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Employees lie

Photo by  Kristina Flour  on  Unsplash

Employees lie.

How does that statement strike you? Do you respond with, “Yeah, of course!” Do you want to argue that “people are mostly good and wish to be honest?” Do you find yourself wanting to fall back on platitudes like, “Everyone tells white lies?” Do you believe that your context—a family business, church, for-benefit organization—makes your employees different?

As a leader trying to understand employee behavior, the most important question to pay attention to may not be, “Do employee’s lie?” But “Who is it that employee’s lie to?”.

Context

I grew up an a small midwestern town where you knew everyone in town—at least by reputation, even if you didn’t know them personally. If you didn’t know exactly “who they were” all it took to find out was a quick query and you’d soon find out. . A person’s reputation was regarded as paramount in that small town context. In that context, everyone saw others through the lens of “who they are;” meaning, of course, how their reputation had them labelled. From a sociological point of view, this it could be argued, was both helpful and harmful at the same time. But the good and bad of that societal epoch we will not debate here, I simply mention this context to paint for the reader the idea of the community in which I was raised.

Within that microcosm, I was fortunate enough to grow up in a family with parents who had integrity. Their private persona was no different than their public one, that as, they were who they appeared to be. The persona the public saw was actually who they were in private.

As a child in my home there was no confusing duplicity by my parents, no behavioral “skeletons” in the home closet, no hidden addictions or unexplainable emotional, cognitive or behavioral anomalies. I was blessed to grew up around people whose behavior, thinking, and emotions were predictable and reliable. Thus, my parents modeled a trust-worthy lifestyle (For example, see my post on the Greatest Act of Leadership) and I grew up trusting people and assuming that others were much the same. In short, I learned to trust too much.

Public school, particularly the washboards (waterboarding?) of “middle school” began to make me aware of the myopathy of this view, that people could be trusted. Fellow students, I noticed, were not always honest, self-critical, or displayed integrity. Amplifying my surprise, I learned that, many times, their parents did little to model better patterns than their children. Still, most of the people I “hung around with” had good models for parents and didn’t display “really bad” behavior. The others, were easily labelled, relegated to the “proper” recitative category, and dismissed. So, some residue of trust remained.

While life continued to educate me in terms of human behavior, It wasn’t until later—probably when I was working on my master’s degree—that I really had to come to grips with the variability in the true “nature” of humanity, good and bad. Or if you don’t like the terms “good” and “bad” perhaps you prefer, “useful” and “dysfunctional.” A step in the process of understanding the full variability of people’s behavior was discovered it in a Tennessee penitentiary.

Interviews with Inmates

As a student, we had to go interview people in many different contexts. One of them was in prison. Our professor gave us a list of questions to ask, in each context, during the interviews. The first question we were required to the prisoners was, “Why are you here?” So, I made the drive through the razor wire, past the towers, and into the interview room, and dutifully asked the question.

“They got the wrong person,” one said. “The judge had it in for my family,” said another. “I got set up,” a third told me. “No one else got sent to prison,” a fourth told me. The pattern was unmistakeable. It clearly wasn’t their own fault that they were in prison!

At first, I felt confused by their answers. “Could this be true?” I asked myself after the first few interviews. Could all these people be in prison for the reasons they state they are in prison? Had I, somehow, drawn a sample that was somehow skewed and not representative of the population in the prison—a population obviously deemed responsible by the judicial system? (Later I found that this pattern occurred across all grad student interviewers, which bolstered my conclusion that this might be descriptive on the population.)

Next, I decided they were lying to me. The excuses and blaming was stretching all bounds of credibility. “It can’t be true that all these inmates are here due to the action of others alone,” I began to think. While some explanations were more plausible than others, most had the characteristics of a thin veneer masking a much more complex surface—and one that certainly held some personable responsibility. “Yep, that’s it, I concluded. They’re lying.”

But . . . .

As I observed their behavior, I also noticed that there were few “tell tale” signs of lying. The eye-contact was steady. Their manner compelling. No flickers of guilt. A ready answer for any possible contest to their preferred story. I began to edit my summary judgement. It wasn’t only that these inmates were lying. They weren’t “simply” lying to me, no, I concluded they were in fact lying to themselves—and believing the lie.

I was not surprised later to find research that said that criminals, compared to other populations in the community, tend to have high levels of self-esteem. They think of themselves as good people—better than most. This belief persists, even when society has deemed that they have done something worth of incarceration.

People labelled “Employees”

Inmates are people of course. So are ones labelled as employees.

