Circling Back to Compassion – Important Additional Information

MumbleAfter discussing compassion as a tool for the leader’s toolbox, it was pointed out that compassion has been plasticized in modern society, and further discussion on the topic is required.  The intent here is to help provide practical steps for building a compassionate team, making compassionate people, and soliciting compassion as the prime response in customer relations.  There are some truths requiring stress to ensure a clear understanding is provided.

Compassion

The dictionary declares that compassion means “to suffer together.”  Intimating that compassionate people feel motivated to relieve suffering for they have felt the pain of suffering in another.  But, compassion is not the same as empathy or altruism.  Empathy is all about taking the perspective of and feeling another person’s emotions.  The taking is dangerous, the feeling is dangerous, and combined empathy becomes all about the person’s selfishness taking and feeling, not the sufferer. Compassion is when those feelings and thoughts include the desire to help, taking nothing, onboarding no selfish emotional entanglements for personal gain, simply a desire to help relieve suffering. Altruism, in turn, is the kind, selfless behavior often prompted by feelings of compassion, though one can feel compassion without acting on it, and altruism isn’t always motivated by compassion.

The focus of compassionate people is to help without personally benefiting a person or animal in pain.  Be that pain physical, emotional, mental, etc.; the focus is always on the other and on helping as able.  Interestingly, compassion is rooted deep in the brain, whereas empathy, sympathy, and altruism are not.  Compassion changes a person fundamentally for the better, whereas research supports that sympathy, empathy, and even altruistic actions do not.  Hence compassion can be a tool in a leader’s toolbox, whereas sympathy and empathy, more often than not, are useless in building people and teams.  It is clear that compassion is intentionality, a cognizant decision to act, and the purpose is always to help.  Sympathy, empathy, and altruism are unconscious emotional desires; unless the person showing these emotions is there for personal gain, deception is intentional and conscious.

  • Truth 1. It cannot be stated enough, or more strongly, emotions are a cognizant choice based upon social cues, learned social rules, and judgments to obtain a reward.  Several good references on this topic exist, but the best and easiest originates with Robert Solomon, “Not Passions Slave: Emotions and Choice.”
  • Truth 2. Emotions are active responses, not passive, and emotions do not happen to an individual sporadically or spontaneously.  Again, several good references on this topic exist, but the best and easiest originates with Robert Solomon, “Not Passions Slave: Emotions and Choice.”

Where compassion is concerned, especially the conscious use of compassion as a leadership tool, the leader must become aware of emotions’ role and social influence and be better prepared to improve people and build cohesion in teams.  Because of compassions intentionality to render help to others, understanding how emotions are a choice and why is like putting glasses on to clarify what is happening, why, and how to duplicate or eradicate the emotional influence.  Thus, the need to emphasize these two truths, even though they are similar, are distinct and need complete understanding to best position the leader in building people.Knowledge Check!

Plastic Words – Tyranny in Language!

  • Truth 3. Uwe Poerksen, “Plastic Words: The Tyranny of Modular Language,” remains an excellent source and cautionary tale on what we are experiencing in modern society where words are captured, bent, disconnected from common definitions, and then plasticized to stretch into what that word is not intended to be used for.  There are a host of plastic words, phrases, and entire twisted languages dedicated to exerting tyranny through communication using plastic words.

Consider the following, culled from APA’s junior website, “Psychology Today.”  Please note, the article linked is the author’s personal opinion; however, for understanding the plasticity in compassion found in modern language, a better example is difficult to find.  The author insists that compassion requires using both sympathy and empathy to be compassionate.  As discussed above, sympathy and empathy should not describe or define compassion. While the words are similar, the conscious intentionality of compassion means sympathy and empathy are not, and should not, be included with compassion.

Yet, the author still provides clear guidance on compassion, insisting that compassion be ruled with logic and wisdom.  Please note, showing compassion does not mean the compassionate person needs to go into debt, sacrifice themselves, or invest to the point of exhaustion in another person.  Logic and wisdom dictate that you are not less compassionate when you govern compassion with temperance, but the reverse.  A critical point of knowledge stumbled upon while trying to plasticize compassion as sympathy or empathy; compassion requires logic and wisdom, temperance, and judgment, all conscious, active, and involved decisions to be the most effective in building people.

Finally, compassion is a two-directional mode of building people.  Both parties in a compassionate relationship are choosing consciously to engage in compassion.  Hence, both will share in the consequences; sympathy and empathy are all one-directional from the giver to the receiver, with no reciprocation.  Thus, stretching compassion to include sympathy and empathy, or even altruism, disconnects the fundamental ties of compassion from logic, and chaos ensues; where chaos exists, tyranny occurs!

Using Compassion – Focusing Upon Potential

Opportunity is potential; potential is triumph waiting for an effort to be applied.” – Dave Salisbury

The above sentiment is one of my favorite truths because of what Mumble’s Dad Memphis said in Happy Feet, “The word triumph begins with try and it ends with a great big UMPH!”  What does the informed leader do to build people?  They recognize potential, both strengths and weaknesses, as a means to grow in themselves and others.  Compassion enters when an event occurs as the emotion of connecting and building relationships.  An analogy, compassion, could be compared to the mortar used in laying bricks.  Each person and event are bricks, and by using compassion, the bricks are organized into a wall of strength.  What is the potential of a single brick in a pile; hard to say.  Organize them with compassion, and the potential becomes visible to all.

Practical Activities for Building Compassion

The following are helpful suggestions for building compassion in yourself and others.

    1. Show genuine emotion; if you’re happy, smile! If you’re struggling, let people know.  Our society has been built upon hiding what has been going on for too long.  People begin a conversation with, “How are you doing?”  The expected answer is “fine,” good,” “okay,” etc. yet, when you know how you’re doing, these answers just spread lies.  Are you building an environment where people can be honest about how they are doing?
    2. Compliments are a big part of showing compassion. Yet, too often, we cannot compliment each other without problems of sexual harassment.  The giving and accepting of compliments build trust and comfort between people.  Open the environment for giving and receiving compliments.
    3. Praise and expressions of gratitude cannot be understated as needed tools for building people. Research supports that honest, sincere, and frequent praise is better than cash for brain health and motivation.  Again, open the environment for issuing praise and gratitude.
    4. Employ reflective listening; reflective listening is listening to understand the speaker and build a two-directional solution. Active listening is easily faked; the other listening methods do not include listening, hence the need for reflective listening.
    5. Curiosity reflects a genuine interest in someone else. Ask the other person’s interests, find common ground, and build from there.  Do not forget to share.  For example, what books have you read recently?  Got a hobby, share new skills.
    6. Invest time! You cannot build compassion without investing time in yourself and with your team!  Take the time, invest the time, and employ patience.

© Copyright 2021 – M. Dave Salisbury
The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the images.  Quoted materials remain the property of the original author.

Code Enforcement Response Letter – 29 October 2021

The Honorable
Mayor Ken Miyagishima
City of Las Cruces
700 N Main
Las Cruces, NM
88001

29 October 2021

Dr. Dave Salisbury Ph.D.
1805 E Idaho Ave
Las Cruces, NM
88001

Subject: Unequal Treatment Before the Law, Code Enforcement, and Staff Incompetence and Unreliability

Dear Mayor,

On 19 October 2021, Officer S. Chavez (#C438) drafted a letter to me complaining that my property was somehow in violation of Las Cruces Municipal Code Section 18-2(1).  Which according to the website linked, states the following:

Noxious weeds and other rank vegetation.”

Item 1:  What is a “noxious weed,” how does one identify “rank vegetation?”  The municipal code is vague and unclear.  This means that the code enforcement officer is left to use their own opinion, opening the doors to authoritarian interpretation and the abuse of the taxpayer in the application of the municipal code.  I have some deep and abiding concerns.

Item 2:  The letter was dated 19 October 2021, but the postmark from the stamp machine is dated 25 October 2021, and the US Postal Service delivered this notification to me on 28 October 2021.  These dates are important for several reasons.  Please note, I was mandated to comply with the authoritarian and opinionated code enforcement officer’s interpretation of the municipal code by 31 October 2021.

