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'Silence is golden, but sometimes it's just plain yella'

Posted on 2 September, 2019 at 20:50

Image by Robin Higgins from Pixabay

A good friend once quoted her Mum to me "Silence is golden, but sometimes it's just plain yella", I loved the quote so much that it lives permanently on my office whiteboard.

Is what looks like an amiable culture really just a culture of suffering in silence for some workplaces? Am I a coward if I don't speak up, am I an aggressor if I do? Everyone in a workplace needs to feel safe to raise an issue, confident that it will be received well and/or handled appropriately without needing to shout about it or feel that they are out of line. It is wired in us…people won’t be honest and speak up about what is important to them unless they feel safe to do so.

I started my working life with a ten-year career in hospitality and for us communication training was a constant. Back then (and it is a while ago), the industry knew that communication was the key to good service both for internal and external customers. So, what's changed? Communication skills training is rarely seen within a suite of compliance training — yet, open and easy communication is the foundation to comfortable workplace cultures.

We all have our own style of communication (and our own communication strengths and weaknesses), when not facilitating I am an observer, I like to sit quietly and take in the room. I appreciate opportunities to keep my silence before I speak as I believe that everyone has opinions and most have merit, I like to hear and consider the perspectives of others. My communication style does not suit every situation, if I just observe without speaking does my silence become 'yella'? There is nothing wrong with silence unless by my silence I am turning my back on important issues or breaching my duty of care to my workmates.

So how do I tell the difference between golden silence and cowardice? I take note of how I feel, there is a big difference between the desire of wanting to speak but not feeling able to and quiet contemplation. When I am ready to use my voice do I know it will be heard. Am I choosing my silence over someone else’s safety? Could my words unintentionally cause harm — sometimes, for me, the gold is simply taking an extra moment to choose my words before I open my mouth.

What is the culture like in your workplace? Is everyone safe and supported to speak up? Does your organisation encourage perspectives and opinions, or do they squash voices and innovation by not allowing participation? If your peers do not speak up are they cowards, or are they simply doing their best to keep themselves safe.

You can't fix a culture of bad communication by simply posting a memo saying; 'our door is always open, please speak up' or by introducing a new communication policy — there is no instant quick fix. Improving the communication (or any cultural issues) takes time and effort, the memo and policy are a good start but are meer tokens if you don't walk the talk. Walk around your workplace, what do you notice? Be an active consumer of your environment, is there a comfortable vibe? If there is silence is it comfortable, awkward or bubbling with resentment? do people go out of their way to engage with others. Is everyone encouraged to have their say and when people talk do others listen respectfully without judgement. If you’re not happy with the culture you see, don’t put your head in the sand or ‘wait for the right time’.

You may be just one of many in a workplace, but your workplace culture is your responsibility just as much as everyone else. Your input, your voice and your ears are powerful tools that contribute to the culture that you want, and are willing to accept. The time to stand up, take responsibility and make changes is right now.

Do you have a mentor?

Posted on 14 August, 2019 at 19:25

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay 


A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to hear a brilliant speaker who within her presentation spoke about the amazing value of having sponsors and mentors. She really made me think about who I have in my corner, who inspires and pushes me and supports me to be the best I can be.

I often speak to groups of managers about the importance of peer support and mentoring as I don't think this is something that is done well in many Tasmanian workplaces. But if I'm being honest, I have to say that I don't do it well either. I do have a couple of informal mentors — not that they know, because I've never said or asked. I'm now thinking about the unique challenges of being the sole trainer in my own small business, business is great but I could really do with a sounding board and some tough love at times. So why don't I ask a valued colleague to be my mentor? is it because it makes me vulnerable? or, do I think they will refuse for fear of competition? probably a little of both.

Respect at Work is unique, and my training style is my own so what is holding me back I wonder. Self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy are such enemies to productivity, but I am as human as everyone else and these emotions occasionally creep in. Asking someone to be my mentor is surely a sign of flattery and likely would be a win-win situation for us both.