This phenomenon, of lying to oneself, is not limited to inmates. Although “criminal minds” may take the “cat-bird’s seat” in the pervasiveness of this self-deceptive trait—it still demonstrably exists in smaller quantities in many others. Some teenagers for example, will blame everyone, except themselves, for the consequences of their decisions and actions. These “oppositional” teens may, or may not, be headed into criminal behavior but the thinking is reminiscent of the mind-set of the inmates and maddeningly resistant to parental “reasoning.”

But it is not limited even to populations we might define as “oppositional.” More normative populations exhibit it but in different ways. What about a individual with low self-worth? Or one with a super-inflated ego? Well, a close examination reveals that they too lie to themselves! Only the outcome is different. The first, blieving that they have little value, are unlikeable, doomed to failure, they act on those beliefs and co-create that self-fulfilled outcome. Giving up on tasks, assuming others know more or could do it better, self-sacrificing to the point of martyrdom. These employees may avoid engaging at work due to their own self-doubt, and thus are not providing their very best to their teams or organizations. While the second, keep the focus on themselves and create an erosive effect on their team.

Here we are not talking about common reasons communication fails (we’ve written about that elsewhere) or problems with the “creating a positive employee culture” but ways that individual employee’s beliefs constrain their ability to become high achievers within a team.

Leadership and Employee Lies

So, what’s to be done? Well, if you are a leader, trying to evaluate your team, ask yourself, “How is this particular employee lying?” and “What does this lie do for them?” Then ask, “How does this lie prevent them from being their very best?” Then begin to find a way to help the employee confront their own lies about themselves and to begin to again, grow and learn.

(Be careful here. Understanding human motivation and behavior is quiet complex. Still, every leader has the need to evaluate employees. The question is, will they do it well or poorly? Evaluations can be a subtle way to blame and shift the focus away from the leader. Thus, our final comments, below, on item 10 in our list of ways employees lie to themselves! If this still doesn’t make sense, check out our post on leadership and facts.)

[Jimmy Carter lacked] . . . the passion to convert himself from a good man into an effective one, to learn how to do the job. Carter often seemed more concerned with taking the correct position than with learning how to turn that position into results. He seethed with frustration when plans were rejected, but felt no compulsion to do better next time.
— James Fallows, The Passionless Presidency, The Atlantic, May, 1979

Okay, here we go . . . Ten lies employees tell themselves . . .

  1. I am well-aware of my own strengths and weaknesses. Few people develop good self-awareness without considerable “work” and an outside viewpoint. Coaching, mentoring, training. Self-awareness should be a continual process. (Have an employee who is not real self-aware? Here are some extra tips for dealing with a Maverick.)

  2. I am not a good/capable/smart/effective employee. Some employees fears stop them from continuing to grow. They hide, avoid, or give up rather than to strive, learn, and grow.

  3. If I fail, I am a bad employee. Some fall trap to a perfectionistic mind-set. Do things right and you will succeed. Fail and you will be a failure. The truth is we all strive to not fail but our failures or mistakes can be some of our best means to improving.

  4. Being open or sharing feelings makes me look weak. While no one respects someone who “over-emotes” and makes work a personal counseling session, that doesn’t mean being cold, distant, and aloof is better.

  5. I am a very valuable employee—more valuable than most. While “confidence” can be a good thing—event if it may be a beneficial myth—if it borders on arrogance or narcism it can be destructive to a team. If it is an unrecognized bid for control then it works to undermine leadership if not addressed.

  6. Playing it safe, avoiding conflict, and taking no personal risks makes me a good employee. Some employees “hide.” By playing the “yes person” and appearing to be a team player they are protecting themselves and not providing their full input into the team.

  7. I am good with people. I am a good listener. Any conflict is due to other’s poor behavior. It is remarkable how some employees, despite conflict or problems consistently “swirling” around them, can maintain the belief that they have good or even superior skills with people. But they do.

  8. I am not good with people. Despite the fact that I have a following. The opposite of the item mentioned above, some employees struggle to see that they have good people skills and may even be an informal leader within their team.

  9. People will “get over it” if I lose me temper or am reactive. Employees whose behavior is unpredictable, impulsive, or reactive often believe it is a virtue. Comments like, “It least everyone knows where I stand” or “I don’t play games” cover up the fact that others accomplish these same outcomes without the behavior that is damaging to the team.

  10. A final lie you should examine—once you’ve finished assessing your employees . . . is this, “What lies am I telling myself?” This may be the most important analysis of all. After all, “I’m the boss, this doesn’t apply to me!” may be the biggest self-deceit of all.

    (P.S. Here is a personal story you might like on teams and trust: My Coach is the Coach of the Year! Trust and Team building.)