  1. Why did Officer Chavez (#C438) sit on the letter for six days before stamping it and dropping it in the mail?
  2. I asked this exact question of Officer Chavez (#C438) and received three separate and distinct excuses, and then was “offered” an extension of the deadline without asking for it. Alerting me to the fact that Officer Chavez (#C438) knew he had done wrong, knew he had been busted, and knew he needed a plausible excuse.  This is a clear indication of Officer Chavez (#C438) being incompetent and unreliable.
  3. When I called his supervisor on 28 October 2021, I left a message; I identified myself, left my number, and left an expectation for a callback. Officer Chavez (#C438) identified the supervisor as simply “Roach, like the bug.”  Alerting me to another problem, a lack of respect for authority in the code enforcement offices.  I have some concerns; if the officers do not respect each other and their supervisors, how can they respect the law, the municipal codes they are expected to enforce, the taxpayers, and themselves?
  4. 0815 – 29 October 2021, I called dispatch and asked for Roach’s supervisor, as I refuse to play phone tag. If “Roach” will not meet a taxpayer’s expectation or make it a priority to call that taxpayer the following day, then it is time to speak to a higher power.  More than an hour later, “Roach” calls me.  By the way, I am still expecting a callback from “Roach’s” supervisor.  Who is that, and when is that call going to transpire?  The dispatcher did not know and could not tell me.
  5. For the record, who is “Roach?” What is his title?  What is his full name?  None of which were provided when “Roach” called me.  By “Roach’s” call, I have now introduced myself three times to the Code Enforcement Officers, and still, “Roach” proceeds to call me not by my name.  Indicating disrespect is endemic in the City of Las Cruces Code Enforcement Department, and there is a severe lack of leadership on top of the problems with unreliability and incompetence.  Where is the training of these officers coming from, and who is modeling this execrable behavior?
  6. When I asked “Roach” the question, “Why did Officer Chavez (#C438) sit on the notification letter for 6-days?” he proclaimed he did not understand what I was saying, chose to become offended that I was trying to explain, and claimed I was berating and belittling him. “Roach” actively refused to listen, preferring to listen to the voices in his head instead of the taxpayer voicing legitimate concerns about being abused by his staff.  Are we sure “Roach” is a supervisor?

Let me pause here and clarify a few points.  I possess more than 20 years of experience as an industrial and organizational psychologist.  I have worked in many different roles across the United States, including government, the private sector, and non-profits.  I have been in crisis management, led teams in emergency response, enforced legislation, and much more.  My jobs often see me needing to evaluate and observe, quickly make conclusions, and then develop action plans to generate positive results in a timely and efficient manner.  I am very good at my job!  I am a data analyst, a project manager, and hold an MBA in global management specializing in human resources, a master’s in adult education and training, with deep experience in eLearning design and delivery, and am writing my dissertation to complete my Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology.

I have seen incompetence and unreliability in people many times and in many places.  The experience witnessed over the last two days at the hands of the “Code Enforcement Officers” for the City of Las Cruces leaves me mentally breathless, and my blood is boiling.  There is no excuse for this unprofessionalism, lack of respect, and the refusal to apply the law equally and appropriately answer simple questions from taxpayers!

Item 3:  When I drive through my neighborhood, my yard is desert and is in no way, shape, or form less or better than my neighbors.  How many of my neighbors received code enforcement letters for their yards?  If the answer is none, then the law was not equally applied, and the officers involved need discipline for being selective in their application of the law and enforcement of the municipal code.  Suppose the answer is all of my neighbors. In that case, the code enforcement officers need to visit the neighborhood and explain precisely to everyone what specifically the code means by “Noxious weeds and other rank vegetation.”  The same vegetation growing in my yard is found in the desert surrounding Las Cruces.

Item 4:  The vegetation in my yard was left alone intentionally because the birds had been eating the seeds.  I prefer to see the birds as I am allergic to cats and dogs.  Since I cannot have a pet, and the vegetation had pretty flowers and had a valuable purpose of feeding butterflies and birds, I am still at a loss as to which of the vegetation is considered, “Noxious weeds and other rank vegetation.”

Item 5:  The time delay of Officer Chavez (#C438) cost me more than $1500 and worsened my injuries that were sustained in US Military service.  I am a 90% disabled veteran, and the stress of having to comply due to the refusal to notify taxpayers timely meant I could not hire anyone to help, nor could I obtain assistance from friends.  Thus, I had to perform the work myself, causing me significant injury over the 5-hours I was performing the yard work.  I take serious umbrage at the time-lapse in the notification from Officer Chavez (#C438) and his unreliability, and incompetence which need immediately rectified and resolved to my satisfaction.  Officer Chavez’s (#C438) actions were unconstitutional and potentially criminal.

I expect a prompt and timely response as a taxpayer.  Please note that a copy of this letter is posted to my blog and found at this link to promote governmental transparency.  Thank you for your time in this affair.

Sincerely,

Dr. M. Dave Salisbury Ph.D.
I/O Psychologist
US Army/US Navy Veteran

MDS/mds

CC: City Councilor Gabriel Vasquez

“That’s Crazy!!!” – More Chronicles From the VA Chapter 3

Bobblehead DollIt is no secret I am on several prescription medications.  I take these under strict medical advice, and three of these prescriptions regard mental health improvements.  However, my prescription reasons were subtly shifted because Phoenix’s last two primary care providers did not listen to the patient.  Since the El Paso primary care physicians appear to be utterly incapable of even attempting to listen, I have now been without a mental health prescription for an entire week.  This is called bureaucratic cold-turkey prescription stoppage!

Not the first time this has happened, especially for this particular medication, a serotonin blocker.  Here’s the rub, the physical and mental withdrawal symptoms of cold turkeying the drug; includes, but is not limited to, the following symptoms, of which I have ALL of the problems!

      • Nightmares
      • Suicidal Ideation/Thoughts/Visions
      • Headaches
      • Heart Palpitations, radiating chest pain
      • Anxiety
      • Depressions
      • Mood Swings
      • Irritability
      • Tinglings and Prickling sensations of the skin
      • “Brain Saps”/”Brain Shivers”/Spaced-Out Zombie Spells
      • Fatigue
      • Dry Mouth
      • Insomnia and Sleepiness – Which is a major whiplash feeling!
      • Pain and neurological events in every part of my body!
      • … and more… Much…  Much… More!

I have been without this medication due to bureaucratic stupidity for several days in the past due to pharmacy issues.  But, this is now the longest I have been without this medication since getting prescribed this medication.  I wish, like anything, I had known some of these withdrawal symptoms before I went to the ER earlier this week for pain and neurological problems; I would have raised the refill issues as part of the ER visit.  I went online looking for other people’s experiences; I want some medical advice before continuing this medication!!!

PACT_modelI am a root cause kind of person; why do I bring this up?  I have had three primary care providers since arriving in the El Paso VAHCS in May 2021.  None of them have gotten any of the medications correct due to a blatant refusal to LISTEN to the patient with the INTENT to understand!  Nurses with VA-provided primary care providers are expected to communicate with patients between 24 and 72 hours post any ER visit.  Since moving to Las Cruces, I have visited the ER twice and have not spoken to the nurse yet!

I have initiated the conversation with the nurse through phone and secure messaging, and the nurse has refused to engage.  Through secure messaging, I am advised, “Secure messaging is not the place to triage a patient, and no question can be answered as this requires triage of a patient.”  No direct phone contact is possible with the clinic.  One must call, get routed to a call center, leave a message, and then hope the clinic calls you back sometime before you die!  Don’t forget; I am the same patient told, “The clinic will not see you in person because you “WILL NOT” wear a mask.”  Completely refusing to understand, accept, and believe that I cannot wear a mask due to medically documented (by the VA medical providers, which medical records they possess) reasons.  Best of all, the veteran is then sent letters and marketing materials urging the veteran to use secure messaging through “MyHealtheVet as a safe and secure way to access your medical team and get your questions and concerns addressed by your PACT team!”  If the VA were a mental health patient, they would have schizophrenia and at least a dual-personality.

PACT 1Snide, rude, and disrespectful staff, all made possible by, supported through, and legally accepted under federal government fiat.  Do you realize that the nurse not doing their job will have any number of valid and acceptable excuses, and these excuses are accepted because of designed intentional incompetence allowed under federal employment laws, regulations, and directives, established by and supported through Congressional oversight?  In Disney’s “Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement,” Viscount Mayberry has a line,

Your staff is incompetent and unreliable!”

