ArLyne's Diamonds

A running commentary of ideas

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Pros and Cons of Leading a Virtual Organization

Today’s technology enables us to work anywhere in the world and to communicate with each other in a variety of ways. On the face of it, it would seem that this is the ideal situation. Employees can work from their homes, or at the beach for that matter. Employers have less overhead because they don’t have to maintain office space for each and every employee all the time. In most cases accountability can be maintained by setting and meeting goals – having deliverables.

But, one of the things we’ve learned from research conducted at Stanford, is that when people are not working where they can see each other they tend to believe they are working harder than the next guy. A Stanford researcher (whose name I’ve forgotten) had a group of graduate students working on a joint project separately. Since they were working without seeing each other work, most of them started grumbling that they were working harder than their fellow workers. When the researcher put cam-recorders in their cubicles, such that they could actually see each other working either in real time, or when they chose to look in, the grumbling ceased.

There is less trust and less respect when we don’t see each other face-to-face.

I’ve long been aware of the importance of the informal, spontaneous, and impromptu conversations and encourage my clients to create open spaces that encourage people to chat with each other. In his book Jamming, Professor Kao who traveled the world, described many places that designed spaces for the interaction of others. Creativity happens in the spontaneous.
Bruno Bettleheim wrote about the in-between spaces used by children when they were thinking, or under stress. It is a similar concept.

So, one of the most important ingredients to organizational and individual growth, is the ability to get together with others informally to “chew the fat”, share an idea, brainstorm together – and to create the next great thing. Or, equally important, to discover that a project in the design phase was really a bad idea and should be squashed.

People who are working apart from each other and only come together for an hour or two on the phone in their formal weekly or monthly meeting miss out on these opportunities.

Too, management is less able to interact encouragingly, to see what is going on, to evaluate who needs some extra help, or to do any of those empathic things we talk about as so important in leaders and managers.

The bonding that is necessary for extra-ordinary team work is far less likely to occur when people aren’t working in near proximity to each other. Just one story – a group of employees were working together in a small area. Two additional people were added to the group and management determined that the space was getting too crowded. Intending to have a positive outcome, three members of the group were moved to a space across the hall. Yes, directly across the hall. These three people became the outsiders in just a very short amount of time. They were not seeing each other constantly, and the opportunities to chat informally disappeared. Now, they needed to actually get up and go across the hall.

Talking on the phone gives us some clues. E-mail almost none. Face-to-face meetings are the most valuable of all and when we have virtual organizations that is what we lose the most.

I strongly suggest my clients who have mostly virtual organizations – or those who are managing groups of people in other areas – other countries – find time to bring people together. If possible do it quarterly. If that’s much too costly or too difficult, at least do it once a year. Allow plenty of time for the informal socializing during those retreats.

When I work with my CEOs to set up agendas for retreats we balance work-related content, with social time and also allow time for recreation and rest.

Bringing people together and allowing them to get to know each other personally significantly increases morale, trust, productivity, motivation and creativity. It is worth the time and price.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Tyranny of Pleasantness

One of the chapters in my Conflict in the Workplace: Causes and Cures is The Tyranny of Pleasantness. The general theme of the chapter (which comes from a much longer article I wrote with Bob Finnochio) is that there is danger in “going along to get along.”  

We are so busy not hurting anyone’s feelings, being politically correct at all times, and never disagreeing with someone else’s decision that we fail to communicate what we really know and believe. To tell someone they are wrong is a guarantee to get chastised by someone in supervision.

I was thinking about this because something reminded me of the student trip I accompanied to Europe a few years ago. Although we visited some wonderful places, the way we were treated by the tour company, the accommodations offered and a host of other things were, to be polite – sub-par. If one of us complained to the teacher who had invited us to join her on the tour, she took it personally. It was as though we were insulting her – but she was as fooled by the promotional hype as were the rest of us.

We’ve gotten so thin-skinned that if, for example, you tell someone they have a stain on their shirt, they react as though you were saying the shirt was hideous, therefore their taste is hideous and you think they are evil and awful.

Why have we reached a point where the slightest disagreement leads us to hateful reactions and loss of goodwill? When did we stop being real and decide the socially appropriate way to be is to always smile and never say an unkind word about anything at any time?

My belief: be honest – if you have something to say, say it – without insulting the person – mention the item, or the behavior or the specific about which you are disappointed – without generalizing or attacking the individual his/her self.

If we remain euphemistic we run the serious danger of being misunderstood. Let me remind you of one horror story that makes this point.