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Mr. Rex and Ego?

Photo by  Vern Ooi  on  Unsplash

Photo by Vern Ooi on Unsplash

The Best Team Players? They know It's not about them.

Those of you who participated in athletics know that, as an athlete, you get to experience a lot of real time "psychology on display through behavior" as player's egos become involved in competing. Hopefully, for most people, the need to "stroke one's ego" gets resolved by the time we reach adulthood . . . but not always.

A few yeas ago I was playing "noon basketball" with a cadre of guys at a local gym. One of the amazing things about this group was that two of the most talented players were over 70!  Yes, 70! By "most talented" I don't mean that they had the most stamina, speed, or leaping ability when compared to the younger players,  but boy did they have skills and the experience to be a great asset to whatever team they played for.!  Both still played on traveling teams against player across the nation. Very impressive.

One of the players, I particularly liked. He was very laid back, competitive, yet encouraging to other players--a guy who was confident enough to play well himself and encourage the best out of others, both those on his team and the opponents as well, a real team-player. The other? Let's just say . . . that it didn't take a Psychologist to tell that his game was a little bit more about stroking his ego than just having fun competing--not that ego doesn't play a role for most of us at some level, some people just hide it more reliably. :)  Anyway . . . let's talk about .

The Day The Ego Demanded "it's Due!"

We were playing one day, as usual, when a new player joined us. His assignment was to guard Rex. Now, a new player, especially a younger one, would have no reason to believe that this would be a difficult task. After all, this is your grandfather--someone your should be able to outmaneuver, out jump, and out hustle. But Rex was an athlete, with a capital A. He could make shots all over the floor and from "way downtown"--far distant from the basket.

His favorite shot was a hook-type delivery off a drive to his right. Those of us who had played with Rex for a long time knew that the best strategy was to overplay his right side, and force him to go left where, although still capable, he was far less dangerous and effective. It was common knowledge and everyone who defended him more than once knew this.

The new player who joined us that day, however, didn't know this. As he tried to guard Rex, this septuagenarian shark, repeatedly drove right and drained the basket . . . time after time . . . scoring easily and, I think, frustrating the younger man's increasingly strenuous attempts to stop his scoring. Finally, the younger man, once again, beaten to the delivery of the shot, exclaimed, "Rex, you are unstoppable!" Rex beamed. But, unfortunately for Rex, the moment didn't last. 

Another player, let's call him Doug, who was known for his less-than-sensitive-candor, impulsively reacted. "It's not hard to stop Rex," he commented dourly.  "That's easy. He can't go to his left."  A statement, that over-simplified guarding this athlete, but never-the-less did communicate the best approach to stopping Rex's game. An awkward silence hung in the air, as players absorbed this Doug's "attack" on Rex's abilities and demonstrated Doug's own need to stroke his ego "against" a player, in Rex, that definitely had superior skills. Some glancing at Rex, uncomfortably, and wondering how Rex would respond.

Well, Rex wasn't one to let such blatant disrespect to pass. He said nothing, at first. I was surprised, but remained watchful.  The next time Rex's team had the ball, Rex, playing point guard, took the ball, drove to his left, executed his signature hook shot, banking it into the basket off the backboard, the pointedly directed a comment to Doug, "So, I can't go left huh?"

Flashes of Junior High School

"What is this, Junior High School?" The thought flashed through my mind.

So, Rex proved he could go left. Doug was "put into his place," and Rex's ego could remain intact--although why it was threatened so much by the comment remains unknown. Or so it seemed for a moment. Doug, unfortunately, didn't have the wisdom to let it go either, and the rest of "noon ball" was marred by a general pensive, irritation punctuated with some general aggressive playing and "bad will."

The funny thing is, for all the posturing egos on display, that day . . . nothing had really changed. We all still knew that the best strategy, when guarding Rex, was to force Rex to go left. No one thought less of him as a player, since all players have strengths and weaknesses to their game. And we were all sure that Doug would continue to comment on things that others would think but definitely not say. While Doug would rush in to fill the void. We also knew that Doug, no matter how long he played--would he even be playing in another 30 years?--would never be as good as Rex.

What did change was that it was clear that Rex's ego was tied up in his ability as an athlete (and so was Doug's, but that's another story) and that Rex would get defensive, react with somewhat controlled anger, if challenged . . . and this trait, could be turned against him, by unscrupulous opponents. That Doug, or others, could easily "get under his skin" with just a comment despite the fact that he was a great player. I can imagine some competitors I have played against in competitive venues, making comments,  "What's the matter, can't you go left?" and goading him into "proving them wrong" ---thereby taking him out of his best game and using his emotion against him—and disadvantaging his team.

