Category Archives: What Happened

Sucess Story

What Happened: Influencing Unprofessional Dress

This letter was received in response to a question Joseph Grenny answered in the February 29, 2012 Crucial Skills Newsletter titled, “Influencing Unprofessional Dress.”

Dear Joseph,

I am the “CEO” of this company—that is, I am the superintendent of schools of a 5,000-student K-12 district and my challenge was to get the building principals to agree that impressions do matter to our “customers.”

In public schools, we have a rather unique situation in that one never knows where the parents are on the “dress for success” spectrum. Some (like Joseph and some who responded to his column) do not like ties and suits (very few of us do!) and argued for a relaxed, personal approach to dress. But that doesn’t work when it comes to interacting with parents who are more likely (given that they’re taking the time to actually visit you rather than call or e-mail) to have an issue and are quite possibly mad and ready to draw conclusions of one sort or another. The impression we create for those parents matters, so we have to dress the part.

However, my building leaders were often not setting a good example for the teachers in their school, and as a result, the entire building’s level of dress was unacceptable by most peoples’ standards. The occasional spirit day or casual Friday is totally fine and welcome in a school, but this was becoming the norm.

So I decided to engage the leaders in a conversation. At our leadership council meetings we first talked about our impressions of the teachers’ dress and then about how we could be role models for them. Addressing the teachers’ dress was a secondary objective—they are unionized and for such “initiatives” we need to get union leadership on board. I decided to first discuss and then decree that leaders start wearing a jacket and tie (or the equivalent for women). Now, school leaders definitely look more professional. I’m not saying they wear three-piece suits, or even a suit, but the norm is now to wear a tie, and that has raised the general level of dress quite appropriately.

In fact, I’ve started a conversation with union leadership about teacher dress. We’ll need to define terms such as “business casual” which means different things to different people, but there is consensus that such a term, once better defined, can and will help us get away from the ragged jeans and flip flops. I just cannot help but think how that type of dress harms our profession’s reputation and union leadership agrees, so perhaps we have some mutual purpose and common ground from which to operate when we begin step two of the dress for success campaign in our school district.

Thank you once again for the advice and for the ensuing comments from your readers. Very helpful to me indeed!

Editor’s Note: If you would like to share similar feedback about how the authors’ advice has helped you, please e-mail us at editor@vitalsmarts.com.

Other

What Happened: The Gift of Forgiveness

This letter was received in response to a question Joseph Grenny answered in the December 14, 2011 Crucial Skills Newsletter titled, “The Gift of Forgiveness.”

Dear Joseph,

A year ago, you addressed a concern by “Facilitating Forgiveness” about the communication difficulties a family was facing after a grandmother’s extended illness. The family described was my family, and that year, we canceled our family Christmas party.

Your advice included patience and changing stories. In the ensuing months, there was a gradual shift as my son, his cousins, my brother, and myself attempted to patiently do our part to mend the difficult situation.

We had a breakthrough in the summer when my nieces and nephews talked their aunt, the oldest in the story, into resuming her tradition of a 4th of July party (it was also canceled last year). That action led to the softening of some hearts and some progress in communication. When my youngest sister was diagnosed with colon cancer this fall, the rest of the resistance became, in Star Trek terms, futile. My mother’s gradual recovery, and the combination of service and prayers by the rest of the family on behalf of my sister, have done the seemingly impossible. We are having a Christmas party!

A year ago, you pointed out that hate cannot drive out hate and darkness cannot drive out darkness—only love and light can do that. Your gift from me this Christmas is knowing that your advice commending patience, love, and an appeal to what members of the family really wanted was the right path to forgiveness and restoration of family unity.

Thank you!

Editor’s Note: If you would like to share similar feedback about how the authors’ advice has helped you, please e-mail us at editor@vitalsmarts.com.

Change Anything QA

What Happened: How to Eliminate Sarcasm

This letter was received in response to a question Kerry Patterson answered in the June 22, 2011 Crucial Skills Newsletter titled, “How to Eliminate Sarcasm.”

Dear Kerry,

Your response to my question was very useful in helping me find the next steps I needed to take.

I shared your article with my wife and family and explained to them that I wanted to change. They recognized the behavior straight away and agreed these were exactly the type of responses they could expect from me—sometimes humorous but often hurtful sarcasm.

I invited them to continue calling me on that behavior each and every time they saw it. They entered their role with unexpected enthusiasm, and I ate from a humble pie dish as I started to learn new habits.

Having gotten buy-in from my most severe critics, I took the next step. I explained to my work colleagues that I exhibited this behavior, but I wanted to change and needed their help to do so. After some initial doubt as to my sincerity, they too entered into the spirit and have been open in their feedback.

Your advice in bringing everyone into the picture was instrumental in helping me along this path. I occasionally lapse into sarcastic behavior, but I have a group of folks around me more than willing to continue to help me. I sometimes forget, but others do not and I get that direct, non-punishing feedback I asked them to provide.

Chagrinned

Editor’s Note: If you would like to share similar feedback about how the authors’ advice has helped you, please e-mail us at editor@vitalsmarts.com.

Other

What Happened: Don't Pass the Buck

This letter was received in response to a question Joseph Grenny answered in the May 16, 2011 Crucial Skills Newsletter titled, “Don’t Pass the Buck.”

Dear Joseph,

Your response to my question was very helpful because of your comments on the kind of culture I would create if I intervened every time someone came running to me with a concern. I was not trying to avoid a “confrontation” with an issue, but in this case I would be enabling a person who likes to manipulate others through my authority. Furthermore, I knew that this person’s version of the story was almost always quite different from that of others.