Many years ago there was a man who went crazy and shot out a bunch of people. He believed that by acting as “Rambo” he would be able to get a real date with the woman he had been “courting.” (That’s in quotes on purpose – because he didn’t know how to court properly.) She, never wanting to hurt his feelings, was too polite in telling him she wasn’t interested in him – and he, wrongly believed he had a chance with her. Now, I hasten to add before anyone attacks me – I am not blaming the victim. She and the others at the location were victims of a mind gone crazy. However, this and other similar tragedies might have been averted had a clear and convincing statement that she was not at all interested in dating him been communicated early in their work relationship.

We’ve gotten so bad at the way we handle disagreement that people with a different point of view as ours are considered by some as evil, dangerous, stupid and other pejorative terms – instead of a mere recognition that they hold a different point of view. If we stopped being so thin-skinned about it, we might learn that their point of view has validity and we might learn something from them – and also, might teach them that our point of view has validity.

BUT, if we exaggerate every disagreement, because we have to be kind and euphemistic, we will never get to learn from each other.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Resolving Workplace Conflict

Most conflict is minor – a misunderstanding, a tiff, a disagreement, something easily resolved through conversation. Yet, we seem to be so about “zero tolerance” that no matter how small we react as though it were major.

What I teach is how to listen neutrally, try to learn the different sides of the story – and that’s very hard to do since the tendency in all of us is to believe the first person’s story – so that means we tend to believe the person making the accusation without taking into account that what we are hearing is their perception, often distorted, frequently exaggerated to convince us, but only one side of the story.

Unless the allegation is egregious (a felony – rape, murder, drug usage on site, etc.) most of the time the proper way to resolve it is to bring the parties together and help them work it out. Technically, this is called mediation.

Sometimes there is too much anger or pain and you make the decision to first separate them and act as a go-between trying to help each side calm down and gain some perspective – this is called conciliation. 

At some point you feel comfortable asking them to meet face to face. At that point, you move from conciliator to mediator and help them resolve it. I teach how to do this!

If you are successful mediating they can go back to work and inform their allies (teams) that all is well. You have now avoided tension among groups of people, as well as the protagonists themselves.

See the value?

This is so much better than playing judge and jury and “arbitrating” the dispute. No one is happy when you make the decision for them. You have now added to the polarization of the people that are allies with each of the parties.

All managers and all HR professionals ought to be taught how to do a neutral investigation, and mediation and arbitration. This can be accomplished in a one day training with lots of practice.


As I said, it is so easy to believe the first person coming in the door. Here are a few other biases that we all have and need to fight against. This is from an article “58 Cognitive Biases That Screw Up Everything We Do” by Drake Baer and Gus Lubin, in Business Insider.

Affect heuristic: the way you feel filters the way you interpret the world – for example, if you are hungry your focus will be on food and other things coming your way might be ignored.

Anchoring bias: going against the norm, the example is that you are better off in a negotiation if you make the first offer.

Confirmation bias: we tend to listen only to the information that confirms our preconceptions. (This is my point about how hard it is to be neutral.)

Observer-expectancy effect: looking for a result, you only see those things that confirm that result and never notice, or deny those that don’t.

Bias blind spots: failure to recognize your cognitive biases is a bias in itself.

Galatea Effect: where people succeed or underperform depending on their self-perception – in other words where they think they should.

Inter-group bias: to view people in our group differently from how we see someone in another group.

Negativity bias: the tendency to put more emphasis on negative experiences rather than positive ones. People with this bias feel that “bad is stronger than good” – this is also where it becomes easier to believe the bad about people than it is to believe the good.

Ostrich effect: sticking your head in the sand rather than paying attention to dangerous or negative information.

Planning fallacy: the tendency to underestimate how much time it will take to complete the task.

Selective perception: allowing our expectations to influence how we perceive the world.

Advice from CISCO:

Apparently CISCO advised their employees how to conduct an investigation as follows:
  • Maintain confidentiality, discretion, and above all neutrality throughout the investigation.
  • Promote witness candor by assuring no retaliation and holding interviews in an appropriate location.
  • Be mindful about the details you reveal about the complaint.
  • Always begin with open-ended questions and avoid loaded or inflammatory language.
  • Protect confidentiality to the fullest extent possible.
  • Be thorough.
  • Reserve judgments of credibility until the entire investigation is completed.

10 Tips to Perform Better in a Job Interview

I wrote this in response to a question from a gentleman who gets very anxious and tongue-tied in job interviews. He was asking for suggestions. I was one of a thread responding. Someone suggested he get medication. I wrote: do not take any medication that is different from what you would normally take. You need to have your brain fully available to you.

I like what Jeff Durbin (another person who answered on this man’s thread) has offered: you are having a dialogue with people who want to hire you.