The VA is incompetent and unreliable, and the victims are the veterans and their families.  We are talking about dangerous drugs, forced addictions, and then the ineptitude of incompetent and irresponsible bureaucrats who refuse to do their jobs in a timely and responsible manner.  But do not take my word for it.  Let’s review what a watchdog organization, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG), has to say on this matter.

VA 3

  • Tracy McNeil, of Raeford, North Carolina, was sentenced to one year and one day in prison and ordered to pay $90,003 in restitution for committing wire fraud involving an elderly veteran in her care. From February 2015 to February 2017, McNeil fraudulently obtained benefits from the VA and the Office of Personnel Management by executing a power of attorney over a disabled veteran who served in the Army and worked for the US Postal Service. The investigation revealed that McNeill arranged for the victim, who had dementia, to move into her home in February 2015 and then directed the VA and OPM to deposit the veteran’s benefits into her bank account. Between April 2015 and December 2016, the VA deposited $11,151, and OPM deposited $61,318 into McNeil’s account. Further, OPM disbursed the veteran’s life insurance for $17,533 to McNeil. Financial analysis showed that most of the funds were spent on McNeill’s expenses, including rent, utilities, credit card payments, and personal purchases.

VA 3

  • Strock Contracting, Inc., of Cheektowaga, New York, has agreed to enter into a consent judgment with the United States for $4.7 million to resolve claims that Strock violated the False Claims Act. The United States filed an action in federal court alleging that Strock Contracting profited financially after fraudulently obtaining federal contracts intended to benefit service-disabled veterans. The United States alleged the company, which was not owned or controlled by a veteran, recruited a service-disabled veteran to create a pass-through company, known as Veterans Enterprises Company, Inc. (VECO), which the Strock Contracting its owner, Lee Strock, controlled. The company allegedly directed VECO to submit false eligibility certifications to the government, obtaining substantial profits on numerous federal contracts.
        • Where are the VA Employees who should know what “fake eligibility certificates” look like?
        • Where are the supervisors who should have been providing training?
        • Where are the Congressional oversight teams in holding the VA accountable?

VA 3

    • William Rich, of Windsor Mill, Maryland, was arrested for allegedly obtaining more than $1 million in veterans and Social Security Administration disability benefits by falsely claiming that he had paraplegia. Allegedly, Rich misrepresented his physical condition in VA disability compensation claims, in communications with the VA, and during medical examinations in pursuit of VA disability benefits. While serving in Iraq in 2005, Rich sustained injuries that resulted in the loss of use of both lower extremities. However, approximately six weeks after his injuries, he made substantial progress toward recovery and was no longer paralyzed. Later records show the VA rated him one hundred percent disabled following an examination in 2007. The examining physician noted that he did not have access to Rich’s complete claims file, so he did not review Rich’s medical history or observe the earlier report. In 2018, the VA OIG conducted an audit of specific claims and learned of conduct by Rich inconsistent with his purported condition. Over the next two years, VA OIG special agents conducted surveillance. They observed Rich walking, going up and downstairs, entering and exiting vehicles, lifting, bending, and carrying items—all without visible limitation or assistance of a medical device, including a wheelchair [emphasis mine].
        • OK, let me be clear, I am glad this veteran got better; I do not in any way condone theft. But, where is the VA in being culpable for FAILURE to do their job correctly?
        • Will the doctor who failed to do their job be held liable for the malpractice performed?

VA 3

    • William H. Precht, of Kent, Ohio, was sentenced to 37 months imprisonment and ordered to pay $1.25 million in restitution after pleading guilty to theft of government property and participating in a bribery and kickback scheme. In October 2010, Precht registered a purported vendor, a company he controlled, as a small disadvantaged business and veteran-owned small business in the VA vendor system. He then used his VA purchase card and other employee cards to purchase over $1 million in alleged medical supplies from the vendor. In addition, from May 2015 through January 2019, he conspired with Robert A. Vitale, a medical sales representative for multiple companies that conducted business with the medical center, to devise a scheme in which Precht would receive kickbacks and other items of value in exchange for steering VA business and other monetary awards to Vitale.VA 3

Speaking of staff being “incompetent and unreliable,” did you know that the VBA is using “COVID-19” as an excuse for being backlogged in cases, AGAIN?  Did you know that COVID-19 was so powerful that it caused the VA to fall 200,000+ cases behind, in an inventory of 600,000+ cases requiring decisioning, with 70,000+ needing additional review for entitlement, and needs to hire 2,000+ new employees to help correct the problem?  Since the VBA continues to fail in staff training, exactly how will hiring new employees help?  Honest question!  With the current staff rated as incompetent and unreliable, not by me only, but by the VA-OIG who has regularly taken these issues and more to Congress asking for additional scrutiny and assistance in improving the VBA, VHA, and National Cemetery specifically and the VA collectively; what exactly can new employees do?VA 3

The VHA cannot plan construction projects and put planned maintenance into proper categories to execute maintenance tasks correctly.  Congress refuses to scrutinize budgets and fiscal compliance for just maintenance of facilities.  How in the world can anyone expect more when the VA cannot even hit the basics of planned maintenance tasks?  I can; I do!

I-CareWhen the VA publishes marketing materials claiming they set standards for excellence and lead the industry, I want them to prove their competence and abilities!  Right now, their failures scream louder than the voices in their own ears, and they refuse to listen to anyone, and I am not happy!  You, the taxpayer, should not accept the performance of ANY government agency, including the entire legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government at the local, county, state, and federal levels, until they correct their behaviors!  It is time to end the charade and put paid to this contemptible behavior and abuse!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

Why Should Your Customers Remain Customers?

Bobblehead DollMy wife is mad at me; I was relating an email survey experience where a financial institution had sent me a customer service survey.  I described the truth, I have no reason to remain a customer and feel less than enthused at remaining a customer.  My wife fearing I had been insulting, derogatory, or denigrating, got mad at me.  I explained my position and how I had answered the rote questions, and she is still not happy.  But, her position and my position bring up an interesting point, centered around the following question, “Why should a customer remain a customer?”

Use My Name!

Daily I receive programmed emails from multiple companies.  Do you know how I pick the ones I want to do business with?  They know my preferred name and use it!  What an incredible concept; since the early 1990s, we have had the technology to put in names, create mailing lists, and use people’s preferred names, and businesses still struggle with this concept.  Why?

LookI have several titles, want my business, know and use my titles.  Pick one, and use it!  How can a company claim they “know their customers” when that company cannot use the customer’s preferred name or title in addressing that customer?  I have worked hard to earn a Ph.D.; I do not expect everyone to call me “Dr.,” but it sure as anything beats being called “mister” all the bloody time.  Worse, I still hold several ranks and positions that come with titles. I could be addressed using them, but even with a preferred name on many company customer profiles, I get that lazy customer service representative that calls me Mr. Salisbury!  Guess what company I am going to ditch at the first opportunity?Shhh----Don--t-Say-A-Thing--Just-Listen--Don--t-Talk.jpg (500×273) | The beauty and danger of ...

On the topic of names, if I say, “everyone calls me Dave,” and you continue to call me “Michael,” “Mike,” or “Mr. Salisbury,” you are either not listening, or your company has the worst policies for addressing customers.  Guess what company I will end my business relationship with post-haste?  I have given permission to use a preferred name, use my name.  Listen to me!

Listen!

Job Interview Cartoons ~ Silly BuntActive listening can be faked!  Customer service agents, I know active listening can be manufactured, I have been a customer service agent, I know your stress, I know your job, and I know your problems.  Thus, to your bosses, I appeal; stop the active listening drama!  If you are not stressing reflective listening to your employees, where they and the customer reach a mutual understanding, you are not doing your job leading customer relations!

My wife claims that conclusion is “Too harsh.”  I disagree vociferously.  Here’s why!  Remember how I just related how I had informed customer service agents, “everyone calls me Dave,” and the agent continued to call me everything but my preferred name.  Failure to listen remains the number one customer complaint for a reason; the agents are not listening to reach a mutual understanding.  Too often, they are not even attempting to listen actively but are listening to respond, responding to the voices in their heads and not the customer!Joke of the Day | Joke of the day, Funny quotes, Single words

Do you want better customer survey responses; try listening, then acting, then listening again.  Not speaking; listening, acting, listening, acting; it’s a pattern worth doing!  Yet, too often, what is the pattern found, maybe listening, speaking, maybe listening, token action, maybe listening, half-hearted action.  Wait for the customer to become frustrated and go away.  Guess which company I am going to be ending my business relationship with quickly?