Ego vs. Team

When Doug made his comment, and Rex visibly reacted, my intuition and experience told me that Rex would have to prove himself by forcing the next shot . . . going left. He did, and it worked, he made the basket. But what if that had not been in a "pick up game" but in a game that counted for something. Was that the right time and place to take the shot?  Maybe. Would a defender, as I did, anticipate his need to go left and position himself to block or alter the shot.  Possibly. But ego doesn't consider what is best for the team only what is demanded to keep the ego intact. 

Rex, it appears, didn't trust the team. He didn't believe that that everyone already saw him as a superior player--even if they recognized that he preferred shooting going to his right. He probably was fearful that others would "believe" John's view or that perhaps it would make it harder if the young man guarding him forced him to operate going left. Some subconscious fear drove his need to respond. Ultimately, however it was driven by his own fears about himself and his ability.

Another ego and it's effect . . . a starter on one of my high school teams "lost it" when his shoe came untied and the coach didn't call a time out to let him fix the problem. He responded by kicking his shoe off, sending it flying over the bench, and starting to hack (foul) other players. He fouled out of the game in the first quarter. I have never seen such a ego-driven temper tantrum quite like it before or since. Playing the rest of the game without our number one point guard and a great shooter certainly did not help the team and we lost the game.  Those whose ego strength, to continue the use the Freudian term, isn't sufficiently strong will not be able to laugh at themselves, apologize, admit mistakes, or put the team first.  They may be very talent and accomplished but, in some fashion or another, they will always be a one man show.

Leaders, Employees and Ego

When consulting with organizations you inevitably will run into people whose ego is a barrier to them being the best leader they can be. Whether as an employee or a boss, their fragile self-worth will manifest itself in defensiveness, rejection of valid criticism, and a stubborn refusal to examine mistakes and learn from them.  Often, these are very bright and accomplished people who has skillfully found ways to mitigate some of the negative effects--perhaps they are superficially charming, or hard working, or they maintain and aloof distance--but, like Rex, everyone knows of the ego-weakness and how it effects their work and the organization as a whole.

Attempts to point out the weakness results, again like Rex in the story, in them proving (at least to themselves) that the have a strong ego and the problem is not them but is the problem of the person pointing out the impact of their behavior.  

You can spot this trait often when a person "flip-flops" on responsibility when they can no long dismiss it. So, if problems are pointed out by another colleague or employee this person may simply dismiss it, or aggressively refute it. But if the problems amplify to the point the behavior is threatening the organization and they are forced to face their behaviors . . . the "Ego-challenged" person will admit a problem, superficially take responsibility for it, perhaps even apologize (if necessary) and verbally agree to a need to change.

But watched closely, and over time, they will reverse course . . . reverting back to their baseline, ego-protecting view, that "the problem isn't me."  When this happens, you can be sure that you are dealing with someone who, to reach their full potential, has a need for significant work on the ability to take constructive criticism, be self-critical, and learn to grow.  In Patrick Lencioni's words They suffer a lack of humility . . . thinking, albeit somewhat subconsciously, more about themselves that the good of the organization. In those moments it is, once again, all about them.

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Other Available eBooks:

Private Practice through Contracting: Decreasing dependence on insurance.

Family Legacy: Protecting family in family business.


 

 

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Good Communication?

Photo by  Jon Flobrant  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash

Good Communication?

Vizzini: "Inconceivable!" Inigo: "You keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

When did you last feel like you really connected with some one as you talked?

Communication. Everyone does it. Largely we manage to get things done and seem to usually reach the same conclusions about what happened. Few, state that they are deficient in this basic skill. Yet, to those whose work is dependent upon communication, the pitfalls are only too obvious.

Consider this, why is it that nurses repeat surgeon's requests? Why do pilots have checklists and get confirmation from copious and air traffic before proceeding? It, obviously, is not a lack of skill or intelligence; no, it is the dependency on communication to be flawless in a critical task. 

Fortunately, just talking to your spouse, your kid, or your employee (maybe they are both relative and employee) isn't critical. Oh, wait . . .

So, here some things to consider . . .

Do they/you . . . Demonstrate these Non-verbals?

  • Maintain eye contact
  • Nod or use other encouragers
  • Have a neutral or positive facial expression
  • Avoid distracting behaivors
  • Face the speaker and lean slightly toward them
  • Incorporate both the speaker and yourself in your comments
  • Stay engaged and follow the speaker

Does their speaking include these traits?