Personally, I think job interviewing is one of the more horrible tasks in life. But, it has to be done - so here are a few things to consider.

1:  There is a necessary quid pro quo. They have something to offer you that you may or may not want. You have something to offer them that they may or may not want. The relationship - the value - needs to feel mutual for both sides.

2:  Therefore, you have as much power in the situation as they do. You get to say YES or NO depending on how you like the company, the job, the compensation, etc. Don't ever give away your own power.

3:  Know what you have to offer - be clear about your skills, talents, experience and even go so far as to write them all out in talking points (bullet point for you power point folk) for yourself. You wouldn't be interviewing for this job if you didn't have what they need.

4:  As much as you might think this is the last possible opportunity in the world, it isn't. If this one doesn't work out - there are others. Think about this as shopping. Just as you would go through a rack of clothes to find the one or two that suit your need, style, personality, etc., you and the prospective employer are shopping for the perfect fit as well. If there isn't a match - it doesn't mean there is anything wrong with those that were not selected.  

5:  Practice, practice, practice. If you can, get a coach or mentor who is experienced in helping people learn how to interview better to work with you.

6:  Join an organization that helps people out of work. Here in Silicon Valley I know of two very good ones that are volunteer and don't cost money - CSIX and ProMatch. There are also church groups that work with people in transition.

7:  You are not alone. Job interviewing is something almost everyone except charming super-sales people loathe.

8:  Learn some relaxation techniques. Breathing exercises, jumping jacks, even a walk around the parking lot before you go into the interview will all help you calm down some.

9:  Dress your best. Make sure your personal grooming is perfect. Dress up at least one level from how you would dress if you were working in the company. You can ask when setting up the interview time what their dress code is - so if it is casual don't wear a suit or tie, but do wear professional neat, clean and attractive clothing. If it is not an organization that makes a point of casualness, wear your professional best. If you look your best you will feel better.

10:  Come early. Do not rush to get to the interview. Allow yourself plenty of extra time. There will be traffic delays and all kinds of stupid things that will take some of the time away from your plan to go one mile a minute. Leave plenty of extra time so that doesn't add to your stress. Worst case scenario - you will arrive too early to walk in the door. So take a walk.


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Breaking Down the Walls of Fear and Hate

Years ago I produced a series of programs called Breaking Down the Walls of Fear and Hate which accompanied a display of photographs showing the atrocities in the Warsaw Ghetto. The snapshots had been taken by a German soldier on his birthday (how sick!) and eventually were found again and given to the Smithsonian Institute – which lent them out for programs such as the one I developed.

We had over thirty speakers over seven weeks – and the series won the Human Relations Award that year. Among the seven panels was one featuring religious leaders of different religions, educators, holocaust survivors from different cultures, members of criminal justice and others. My discussion with each of them when inviting them to speak was to talk about how we could break down the walls – not build them up worse.

People have different points of view. Each is sure that their perspective is the only right and good one – but honorable people, highly educated and dedicated, can and do disagree with each other as to the right way to do something.

We need to learn to listen. Not to automatically disagree and attack back.

We need to be more careful before we lump all people of “a certain kind” as one and consider them the enemy. Yet, we also need to protect our country – it’s a tightrope.

On a smaller level – when I work with clients who are dealing with horrible levels of conflict, I know that the things that go unsaid need to be said in order for them to be dealt with. I am reminded of the sign that was on the wall of Dr. Mike Schmidt with whom I worked when I started out as a therapist. It said:

The truth shall set you free
But first it will make you feel miserable.

For those who always plaster a smile on their face and only say the negative things they believe in a whisper behind their hand – I say wrong! Nothing can change until and unless we talk about it.

In order to break down the walls of fear and hate we need to talk about what we believe, feel, have assumed and have been told. Talk, share, listen – and change.

Monday, January 18, 2016

More Flexible ADA Approach Needed for Businesses

The ADA requires employers to consider being more flexible with the application of their policies as a reasonable accommodation. It also asks employees to be flexible when they request accommodations and employers select an equivalent alternative. Why then is there so little flexibility in the application of the ADA’s access requirements when their rigid application often makes little sense?

I want to make a plea for a more flexible approach. Let me start by telling you a story.

Some years ago Diamond Associates’ landlord moved its offices from a large one-story building to a three-story facility. One of the key administrative people, let’s call her Kate, was severely disabled and needed to use a wheelchair all the time.

When the landlord moved its staff to administrative offices on the third floor of a new building so the first floor could be available for conference rooms, Kate no longer was working on the ground floor. Ordinarily, this would not pose a problem since there was an elevator. However, in an emergency other arrangements would need to be made.

