Sunday, November 30, 2014

3 Keys to a Sunny Work Climate

A long time ago, in an office far, far away, Bart Snarf—a disgruntled co-worker of mine—declared: “Who needs a sunny work environment when it is easier to make it rain and get everyone muddy?  Besides, it’s fun.” Bart did enjoy it until one day his bottom was bounced out the door.  Today, I’d like to respond to Bart by commenting on his (and my) three favorite techniques.   

Bart blaming me
1. Blaming
I know blaming comes naturally, Bart.  When something goes wrong, find the culprit and cast blame. That keeps the focus off of you and even gives you a (false) sense of superiority. You should have followed Bixby’s example. Remember Bixby?

He was our first corporate manager right out of college. When something went wrong, he’d ask for a clear definition of the problem.  I remember you telling Bixby once in earshot of everyone: “The accounting is wrong and it’s all Dave Trottier’s fault.”  But Bixby didn’t acknowledge your accusation; instead, he asked you and me to find a solution.    

Let me tell you, Bart, I felt relief and some empowerment in being part of the solution. And I knew inside that Bixby knew that I, indeed, was to blame. In other words, I was still accountable for my work, but without the shame and humiliation.  And that was motivating for me, and the beginning of the end for you.

Bixby’s continuous use of the problem-solving approach freed employees to come forward when they goofed, and your blaming eventually stopped.  There was a greater sense of teamwork and more was accomplished.  Bart, for more on squashing the blame bug, read this

2. Taking things personally
My inner child crying out to Bart
This trick is closely related to blaming because it’s about avoiding being blamed. And, yes, I remember your excuse: your parents were monsters that bit the heads off of rats for amusement.  I get that, but most everyone has some level of defensiveness as a leftover from childhood.  We all feel your pain, but what can a wounded soul do?

You have free will, Bud.  That means you can do what you want.  You can choose to not take things personally and assume that good will is intended by the other.  Change the perception.  Bixby would love you for it.  Often a comment is not meant personally anyway.

For those remarks that are intended as personal, when you respond as if they weren’t, that patient response may disarm your attacker.  In any case, you make yourself free and independent.  Wow, imagine that!  And remember, if you lose your cool, you lose.  If you’re still with me, Bart, and want to learn more about not taking things personally, read this.

3. Having to be right
It’s confession time, Bart. We’ve all painting ourselves into the I’ve-gotta-be-right-no-matter-what corner more than once. The solution?  Avoid getting emotionally invested into your “rightness.”  A key to this is to not be so cocky in the first place.  Rather than “You idiot, the answer is X,” say, “I believe the answer is X; what do you think?” 

And then reason with the other.  Be persuasive rather than punishing. Use a friendly or collegial voice tone rather than a superior (know-it-all) voice tone.  Only the strong seem to be able to admit their weaknesses, and I’ve seen you bench 350.  Now do it emotionally. Bixby smiles on those that do. For more on this issue read this.

For families, too?

What’s that you say? Your kids blame you for everything? Maybe, it’s time to do some re-framing and see situations differently than you have in the past.  

Imagine a family environment (or office climate) where members focus on solving problems (rather than blaming), assume good will from others (rather than taking things personally), and consider the views of others (rather than always having to be right).  Bart, it’s time to let the sun shine in...and keep living.

Friday, November 7, 2014

How I Became Perfect (Or: How I Quit Perfectionism and Started Living)

How would you like to read the first two chapters of my brand-new book?  

My name is Dave T. and I am a perfectionist.
Somehow, in my wonder years, I acquired the idea that unless I was perfect I was not acceptable, I was not lovable, and I definitely did not deserve a trip to Disneyland. 

I came to feel in my many moments of imperfection like a hopeless case.  I would set high standards for myself, then fall below those standards, then feel guilty and resolve to try again.  And the cycle would repeat.

And there was that scripture, memorized in Sunday School right out of the Bible: "Be ye, therefore, perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is Perfect."  You’ve got to be kidding me!  That put God's seal of approval on the idea that I had to be a flawless gem of a guy with my fingernails perfectly cut and cleaned. And yet how could I be perfect?  After all, even though I am a “little lower than the angels,” I'm still a mortal.

Part of the problem was my step-dad’s drill sergeant demeanor.  His verbal chastisements were more effective than a cattle prod in the buttinski.  I heard that Ralph’s dad down the street had one of those. 

I began to obsess about things I could be perfect at:  Tying my shoes with the bows perfectly the same, keeping my toys perfectly organized in the toy box, not spilling a gram of food off my plate (in deference to the starving children in China), and making sure our cocker spaniel Fleacheck was fed every night by 6 p.m. And every morsel of dog food had to be removed from the can. An infraction of my myriads of petty laws would result in guilt feelings that felt like street sludge in my stomach. It didn’t set well and it didn’t age well.

And because I could never gain the approval of my step dad, how could I possibly gain the approval of God?

My pursuit of perfection turned me into a neurotic prisoner of my own design.  I had to make sure I removed my belly button lint before stepping into the shower.  If not, it might begin to accumulate in the pipes, causing a blockage, and eventual flooding.  And I would burn in Hell for it.  The thought of burning in Hell would make me sweat, requiring another shower and another lint removal ritual, lest I offend someone. 

And then the willful sinning. One day in Mr. Stewart’s fourth grade class, I changed my score on a math test from 98% to 100%. My buddy Butch saw me do it. He just said, “Who cares?” Didn’t he understand?  After all, anything less than perfection, and I stunk like doggie dung.

It took me a long time to learn there was a huge difference between the perfectionism I was adopting as a lifestyle and the perfection Jesus called me to.  It took me a long time to find the combination that set me free.  That secret was revealed to me in Los Angeles, the City of Angels, back in the mid-1980s. For me, it was a time of ponderous personal difficulties and wondrous workplace intrigues.