I have taken an opportunity to talk to my direct reports about the importance of talking to each other when issues arise. I know that they often worry about these conversations, but most of the time, these conversations are about relatively small things that will make our company run better. Still, having the conversations can be stressful for some people. We have been emphasizing that as we use Crucial Conversations techniques, the atmosphere is conducive to both parties reaching understanding.

The individual who I am most concerned about has not changed her basic tactics. She still wants to work behind the scenes. For example, there was a dispute while I was on vacation, and when I returned, she wanted to have a meeting to tell me all about it. In this case, I decided it was best to get both parties in the room at the same time and ask them to explain the chronology of events and what they were thinking as events took place in a factual way. This took out the part of the conversation where Party A tells how Party B did something because they wanted to undermine them (stories made up in their mind).

In this case, the relationship was already strained, and they needed a referee to make sure it was a clean conversation. The individual I have a problem with did not like this one bit. I am now stuck with the problem of dealing with a person who does a great job 90 to 95 percent of the time but causes relationship issues with her fellow managers. As a manager, I have to keep working through the situations—trying to teach your art! I must say that your book is the most helpful management tool I have ever come across. Management and leadership are about relationships, and Crucial Conversations is so practical and earthy. It is easier to apply than anything I have ever read.

Signed,
Carry Your Own Water

Crucial Conversations QA

What Happened: Customer Support Conversations

This letter was received in response to a question Kerry Patterson answered in the June 15, 2011 Crucial Skills Newsletter titled, “Surviving Customer Support Conversations.”

Dear Kerry,

Your response to my question was very useful and helped me resolve the problem. I am very hot-tempered and I have always had a “ready-fire-aim” approach when trying to deal with customer service issues. After reading your article, I thought back to my past communication with this company and realized where I was too quick to jump to violence and not at all receptive to what people were trying to tell me. During the next couple of calls, I applied the good advice you shared to resolve the issue. For example, I reminded myself that the person on the other end of the line does not set the policies and most likely is powerless to change them. Also, I made sure to think about what I really wanted.

I have since had two other situations (with other companies) where I needed to contact customer service and found the issues much easier and faster to resolve. I am satisfied that the reason for the successful interactions is because I stopped and thought before dialing. I thought first about mastering my story: even though I have had bad experiences in the past that does not mean this experience has to be the same. I then thought about what I really wanted to do—get answers to my questions—and made a deliberate effort to speak politely and factually in order to accomplish my objective.

I found the closing points of your article interesting. As I mentioned, I am hot-tempered, I come from a long line of hot-heads, and surprisingly we all have issues with cholesterol and blood pressure. I have enough cholesterol issues, so I am going to make an extra effort to handle myself better during these calls, so I do not contribute to my existing health concerns.

Thank you for your excellent response to my question.

Frustrated Customer

Editor’s Note: If you would like to share similar feedback about how the authors’ advice has helped you, please e-mail us at editor@vitalsmarts.com.

Crucial Accountability QA

What Happened: Time to Let People Go

Dear Al,

Your advice, as well as the many cues I took from Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations, were extremely helpful to me as I sat down with the headmaster. I did dismiss him, but as you suggested, we gave him a more than generous severance package and I continue to be a reference for him.

Because of your advice, we also continue to improve all of our job descriptions—not just the description for the headmaster—and this has improved the effectiveness of so many conversations. Now the entire staff is more aware of expectations, and the leaders are able to see how well the people fit those positions or if they are actually suited for their job.

We were also able to take this step to the next level and found that there were a few other people who were better suited for a different job, so instead of having to dismiss more people for poor performance, we were able to put them in a job where they can be successful.

In less than a year, we have seen dramatic improvements. Morale has improved, the work output has increased drastically, and we have saved money. For example, we reassigned two employees in our maintenance department to different existing positions and the maintenance department has accomplished more in the past year than in the previous few years combined, and all with more than a 30 percent savings.  Less money, more work, happier employees.

Thank you for your help and advice!
Sympathetic, yet Certain

Editor’s Note: This letter was received in response to a question Al Switzler answered in the February 22, 2011 Crucial Skills Newsletter titled, “When It’s Time to Let People Go.” If you would like to share similar feedback about the authors’ advice, please e-mail us at editor@vitalsmarts.com.

Crucial Conversations QA

What Happened? A Boss On a Spending Spree

Dear Joseph,

First, I want to thank you for taking the time to answer my question. I think you were right on target with every single remark you made. I believe I originally read the situation wrong and judged incorrectly, and you gave me a much needed wake-up call!

I have talked this through with my boss and now have a much greater understanding of his vision and strategy for the company. He also understands why I think the way I do, and wants to better explain his decisions to the management team. We agreed that expenditures in excess of a certain amount will be brought before the management team for discussion before a final decision is made.

I believe that while we may have different opinions, it will still help us gain understanding and trust with one another if we can talk through our concerns and offer suggestions. Holding this conversation has strengthened our relationship and improved our ability to manage the company effectively.

I really look forward to the Crucial Skills Newsletter each week. You do an excellent job!

Many thanks,
Following the Money

Editor’s Note: This letter was received in response to a question Joseph Grenny answered in the December 29, 2010 Crucial Skills Newsletter titled, “A Boss On a Spending Spree.” If you would like to share similar feedback about the authors’ advice, please e-mail us at editor@vitalsmarts.com.