To the credit of this organization, they made a superb plan. They designated four different people to be responsible for transporting Kate and her chair down the stairs in case of an emergency. Each of these four strong men worked in different areas of the building so the chances were that at least one, if not more, would arrive quickly to come to Kate’s aid. This was an excellent – and flexible – solution to a potential need.

If she had demanded a more rigid solution, she probably would have consulted an attorney and there would have been a demand for the administrative offices to be on the first floor only. Had that happened, this organization could not have created the conference rooms they made available to nonprofit organizations at no charge. Kate’s flexibility and that of her employer made it possible to have a creative solution that ultimately benefited many people.

Let me contrast that with what happens with disabled designated parking spots here in California. I don’t know about the rest of the country, but here we have a great many designated disabled spots that are NEVER fully occupied. There seem to be far more spots than need for them. Anyone not showing a special license plate or sticker is ticketed if they park in any of these spots – even if there are a dozen or more designated spots not being used.

Although I am not a scofflaw and do respect the needs of others, I recently needed to park in a disabled-designated spot. Because of it, I received a parking ticket, which I do not believe I deserved. It made me think about this issue of flexible versus rigid approaches.

Here’s what happened. I was attending a two-day conference at the Santa Clara Convention Center. On the second day of the conference, I arrived late and could not find a regular parking space in the nearby lots. I would have had to walk an extra two city blocks, which I was reluctant to do since I had injured my knee the day before. However, there were at least a dozen unused disabled-designated spots.

My getting a ticket, with all those empty spots illustrates to me the pointlessness of an unthinking, automatic application of the ADA’s access requirements.

Putting aside for the moment what is prudent for an organization to do to stay out of hot water in their ADA compliance activities, it seems to me that overly rigid restrictions about usage serves to alienate people, rather than encourage their cooperation. I’d love for us to find a way to make these special spots available to those who truly need them – but also for the nondisabled to use some of them when they all are otherwise empty.

Was the ADA really intended to promote the ill will that naturally arises from the rigid enforcement of this access requirement? I, for one, firmly believe it was not, and that more flexibility should be afforded to businesses and public entities with limited resources and facilities to best serve all their customers.

My column is designed to make people rethink their attitudes and views about the issues related to the ADA. Don’t expect me to be compliant to any side of the issue! 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

How Did She Get That Way?

If you met Nalia today you’d wonder why such a pretty and charming young woman allowed herself to be emotionally and physically abused by her mooching boyfriend.

The contrast between Nalia and her boyfriend Scaram was so great especially at the time Scaram beat her up so badly she spent days in the hospital. Nalia was in college, working part-time and raising her daughter. She was living in her father’s home expense free. Much of the money she earned was being spent on Scaram. He didn’t have a job, didn’t have a car, had lost his driver’s license, and didn’t even have a place to live. He slept on the couches of various and sundry friends and forced Nalia to be his chauffer.

Why, you ask did she stay? Why did Nalia choose to support this bum? What motivated her? What in her past caused her to think so little of herself that she would enter into and remain in a relationship with a man who had so little to offer her?

As you start to peel the layers of the onion, you learn that there were prior incidents of Nalia being verbally abused by Scaram. He told her she was dumb. He called her ugly. He accused her (wrongfully) of sleeping with other men. He was extremely jealous and possessive. He demanded she spend less time with her counselor, her friends, and even her extended family. The one area in which she resisted was his insistence she quit school. Nalia was determined to get her degree – although her grades were suffering and she was often late for class because of some demand made by Scaram.

Scaram wanted her all to himself – needing her to take care of him, and him alone.

As you continue to peel the layers of the onion, you realize that Nalia hadn’t lived with her father all her life. He came back into her life several years ago. Her parents had been divorced when she was young and her mother, never very maternal, had often left Nalia and her younger sister with the older brother by a previous relationship. This brother, Luis was a bully and a tyrant. So you start to learn that Nalia’s relationship with significant men in her life included them treating her badly.

You also learn that her mother treated her as a child would treat a doll. Pick her up and play with her calling her pretty and “momma” (a term of endearment in their culture) and showering her with kisses. Drop her and forget about her for days at a time. Get frustrated about something unrelated to her child and take it out by screaming at Nalia, or one of her siblings, often pulling, grabbing, and forcing them to move fast or out of her way.  

Yet, for years now, Nalia has been seemingly safe. She has been living with her father. Her mother is no longer in the pictures (actually she died some years before) and her father is a successful high-tech CEO. Why then, you continue to ask yourself would Nalia allow herself to remain with someone who gave her as little emotional support and regard as Scaram.

My role was to act as mentor to Nalia and counselor to her father helping him to learn how to deal with her and all the issues and drama that were part of her life. He – his company – had been clients of mine many years ago.