Respond!

AP 20.96 Short-Answer Questions (SAQ) - Bello's Reference Page - Use GOOGLE CLASSROOM for all ...I have four companies who I have informed (several times) I no longer can do business with them.  They continue to send me emails asking for my business for old properties and cars I no longer possess.  Listening is but half the answer; you must also respond with definitive action.  How many times does a customer have to relate to your business they have moved?  I did business with a windshield repair company in Phoenix, AZ.  Good company, good service, but for the next three years, I received calls from them monthly, and I had moved out of their service area.  They were told this month after month, I was promised month after month this was the final call, and month after month, I received another call.  Guess whose recommendation I deleted online?

People ProcessesBusiness processes matter; honoring your word matters, displaying trust, integrity, and fulfilling a promise made all matters in the customer relationship long before the product or service is discussed.  Yet, how often are these issues on shaky ground, before the ink is dry on the service contract or the receipt for goods?  I have a cell phone provider I detest; I long for the day I can finally walk free of this provider and never look back.  Because their customer attention is deplorable, I feel used and abused every time I interact with this company.  I have the same problem with my current Internet provider.  When your customer service is so deplorable, you have to climb to become terrible; there is a problem that colors, signage, marketing, and gimmicks cannot fix!

Why Would I gladly Pay a Higher Price; Service!

Skillet Mac and Cheese with Crispy Breadcrumbs Recipe - Southern LivingI was in the supermarket, my wife asked for a treat.  To her, a treat is a bowl of deli mac & cheese, potato salad, or a bag of potato chips.  As I was in the deli and they had her mac & cheese, I bought mac & cheese.  My wife was shocked, I paid, what to her was an exorbitant price for the mac & cheese, but I was glad to pay the price.  The counter worker wrapped the mac & cheese package in plastic wrap to protect it from spilling, was pleasant, remembered me from a previous visit, and made my day.  The service was well worth the extra cost.

I kept going back to this store, making purchases long after this deli person was transferred to another store closer to their home because the service level did not go down.  Thus, I remained satisfied to pay extra for the service I received.  Walking on a cane, with labored breathing, and having a service representative walk with me, not ahead of me, so I feel like I have to race, is a significant service I would gladly pay more for.  I felt respected and remembered from visit to visit, even if I was sporadic in visiting for over a month.2mm to Sales Mastery | Customer Obsession: Creating "Wow" Moments That Leave a Lasting Impression

Long before the product or service costs are discussed is the customer experience.  If the customer experience fails, you can have the coolest products and the best access to services and fail because you forget the customer experience!  Getting back to the financial survey I just completed, it was full of Likert-style scale questions.  If your company employs a Likert question on a survey, you need a follow-up self-directed qualitative question to explain directly after.

Likert-Style Surveys

Likert-style questions are a quantitative researcher’s bread and butter, showing the relationships between agreement and disagreement on a broad scale.  Generally, on a scale of 1-10, these questions and scales have come to be represented by emojis, colors, statements, and more as technology has advanced.Top 10 Likert Scale Examples for your next survey! | QuestionPro

I completed 15 Likert-styled questions before I was asked why I rated the company as “Neither liked or disliked, neither favorable nor unfavorable.”  Okay, so quantitative data is easier and less expensive to collect, collate, and report.  But, if your customer survey is only collecting qualitative or quantitative data, you are only collecting half the story and none of the customer experiences!  However, you cannot simply ask ½ the questions qualitative and ½ the questions quantitative and expect anything but GIGO.  Careful planning is key to customer survey results worth your time and the customers time!Likert scale questions, survey and examples | QuestionPro

A customer satisfaction survey should first be an instrument of dedicated action!  Where your best and brightest in customer relations work to analyze, report, and propose efforts to satisfy the customers.  They investigate survey findings.  They respond to survey questions and concerns, address real people, and produce tangible results.eCommerce Customer Surveys | An Ultimate Guide 2021

A customer satisfaction survey is not the time, nor the place, for cute emojis and colorful pictures depicting customer attitudes.  Can the customer survey be more than black and white; naturally.  Remember that the customer survey is not where you go to flash and spin; this is where the customer goes, tells the truth, and expects action, not to be played with.  If the customer takes the time to complete a survey, there is a reason, find the cause, know the customer, and win.

Knowledge Check!These are but three basics, fundamental points at the start of the customer relations journey.  If you cannot get these three points right, the rest of the trip will be short, painful, and not fulfilling for you or your customers.  Worse, the experiences will be remembered, and people have this nasty habit of not forgetting bad experiences.  Why do the majority of people despise the DMV; because the majority of customers have experienced the most frustrating issues of their professional lives at the hands of the DMV agents.  Governments abuse their customers, which is as bad as customer interactions get, and everyone feels betrayed when the government and bureaucrats use them.

You are in the private sector; you have competition; your first question daily should be, “Why should my customers remain, my customers?”  When you answer this question, your customers will hear the answer loud and clear!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

Flexible Workspaces – Alternative Work Options

Bobblehead DollAfter my service-connected injuries went crazy in 2010 and my nerves decided I needed to be a “bobblehead doll,” I quickly realized there was a need for alternatives to commuting to an office every day and working as a traditional employee.  However, alternatives to conventional employment continue to be few and far between, primarily due to the IRS in America.  2020 saw a breakout in other options to the traditional employment paradigm, and I would like to continue this discussion to generate more alternatives to conventional employment.

Olmstead and Smith (1989) wrote what I consider to be the quintessential and sentinel book on alternatives to traditional employment, “Creating a Flexible Workspace: How to Select and Manage Alternative Work Options.”  Flexibility in the workplace is not just a Human Resources (HR) duty but is helped by having HR people with imaginations and who are empowered to be creative to keep good employees.  Flexibility is not merely limited to a wide variety of work schedules which can be offered optionally.  Flexibility in the workspace also includes on and off-site employment, and cross-training, as key fundamentals in empowering employees and driving workplace flexibility programs.  But flexibility always begins with the realization that flexibility is a two-directional relationship between employer and employee and a means for enhancing the talents, skills, and abilities already hired as part of a dedicated appreciative inquiry desire to innovate.

Appreciative InquiryQuestion

Appreciative inquiry is a growth mechanism that states that they already have enough of what a business organization needs, provided they listen to their employees.  Appreciative inquiry and common sense tell leaders who want to know and change their organization how and where to begin.  Appreciative inquiry-based leadership is 6-continuous steps that start small and cycle to larger problems as momentum for excellence permeates through an organization.  But the first step, just like in defeating a disabling addiction, is admitting there is a problem.

The six operational steps of appreciative inquiry:

      1. Admit there is a problem and commit to change.
      2. Define the problem.
      3. Discover the variables and stay focused on the positive.
      4. Dream BIG!
      5. Design the future and outline the steps to that future.
      6. Destiny, create the destination you desire.

Follow the instructions on a shampoo bottle, “Wash, Rinse, Repeat.”  The appreciative inquiry model can be scaled, repeated, implemented into small or large teams, and produce motivated members who then become the force to building change.  Allow yourself and your team to learn, this takes time, but through building motivation for excellence, time can be captured to perform.

Call Center Agent - FemaleFlexibility and Viability – Not just Terms, but Lifestyles

Flexibility in an organization is understood as accepting change and positively using that change to grow and develop more flexibility.  Viability in an organization is where the continuing effectiveness of flexibility generates new growth markets and creates the organization’s potential to flex to meet the growth areas.  Flexibility and viability are interlinked and interwoven ideas that every employee should be conscious of and striving to enhance personally as part of their brand.

Andragogy - The PuzzleErroneously called “Employee Engagement,” flexibility and viability are the continued efforts of all employees to participate in the business’ success.  Appreciative inquiry is the sum of the efforts to flex and be viable in competition with other businesses, recognizing that the answers to your current problems are always found in listening to employees.  Please note, you can think your business is flexible enough, but when the winds of change blow, will your business collapse or grow?

For example, as a consultant and subject matter expert, I was called into a manufacturing company to improve flexibility.  The company had been around for more than 100-years, and the owners, a family business, figured they were pretty flexible.  From day one, though, it was apparent the business had stagnated, and there was no flexibility or viability left in the organization.  When the 2008 market recession occurred, the company lost 5 of its 6 operating shifts and barely survived by draining all remaining liquidity to stay afloat.  The company has limped along ever since, to the amazement of everyone who has worked at this facility.

