A Rock; a Role

Steady, firm, unmovable, constant

I wear the façade of strength

Whisking away life’s impediments

Standing at the door of humanity

I am powerless in face of emotion

Neutralized by the vagaries of providence

Unable to hold my countenance

Under the scrutiny of great spirits

Stable, fixed, unaffected, calm

I stare down sin for the sake of my love

Beating past the pain

How excellent is the moment of consciousness

When delirium blooms into simplicity

Whence prudence is born from vulgarity

I am the stony fortress in the forest of doubt

I am the shelter in misery’s marsh

~ Richard

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Gender Communications; is work different?

Gender CommI was having a conversation with a co-worker last week and the topic shifted to the differences in communication styles of women and men.  The issue was her irritation with her significant other over an implied slight, which could have been avoided had he used a different or (in her mind) better communication tactics. At the very least, she felt he should have been more cognizant of hers. Later that evening, I recounted our chat in my head and two things occurred to me; first, the innate characteristics in the ways in which each gender communicates is a frequent point of contention in relationships and second, those characteristics are rarely included in business communications training. My goal here is to encourage business leaders and managers to break down some of the communication challenges, which are born of gender differences.

Fifty years ago, it was less common for women to be working alongside men and when they did, there was palpable resistance to them being there. At the same time, business communication was decidedly one-sided and most definitely top-heavy; the vagaries of human existence were not topics discussed during board meetings in those days. Even today, despite the fact that a massive amount has been written on the subject, gender communication in a business context is rarely explored by companies. To get a sense of how common gender communication differences are try this experiment for yourself, begin a series of conversations with co-workers or acquaintances regarding how different men and women are in their communication habits; how many begin to nod in agreement before you even complete your thoughts? Don’t they instinctively seem to understand where you’re coming from? So, if almost everyone understands, or at least can relate to this communication reality then why do organizations typically avoid its impact on business communications? To begin with, the subject is fraught emotional baggage from unpleasant personal experiences. I have known several female coworkers and friends who have lost jobs or never offered them because they were perceived (mostly by men) as “too emotional” or having “problematic” communication skills. Secondly, to acknowledge any gender differences in communication could potentially leave an organization open to allegations of bias and stereotyping.

Today, gender communication differences are wrapped in something called soft skills. Soft skills are actually a collection of a variety of skills or habits, which illustrate our relationships and interactions with others. These habits include how we communicate, present, lead, interview, persuade, manage and so on; they also include how we manage our stress, our emotions, our level of patience and how self-aware we are. You can learn more about these skills at Career Coach Lei Han’s Ask a Wharton MBA Web site. For those of you who are confusing soft skills as having something to do with gender, remember I stated that gender differences are “wrapped” in soft skills and therefore not gender specific. This is an important distinction because the biggest hurdle leaders will have to overcome when beginning this discussion with employees is stereotyping. Much of why so many people seem well versed in gender differences is based gender stereotyping and gender bias. Recent scientific studies have revealed one thing we have assumed all along, that there are real differences in the way the male and female brain develops, and is used. There is no debate over with is better, there are advantages on both sides and yes, disadvantages on both as well.

What leaders should be focusing on is how to combine the talents of both by understanding what the practical differences are. For example, women tend to focus on creating solutions that incorporate the group, while men tend to be more task-oriented and work better in isolation. The chart below offers some additional examples of gender differences, which can be useful in managing the talents of your staff:

Area

Men

Women

Information

Process information internally   and dispenses it to demonstrate expertise

Share information as a way to   build relationships

Listening

Tend to listen primarily for information relevant to   the task at hand

Tend to be more interested in understanding the speaker’s   experience and underlying messages

Decision making

Tend to operate unilaterally,   focus on long-term results and see greater significance on the decision   affect on the competitive environment

Seeks input and consensus, more   comfortable taking suggestions and consider how decisions affect the team

Sources: Simma Lieberman & Associates / Executive Coaching & Consulting Associates

When it comes to conflict resolution, there is no data that proves that one gender is better than the other at coming up with satisfactory conclusions. In fact, when it comes to any these tendencies, they are no more than generalities, which can be influenced by culture, life experience age and a host of other factors.

Leaders and managers should strive to be aware that differences do exist, but not exclusive of other dynamics and that assuming certain inherent traits based solely on gender can lead to misunderstandings, gender stereotyping, poor employee morale and wasting of personnel talent.

~ Richard

Where’s the why?

“Because I said so” was a common response to several of my childhood inquiries regarding why I could not have or do what I wanted. My parents had their reasons, but saw no advantage, or simply had too little time to provide answers. From their perspective, it was enough to say that it must be done and to question why was to question their authority. I did not consciously perceive that I was in the midst over a power struggle; But why I just wanted to get my way. But there was a struggle and I was operating at a physical and intellectual deficit. I had no real say in the matter, it simply would have been nice to understand their reasoning; however, it was culturally and innately difficult for them to communicate in any other way.  What I did not understand, until I became a parental figure myself, is that responding that way, while expedient, can often leave the one with less power with feelings of resentment. When this approach is used by managers and leaders of organizations, those same resentful feelings will again surface and lead to less than ideal working conditions.