Two incidents that I am personally aware of give you the answer.

When Nalia was scheduled for her first appointment with the counselor at college, her father accompanied her. For reasons still unclear to me, just prior to entering the building, he started screaming at her, telling her she was worthless and he didn’t understand why she was demanding he support her through college. When they entered the building for the appointment, Nalia was in tears. Needless to say, her first interview didn’t go well. It was a good thing I was there to help.

The second incident occurred when her father had a rage attack when talking with me. He was at my office during a regularly scheduled session we had to discuss Nalia and his handling of her, her daughter, and unfortunately her friends who hung around his office all too frequently. Our session was during the time that the “Occupy Wall St.” group was becoming vocal and noticed by the press. Harry, the seemingly calm CEO, started screaming at me about those “New York Jews” including me in his rant about how all they (me!) take money from people, etc. Reminded me of the accusations about Shylock or Hitler’s rants in Germany.

As I watched Harry become more and more out of control during this rant, I realized that this was not uncommon behavior on his part. Harry would from time to time lose his temper and go off so badly that his rants and raves were quite destructive to the emotional well-being of his children.

So, Harry, her father was the first of the abusers in Nalia’s life. Her brother the second. Her mother contributed mightily to a very poor self-image.

Nalia never learned to expect better treatment from men. No matter how much she advanced her socio-economic and educational position, she still thought of herself as a woman who deserved men like Scaram.

On the surface Nalia appears to be a beautiful, poised young woman seeking to advance herself professionally by acquiring a college degree. Her father is a successful and highly regarded corporate CEO. On the surface finding her beat up in a hospital doesn’t make much sense. It is by scratching that surface and watching her with others and watching and learning from those that were responsible for her, that we can see the badly bruised and insecure little girl starving for affection and attention at almost any price.

If she were one of the central characters in your novel, how would you peel the layers of the onion so that your readers would come to understand the reasons she continued to have a relationship with Scaram? Character development takes many twists and turns.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Is Delegating Worth the Effort?

In almost all classes on management training as well as those about time management, we are taught the importance of delegating. Indeed, it’s something I harp on over and over again in my workshops, training, and MBA graduate classes.

Yet, this has been the week from hell for me. It has made me think that sometimes doing it myself is faster and easier. Ever have that feeling? I bet you have!

So, first let me tell you all my complaints for the week. They include work, home, and some volunteer work I do, so just bear with me. 


My Administrative Assistant

My administrative assistant is a lovely young woman with a great personality. She is always pleasant and willing to do any assigned task. Yet, over and over again I find that she pretends to know things she doesn’t know. Too, she is not nearly as careful as I need her to be. The latest in a series of frustrations for me:
  • Filing in the wrong files.
  • Filing not even in file folders, but loose in the drawer.
  • Making a list of what’s in the file drawer – which does not need to be done.
  • Mixing up documents to be filed with my basket of work to do – and I think she filed some documents requiring work on my part that I may never find again.
  • Leaving half finished work lying about – for me to put away.
  • Not writing down – or remembering instructions about how to complete a very important document, which needed to be done perfectly – thereby ruining 40 pages of work which had to be redone – because she didn’t save the prior draft.
Who’s at fault here? Probably ME. I teach a funnel theory of management, and yet I made the assumption that she was smarter, neater, and more careful than I am finding her to be.
  • I need to micro-manage more.
  • I need to be slower and provide her with much more detailed information.
  • I need to give her only one thing to do at a time, rather than a whole day’s worth of projects.
  • I need to point out (gently of course) things she left lying about, and ask her to put them away before she leaves. 
Of course, all of these require me to pay attention rather than being focused exclusively on what I’m doing.

My Computer (IT) expert

We are in the process of migrating my programs and files from my old computer to a new one – and the new one is not compatible with much of what the old one is attached to. So almost daily I hear these woeful stories of how this won’t work and that won’t work and how hard it is to do this, that or the other thing.

I want to scream. “Go away.” “Just do it.” “Leave me to do the work I need to do.”

I’m also told that I need to buy a new this that or the other thing – at hundreds of dollars of expense.

Now, being a woman, where would I rather spend my money? On purchasing computer equipment or clothing and jewelry? You guessed it.

