Legacy of wis­dom

The Smart Manager - - Trust Deficit? - By gabrielle v tay­lor

Grandma al­ways walked the tightrope of re­spect and hon­esty. She was frank with her daugh­ters, and her main piece of advice for all of us was, “Don’t burn bridges.” She didn’t be­lieve it was ever nec­es­sary to do that. She be­lieved a wise per­son who prac­ticed pa­tience and thought­ful­ness could al­ways find a way around, over, or through any con­flict, with­out hav­ing to blow up a re­la­tion­ship or tear down an­other per­son. She al­ways told me, “You do not have to like peo­ple to get along with them.”

Her advice was to take neg­a­tive emo­tion out of the equa­tion when­ever it threat­ened to un­set­tle my in­ter­nal har­mony—what I’ve since learned to call my home­osta­sis. She made it clear that it wasn’t just my own neg­a­tive emo­tions I should sub­li­mate, but also those of dif­fi­cult peo­ple who wanted to bring neg­a­tiv­ity to the ta­ble. The idea wasn’t to judge them, but to sim­ply not en­gage with them when they took a po­si­tion meant to tear me down or tear oth­ers down. Grandma’s advice in that arena was most use­ful to me in my busi­ness ca­reer, where my goals of­ten re­quired me to main­tain re­la­tion­ships with dif­fi­cult peo­ple.

burned bridges

I have made the mis­take of burn­ing a few bridges in my life­time, but have learned some­thing from these ex­pe­ri­ences each time. Early in my ca­reer, I worked for a com­pany that hired me to as­sist with the work­load of one of its full-time em­ploy­ees, an ad­min­is­tra­tive as­sis­tant. This col­league had held her po­si­tion for sev­eral years and she made it clear she was proud of run­ning a tight ship. No one made mis­takes in her area, not the em­ploy­ees, not her col­leagues, and not the cus­tomers.

She was as­signed to train me, and at first I was ex­cited to work with her. I ap­pre­ci­ated her at­ten­tion to de­tail and de­sire to do the job right, so I humbly fol­lowed her lead and made sure to cross all my T’s and dot all my I’s. She was very en­er­getic and some­times rough in her speech, but I did as she said and tried to learn all she had to teach me. She of­ten de­liv­ered strong crit­i­cism when I didn’t do things the spe­cific way she wanted them. I took note and cre­ated

a list of ab­so­lute no-nos that I would re­frain from do­ing.

Soon I no­ticed that no mat­ter how many mis­takes I cor­rected, she al­ways found more.

As my train­ing pro­ceeded, she had me lis­ten to cus­tomer calls so I would un­der­stand how to han­dle them. It didn’t take long for me to be­come con­cerned about her ap­proach with cus­tomers. She of­ten put them down based on how they han­dled con­flict and whether they had cre­ated their own prob­lems. Af­ter I ob­served her calls for a few weeks, I then had the op­por­tu­nity to han­dle calls. I found that most of our cus­tomers needed guid­ance, so I gen­tly guided them through the steps to fix their is­sues, as­sur­ing them that their mis­takes were sim­ply based on a need for more in­for­ma­tion about the way the in­dus­try works. The more my trainer saw how cus­tomers re­sponded to my gen­tler, more pos­i­tive ap­proach, the an­grier she be­came. Who was I to set a dif­fer­ent stan­dard?

When the ten­sion be­tween us rose to an un­bear­able pitch, I ap­proached our gen­eral man­ager and said I wasn’t sure the ar­range­ment was go­ing to work. I filled her in on the state of af­fairs, but em­pha­sized that I did not want to make waves and would be happy to sim­ply trans­fer if an­other po­si­tion was open. One thing I didn’t un­der­stand then was that when an em­ployee brings a prob­lem to a man­ager, that em­ployee has lit­tle con­trol over how the man­ager will solve it.

In­stead of trans­fer­ring me, the man­ager trans­ferred my co­worker. What’s more, she trans­ferred her to an area with very lit­tle cus­tomer con­tact and pro­moted me to take over her role. My co­worker (and trainer) was shocked. She wasn’t sure if it was a pro­mo­tion or a rep­ri­mand. I could tell she blamed me for the change. Our re­la­tion­ship was never the same af­ter that. I had burned the bridge with her for good, and pos­si­bly with any­one else to whom she might care to tell her version of the story. Not only that, I cre­ated an awk­ward at­mos­phere in a place where I still had to con­tinue work­ing for the next few years.

In ret­ro­spect, I prob­a­bly should have done more to work with that col­league, tap­ping into her more rea­son­able side and seek­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to let her shine in her own way. Un­der that rough ex­te­rior, she might have been more ap­proach­able and ca­pa­ble of re­solv­ing our con­flict than I gave her credit for. At the time, I didn’t think it was an op­tion, partly be­cause she seemed so at­tached to the drama, and partly be­cause we needed to get busi­ness done at a fast pace. Keep­ing the goal of not burn­ing bridges in the fore­front of my mind might have guided me to a dif­fer­ent con­clu­sion.

cre­at­ing op­ti­mal out­comes

The sit­u­a­tion with my trainer started me on a path of re­al­iz­ing that it is im­por­tant to pre­dict out­comes and han­dle sit­u­a­tions with the goal of pre­serv­ing all peo­ple in­volved. My ul­ti­mate goal is to cre­ate a win-win so­lu­tion when­ever pos­si­ble. Cre­ative so­lu­tions are op­ti­mal, but win-wins are ideal. I have found that the wis­est ap­proach to cre­at­ing any so­lu­tion is to em­ploy anal­y­sis, in­sight, and fore­thought to help me pre­dict po­ten­tial hu­man re­ac­tions and the re­sult­ing sys­temic out­comes. The key to con­flict res­o­lu­tion is to keep my eye on the ball, striv­ing my best to con­trib­ute in a pos­i­tive way while work­ing to­ward mu­tual goals. ■

Her advice was to take neg­a­tive emo­tion out of the equa­tion when­ever it threat­ened to un­set­tle my in­ter­nal har­mony— what I’ve since learned to call my home­osta­sis.

Tay­lor Strat­egy Part­ners 2015, 300 pgs, Pa­per­back Gabrielle V Tay­lor

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