  • Respectful language (and behavior)
  • Asks helpful, clarifying questions
  • Keeps comments short to allow listener to follow
  • Paraphrases and repeats speaker's points
  • Let's speaker complete their thought
  • Transitions smoothly from listener to speaker (and vice versa)
  • Encourages agreements but able to state their opinions

If these things are happening, it is likely that as the speaker you will feel "heard" and as the listener you will gain greater information and insight!

Engaging Your Team is a free eBook about people. Understanding what makes them "tick" helps in communicating well to your employees, supervisors, and others. Download it free.

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When you mess up my order . . . .

I have a son whose nickname is "Mac." I found this in New Zealand.

I have a son whose nickname is "Mac." I found this in New Zealand.

When you mess up my order . . . and you will . . . here is what I expect.

This rant starts with a meal I recently ordered in an airport --fast food for myself and my son. Our order was not difficult.  Two hamburgers. One with ketchup and pickles for my son.  One with ketchup, mustard, lettuce and onions for me.  What we got instead was one hamburger with ketchup and mustard, no pickles, and one cheeseburger with tomatoes, ketchup, mustard, lettuce, and mayo. Not the worst "muck up" I've ever experienced but still decidedly wrong . . . and far too common. If you, like I do, engage in patronizing these places, then I ask you, "Have you noticed the slippage in the ability of employees to get orders right?"  It seems to have changed remarkably in the past couple of decades.  (Are we having more receptive language issues? Is this a case of English as a second language? Or, am I just becoming a grumpy old man?) But what surprises me even more is the response . . . or more correctly, the lack of response, to being informed that they have messed up your order!

Not long ago I was eating at a fast food place that really does seem to take customer service seriously. But, as we all know, everybody makes mistakes and they got something wrong in my order. What surprised me, and then surprised me that I was surprised, was that when I informed them of the error the person actually seemed to feel a sense of shame or guilt (unintended on my part), made me feel like she really was sorry and cared that it wasn't correct, then brought me something extra for my trouble.  I realized how different this was from my typical experience.

What is the typical experience?  Maybe a shrug. Taking the bag and dropping it into the trash. Informing the cook, flatly or sarcastically of the mistake, and then . . . silence.  Maybe a muttered "sorry" when the correct food comes but it certainly does NOT feel like the apology is heartfelt or that errors are considered "bad" and intent is to make them infrequent for that matter. The predominant feeling I think is one of indifference . . . if not out right irritation (at me, the coworker, their life?). Maybe its a new business model . . . waste is a cost of doing business . . . but I doubt most owners or upper managers look at it that way.

What do you expect when someone messes up?

In order to be clear about what I expect let me, first, tell you what I do not expect in my service providers. After that I will list what I do expect and then after presenting these bullet lists I will finish with what I think is the perfect story to illustrate the point I have been trying to make.

Here are things I don't expect:

  • You to really care (acting like it is good enough)
  • To perform without errors
  • Heart-felt shame or guilt
  • Defending your misunderstanding, communication, processes, etc.
  • Something free for my "inconvenience" (I mean really how inconvenient is it to wait two minutes to get the food ordered to your perfect expectations. If you still think this is a big deal . . . do some research on the third world as a reality check.)
  • Any preferential treatment in the future

 

Here's what I do expect:

  • Look me in the eyes and apologize first
  • Take the time to understand what was incorrect so there is not a "third time" to get it right
  • Do not be sarcastic, demeaning, or critical of your coworkers even if it was their mistake (you see if you are nice to me as a customer and mean to a co-worker I no longer trust that you really care about me . . . you are just putting up a front to get my business)
  • Let me go sit down and bring me the correct replacement
  • Apologize again when you bring the correct item, thank me for my patience (I try to always be patient), and ask if there is anything else you can do

Hey, well, there are the lists.  Now for the disappointment . . . or so I image it will be a disappointment.  There is no story.  You see, I messed up.  Although in my case it was intentional. I want to illustrate the idea of failing to meet expectations. Yes, the promise of the story was simply a writer's trick. The truth is there is, and never was, a story. I do feel bad about playing this little trick on you, my readers, and I promise not to do it again. Notice how your expectations play a role in how you react to my little ruse . . . and how I should respond.

As always, I would love to hear any comments you have or any suggestions for topics you would like me to address.  Once again, sorry about the lame ending.

Thanks for reading and especially for those who take the time to respond!

Available eBooks:

Private Practice through Contracting: Decreasing dependence on insurance.

Engaging Your Team: A framework for managing difficult people.

Family Legacy: Protecting family in family business.

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