Friday, January 30, 2009

More stress. More jerks.

When times get hard, people become more stressed. Stress can also bring out the worst in people. I like to say that stress is the killer of effective leadership.

It seems like we are in a pressure-cooker these days. Times, tough enough for even the best of leaders to withstand.

It isn't just the people that have lost their jobs that are suffering. Even those that have jobs are suffering because the demands are high and they are working bone-crushing hours. People are no longer expected to do one job, they are expected to pick up the pieces after the layoffs.

It's snapping time. People are losing their social graces. So it begs the question: Do you work for a jerk?

I have tapped into Joseph Grenny, who is the co-author of The New York Times Bestseller: Influencer, Crucial Conversations, and Crucial Confrontations for some insight on this topic. Read on to get some perspective on this.

Work for a Jerk? by Joseph Grenny

For many people, work has lost its luster. Employees who were once motivated to come in early or stay late now have a tendency to take off early, show up late, or even call in sick. Is this trend simply a sign of a career slump, or is there a reason employees seem to be getting the corporate life sucked out of them?

Popular opinion cites unacceptable hours, low pay, and bad work assignments as leading causes of career blues. Naturally, these grievances are enough to cause any employee to grumble. However, according to a recent survey by VitalSmarts, an innovator in corporate training and organizational performance, these grievances are actually the least common concerns among employees. More than 50 percent of survey respondents listed a disagreeable boss as their number one reason to want to pack up and leave.

These disgruntled employees aren’t just daydreaming about leaving – two out of every three people who are bugged by their boss are actively seeking alternative career options. If you’re feeling stifled by your supervisor, leaving the office may feel like the cure. But what happens when you stumble into a new office with a new boss – only to discover that, once again, you work for a jerk?

Even though the grass seems greener on the other side, the problem may not be with the disagreeable boss – despite the fact that he or she could use a personality adjustment. The problem could in fact be an employee’s unwillingness or even inability to candidly share concerns about his or her working relationship with the boss. The survey revealed that only one in five people have even attempted to fully lay out their concerns with their boss.

It’s no wonder people aren’t enjoying their careers as much as they could be. When you can’t approach your supervisor, work suddenly feels less enjoyable and productive, and more like detention.

After twenty-five years of research in the field of organizational effectiveness and interpersonal communication, the VitalSmarts team of researchers has determined that most people don’t know how to candidly and respectfully express concerns to anyone, let alone a person of higher power or authority. It turns out that when it matters most, most of us do our worst at communicating our concerns. Disturbingly, almost two-thirds of survey respondents admitted they will quit before ever really speaking their mind.

However, a disagreeable boss does not have to be the ticket to a dead-end career. With the proper set of skills, any employee can turn a less-than-pleasant working relationship into one that will restore a desired level of respect and civility. In fact, survey respondents who stated that they do speak up and feel skilled at holding what we call “crucial confrontations” with their bosses were more satisfied with their current jobs and less likely to look elsewhere. They were also less likely to badmouth the boss to others or to work around the boss’s weaknesses.

So, if you begin dragging your feet on the way to work because your boss is disagreeable – maybe even a jerk – use the following skills to successfully confront your manager and begin the path to career revival.

  • Work on you first, the boss second. Get your emotions in check by looking for how you may be adding to the problem. It isn’t that the boss doesn’t have faults; it’s that most people tend to exaggerate their boss’s problems and ignore how they may be contributing.
  • Hold the right conversation. Most people think they are giving their boss feedback, but fail to get to the real issue that concerns them. If your fundamental concern is that your boss doesn’t respect you or that you don’t trust your boss, find a way to discuss that issue without skirting around it.
  • Start with safety. It can be tough to tell your boss you don’t trust him or her. But it is completely possible to do so without rupturing the relationship if you can help your boss feel safe. People feel psychologically safe when they know you care about their interests and respect them. Start with: “I have a concern I’d like to discuss. It’s important to me, but it’s also something I think will help me work more effectively. May I discuss it with you?”
  • Facts first. Don’t start with harsh judgments or vague conclusions like, “I don’t trust you,” or, “You’re a control freak.” Instead, start with the facts. Strip out any judgmental or provocative language and be specific. For example, “After you told me you brought me up for a promotion in the HR meeting, two people who were at that meeting e-mailed me and asked why you hadn’t recommended me for it.”

I think he provides some great points. I know that most people think that now may not be the right time to have these conversations, but that is incorrect. Now is the time. It is when the pressure is on, that you need to take action to make it right. What do you think?

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