GearsHence, one must understand the principles of viability, flexibility, and appreciative inquiry as a lifestyle of daily choices where the leadership is engaged in and listening to employees.  Failure to listen remains the number one reason businesses, and governments fail.  Who should governments be listening to; average citizens, not statisticians, not special interest groups, not lawyers and political cronies, the people who voted them into power.  Who should businesses be listening to; their employees, not customers, not vendors, not shareholders, all of whom need to have a voice, but the front-line employee has answers.

Realities versus Fiction

Having worked with many a small businessperson across the continental US, the smaller a business understands the need to listen to employees, but the bigger a company becomes, the less desire they have to listen to anyone, let alone employees.  This is a reality.quote-mans-inhumanity

The fiction is the proclamation that the customer should be listened to, the shareholders know what the business needs, or the vendors have essential information for the company.  While all have a seat at the table, the front-line employees remain a wealth of information generally untapped, unused, and depressingly denied the ability to help.  As a consultant, I spend most of my time listening to the employees, then presenting their ideas to management.  I have never claimed another employee’s ideas as mine and never will.  Yet, I know too many consultants whose ethical and professional brands might be slightly less demanding than my behavior standards.  This also is reality, watch the ethics of a consultant; if they waiver, there is duplicity nearby!

Creating Flexibility in the Workplace

As an industrial and organizational psychologist, I affirm in a language most somber that no single tool will be a “magic bullet” for fixing employee concerns and building flexibility and viability.  Holistic solutions are not just a current “buzzword,” but an actual truth.  The solutions must grow from an apt quote from Captain Jack Sparrow:

“The only rules that really matter are these: what a man can do and what a man can’t do. For instance, you can accept that your father was a pirate and a good man, or you can’t. But pirate is in your blood, boy, so you’ll have to square with that someday. And me, for example, I can let you drown, but I can’t bring this ship into Tortuga all by me onesies, savvy? So, can you sail under the command of a pirate, or can you not” [emphasis mine]?

People ProcessesWhat can your company do, and what can your company not do?  Between these two extremes are a lot of different possibilities, opportunities, and areas for exploration.  For example, as a call center, can you home shore your agents?  Maybe the technology is there, but are the legal questions regarding data security and safety open to home shoring?  What about contingent employment, where you use knowledge vendors to fill in during peak times, thus allowing your call center to flex off and not have to work overtime so much?  Would your call center do well with phased retirement, partial retirement, or voluntary reduced work time programs?

Each of these options builds flexibility and viability, but they come with consequences, and the valuation of those consequences should include input from the front-line employees.  For example, a call center I am familiar with used to have stepped departments, where a rep could learn the basics, then promote into the next higher step.

3-direectional-balanceExcept, the model was broken by HR, and the depth of available personnel dried up.  Thus, the call center went to a universal agent model, where all agents were expected to know all the different departments and steps and act accordingly.  The universal model was sold as a cost-saving measure.  The employees did not like the new model as all the business processes were built on the old stepped agent model.  The universal model failed, the company could not afford to return to the stepped model, and knowledge was walking out the door at an exceeding pace.

The answer was to listen to the front-line employees, but it took more than five years and ten different consulting firms and technology firms to reach this point.  But the cost of lost potential sales and lost business knowledge is still hindering this company from a full recovery.  Why; because the change that broke the company has never been fixed, just plastered over, and the universal agent approach destroyed organizational trust between employees and the employer.  Decisions have consequences, and if you do not know what your company can do, you do not know what your company cannot do; especially, if you refuse to listen to the front-line employees.I'm not listening - boring :: Funny :: MyNiceProfile.com

What will your employees do?  What are your employees already capable of doing if provided the opportunity?  Where is the focus in your company, customers, vendors, shareholders, or employees?  Why?  Who of your employees can you absolutely trust to accomplish a task?  How do you know that employee is trustworthy?  What makes that employee happy to return to work every day?Michael Shurtleff quote: Listening is not merely hearing, it is receiving the message...

When you listen to your employees, honestly and openly communicate with them, and know the why to share the why your employees can work marvels you could not believe possible.  If you desire flexibility and viability in your company, build it!  One employee at a time using imagination, honest communication, and build organizational trust.  You will be surprised at how often the answer to improving your company doesn’t have a dollar sign but a living person and a debt of gratitude.

Reference

Olmsted, B., & Smith, S. (1989). Creating a flexible workplace: How to select and manage alternative work options. American Management Association (AMACOM).

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

Employee Engagement

Knowledge Check!Recently this topic was raised in a town hall style meeting, and the comments from the leadership raised several concerns.  It appears that employee engagement is attempting to become a “buzzword” instead of an action item, and this bothers me greatly.  Worse, many people lead teams with vague ideas about what employee engagement means and then shape their own biases into the employee engagement program, making a pogrom of inanity and suffering out of a tool for benefiting and improving employee relations.

When discussing employee engagement, we must first begin with a fundamental truth; employees do not work for a company, do not work for a brand; they work for a manager.  An employee might like a company; they might enjoy having their professional brand aligned with a known branded organization. The employee might feel pride in associating with other employees under that brand.  When the road gets difficult at the end of the day, an employee works for a manager.  The relationship between a manager and an employee is one of trust operationalized and honed through shared experiences.

Employee Engagement – Defined

ProblemsAccording to several online sources, the definition of employee engagement is, “Employee engagement is a fundamental concept in the effort to understand and describe, both qualitatively and quantitatively, the nature of the relationship between an organization and its employees.”  If you believe this definition, you will miss the forest for the bark you are fixated upon!  Employee engagement is fundamental; it is not a concept, a theory, or a buzzword.  Employee engagement is a relationship between organizational leaders and the employees, but employee engagement is not about collecting qualitative or quantitative data for decision-making policy-based relationship guidance.  At the most basic level, employee engagement is the impetus an employee chooses to onboard because of the motivational actions of the manager they report to.

Employees must choose to engage; when they choose not to engage, there is no enthusiasm in the employee, and this can be heard in every action taken by the employees on the company’s behalf.  Is this clear; employee engagement is an individual action, where impetus leads to motivated and enthused action.  While organizational leaders can and do influence motivation, they cannot force the employee to engage!  Thus, revealing another aspect of why the definition found online is NOT acceptable for use in any employee engagement effort!Leadership Cartoon

Employee engagement is the actions an employee is willing to take, indicating their motivation to perform their duties and extra-duties for a manager they like.  Employee engagement is the epitome of operational trust realized in daily attitudes, behaviors, and mannerisms of employees who choose to be engaged in solving problems for their employer.  While incentive programs can improve employee engagement, if the employee does not first choose to enjoy the incentive, the incentive program is wasted leadership efforts.  The same can be said for every single “employee benefit.”  If an employee cannot afford the employer’s benefits, those benefits are wasted money the employer needs elsewhere.  Hence, the final point in defining employee engagement is the individualization of incentives and the individual relationship between managers and employees.  Stop the one-size-fits-most offerings, and let’s get back to talking to people.Anton Ego 4

Reflective Listening

Listening has four distinct levels; currently, these are:

      • Inactive listening – Hearing words, seeing written communication, zero impact mentally. Mainly because your internal voices drown out the possibility of communication.
      • Selective listening – Hearing only that which confirms your own voices, opinions, and biases. While others are speaking, you are already forming your response.
      • Active listening – Show the other person you are paying attention to, engage with meaning in a reply. You are focused on removing barriers to get your point across.
      • Reflective listening – Paying attention to intent and content, reducing emotion, two-directional as both parties are engaged in achieving mutual understanding.

Chinese CrisisInactive and selective listening can be heard through phone lines, instant messaging, text messaging, and easily observed during face-to-face communication.  Worse, active listening launches trust, and when faked, destroys credibility, ruining relationships.  Reflective listening can only achieve mutual understanding when both parties are choosing to listen intently and with the purpose of reaching mutual understanding.  The most powerful tool in an organizational leader’s toolbox for quickly rectifying employee engagement is reflectively listening.