So, is it his fault for telling me all this, or my fault? Probably ME.
  • I need to realize that his thinking style (he’s an IT guy) is vastly different from mine. I’m a soft-skill expert with a background in psychology.
  • I need to realize that he thinks it is helpful and useful to share these details with me, whereas they seem like minute and uninteresting pieces of information to me.
  • He needs social time and recognition and these pronouncements are his way of trying to obtain both from me.
  • So, what do I need to do? Remember that people are different and because of the differences in thinking styles, I, as a manager, need patience and tolerance.
Volunteer Work

OK, maybe I expect too much of others. I am doing volunteer work at a facility with Alzheimer’s patients. I have a lot of materials I use with them that are meant to be exclusively for my project with them – which is to help them watercolor (which by the way is a lovely things to do with them). Each time I go to the cupboard where my materials are kept, I find others have been there and messed things up. 

I can tell in a variety of ways – things have been re-arranged. Paintbrushes have not been cleaned, nor placed in their proper receptacle. Papers have been shuffled about.

When I ask the staff, they tell me that no one has been in the cabinet so “I don’t know” must have made the mess. 

Since this is not my facility, I have little or no control about the matter. I cannot ask that the cabinet be locked because others use it for other reasons. I cannot demand that the materials be kept the way I want them, because not only am I a volunteer, but they pay for the materials.

So, I have to live with it. I have to change my expectations and not be so critical about neatness, carefulness, etc. Again, whose fault is the problem? You guessed it, probably ME.

Our expectations of how things should be done, or should look, or be kept are what frame our emotional responses to how we find things. Changing our expectations will change our reactions. So, what do I have to do?
  • I need to understand that this is an open cabinet and like it or not others use it.
  • I need to recognize that we are working with materials that are replaceable – these are not priceless works of art.
  • I need to lighten up and go with the flow.
So often we react to things from an unreasonable set of expectations, and by revising those expectations, our reactions will become more benign.


I have one theme and two people (besides me of course.)

My Handyman

I am not handy. Nor am I a willing gardener. I found the perfect man to do all of these little tasks for me. He comes to my home twice a month or so, takes care of my patio, and anything I need fixing in the house. He’s wonderful and can do anything I ask of him.

So, you may ask, what’s the problem here? Do you just like to complain?

The problem is silly and simple. He uses my tools and sometimes doesn’t put them back in the proper place. When I need a screwdriver I have to search for it since it might be out on the patio, might be in the garage on the table, but it belongs in a particular drawer in the toolbox.

So, whose problem is it? Yup, mine again!
  • I need to ask him to be more careful and to replace things where they belong.
  • I need to lighten up and not get frustrated over the little things.
  • Delegating, delegating, delegating. In this case, I can’t even do some of these things myself – so I need to learn to be grateful to those who can do what I can’t do easily.
How does this relate to those who work for you in your organization?

My Housekeeper

My housekeeper has cleaned for me for many years – possibly even over ten years. She is reliable, honest, decent, and totally trustworthy. She also overreacts to small things. For example, if she accidentally chips or breaks something absolutely of little or no value, she apologizes as though it were a priceless piece of crystal.

But, when she cleans, she moves things. Not only does she move all the knickknacks to the back of the table or chest on which I’d neatly arranged them, she moves things from right to left when she cleans. When I go to find something, it is not in the place in which I left it for my convenience or aesthetic sense. It drives me nuts.

Sometimes I laughingly and lightly point this out to her – and she laughs in return, but never changes her behavior. So, whose problem is it? Probably ME.
  • I need to tell her that this matters to me by being direct and congruent.
  • I need to stop giving her mixed messages by joking and being light about it.
  • I need to show her where I want things placed.
  • I need to remind her when they are rearranged.
Unfortunately, I’m rarely home when she cleans, and leaving a note around just does not convey the right attitude.

Other women with whom I speak don’t have housekeepers because of similar frustrations. BUT, I believe in delegating. As frustrating as this is – and believe me it is – I’d rather spend the ten or fifteen minutes re-arranging things to my satisfaction that have to spend the three or more hours cleaning the house.

How do all of these apply to you as a manager?

It’s so easy to blame the other person for what we perceive as shortcomings. Yet, we as managers need to take more responsibility for:
  • How we communicate what we want from our staff.
  • Whom we hire to do a particular task and how we train them.
  •  Learning how they learn and understand and coaching them accordingly.
  •  How we hold people accountable, not just at the beginning, but during the life of their working for us.
  •  Our own over-reactions “don’t sweat the small stuff” as they say.
I conclude by reminding us all – you and me – that if you don’t delegate and you do it all yourself, you will never have the time to do the more exciting, interesting, and creative elements of your job. The more you can delegate, the freer your time to grow professionally yourself.

So, in answer to my own question: Yes, delegate, but do it wisely.

Which Editor is Right for YOU?

Working with an editor is similar to having a roommate – a partnership – and sometimes even a spouse. You are in a deeply intimate relationship requiring a great deal of commonality and trust.

