The Leading Edge - Taking Care of Business
When the Glass is Half Empty
Recently, on the show America's Got Talent, a 30-year-old woman with cancer auditioned. She sang an original song she had written about the past year of her life. Her voice was beautiful, the lyrics poignant, and her performance captivating. During judging she was upbeat and smiled warmly – she was beautiful and she glowed, even though she was almost wraithlike. In a backstage interview, she revealed that she had been given only a 2% chance of surviving her illness. “She said, 2% of survival isn’t 0%. 2% is something and I wish people knew how amazing it is.” Then she said, “You can't wait until life isn't hard anymore before you decide to be happy.”
We all complain, some of us more than others; it’s almost like we have a daily quota of venting that we have to achieve before we finally retire to bed. Not all complaining is bad, sometimes we need to complain to highlight things that genuinely need changing, or we need to alert people to a poor product, or a dangerous situation; that type of complaining can be constructive. Sometimes a little venting can also be a good stress reliever. But chronic complaining is counterproductive. It’s like the boy that cried wolf. In the end, no one listens to you.
In business we experience whiny employees, suppliers, customers, investors, the list goes on – almost anyone has the capacity to fall into that category. The challenge comes when we are constantly having to deal with someone for whom the glass is always half empty, no matter the reality of the situation.
Before we can deal with the whiners in our life we need to understand why they constantly complain. For many, it is subconsciously (psychologists prefer to use the word unconsciously) a call for attention, sympathy, support for a grievance, or a desire for drama. For others, it is an attempt to gather people around a cause, to seek validation for their beliefs – to recruit.
The complaints are usually way out of proportion to the amount of discomfort the person is feeling. Something as simple as their cup of coffee being too cool can set them off on a tirade about how useless the coffee machine is, which leads to blaming foreign imports and sweatshops, being ripped off by the retail store, complaining that the entire manufacturing sector is only out for profit, and whining that you literally can’t buy a single thing that works these days. In the end, it becomes a habit. It is toxic and exhausting for the person on the receiving end.
The big challenge is that complainers don’t really want to solve their problems. Taking away their “causes” takes away their identity. If they are not complaining about something, who are they and where is the drama in their lives?
Dealing with our own negativity is tough enough, but dealing with complainers and whiners in our business life can be almost impossible. Sympathy doesn’t work as you just stoke the fire and the person gets even more worked up – in effect, you’ve given them a soapbox.
There is one thing you can do; take control of the situation. The next time that chronic complainer (you know, the bane of your life) starts ratcheting up to a full-blown whining session, cut them off at the pass. Tell them that while you are willing to listen to their complaint, they need to focus on something either they or you can do about the situation. If there is nothing either of you can do, ask them what is the point of continuing to complain? This dose of reality takes the wind out of a complainer’s sails while allowing you to address a genuine complaint if one exists.
Of course, that may be a little too simple and the person’s whine gene may still be buzzing. If this is the case, and you can’t get them to move on (hopefully not to another cause celebre) and you are feeling generous with your time, you might encourage them to change their perspective on the issue. If you can give them an alternative view it can often help to diffuse the situation. Do this a few times and they may even get the message; if you are lucky they might begin to realize that the glass is not always half-empty, it’s just a matter of perspective.
Every day we can choose to be happy or sad – perhaps it’s time to be grateful that you have the opportunity to be happy.
New Realities Require New Thinking
We seem to be coming out the other side of the pandemic here in Canada, but the progress we are making is fragile. There are so many risk factors at play, including new variants popping up almost weekly, that can derail our fight to get back to normal, whatever that might look like in a post-COVID world. One thing is certain, the world of business is changing along with the culture that drives it.
Navigating change is an entrepreneurial skill you will need to hone in the coming months and years. Economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic is only one change that businesspeople have to manage. Behind the scenes technological and culture changes, some accelerated by the COVID-19 outbreak, pose their own challenges.