Communication occurs in two different modalities, verbal and non-verbal.  Good communicators adapt their message to the audience using reflective listening and careful observation.  Adapting the message requires first choosing, determining who the primary and secondary audience is, and then focusing the message on the primary audience.  Next, adaptation requires prior planning, which includes mental preparation, practice, and channels for feedback.  Finally, adaptation requires listening to achieve mutual understanding, careful observation, asking questions designed to lead to mutual understanding, and clarifying what is being said to achieve mutual understanding.  The pattern described can be the tool that begins employee engagement but is not an end-all solution all by itself.Anton Ego

Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative inquiry is a growth mechanism that states that what a business organization needs, they already have enough of, provided they listen to their employees.  Appreciative inquiry and common sense tell leaders who want to know and change their organization and how and where to begin.  Appreciative inquiry-based leadership is 6-continuous steps that start small and cycle to more significant problems as momentum for excellence permeates through an organization.  But the first step, just like in defeating a disabling addiction, is admitting there is a problem.

Here are the six operational steps for appreciative inquiry:

      1. Admit there is a problem and commit to change.
      2. Define the problem.
      3. Discover the variables and stay focused on the positive.
      4. Dream BIG!
      5. Design the future and outline the steps to that future.
      6. Destiny, create the destination you desire.

Bait & SwitchFollow the instructions on a shampoo bottle, “Wash, Rinse, Repeat.”  The appreciative inquiry model can be scaled, repeated, implemented into small or large teams, and produce motivated members who become the force to create change.  Allow yourself and your team to learn, this takes time, but through building motivation for excellence, time can be captured to perform.

Of all the steps in appreciative inquiry, it must be stressed that focusing on the positive is the only way to improve people.  Even if you must make careful observations to catch people doing good, do it!  Focusing on the positive provides the proper culture for engaging as many people as possible.  Criticism, negativity, aspersions, and insults all feed a culture of “Not my problem,” and when the employee claims, “not my problem,” they will never engage until the culture changes.

Organization

Andragogy - LEARNEmployee engagement requires structural changes to the organizational design.  Employee engagement is going to bring immediate change to the organization.  If the leaders, directors, managers, supervisors, team leaders, etc., are not prepared for and willing to change, employee engagement will die as an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.  As a business consultant, I have witnessed the death of employee engagement, and the death is long, protracted, and disastrous to the entire business.  Worse, individuals refusing to change stand out like red dots on a white cloth as employee engagement dies.

Thus, the first step in employee engagement belongs not to the employee, but the employer, who must answer this question: “Are we a learning organization willing to change, or are we a knowing organization who does not need to change?”  How the leadership answers this question will speak volumes to the employees closely observing and making their decisions accordingly.  Depending upon how that question is answered will depend upon whether the business can move onto the second step or remain stuck on the first step.

Andragogy - The PuzzleThe second step in employee engagement is training the organization to accept change and failure as tools for learning, growing, and developing.  A toddler learning to walk will fall more than they stay up before they can run.  The same is true when initiating employee engagement.  Guess what; you are going to fail; can you as an organizational leader accept failing?  Are you willing to admit you failed, made a mistake, and publicly acknowledge the blame and consequences?  Are you willing to allow others to accept the praise for doing the right thing?  Will you as an organizational leader accept change?  How you answer these questions also speaks volumes to the employees you are trying to engage.  Depending upon how you individually and collectively as a team answer these leadership questions will decide if you fall back to step one or advance to step three.

The third step in organizing employee engagement is total commitment.  Are you onboard?  Are all the leaders onboard?  Being onboard means 100% commitment to the organization dreamed in the operational steps to appreciative inquiry.  If not, do not launch an employee engagement program, for it will fail spectacularly!  Never forget the cartoons where a character has one foot on a boat leaving the pier and one foot on the dock; they get wet and left behind!

Have FUN!

Semper GumbyEngaging with employees should be fun, it should be an enjoyable experience, and it should bring out the best in you!  All because you want to see others engage, grow professionally, learn, develop, and become.  Your efforts to teach engagement lead you to learn how to engage better.  Seize these learning opportunities, choose to grow, but never forget to have fun.  My best tool for engaging with employees, dad jokes!  Really, really, really, bad dad jokes!  For example, when Forrest Gump came to Amazon, what was his computer password?

1F@rr3st1

When you get that joke, laugh; but wait for others to get it as well!  Employee engagement is fun, exciting, and can be the best job you ever had as a professional.  Just believe in yourself, believe in and invest the time in appreciative inquiry, organize yourself and your business, and always reflectively listen.Never Give Up!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

 

A Failure to Listen – The Hinge Upon Which Governments Fail or Thrive

AmidalaPadmé in “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith” makes a powerful statement about the galactic war being fought, “This war represents a failure to listen.”  While Padmé insists that diplomacy is required, this is incorrect.  Diplomacy is the political game of charades, with smoke and mirrors of intelligence games.  Diplomacy fails because each sides agenda is more important than the words being spoken, which is why so much of the work done in diplomatic circles is done in “informal settings.”  Diplomacy fails to listen.

America is a Republic, rather America is a Constitutional Republic, where the rule of law as written is the supreme law of the land to which every citizen is bond.  In the world there are democracies, where the mob rules.  There are socialist governments where the fat of government is forcibly taken through taxation and doled out by the micro-ounce to those selected to win or lose.  There are still communist governments and monarchies where the leaders are pampered to the detriment of the citizenry.  Unfortunately, between these extremes are a host of other government types who borrow pieces from many government theories thinking they can escape the negative consequences of those government methodologies.

Yet again we find Padmé’s counsel appropriate and timely.  Before war begins, there is always a refusal to listen.  For example, it is historically accurate that the US Government had signs and warnings of the impending Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor, but the US Government had stopped listening to adverse advice, and America paid dearly for that failure to listen.  Worse, war came, and hundreds of thousands paid in blood for that failure to listen.

Emotional OutburstThe Russians thought diplomacy was the appropriate approach to Nazi Germany; and Nazi Germany made the Russians pay in blood for the failure of the government to listen.  Even though history has regularly taught the Russians not to engage in diplomatic solutions with Germans.  This was hardly the first fight between Germany and Russian troops and governments.  Failure to listen, and the citizens suffered tremendously to overthrow both Nazi Germany and then the chains of Communism.

Consider again the relationship between Mexico and the United States, the Mexican Government has never been an ally or friend to the United States; yet, the governments refuse to listen to common sense, and throughout history, those people hellbent on destroying America have always found safe passage and refuge in Mexican borders.  History relates that the failure of governments to listen, is the root of the United States and Mexican sour relationship.

Cuba has suffered under Communism and Castro’s poor ideas because government leaders refused to listen.  Venezuela fell because the governments in power refused to listen to each other, bribed the electorate, stole elections, and now a once mighty nation is starving while their government leaders sit in luxury.  How many times will this story have to repeat before the citizens of governments learn, we must be able to speak freely, and listen appreciatively, if we are to survive, grow, and prosper.

For too long, the powers of the world who consider themselves above the law have worked to keep the citizens separated into fighting factions.  Every conceivable line that can be drawn to distract, separate, denigrate, and deride has been drawn, and the only people winning in this are those drawing the lines.  Republicans against Democrats, Homosexuals against Heterosexuals, religions aplenty all against each other, state to state, NFL/NHL/NBA/NASCAR and so much more adding confusion and noise to the problem and further separating people along ambiguous lines to keep them from talking and listening appreciatively to each other.

Nuclear FamilyHow many families cannot have a meal without choices of lifestyle and hostility ending conversation over a failure to listen?  Can a Chicago Bears Family survive long with a fan from Minnesota or Wisconsin?  What about the other choices people make in their lives, religious flavor versus another religious flavor; this simple line has been destroying nations since history began being recorded.  What do we see in the Old Testament; governments repeatedly failing because they stopped listening.

Please note, this is not a call to drop standards, accepting everything, and singing “Kumbaya,” while Rome burns, and society dies an ignominious death.  This is a call to cease destroying society and begin listening first!  Why were the riots this past summer so brutal and destructive; first the mob stopped listening, then they stopped talking, and then they started fires and terrorizing society.  Why did they stop listening; because they assumed no one heard them and cared enough to shift the paradigm, (patterns of thought and action all based upon selfishness and pride).

Darth and AnakinWhy did Anakin stop being a Jedi; he stopped listening, then he selectively listened, he began acting as a terrorist, and then he became Darth Vader.  This plot line of refusing to listen is so prevalent and obvious because humans continue to make the same mistake.  When we stop listening to each other, we stop talking; when we stop talking, we become overwhelmed by our own echo-chambers, and create the chaos that ultimately destroys our lives, our dreams, and our futures until we begin to lay aside petty differences and listen to each other again.