Although there are a million good editors available to you, not all are right for you. It’s like dating, or getting married. The right man for me (and I had him) is not – was not – the right man for my friends. He and I fit together perfectly. Yet, as those of you who know me know, I’m not the right fit for many other people.

So, what do you need to look for when you are selecting the right editor for you?

Yes, of course, there are the basic necessities: Editorial experience. Intelligence. Availability. Reasonably priced. Those are merely threshold questions though. How about:

Are You Aligned Philosophically and Politically?

If you and your editor agree on most important areas, it will be much easier for him or her to understand what you are trying to say – and will offer suggestions that will improve your point of view. On the other hand, someone who has a very different view might change your message. I had that happen to me years ago when I was trying to hire an editor for a book on sexual harassment I was planning to write. I had to quickly terminate relations with two people who wanted to offer their perspective – which was vastly different from my own.

Is this editor an expert – or at least very knowledgeable about your major topics or areas?

When Marjorie Johnson was writing her book about bird watching, she needed to have someone familiar with airplanes and with airports in the Bay Area. If you are writing about York in England, wouldn’t it be helpful if your editor had been there too and could experience with you walking down those side streets? 

What about someone sharing your love for 18th century history? Wouldn’t that be of help? If I am writing about New York and all the little friendly neighborhoods, my editor would be so much more helpful if she too understood what walking down the street in a neighborhood felt like. 

When writing my Leadership book, I turned to an editor who had vast business experience as well as someone who understood and agreed with my point of view.

Are you comfortable with this person?

This is so very important. Will you be able to accept his/her suggestions because of respect and trust? More importantly, will you feel free to disagree and go your own way without fear if you feel strongly about your own words? 
I once wrote a poem to my Bill, which said in part: “Thank you for being you, sensitive to me, knowing you know you can say NO or YES, allows me the freedom to ask.”

That’s trust. That’s equality. That’s the rare ability that allows for free exchange of ideas back and forth. Can you find some approximation of this with your editor?

Will this editor be willing and able to work at the pace you need and want?

Do you remember how frustrating you found it if you were working with someone who was much slower – or much faster – than you? We are most comfortable with people with whom we share a general pace.

Too, if you are paying your editor for his or her services, will you be able to provide that person with enough material in a timely manner? Pace is a two-way street.

Are you both very clear about the terms and conditions of your relationship?

You need to create a formal – in writing – agreement as to what you each expect from each other in this relationship. Who does what? When? How? And for how much? 

Editing is not the same as proofreading. Will your editor also be your proofreader, or do you need to hire someone else to do that level of detailed specificity? Find out.

You also need to codify your exit strategy (divorce) if things don’t go as planned for either of you. What does it take to get out of the relationship without undue harm to yourself and to the editor?

Be sure you agree in advance – write it down – and make sure both of you sign it. Don’t rely on a handshake or a memory of what you had decided. Write it down. Oral contracts don’t stand up well in court, and memories vary as to what was actually said or agreed to – without the documentation.


Don’t be cheap! Finding the right editor for you is so important and will make your life so much easier – and your manuscript so much better.

Good Luck!

Friday, January 08, 2016

Management and Collaboration Styles

In many countries of the world, and in prior years here in the USA, the workplace consisted of a clear authoritarian structure and chain of command. The scarcity of jobs and the need to feed the family left many people passively submissive to any orders given them by their “boss.” Workers obeyed orders, kept their gripes and personal issues to themselves, and rarely defied authority. 

Today, many of us are “knowledge workers”, with education, freedom, and opinions of our own. We need a more participative and persuasive form of management, not an authoritarian one. Yet, many of our managers are older and “old-style.” We have managers all over the world with different styles and workers all over the world with different expectations and experiences as to how they should be managed.

The games we play as children have an effect on how we manage and want to be managed. Girls play house and actress and roles are equal. Boys play sports where there is a clear structure and chain of command. Yes, this is changing today – but not totally. So, I’m offering a generalization (not a stereotype – which I will discuss next) in order to explain some of the misunderstandings and conflict common to today’s workplace.

Because of these early childhood experiences many women tend to be more collaborative than men. We like to talk things over. Men, less verbal and more action oriented are more likely to think things through in their heads and then offer a pronouncement of their decision. Some women bristle at this style, others learn to adapt. Men are also learning to adapt to our more egalitarian, collaborative and discussion-involved style.

A funny example: prior to women being made partners in law firms, men knew their place. The junior associates, when invited into the staff meeting, were there to receive information, not offer it (as in children should be seen and not heard). The senior partners could discuss issues brought up by the managing partner. Others could not. Well, we women never learned those rules. When we came in, we thought we had an equal right to raise our opinions. In the beginning of the changes, heads rolled. Today, of course, there is an integration of men and women and diverse styles even in the law firms staff meetings.