Thinking back 30 years to my first supervisory role, it was an exciting but terrifying time. Going from thinking only about yourself to being responsible for others is a big shift. A great interview and attendance at the right number of courses doesn't make a good manager, a good manager relies on more than technical skill. And, like learning to drive, practical exercises don't compare to the daily navigational challenges of the job. My supervisory journey was like a traineeship or an apprenticeship in successful people management because I had a couple of awesome coaches. We didn't speak of mentors back then but that's similar to what they were, they were supportive but brutally honest and I (and my staff) benefitted greatly from my relationship with these coaches. One person in particular shaped my journey and all these years later I can gratefully attribute some of my success to their mentorship.

You might already be surrounded by valuable sources of knowledge and support that you can tap into, either as a formal mentorship arrangement or just a one-off chat.  For that people management situation you aren't sure how to approach, or that conflict that is difficult to manage; it's quite probable that you have access to someone who has wisdom and experience from navigating those challenges before. We all have to start somewhere and learning is a continual journey, don't let your fear of vulnerability stop you from finding your best way forward.

That person that encourages your growth and development, that embraces their role and that you watch and learn from — they might be your mentor — ask if you can meet formally and if they will help you to be your best version of yourself.

I'm off to find my future mentor.

Stress Less

Posted on 23 July, 2019 at 19:00

Stress less this Stress Down Day


Today (Wednesday 24th July) is National Stress Down Day, an initiative designed to reduce stress and raise funds for Lifeline’s 24-hour crisis support service.

I love my work, I love a deadline, I love training and I love a challenge.  I'm also a small business owner, a sometimes perfectionist, a little bit of a control freak :/ and a stressor.  So I LOVE the reminder of Stress Down Day and often try to schedule a no training day to coincide.  Today is perfect, my day is planned around all of my favourite ways to relax (but still work) — I am off to one of my favourite parts of Tasmania with my laptop, plenty to research, a picnic, an umbrella and hiking boots.  :)


Research shows that 90% of Australians need to stress less - with 74% of people reporting being stressed from work.  A little bit of stress is good for us, it drives our performance and challenges and encourages us but too much stress affects our health and wellbeing. There are so many workplaces that I visit that are in the 'perfect stress storm', they are challenged with under resourcing, management changes, high demands and/or job insecurity.  Not only does this 'stress storm' effect personal emotions and mental health, it effects relationships and job performance, how can you be your best self when your mind is in a stress tangle?

I hope your workplace is embracing Stress Down Day and you are working in PJs, doing lunchtime yoga or taking the dog/cat/bird/lizard to work with you.  If your workplace is not actively on board don't forget to practice self-care; have a healthy lunch, plenty of stretches, walk around the block or chat to someone who makes you smile.  There are plenty of actions and decisions in our days that we can't control so let's make it a habit (not just for today) to think about what is in our circle of influence and practice duty of care — to ourselves and others.

Are you supportive? Always?

Posted on 1 July, 2019 at 0:00

 Photo by Artem Beliaikin @belart84 on Unsplash

How supported a person feels can make a crucial difference in whether stressful workplace situations escalate into problems.  So my question is; Is it difficult to support a co-worker?  I think the first answer for most people is 'no, of course not' — great answer!  With prodding however, 'no, of course not' sometimes becomes, 'well, it depends', who is it?, 'is there any potential cost to me and my job?', or, 'what have they done?'. 

The role of bystander at work is a powerful and important role, your choice of empathy or indifference will make a difference in someone's life.  A simple 'are you ok?', a supportive touch on the shoulder, gentle eye contact, can make a difference to someone who is struggling with a task, situation, day or year.  Even better is to share a cup of tea, have a real conversation or go for a walk together.  The challenge for workplaces, teams and managers is to help bystanders feel comfortable and safe to speak up and offer support.

