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Secrets of Success

A Mean Mess

Lately I have been spending a good deal of time talking to people in successful organizations about a rather unpleasant topic – meanness on the job. It’s come up so often lately I thought I’d address it this month.

The Problem

It appears to me that we are getting ruder as a society. Perhaps I am just getting older but that’s how it appears. People seem less patient with one another, more hurried and harried, and less polite. When managers tell me stories of the way their employees speak to one another and even to clients it makes me cringe.

Last week I spent part of a morning with an owner of a successful service company. We didn’t talk about his market. We didn’t talk about projected goals. We talked about meanness – by some of his managers toward his employees. Our conversation was not about the direction in which he wanted to take his company. It was about sarcasm and unkindness and embarrassing and belittling people. Ugly topics.

The week before that I was sitting with another owner. Our conversation centered on a key manager who thought he was justified calling a client “a liar.”

Some of these stories border on the bizarre. (By the way, my definition of “bizarre” is “If you haven’t seen it before and no one you know has seen it before- it’s officially ‘bizarre.’”)

You may be wondering how we got in this meanness mess. I have my theories, but really-who knows? Who cares? If you’re dealing with meanness and unkindness what you need is a plan.

The Solution

Notice I said a plan. Not a policy. If you need a “meanness policy” you’re in big trouble. What’s next, a “naked policy?” “ We ask all employees to come to work attired…”

I’m still hoping there is room in your organization for common sense. When you find out a subordinate has behaved in an unkind way you need to act immediately. You need to communicate to the individual in no uncertain terms that you have a zero tolerance policy for unkindness-that the ability to treat others in a humane way is a condition of employment.

Be prepared for some typical adolescent responses. “They started it.” “You always blame me.” While there is no doubt their feelings were caused by something, that’s not the point. Everyone is allowed to have their feelings. Your responses should address their behavior.

There can only be one warning. If you are really serious about having an organization where human beings are treated with dignity and respect you must be willing to terminate your employee relationship regardless of the other attributes the individual has.

There is one other variable in this equation. Since “the fish stinks from the head down” you must be leading by example. If you are sarcastic, patronizing, belittling, or unkind you will have no moral authority when you speak. You must model the behavior you demand of others.

The Price

Suppose you think this is all a little too touchy feely for you. Suppose you think people should get what they have coming to them. Just be prepared for the kind of worker you will have. Your culture will attract one of the millions of employees with high intelligence and low self-esteem.

Yours will become a workplace marked by sudden turnover, low creativity and inconsistent productivity. It will be an environment where people look out for themselves, where candor is all but nonexistent. It will be a culture of dominant “haves” and downtrodden “have-nots.”

The choice is yours.

We are all successful because of what we do and in spite of what we do – and no one is intelligent enough to completely untangle these contradicting forces. What you can do is make sure through your behavior and through the expectations you have of others that yours will be a work place of kindness and caring.

In the final analysis good manners is not only good business – it’s the right thing to do.

CTS Consulting, Inc

3126 Berkshire Road

Baltimore, Maryland 21214

phone 410-444-5857

cell 443-286-2488