Generalizations, Stereotypes and Prejudice

OK, before I go any further and get into trouble, let’s make some distinctions. A generalization is a statistical average. “Most people” are … or do …, etc. Height is a good example of this. The generalization: most American women are between 5’4” and 5’8”. Does that mean all women are – NO. Does that mean someone smaller is not American – Not necessarily. But the generalization helps clothing manufacturers.

The stereotype is to believe that all women must be between those numbers and that someone is not a woman if they are either taller or shorter. Finally, the prejudice is to pre-judge any woman before even meeting them, or measuring them.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

The Fundamental Differences of Ordering Information

Starting with the most fundamental: internally, we order our world by sensation, perception, and abstraction. Sensation is the information received purely by the senses of sight, smell, touch, sound and kinesthetic. Perception is the manner in which we personally order our sensations and finally, abstraction is the higher order clustering of our perceptions. Values, ideas, creativity are all part of abstraction.

One would think that the differences lie solely in the area of abstraction. Not so. Differences start at the very start of sensations. Let me give you an example.

I am a redhead with very fair skin, light aqua eyes and lots of sensitivities because of it. I’ve even referred to these sensitivities as “the canary in the coal mine” in an article I wrote. Bright lights hurt my eyes much more quickly than they do for a brown-eyed person. Loud noises make me jump. Going out in the sun for more than a few minutes turns me beet red and sometimes even hospitalizes me. I get my vitamin D from the sun very quickly – whereas a brown-skinned person needs to be out in the sun much longer to get the same amount of vitamin D, and he/she doesn’t often burn so quickly.

So, there you have differences in how the same sensation is received by different people. Now, when we receive this stimuli, we order it into perceptions: hard, soft, red, blue, quiet, loud, table, chair, good, bad, etc. Our prior experience, based on our environment, our DNA (yes, genetics plays a part as we are learning more and more) and how we were nurtured, taught, and raised in general.
What might seem right for me – such as holding my fork in my left hand and my knife in my right when cutting my meat and then switching them to eat (how inefficient!), whereas people from Europe do the opposite and people from Asia use chopsticks. As an American, I drive on one side of the road, but in London they drive on the other side.

Language is interesting as well. Words that have “dirty” connotations in one country, do not necessarily have the same connotation in another. One example is that the word “fag” refers to a cigarette in England.

Since there is variation in sensation and perception, our starting places are different. Now, language plays a role – a big role – in how we order these into abstractions. We adults operate primarily from our abstractions.

Quality, Timeliness, Ethics

These are high order abstractions and their meaning varies tremendously across different groups of people. For example: 

Growing up in a middle class family, my expectations about quality are extreme. I want the seams matched on my clothing, the carpeting mitered correctly in the corners, and no typos in my documents. Someone coming from a very poor background might not even see the things I notice. 

Wealthy women in El Paso, just across the border from Mexico have day-workers who come each day and return each night. During a Board of Directors’ training there, I was told that some of the women in the synagogue wanted to know why their day-maids (who hardly spoke English) couldn’t substitute for them in their volunteer commitments. 

In many Latin countries, time is fluid. An American flying to keep a pre-arranged appointment can be told that the person she was meeting was unavailable because of a family event. Family comes first.

What we see as bribes, others see as necessary gifts in order to get business done. What we might see as cheating, others see as team work and collaboration.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a prime example of an abstraction of a cluster of behaviors that have different meaning to different people and leads to workplace conflict. 

I conduct sexual harassment/discrimination and diversity training for many of my corporate and government clients. Among the exercises I use when training to understand these issues is a series of vignettes that my participants need to grade on a scale of 1 – 5, with 5 being the most severe and 1 the most benign.

Participants from India, for example, when given these vignettes, almost always grade each of the items as a 5 – or most severe. Americans show a range of answers to the same questions, and Europeans sometimes laugh at some of them thinking they do not even rise to the level of being an appropriate vignette for the exercise.

In the Indian culture, you show respect – deep respect – for women. Therefore, you don’t tease them, touch them, comment on how they are dressed, groomed, or look in any way. In America, teasing – good natured ribbing – is very common among men and some of them have yet to realize it is far less common among women. Italians and French say “viva la difference” and love harmless flirting – which could get them fired in America.

Very religious people are offended by even the mildest of what we consider “dirty words” – or profanity. Women who dress very conservatively are shocked by women who wear low cut or revealing clothing.

So, when teaching avoidance of getting in trouble, those of us who teach these programs need to emphasize the importance of being extremely conservative in our professional workplace behavior.