Today, I share that secret with you.  And, as a bonus, I will tell you how I became perfect.

My troubles began when I arrived late at work on May 5, 1986, breaking my perfect on-time record of 221 consecutive days.  That’s especially unforgivable to someone who had just been promoted to Executive Vice President. 

As I rushed into the foyer, I nearly ran into Ms. Bertha Bundt, who stood impassively holding a little notebook and some forms.  “Mornin’,” I said cheerfully.  She responded with her usual air of scolding superiority.  “I’m sure the Boss will want to hear about this. I warned him you were too young and irresponsible.” 

Ms. Bundt was a 55-year-old pit bull and Barbie-doll combo, whose sole mission in life appeared to be ripping employees to shreds, and she had been on my back ever since my promotion.  No one had heard her say a positive word about anyone.  To make matters worse, she was vaguely reminiscent of my step dad.

And yet, if anyone was perfect, it was Ms. Bundt.  Her clothes were perfect, her jewelry was perfect, her make-up was perfect, and her desk was the only desk as neat and perfectly clean as mine.  Her hair was perfectly molded into a giant beehive shape.  I always imagined a rat named Louie lived there and whispered wicked things to her. 

And now there I stood before the tall painted monster, two minutes late.  

She sneered at me. “I’ll make a note in your file.”  She jotted that down.

Up to now, I had put up with her steamrolling tactics and bullying. It was time to put my executive foot down. 

“And I’ll make a note in yours,” I said playfully while retrieving my brand-new Sony microcassette recorder from my pocket.  “Let’s see.  Away from her desk monitoring the parking lot while missing important calls to the Boss.”  I clicked off my recorder with a triumphant flair.

My insubordination momentarily stunned her, but she quickly recovered and narrowed one eye as if the other held a monocle. 

“You’re not going to get away with this, young man.  I’m the only one here authorized to keep files on people.”  Her angry finger wagged like Louie’s imaginary tail in her pompadour. 

“You mean the files with the swastikas on them?  My files have little pink hearts on ‘em.” I was as sweet as synthetic sugar.

Your files! What files are you talking about?” she screamed in a file frenzy.

I was matter-of-fact. “My files.  I have one on you and one on Louie.”  This was the first time I’d mentioned Louie to her, but I felt the moment was…well…perfect for it.

“Who’s Louie?” she demanded, momentarily confused.

“Don’t deny you don’t know Louie,” I said with feigned shock, glancing at her hair-do. Wow! She must have added an extra layer of lacquer to it.  The face below her hair was turning magma red, but before Ms. Bundt could erupt again, I quickly added, "By the way, the Boss said you'd give me the combo to the safe." 

Now the safe combination was the symbol of power at RB Metals.  Only the Boss and Ms. Bundt had it.  And this was no ordinary safe.  It was like a giant walk-in closet with shelves for important documents, certificates of authenticity, gold and silver medallions, and other valuables.

She changed the subject. "You have some forms to fill out."  She slapped a pile of forms in my hands and sashayed away.

I quickly glanced at them. "I've already filled these—“

"—Then fill them out again.  We need everything updated."  She didn’t look back.

I started after her, but just then, Born Again Ben strolled by and pulled me away, muttering something about a meeting. 

Ben was once a long-haired New York drug-addict until he found what he called “Twelve Steps.”  Now, he was our clean-cut marketing guy here in sunny Southern California—tall, gangly, and relaxed.  And being from the East Coast, he wore only traditional business attire and shined wingtips.  “Dave, you need to be more careful.”

“You mean with Beelzebub’s Banshee.  You’re probably right.” 

He chuckled as we stopped near the giant walk-in (and locked) safe.  “Don’t let her get to you,” he said gently. 

“I kept my cool,” I defended.  “No big deal.” 

 “Well, she got Lana demoted yesterday.”

“Demoted.  We do that here now?”

“Actually, she demoted Lana herself.”

I was only mildly surprised.  Ms. Bundt always made sure that anyone who crossed her paid for it, and Lana had gone to the Boss with a list of grievances from Operations. 

“Accused Suzy of siphoning off extra coffee yesterday. Said, ‘you’re not getting away with this.’” Ben laughed and continued, “Look, for years, Ms. Bundt has been the boss’s right arm.  She’s his executive secretary.  Suddenly, you’re his executive vice president and you’re his right arm.  That’s two executive right arms.  She kinda has to get rid of one of them, and it isn’t hers.”

I involuntarily grabbed my right arm, and then I noticed some lint on my suit coat and quickly brushed it off before Ben could notice the imperfection. 

“She feels threatened.  Just stay cool and do your job.  Remember, she has her allies.”

Born Again Ben had a point.  Even though the Boss liked me and I felt pretty secure, Ms. Bundt was a force to be reckoned with.  Nevertheless, I dismissed the thought of impending danger. 

I worked an extra hour that day, and it had nothing to do with Ms. Bundt’s terrorist network.  I had felt compelled to make up for the two minutes I was late that morning. After all, I had broken my perfect record and the guilt slag from that had not properly digested. It was time to set new goals again….

This is ridiculous, I thought.  I shouldn’t have to feel like Judas Iscariot for being late to work.  I was growing weary of being the perfect little Mormon boy.  Something had to be done, and whatever it was, I’d have to be perfect to pull it off.  That would be my new goal!

Later, when I was home, I grabbed my Bible and re-read Matthew 5:48.  There it was again—that command from Jesus to be perfect.  And then I noticed something I had not seen before, something amazing!

If you’d like to read the remaining 9 chapters, including the part about how I became an illegal alien, for super cheap ($5.95 for physical book; $2.99 for ebook), click here now.