Feeling supported isn't just for when times are stressful.  We live in a diverse society and our workplaces (mostly) refelect that diversity, whether it be age differences, with many employees staying in the workforce for longer, mental illness, or 'coming out' at work.  Inclusion is what happens when people feel they belong and can be their authentic selves.  Being supported to be your authentic self at work makes a difference, without that freedom people try to hold back an integral part of themselves.  I know that when I am free and valued and not fearful of how my diversity might be judged, I bring my whole self to the workplace — everybody wins.

Everyone has the right to be supported.  Everyone has the right to be shown respect, dignity and consideration, to their everyday self, their culture, their beliefs, their values and their personal characteristics.  It's easy to be supportive of our friends or when it suits us, my responsibility as an employee is to exercise duty of care for ALL of my workmates, ALL of the time — this starts with support and respect.

Respect at Work can help your teams to unpack and recommit to support and respect.

Integrity wins

Posted on 11 June, 2019 at 20:10

Respect needs trust, trust needs respect and personal integrity should be at the forefront.

I've been thinking a lot about complaints lately and I've decided I just don't like them. Don't get me wrong there needs to be a process where issues can be raised and the vulnerable are protected but my concern is about the emotions that get in the way and hijack the process of respectful negotiations and resolutions. Complainants become so consumed with anger, resentment and revenge that they forget what their initial grievance was about, respondents are so aggrieved that someone dared to complain that they forget to listen to the reasons. In my last blog I mentioned that anonymous reporting may help break down a culture of fear but the flip side of that is when the anonymous complaint is made (or escalated) for the wrong reasons.

Life can be tricky and full of lessons learnt, possibly we've all been burnt by someone we've trusted at some stage in life, but, what do you do when 'the burning' happens at work? What happens when what should have been managed by a simple discussion escalates in the workplace? How do you continue respectful relationships once trust and integrity have been damaged? I've been on both sides of workplace complaints, neither is fun, both are exhausting and at times heartbreaking. Damage is done in the process and in my opinion, there are rarely winners in complaints.

When I hear of a conflict (generally workplace based) I almost always wonder what was behind it. Have you ever been in a situation where you feel that you are banging your head against the wall in frustration trying to be heard? Has this frustration affected your perception? Have you ever jumped from 1 to 10 as a response to a single incident because that incident is the last straw? Does the saying 'Don't let the truth get in the way of a good story' resonate?

Workplace relationships are rarely black and white, static, or, always easy. Personal emotions, perspectives and unconscious bias influence our thoughts and actions, and everyone is capable of acting hastily or unwisely at times. Complaints happen, grievances are raised and sometimes fairness needs to be fought for - but surely these processes can be done with more respect.

A good complaint system leaves all parties satisfied that they have been heard and a resolution is reached that meets the satisfaction of all, the complaint is resolved, and life goes on. Rarely is it this simple; emotions are charged, resentment bubbles away, sides are taken, relationships are fractured, friendships lost, trust dissolved, and integrity forgotten. Who wins?

I think the only possible 'winner' is the person who maintains their personal integrity throughout the process. Because without personal integrity, who are we?


Internal reporting? Is it safe?

Posted on 21 May, 2019 at 8:50

 Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I met a young man named Jack Murray from Resolve Advisors, at the No More Harm conference I attended a couple of months ago. Jack and his team are working on a platform called Elker – Elker is being developed as a potential answer to the issue of feeling safe and protected when you want to speak openly and honestly about issues in a workplace. Jack’s team have recognised that a system needs to support, protect and reflect the needs of people and are working on the idea that people feel they can speak safely when they are anonymous.

I’m not great with tech but Elker got me interested – we need new and progressive thinking in this space and maybe this is a start. To paraphrase Jack; this is a program that can run through a workplace, giving everyone the option of encrypted and anonymous reporting. An individual can then choose from a number of options as to who they want their complaint to go to, ensuring that the right person is connected to the right issue.

Perhaps Jack’s presentation interested me so much because of the constant number of conversations I have had with participants telling me that they don’t trust the reporting process in their workplace. People tell me that they don’t fill out paper culture surveys because they are worried that their handwriting might be recognised. In the organisations that have moved to electronic surveys, I’m told that people give false answers in fear that their log-in details will give their identity away. And we’ve all heard the stories of issues and complaints that are never raised.