Listening has four distinct levels:

    • Inactive listening – Hearing words, seeing written communication, zero impact mentally. Mostly because your internal voices drown out the possibility for communication.
    • Selective listening – Hearing only that which confirms your own voices, opinions, and biases. While others are speaking, you are already forming your response.
    • Active listening – Show the other person you are paying attention, engage with meaning in a reply. Focused upon removing barriers to get your point across.
    • Reflective listening – Paying attention to intent and content, reducing emotion, two-direction as both parties are engaged in achieving mutual understanding.

Social Justice WarriorListening appreciatively is reflective listening, where we commit to listening with the intent to achieve mutual understanding.  Essentially, to improve government we must listen first with the intent to reach mutual understanding, before we ever open our mouths to speak.

The following are some launch points for improving listening in society:

      1. Understand your desire.  Know that your desire choices are determining your destiny.  If your destiny is not one you appreciate, return to desire, make different choices.
      2. Practice mental preparation based upon previous situations, to make different choices.  Listening is a voyage of discovery to reach a mutual understanding, but mental preparation is key to safely reach the destination.  Prepare, use a mirror, practice until what currently feels alien becomes familiar.
      3. Reduce emotion.  The principle of empathy and sympathy are destroying listening and only reflect the internal voices.  The volume of internal voices is silencing the ability to reflectively listen, necessitating the need to fake actively listening.
      4. Listen as you would have others listen to you.  This is an adaptation of the “Golden Rule” and remains applicable as a personal choice.  How you choose to listen will determine your destiny.
      5. Listening remains the number one tool you control and has application to written communication and verbal communication channels.  Body language is a non-verbal communication channel that can be heard as well as seen.  How are you communicating non-verbally which is interfering with your written and verbal communication attempts?

Leadership CartoonListening is a choice.  Listening is hard.  Yet, many people have pointed out that we have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as often as we speak.  Choose to reflectively listen, choose to reach a mutual understanding, watch society change.  It has been said that the US Constitution will hang by a thread, rule of law and the American Republic hang upon our decisions to listen appreciatively to each other and to stop allowing petty divisions to destroy ourselves, our families, and our American society.

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury
The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the pictures.
All rights reserved.  For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:
https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/

Communication – A Tool of Improving Call Centers, a Leadership Guide

A call center recently asked for some help. They have an “open-door” policy for employees to use. The call center meets all the designated training directives and compliance mandates. They believe they are the “best of the best” in providing customer support and have won awards from third-parties to back up these claims. Yet, employee churn remains high, employee morale remains low, and the leaders are becoming wary of the employment pool attracted to the call center.

ProblemsIn making observations, the consultant team tested the “open-door” policy and found that those sought were never in their offices even though the doors were open. The training was occurring, but the training offered had little to no value for the front-line customer-facing staff. It was generally considered a zero-sum game, providing time off the phones and causing stress and overtime costs. Worse, the front-line supervisors and employees’ perception was the existence of a chasm, separating them from higher organizational leaders.

Yukl (2010, p. 7) stated the definition of leadership as a “… multi-directional influence relationship between a leader and followers with the mutual purpose of accomplishing real change. Leaders and followers influence each other as they interact in non-coercive ways to decide what changes they want to make.” Fairholm (2001) built on the definition by Yukl (2010), insisting that leadership is a social event specific to the group of followers and leaders. Leadership and followership is a social contract; a call center is one of the most unique social environments possible. Due to this social environment, the leader who inspires communication is the call center leader who will be highly successful and train others to be highly successful.

Inherent to a fruitful and lasting social environment that promotes growth and development, leadership requires non-coercive methods to inspire and empower and provide aid to followers during change. Leadership in call centers is a social event specific to that group of followers, and leaders requiring mutuality in action to influence objectives being appropriately met. Coercion is a poison that infects like cancer into social environments; unfortunately, coercion is an easy trap to fall into as it is effective in the short-term.

Using the definition of leadership by Yukl (2010), we find why coercive leadership is ineffective; coercion cannot touch the followers’ hearts and minds to empower action towards objectives. A coercive action is any activity performed to harm or ensure the compliance of the action’s target. Coercive practices take many forms, from withholding benefits, including praise, to overt action, including threats and force. Coercive measures are used as leverage to force an individual or team to act in a way contrary to their individual or team interests. Covert coercion is rampant in many call centers and takes the form of restrictive policies, carrot/stick incentives, and human treatment policies that allow favoritism to rule instead of results.

Coercion is pernicious, and coercive practices are preventable. Yukl (2010) further elaborated that the follower only gives the coercive leader power out of fear or acts as a coercive agent to oppress others.  Furthermore, Yukl (2010, p. 137) specified that coercive leadership produces fear as the only motivator, and fear is dysfunctional, making nothing but more dysfunction in followers. Academic researchers often use the military as an example of coercive power and coercive leadership. Yet, having served in the US Army and the US Navy, I can attest coercion does not work in the military just as it does not work in any other industry. Coercive power is an acid destroying everything, building nothing, and dehumanizing people into animals.

The opposite of coercion is persuasion. Persuasion is the mode of being effective in collaboration, and persuasion requires trust and communication. Trust is an operational factor that builds the relationship between followers and leaders. It is the single most crucial factor in collaboration; but, collaboration and trust, as operational concepts, require two-directional communication to reach maximum effectiveness (Du, Erkens, Xu, 2018).

Internal-CS-Attitude-Low-ResCommunication as a tool in expressing confidence in the follower/leader relationship gains strength to clear misunderstandings and reach the desired consensus to meet organizational goals and operational objectives. The operational concept of trust and communication requires the third leg of the trust relationship agency. The follower needs to possess agency to act, informed agency requires training to employ, and the power and support of leadership to feel confident in action as detailed by Boler (1968), Avolio and Yammarino (2002). Which is where concepts meet reality, where theory is tested, and the leader is needed.

The following are proposed actions to build trust in organizations, improve communications, and empower the agency in employees to act. One of the worst things a leader can do when coercion is suspected is “trust exercises.” Trust exercises like standing a person on a chair and having them fall back into the team’s waiting arms. A call center leader colleague tried holding team and department meetings using “trust exercises,” and the result was best described as a catastrophe. The actions proposed are practical and can be employed in all call centers, including those working remotely due to COVID.

  1. Employ praise! Honest, truthful, fact-based, and reasoned praise is the most powerful tool a call center leader can employ to build people. With many call center workers working remotely, using praise as a recognition tool is critical to improving employee performance.
      • Use QA calls to issue praise.
      • Use non-cash incentives to recognize powerful deeds.
      • Make praise public through company newsletters and leadership emails.
      • Be specific, direct, and honest in your praise.
      • Be consistent in offering praise.
  1. Saying you have an “open door” is not enough, be the support mechanism your people need.
      • Respond to emails. Even if you cannot offer a substantial response immediately, personalize the email response, set a follow-up date, and meet those follow-up dates for additional communication.
      • Respond to employee questions with enthusiasm for listening and acting, not merely speaking.
      • Stop active listening; begin immediately to listen to meet mutual understanding through reflective listening. Mutual understanding and a promise to act on a concern are essential to support “open-door” policies; failure to listen and act is the number one failure of “open-door” policies.
  2. Training must change. If training is not a value-added exercise to the person receiving training, training has not occurred, resources have been wasted, and problems are generating.
    • Does your trainer know how to gather qualitative data from front-line workers to make curriculum developments?
    • Does your trainer know how to collect quantitative data from the training program to gauge decision-making in curriculum improvement?
    • What adult education theories are your trainers employing to instruct, build, and motivate adult learners who are employed?
    • How do you measure training effectiveness?
    • Does a “trained” employee know how to use trainers’ information to change individual approaches?
    • Do team leaders take an active role in training, or are they just “too busy?”

All these questions and more should be powering your training of the trainer discussions. If these questions are not being addressed, how will you, the call center leader, know your training investment dollars can return a positive investment? Training remote workers, especially, requires training programs that can motivate learners to change personal behavior. Thus, the training must have the ability to reach the student’s honor and integrity.

Leadership CartoonCOVID has provided many opportunities, and only through collaboration, communication, trust, and empowered agency, can help call centers to survive this difficult period. Regardless of how long the government shutdowns occur, your call center can survive, and call center leaders can prosper, provided they are willing to be leaders indeed, not managers in disguise.