In this article we are going to look at four foundational strategies that you as a small business owner might need to adopt to enable you to keep your feet firmly on the ground over the coming months and years.
First, don’t get stressed out over what you don’t know. In business, we usually expect there to be a right or wrong answer, the correct action to take and the wrong action. A lot of what we do is black and white and based on our past knowledge of business and how the world of business worked. Yes, worked, because today, all bets are off. Be okay with not knowing. Instead, set out to learn what, given the state of the economy, the world, and your specific situation at this particular moment in time, is the right course of action for your business. Do not base it on yesterday’s thinking, start your decision-making from scratch based on what you know today not a past that is no longer relevant.
Second, when the ground around you is constantly shifting perfection is almost impossible to achieve. What was perfect today, might not be perfect tomorrow. And what is perfection anyway? Instead, think about constant improvement as your goal. Mistakes will happen, you will fail on occasion; focus on using those “failures” to learn and improve.
Third, spend time to understand the current challenges facing your business rather than rush into action. Knee-jerk reactions to complex issues rarely lead to constructive strategies or solutions. Many business owners tend to break down problems into their component parts to make them easier to deal with, but in so doing lose sight of the big picture. In today’s world you need to pull back on the lens and identify the core problem and the systemic issues, not the mosquitos buzzing around. Don’t find yourself struggling to extricate yourself from the quicksand – rise above your challenges. Looking down will give you a far less frenetic, less frightening perspective.
Finally, get help. There are very few businesspeople today that are not facing some kind of detrimental effect from the seemingly everlasting pandemic, so reach out to people in your network that have the skills, knowledge, and experience to help you with the specific challenges you are currently facing. Think of this as building on your existing knowledge and gaining unique perspectives. You are not asking them to solve your challenges, you are asking permission to spend a little time looking at things using their brain and their resources.
It’s a scary world right now, but if you avoid relying on past strategies to solve new reality challenges you will discover that opportunities to prosper are as prevalent as ever.
Coach's Corner - The Importance of Trust
“Trust is the glue that holds relationships together,” writes Brian Tracy, author of Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life. He continues, “You can have all kinds of problems and disagreements with another person, but as long as the trust and respect are still there, the relationship can endure.”
In his article The Neuroscience of Trust (Harvard Business Review, January – February 2017), Paul J. Zak wrote, “In my research I’ve found that building a culture of trust is what makes a meaningful difference. Employees in high-trust organizations are more productive, have more energy at work, collaborate better with their colleagues, and stay with their employers longer than people working at low-trust companies.”
In business, we need to trust our colleagues, our bosses, our employees and our customers, if we are to be trusted by them. As with respect, trust can only be earned.
How do we build and maintain trust in our businesses?
Although this is not an easy task, one of the best models, I have seen, for creating a trustful environment is outlined in the chapter entitled Braving Trust in Brene Brown’s book, Dare to Lead. The acronym, BRAVING represents seven behaviours leading to trustful relationships. Briefly they are outlined here and provide a starting point for conversations and actions to increase trust in your organization.
Boundaries - being respectful and clear of each other’s boundaries.
Reliability – saying what you will do without overpromising and being realistic.
Accountability – owning your mistakes and not blaming others.
Vault – respecting confidentiality of others, sharing only what you are permitted to share.
Integrity – living your values, walking your talk.
Nonjudgment – asking for or giving help without judging.
Generosity – believing the best of another person’s intentions, words and actions.
Trust is built in small increments. As leaders we need to give opportunities for our staff and colleagues to demonstrate their trustworthiness. When we micromanage or take on tasks that others should be doing, we are in effect showing, in a non-verbal way, that we do not trust them. Providing opportunities to show our trust is coupled with having clearly stated expectations, and ensuring we are listening to someone without judgment when they seek further clarification or ask for assistance.
An organization built on the foundation of trust will be a more successful enterprise.
Paul Abra, Motivated Coaching