May 25, 2007

Can you remove negativity at work?

Negativity in the workplace can have dramatic effects on productivity of your teams. This can run the gamut from harassment to outright violence.

Violence in the workplace usually stems from negative behaviours displayed by employees or clients: gossipping, yelling, threats, and so on. Sometimes, not all the time, you can pretty much tell from the get-go that an employee is going to cause problems.

Many companies have a written policy to help deal with this issue, which can help. Especially if there are regular reminders and reviews of the policy, as well as open and honest discussion on the issue.

Is it enough?

What brought on these thoughts?

This morning, I read an article on the new Ocean's Thirteen movie, where director Steven Soderbergh said that he had one rule for filmmakers: “We wouldn't have anyone with a reputation for being unpleasant. That solves everything. No jerks.”

That got me thinking: wouldn't it be great if you could actually hire and fire people based on their attitude? Without the threat of being sued?

What about an employment contract that has an attitude clause? One which explains in plain language, not legalese, what it means to have a “positive attitude” at work. When people choose to join a company, they must adhere to that clause by signing it. They are also made aware that should they break this clause, they are liable to get fired, without compensation.

What about giving employees many options to help them deal with issues that affect their attitude? I know that many companies already have people on the HR staff, as well as psychologists whose job is to deal with these types of situations. What I wonder is, how often are people sent to these professionals to prevent violent situations? My experience has been that this occurs after the fact.

As a manager or team leader, how effective are you in picking up the subtle clues that signal an attitude shift? Do you address it directly when you see it? Do you monitor that person more closely?

How often have you spoken to someone you know well, and realized that he or she was in a funk? When you asked, the person replied, “Nothing. I'm just tired is all.” But you knew better. You pressed on, and asked questions until that person finally let the cat out of the bag. After discussing long enough, the person finally thanked you because you were the first person to take an interest in him or her.

We often do this to the people we love and care for. How often do we do it for our employees and our coworkers? How beneficial could it be if we started doing this more regularly?

Now, I don't mean to turn the workplace into a “love fest” where all we are doing all day is discussing our problems. Not at all! However, I do think that it is imperative to create a more positive attitude in a workplace where stress is more present than ever, and people are overworked and tired.

How fast can you jump in and call someone on their behaviour and attitude? Both go hand in hand. I believe we often wait too long before telling someone to “shape up or ship out”.

The longer you wait, the harder it becomes to address the issue. Especially if the person you need to speak to is already agitated. It takes more time to calm them down and get them to listen. And if that person's issue has been lingering and festering long enough, it becomes more difficult to resolve it.

Attitude is one of the best indicators of success. The better your attitude, the better your odds of succeeding in your chosen field. Conversely, the worse your attitude, the worse your chances of success.

One thing that many people forget, at times, is that our attitude affects those around us. Or as I heard it said, “You either affect people or you infect them.”

I'm curious: what are some of the processes and procedures in place where you work, which help to prevent incidences of violence and negativity?

How confident do you feel about dealing with a coworker or an employee's bad attitude?

Making decisions

Someone recently asked me: "What makes you make a decision when you are riding a mountain bike?" He asked me to imagine that I was on a mountain bike and I came to an intersection of many paths. Which path would I take? Why would I choose the path? What would be my decision-making process?

It took me a while to come up with an answer. In the end, it pretty much boils down to where I want to go on my bike.

I have done this many times in my car. When I travel in a new city, I often do not have a map of the city. In the evening, when I need to find some place to eat, I usually just hop in the car and start driving. Most of the time I don't have a clue where I'm going. I just want to eat.

I don't usually have a specific restaurant in mind. Sometimes I do, most of the time I don't. I will look around at the restaurants that are available to me and, depending on my level of hunger, I will stop at the first decent one or I will drive around until I find one that makes my mouth water. The more indecisive I am about where I want to eat, the more time I will be driving around.

In my car I make decisions based on many clues:

  • My surroundings: I take a look around and go in the direction that seems most promising. "Most promising" usually means "where there seems to be the most commercial buildings," or "where most of the cars are going." If commercial buildings seem to thin out, I will keep driving in the same direction for a given time. Once that time is up, if things haven't improved (i.e. I don't see more commercial buildings), I find a way to turn around.
  • My geographical position: this is the clue I use when trying to get back to where I was. I usually have a pretty good idea where I want to go. While I'm driving, I turn at intersections that seem to bring me closer to that location. Sometimes, though, I realize that my decision takes me in the wrong direction. When I realize this, I try to turn around as soon as possible or if I can't, I keep taking turns until I eventually end up in an area that I recognize.
  • Ask directions: when I'm really lost, I stop and ask someone for directions. When I do so, the first question I usually ask, "Are you from this area?" or "Do you know this area well?"

These approaches mimic a lot of the decision-making I do in real life. Before making a decision, I (sometimes) try to figure out where I am, but I especially want to know where I'm going. If I don't know where I'm going, as it sometimes happens, it takes me a long time to make a decision.

Once I've made a decision, I check to see if it brings me in the direction that I really need to go. If it does I keep pushing along. If it doesn't, I stop and try to figure out what corrective actions I need to take in order to go in the right direction, as I perceive it.

When I'm lost, and I don't know where to go, I ask for directions. I have learned to ask directions of people who are either where I want to be, or who have been where I want to go. To me, there is nothing worse than asking advice from people who have no idea what they are talking about, but feel they should tell you what to do anyway.

Whether navigating in a car with no map, or whether navigating through life, the key part of decision-making is knowing where you want to end your journey. Well, that's what it's been like for me. This doesn't mean that it needs to be like this for everyone.