References

Avolio, B. J., & Yammarino, F. J. (2002). Transformational and charismatic leadership: The road ahead. San Diego, CA: Emerald.

Boler, J. (1968). Agency. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 29(2), 165-181.

Du, F., Erkens, D. H., & Xu, K. (2018). How trust in subordinates affects service quality: Evidence from a large property management firm. Business.Illinois.edu. Retrieved from https://business.illinois.edu/accountancy/wp-content/uploads/sites/12/2018/03/Managerial-Symposium-2018-Session-IV-Du-Erkens-and-Xu.pdf.

Fairholm, Gilbert W. Mastering inner leadership. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001.

Ruben, B. D., & Gigliotti, R. A. (2017). Communication: Sine qua non of organizational leadership theory and practice. International Journal of Business Communication, 54(1), 12-30.

Yukl, G. (2010, April 23). Leadership in organizations [Adobe Digital Edition Version 1.5] (7th ed.).

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury
The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the pictures.
All rights reserved.  For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:
https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/

Moving Past Active Listening to Facilitate Communication: Shifting the Paradigm

GearsIn several previous professional positions, especially those in call centers, there has been considerable time spent training people to actively listen.  The problem; active listening can be faked, and fake active listening is as useful as a shower without soap or shampoo.  You might get wet, but you do not feel clean.

Listening has four distinct levels, these are:

  • Inactive listening – Hearing words, seeing written communication, zero impact mentally. Mostly because your internal voices drown out the possibility for communication.
  • Selective listening – Hearing only that which confirms your own voices, opinions, and biases. While others are speaking, you are already forming your response.
  • Active listening – Show the other person you are paying attention, engage with meaning in a reply. Focused upon removing barriers to get your point across.
  • Reflective listening – Paying attention to intent and content, reducing emotion, two-direction as both parties are engaged in achieving mutual understanding.

Tools for listening effectively, which for all intents and purposes, means listening reflectively, requires several tools, along with considerable experience in using these tools.  Customer service focus – not sales in disguise, not having a hidden agenda, and not covertly looking for opportunities to turn the conversation back to you.  The attitude of service – is all about what your intention is after listening.  Sales are all about attitude and winning over someone else; however, how many sales require first being able to reflectively listen; every single one.  Desire – desire determines your choices, your choices form decisions, and decisions determine destiny!

ElectionConsider the press conferences at the White House.  A room is full of people who would claim they are professional listeners, who then report what is being said.  Yet, how many times do you see questions asked with an agenda, personal opinions warping what is said into what they desired to hear, and then reporting what they erroneously heard to satisfy their desires politically; every single time.  Hence, the problems with active listening and how active listening can be faked.  Desire and attitude of service are not being applied to improve customer service focus.

Communication occurs in two different modalities, verbal and non-verbal.  Good communicators adapt their message to the audience.  Adapting the message requires first a choice, determining who the primary and secondary audience is, then focus the message onto the primary audience.  Next, adaptation requires prior planning, which includes mental preparation, practice, and channels for feedback.  Finally, adaptation requires listening to achieve mutual understanding, careful observation, asking questions designed to lead to mutual understanding, and clarifying what is being said to achieve mutual understanding.

Too often, those labeled as “good communicators” cannot listen reflectively.  They have never learned how to use the tools of desire and attitude of service, in a manner that builds customer service focus into reflectively listening.

Leadership CartoonConsider two people the media has proclaimed as great communicators, Presidents Reagan (R) and Obama (D).  President Reagan was listened reflectively, asked good questions, listened to the answers, asked more questions, and then listened some more.  In listening and asking questions, President Reagan built people (customer service focus) and was respected by enemies and friends for his ability to communicate (personal desire determined destiny).  President Obama has been labeled by the media as a good communicator; but by all accounts, he never listened, his questions showed he desired to be heard, and his focus was all on him as the smartest person in the room.  Desire builds an attitude of service, which then forms the customer service focus, which then reflects a desire to reflectively listen and achieve mutual understanding with those being communicated with.

One of the most despicable problems in customer service today is a theme established by Stephen Covey, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”  On a recent issue, a letter was sent to Senator Martha McSally (D) of Arizona, the response has formed the epitome for not listening in written communication as the response had nothing of the original issue even discussed.  The response was a form letter, on a different topic, and lacked any response that the sender had been heard; but, the letter advertised Sen. Martha McSally and her commitment to listening to her constituents.  But, you might say, a Senator is too busy to respond to every communication delivered, a few other examples of both verbal and non-verbal communication failures.

  • Two lieutenants, representing the Department of Veterans Affairs, Federal Police Service, stationed at the Phoenix VA Hospital. Engage a person not wearing a mask.  Body language clearly states they are the authority and will broker no resistance.  The officers spend 45-minutes haranguing the patient before cuffing and frog-marching the patient to a holding cell, where the patient who was seeking services in the emergency room, waits for an additional 60-minutes before being forced off Federal Property.  The patient informed the officers multiple times of their pre-existing condition and inability to physically wear a mask.  The hospital mask policy allowed for a face shield to be worn instead of a mask, and after the patient put the face shield on, the officers continued to verbally engage without listening, until the foregone conclusion of arresting the patient could be justified.  The patient was fined $360.00 (USD) for “disorderly conduct” by refusing to wear a mask.
  • Calling a major cellular phone provider (AT&T) with questions about the price plan. The representative answered every question but needed to make a sale, and their focus was on making that sale, not on assisting the customer.  Not the agent’s fault, the policy of the call center is to up-sale on every call.  If the agent does not up-sale, the call is automatically downgraded in quality assurance and the agent gets in trouble.  Hence policy dictates that the customer not be listened too reflectively as the sale must come before the customer.
  • Hotel check-in, online registration was made specifically for a particular sized bed, but due to late check-in, the customer is not provided what was asked for, and the attitude of the clerk is one of disgust at being bothered. Verbal and nonverbal cues are sending messages that the customer is the problem and is interrupting the life of the clerk.
  • A patient receives a call to make an urgent appointment with a VA medical provider in general surgery. The medical provider has demanded the patient be seen in the clinic, thus negating a phone or video styled appointment.  The patient’s record clearly states the patient has trouble complying with mandatory masking for patients seen in the clinic.  The provider arrives 20+ minutes late to the appointment, and because the patient is not wearing a mask immediately refuses to see the patient, wasting 90-minutes of the patient’s day.  The provider gets off in 10-minutes, and seeing the patient will make the provider late getting off.  Was the mask really the problem; not likely.

Social Justice Warrior 2Not listening is probably the largest social problem in the world today.  Everywhere fake active listening is observed, along with copious amounts of observable inactive, selective, and active refusals to listen.  Some of the problems in improving listening are policies and procedures that do not allow for individual adaptation or situational understanding.  However, too often, the individual choices to grab power, exercise authority, and pass along inconvenience are the real problems in not listening.  Harvey Mackay is reported to have said, “Easy listening is a style of music, not an attribute of communication.”  Proving again that listening is a choice, a personal choice, borne from desire, bred on attitude and reflected in verbal and non-verbal patterns of communication.

The following are some launch points for improving listening in society:

  1. Understand your desire.  Know that your desire choices are determining your destiny.  If your destiny is not one, you appreciate, return to the desire and make different choices.
  2. Practice mental preparation, based upon previous situations, to make different choices. Listening is a voyage of discovery to reach a mutual understanding, but mental preparation is key to safely reach the destination.  Prepare, use a mirror, practice until what currently feels alien becomes familiar.
  3. Reduce emotion. The principle of empathy and sympathy are destroying listening and only reflect the internal voices.  The volume of internal voices is silencing the ability to reflectively listen, necessitating the need to fake actively listening for employment’s sake.
  4. Listen as you would have others listen to you. This is an adaptation of the “Golden Rule” and remains applicable as a personal choice.  How you choose to listen will determine your destiny.
  5. Listening remains the number one tool you control and has application to written communication and verbal communication channels. Body language is a non-verbal communication channel that can be heard as well as seen.  How are you communicating non-verbally, which is interfering with your written and verbal communication attempts?

Listening is a choice.  Listening is hard.  Yet, many people have pointed out that we have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as often as we speak.  Choose to reflectively listen, choose to reach a mutual understanding, watch your destiny change.

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury

The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the pictures.

All rights reserved.  For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/