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


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

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.


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