It’s not that organizations set out to treat their employees like children (hopefully), but that is often how their communications come across. Business communications come at the speed of light, data flies across computer screen in the blink of an eye. Organizations at every level demand flexibility and adaptation to rapid changes. Employees are expected absorb information quickly and perform with strict adherence to whatever policy has been put forth.  Angry girlOn the surface, most employees respond remarkably well to directives they may neither fully understand or completely agree with, but underneath, they become actions without commitment to, or the understanding of, the goals of the organization.  Organizations and managers who ignore or gloss over “the why” run the risk of creating a culture of suspicion and misinformation, because if answers are not provided, then your people will come up with their own.

Explaining the whys of an organization’s decisions, long-range and short-range goals, does need weaken or undermine the power and authority of its leaders, quite the opposite actually. When your staff understands the logic behind a project or task, it gives them a greater sense of the role that they play. Employees have no trouble figuring out the “big picture” of profits and gains; they get the need to lower costs and increase revenues. What is all too often less clear is how what they are doing at any given moment, fits into those needs. For instance, nearly every customer service professional I’ve read or talked to say that there are some basic do’s when it comes to customer service:

  •       Greet customers quickly and warmly
  •       Determine what is needed or expected
  •       Pay attention to the customer and listen actively
  •       Empower employees
  •       Let them hear or see you smile
  •       Have great employee morale

If these are tenets you believe in, then there is a reason why they are important; as a leader you already understand the value of getting these things right….all the time, but do your employees know, do they care? It’s simply not enough to tell them it’s their job;  Brainit’s your job to explain why their role in raising the level of service maintains and enriches their job. However, I caution you, don’t try and sell them on something that does not exist, if their role is worthless to you, they will know it instinctively, regardless of what you say. Be honest, because if you do not value your employee’s roles, then your company is already moving into decline.

Explaining why shows confidence in your leadership, as well as in the difficult decisions you make. Explaining why allows employees get behind new projects and initiatives at an emotional level; this is the all-important buy-in that companies are looking for and teams are talking about. According to Gallup’s latest “State of the American Workplace” report, 70 percent of American workers are either “not engaged” of “actively disengaged” at their workplace. These numbers indicate that employees are feeling little or no connection or investment in their work. If you are thinking that telling employees the why is too simplistic an answer, you are correct; but it is an important part of overall employee satisfaction that includes other factors such as matching the right people to the right tasks, discovering career needs and want, and encouraging growth.

Giving your employees the why is not a magic pill that will get your people engaged and motivated, but it will give them a reason to do so.

~ Richard

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Demonstrate Ethics

EthicsWith the Federal government being shut down and all, now might be a good time to discuss ethics. Regardless of the political views being espoused, one thing I am fairly confident in is that the longer the process drags on, the harder the impact will be on real, everyday people. Much harder than any consequence of the Affordable Care Act in action. Those that have pursued the shutdown as a moral protest of the implementation of ACA, express no similar moral sentiment for those that will be directly affected. In fact, there seems to be a ethical disconnect between a stance for a political opinion and the realities of economic disadvantage. I wonder what the principled reasoning is for punishing 800,000, in order to protest a bill that is designed to benefit tens of millions. To me, it makes as much sense as burning down your house because your mattress is lumpy.

Most official definitions view ethics as a “code of morality: a system of moral principles governing the appropriate conduct for a person or group.” After posing the question on Facebook, One of my friends described ethics as “an ambiguous definition of moral right and wrong and the actions taken to uphold the ambiguous morally right definition.” I thought her use of the word ambiguous was particularly interesting because I realized that defining ethics was very similar to defining emotion words such as love, hate, anger or sadness in that, they are much easier to understand in action than it is to pin down in words. The bottom line is we know it when we see it.

Our values speak volumes about who we are, what we believe in and what we stand for. This is equally true of organizations. Displaying ethics, which are rooted in sound moral beliefs, is what allows other to trust in you or your organization. Trust is the foundation of employee engagement and outstanding customer service. Trust is what people depend on when pursuing a common purpose. Pew researcher’s latest national poll shows that only 26% of Americans trust the government in Washington to do what is right at any time, on any subject. This was the prevailing feeling even before the current shutdown. Meanwhile, corporations have nothing to crow about either, with only 13 percent of Americans claiming trust in big business.

Political and business institutions have such a dominant role of the lives of ordinary folks yet, the majority of those folks do not have confidence that they are being governed or led in ways that reflect their own sense of right and wrong. The decisions that are made by these institutions are never contained in a vacuum or in isolation. They are far-reaching and expand exponentially. The ripple effects also impact those who have no direct connection to those institutions. For example, there are those who believe that having a healthcare system where significant numbers of people are uninsured is perfectly acceptable. In a system such as what we had just a week ago, the cost healthcare had become prohibitive, with healthcare providers passing along those costs to insurance companies and those that can pay. The unaccounted for cost of providing care to those without insurance has made it acceptable for insurance providers the provide less at a higher cost. Those with insurance, read their statements, shake their heads and thank God that they have insurance.

Adopting a policy of honesty and ethics in a business environment is not of unheard of, but it does take courage. If you want your company to build enduring relationships, develop trust and promote real change, then your ethics are not simply worn on your sleeve, they are the shirt that keeps you warm.

~ Richard

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