Another issue with complaints (one that I doubt Elker can fix), is the issue of complaints versus disclosures. The nightmare of Managers and People & Culture teams is the legal mind field of ensuring compliance to the legal duty of care for the organisation. If staff are told that complaints must be formal, yet they are afraid of the potential consequences of a formal complaint; is it any surprise that they don’t bother?

I don’t believe that anonymous reporting will fix all the internal problems in an organisation. The biggest problem I can see is the culture of fear. Culture surveys can be the perfect tool for those in power to gain insight to the needs and strengths of their greatest assets, but only if responses are honest. A management team that makes culture a priority has their eyes open, are inclusive and take positive actions regardless of how they hear the information.

Respect at Work can help you to prioritise your workplace culture and break down cultures of fear.

*Jack mentioned that Elker is in the trial stage of development and would love to hear from organisations that would like to give it a go. [email protected]

Shame

Posted on 30 April, 2019 at 3:45

 Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

In my last blog I mentioned the emotion shame, I would like to explore that a little further...

Inappropriate workplace behaviours (including bullying) have the capacity to evoke many different emotional responses. Shame is one, others may be; embarrassment, disbelief, humiliation, guilt, fear and/or anger, amongst others.

Targets of inappropriate behaviours may feel shame for different reasons; shame that it is happening to them, shame that they can’t ignore it, shame that they aren’t standing up to the perpetrator/s, shame that it is affecting their work / life / sleep. When someone is subjected to bullying type behaviours, the humiliation, power imbalance and often unfounded criticisms erode at their self-confidence and they may start to feel deserving (and ashamed) of the behaviours they are subjected to. Sometimes a target will start to live down to the expectations of the perpetrators, thus further damaging their self-esteem and again increasing feelings of shame.

Bystanders, who see others treated badly and don’t act, may experience shame. Admitting that shame to others then feels too emotional, so blinkers come down, ears are closed, and another potential avenue of support and intervention is shut down.

Shame is also experienced by the perpetrators (or alleged perpetrators) of inappropriate behaviours. Perpetrators are labelled as ‘bullies’ and then in comes the practice of public ridicule or ‘bully shaming’. Unfortunately, this labelling, shaming and demonising of people may not prevent inappropriate behaviours. Rather, the emotions of shame and guilt may cause the perpetrator to fight for their defence instead of owning and stopping the problem behaviours.

There are no winners in workplace conflict.  Accepting and understanding that we are all susceptible to emotions such as shame is a start to responding to these issues. Just like a fight or flight response, the response to shame is often to shut-down or attack, this is not helpful. To feel shame is not shameful, in fact the courage and vulnerability of admitting shame makes us brave and strong.  

Let’s respect not only what each of us say and do, let’s also respect what we feel.

Brene Brown has a couple of excellent TED talks about shame and vulnerability, have a listen here;

https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_listening_to_shame?language=en

https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability

Kindness is free! and so is Respect!

Posted on 1 April, 2019 at 19:45

Photo by James Hammond on Unsplash

Freshly inspired from the 20 presentations I sat in on (and the many more that I wanted to) at the No More Harm Conference https/nomoreharm.com.au last week, I thought I might share some quotes from my 29 pages of scribbled notes.

Here they are;

'Be willing, take responsibility, be vulnerable'
'Repair harm, defend against shame'
'Resilience = grit and patience'
'Good leaders create a circle of safety'
 - Margaret Thorsborne, Margaret Thorsborne and Associates

'There are more men named Andrew heading up companies in the ASX top 100 than there are women'
'The importance of being free and able and empowered'
 - Hanna Wandel, Country to Canberra

'Build trust, name elephants, have courageous conversations'
'Kindness is free'
'Put people at the centre of everything we do'
 - Ainsley Barahona Santos & Lenka Bilik, icare

