for which I worked is when upper management came and spoke to us, the employees. They informed us that there were not going to be any layoffs, and then, a week later, laid off fifty people. From that point on, I did not trust anything upper management said to us. I could understand upper management not wanting to cause panic among its staff; however if they had been upfront about layoffs they would have maintained the respect and trust of their employees.
Tim Eisenhauer co-founder of Axero, “Checking in with how your employees are doing is an essential aspect of running a business that should never be overlooked.” He goes on to explain, “Open forums such as [a town hall meeting], not only serve to improve internal communication, but can also help to empower your employees.” I once worked for a company where one of the bosses, took the time to walk around and speak to us employees, He simply walked around and asked, “How is your day going?” I remember feeling like he truly cared about my well-being, which made me feel appreciated. In other organizations where the upper management did not take the time to converse with me or they talked down to me, I often felt less inclined to work hard for them.
Another suggestion by Tim Eisenhauer is instead of one-sided communication, “allow for communication to be a two-way street, as you’ll see a number of benefits by taking this approach.” In one company of which I worked, the upper management often told us what their plans were instead of consulting us for ideas or allowing an open door policy to air our grievances. Therefore, we only knew what was going on after plans have been set in motion. Employees may have useful knowledge that could contribute and push the company forward. By not accessing this human capital resource an organization is limiting their success.
For an organization to be successful they must communicate. When people understand what is expected of them and they feel appreciated, they tend to work together more efficiently with less stress and frustration. This only benefits the employees and the company. If I had an opportunity to speak with upper management with my previous employers, I would suggest communicating openly and honestly with their employees. In doing so, employees will feel valued, trust their employer, and ultimately have the desire to perform to the best of their abilities.
Graduate Student, University of Baltimore –
Negotiation and Conflict Management Program
I am writing this week’s blog post with a heavy heart. I was born and raised in Maryland, and I have been a resident of Baltimore City for the past four years. The events that occurred over the course of these past couple of weeks; starting with the arrest and then the death of Freddie Grey, is nothing short of tragic. As a student graduating in less than two weeks, with my Masters in Negotiation and Conflict Management from the University of Baltimore, these events have been eye opening to the deep-seated conflicts that exists not only in Baltimore City, but also throughout the United States. As a society, my hope is that we will do better, see the error in our ways, and make the necessary changes needed to progress forward.
Conflict will likely occur when multiple actors are involved in dealing with crisis incidents. In Baltimore, a number of businesses, large and small, were casualties of the riots. Companies must be organized so that owners and employees know what to do, where to go, who to report to, and what they are permitted to do to ensure safety, during times of crisis. If not, escalating conflict will occur causing confusion, possible injury, lack of timely response, and finger pointing when things don’t go well. Christine Pearson suggests in her article “A Blueprint for Crisis Management”, “The best firms … recognize that taking deliberate steps to prepare for the unforeseen can pay off handsomely.”
If a business does not formulate an approach to managing a crisis smoothly, conflict could arise between owners, employees, and external influences and the consequences could be potentially damaging.
So what can business owners and employees do to ensure these damaging consequences do not occur in the midst of a crisis?
Diana Pisciotta a contributor to Inc.com suggests, “One of the best outcomes of thinking about a crisis before it happens is the chance to consider your company’s strategy without the pressure of news choppers hovering over your facility.” Before a crisis occurs it is important to have an emergency plan in place so that all parties involved know what could be the worst outcomes, who to report to and receive directives from, and what is the plan moving forward. Effective communication of a crisis plan could clear up misunderstandings of authority and the tasks for which each person is responsible.
Clark Communications a virtual public relations agency recommends, “Communicate quickly and accurately – Positive, assertive communication focuses attention on the most important aspects of the problem and moves the entire process forward to resolution, even in an adverse environment or with an antagonistic news media.” In a crisis, especially now in the digital era, information whether accurate or not, is streamed to a global audience in an instant. Those in leadership roles need to communicate to their employees the facts they have received in a timely fashion, or they risk inaccurate information being received or heard. In a crisis, this could be detrimental.
Christine Pearson warns, “Once notified that a crisis has broken out, the best an organization can hope for is effective assistance from those within and outside the organization.” If a business does not have positive relationships formed both internally and externally, when a crisis occurs an owner cannot assume their employees and stakeholders will be there is assist once the dust settles. A business owner must build these relationships up to ensure assistance once a calamity occurs.
Finally, personality conflicts occur when a mix of different cultures, race, beliefs, attitudes, and work styles come together in one place. Royale Scuderi from Lifehack emphasizes, “Personality conflicts can be one of the biggest challenges in the workplace. Conflicts can usually be diffused by acceptance, understanding, appropriate action, and professionalism.” In times of crisis, it’s imperative that business owners and employees, put their differences assign and focus on the task at hand. It is important to recognize that they are all working towards the same goal.
Graduate Student, University of Baltimore –
Negotiation and Conflict Management Program