'When there is deep seated conflict, no amount of forcing people to play games will work'
'Trust and respect is not an on/off switch'
'Step into vulnerability'
'Courage and vulnerability are contagious'
 - Ruth Levy, Ruth Levy Consulting

'You’ve got to be courageous to walk into conflict and if you’re going to do that you have to be prepared to change'
 - Nicole Gibson, The Rouge & Rouge Foundation

'Interrupt our emotional responses'
'Interrupt their emotional responses'
'Become vulnerable and then curious, noticing and reflecting'
 - Paul Zappa, NIRODAH

'Cultural competence is not Harmony Day – It’s when, just like Christmas decorations aren’t questioned, neither are other cultural decorations'
 - Nareen Young, University of Technology Sydney

I found my 2 days to be extremely valuable – not because I necessarily experienced any lightbulb moments but because of the opportunity to revisit so many aspects in this space; to meet and hear from many passionate people doing great work and creating positive change.

Restorative Justice was a constant theme and the emotions of shame and vulnerability were also mentioned by several presenters. Issues of safe reporting and the frustrations and strategies to develop and support safe spaces for all, gave us lots to think and talk about.

No, instances of bullying and cyber bullying haven’t decreased but statistically they haven’t increased either. No, I didn’t hear any miracle strategies, but I did notice a shift in the focus, there was no focus on definitions, motivations, or on Band-aids but rather on positive actions to heal and protect.

Kindness is free! and so is Respect!

No More Harm Conference

Posted on 18 March, 2019 at 18:45

Last Friday was National Day of Action against Bullying & Violence, such an important day, not just for Australian school kids but for everyone; https/bullyingnoway.gov.au/. Next week, staying within the theme I will be attending the No More Harm Conference https/nomoreharm.com.au/ on the Gold Coast. I have attended a couple of these conferences in the past so I’m excited.

The program is jam packed and I can’t decide if I’m more excited about Teams in Turmoil: Improving Intra-Team Respect as the Antidote, Attention Please! Will the Bystander Please Stand Up, The Myth of the Bully Free Workplace or, Blaming the Victim and Hiding the Harm – Changing the Culture of Complaints.

As it’s been a few years since my last conference, what I am hoping for the most is to hear progressive advice and opinions. Strategies and theories about workplace bullying seemed to fall into a static loop for a while and I am looking forward to connecting with / and learning from, some fresh, innovative thinkers in this space.

If you’re a last-minute planner and would like to attend the conference, use the code ROZ19 to register at the early bird discount price.

Do you add or subtract the energy from the room?

Posted on 26 February, 2019 at 18:00

 Image by Free-Photos on Pixabay

I just shared a FaceBook post about kind and happy people that particularly resonated with me on a personal and professional level.

Firstly, the personal perspective.. I have recently had some happy events in my life that were worth sharing by phone and on social media, now I don't think I'm a huge sharer but sometimes social media is just the platform to spread news quickly and easily.  I was surprised and flattered by the beautiful comments and responses to my news, they made my heart smile.  But I wonder how much energy would I had given to a less than positive response?  Could 1 negative response cancel 100 positive ones?  I can think of other instances in my life when rather than be uplifted by overwelming positivity I have lost sleep over the single negative - what a waste of energy.

The professional interaction I am thinking of was during a training session yesterday.  I was talking to some managers about time spent managing staff and how 1 or 2 non-respectful, gossipy, negative employees can take hours of their time.  While in the background the productive, respectful employees do a great job just getting on with their work.  The problem is that the toxic employees take so much time and energy that sometimes the managers don't get around to acknowledging the employees that keep the business flowing.  The balance is wrong!  

When we feel valued and appreciated (and of course respected) we bring more of ourselves to our work, a simple show of acknowledgement can build the energy of an individual which then carries on through the team.

The answer, unfortunately, is not to spend less time on the problems - a head in the sand approach never works!  Perhaps the answer is to keep noticing and acknowledging the good, it doesn't matter how small the acknowledgement as long as you keep adding to the energy.  Give people enough support, respect and kindness that they can see past the small energy sapping negatives.

Respect at Work can help :) 


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