Political conflict in the workplace

In today’s political climate, there seems to be something to upset everyone. Conversations at work can quickly become awkward and even offensive, and that’s not good for productivity or profits. Recent reports show that less that 25 percent of companies nationwide have a written policy on political activities at work, so it’s obvious that many leaders prefer to avoid the topic.

Forbidding political discussion at the office is one option, but restricting conversations can be difficult to enforce. You might prefer to treat staff like emotionally intelligent grown-ups who can use common sense regarding differences of opinion. However, with today’s political climate, it’s best to be prepared.

If you’re experiencing awkward political discussions, or have staff that is hyper-focused on sharing their opinions, act now to reinforce your position on overall professionalism. Here are some helpful ideas.

1. Dust off and update your “code of conduct.” Now is a great time to remind everyone of your company mission and value statement such as the expectation of professionalism, respect and tolerance of all individuals.

2. Turn off the TV and radio news. Listening to news at work doesn’t do anything to improve moods or productivity. Instead, tune into music that is scientifically proven to create a positive, creative and productive environment. Retailers, factories and casinos have been profiting from this technique for decades.

3. Remind everyone of company goals. If you’re noticing that your team is wasting time on any kind of discussions, it’s time to re-visit goals, start a new project or encourage conversations related to new sales, new clients and increased profits. You might want to consider a friendly competition or contest that creates enthusiasm and momentum.

4. Adopt a new charity. Recent news and political reports have been extremely controversial and negative. This can create feelings of fear, overwhelm and uncertainty. To combat this negativity consider creating social initiatives in your own community. Ask your employees about local charities that are important to them. Make an impact by hosting a special fundraiser, or creating a new scholarship fund.

It seems like we’re going to be riding the rough waters of political controversy for a while, so I encourage you to go ahead and tackle this situation now, before you find yourself in the midst of a conflict. Remember, regardless of your title, people are paying attention to your actions and your reactions. Take advantage of the opportunity to be an influential leader.

 

Beth Caldwell works with companies and organizations to confront conflict, deal with drama, and make important decisions. She’s the host of Pittsburgh BizTV Show’s Smart Leadership.

What to do with an out-of-control employee

Today, when I go to work with a company that it is in a crisis, inevitably I find HER. The woman who is running the organization, and usually running it into the ground. She’s not the owner, the president or even an executive. She is often an admin or office manager, and she’s the one person that everyone in the company goes to for everything. Let’s call her Rosie.

Having an IT problem? Call Rosie. She schedules all technology repair.

Need an ID badge? Call Rosie. She arranges for all badges to be printed.

Ordering office supplies? All orders go through Rosie. Just tell her what you need.

Want to change your voice message? Rosie handles that.

Found a problem with our website? Rosie deals with the web designer.

Received an invoice? Rosie pays all the bills.

The media is calling? You better send that call to Rosie.

Upset about something? Have an idea? Do you know something that could improve our business? Please, don’t mention that to Rosie. She’s very sensitive and gets offended easily. Trust me, you don’t want to get on her bad side.

 

A need to be needed

Companies that allow a Rosie to run the business usually don’t enjoy massive growth, explosive profits or receive recognition for being innovative. They stay small and don’t make any changes. They call in someone like me when sales are suffering or when so many people have quit that they cannot meet their sales demands.

This level of dysfunction hurts everyone. I find myself in a room with six or eight executives and I’ll tell them, “You’re going to have to make changes.” Sometimes they would rather go out of business or close down a department than confront someone like Rosie.

Rosie’s need to be needed has caused the company to lose profits. What happens when Rosie eventually gets sick, takes vacation or retires? The company has a group of employees that don’t know how to do their job because someone else has been doing it for years. When the company begins to expect results, the employee becomes resentful for having to work harder for the same amount of pay.

But wait, Rosie didn’t intend to cause harm, losses or dysfunction, did she? No, she was being nice. Working hard. Giving extra effort. Being kind. And over the years, Rosie was never offered a raise or given a promotion. The company didn’t need to, she was already doing all the work for low pay. She already assumed the roles of higher positions without the title.

 

Brave enough to make changes

If you have a “Rosie” in your company, there is a solution, if you’re brave enough to make changes.

First, acknowledge the situation. Usually this is the hardest step. Next, take action by re-assigning roles to the appropriate team members. Be confident and stay committed.

There may be some rough waters to navigate, but stay on course. Once you lead your organization back to where it was meant to be, the entire team will thank you, even Rosie.

 

Beth Caldwell works with companies and organizations to confront conflict, deal with drama and make important decisions. She’s the host of Pittsburgh BizTV Show’s Smart Leadership.

Leadership shift: From traditional to transformational

Many companies in our region have admitted that the leadership styles of the past don’t allow them to remain competitive or retain quality talent. What changes are they embracing? They’re moving past servant leadership and becoming transformational leaders.

Here are six ways that the most innovative and impactful companies are leading. And, good news, these changes won’t take years to learn or waste money.

Shift from meetings to briefings.

The most innovative companies admitted years ago that meetings waste time and undermine effectiveness. Instead of meetings, try briefings to keep everyone updated and on-track. Briefings can happen by email, phone or any virtual platform.

Shift from micromanagement to empowerment.

Keeping track of every step of a project or an employee will keep you in busy-mode and make projects last longer than necessary. Life-long micro-managers will struggle with this, but you must learn to trust your team.

Your job as a leader is to select the best talent and communicate what needs to be accomplished. If you do that well, then it should be easy to trust them and let them do what they do well.

Shift from hiring employees to attracting top talent.

A common mistake is to hire only when a position is open. If you want to exceed expectations, you’ll need exceptional team members. They don’t usually come from an online ad. Always be on the lookout for top talent, so you’ll know exactly who to call when a position becomes open.

Shift from divisive dysfunction to a team mentality.

The CFO disagrees with the CMO. AGAIN. Instead of spending your time refereeing their arguments, impress upon them that the company needs financial responsibility and effective marketing. Instead of focusing only on what they want, they need to agree on the needs of the company first.

Shift from “no comment” to embracing the media.

Traditional companies avoid publicity and resist answering difficult questions from the media. When you learn to embrace all forms of publicity and create a community relations plan, your brand can become widely respected and admired.

Shift from being rigid to realistic.

Today’s employees value their personal time, families and community commitments as much as they value their salaries. Don’t expect them to reply to texts, emails or drama after hours or on weekends. Get your work done during the work day and this won’t be an issue.

 

Sometimes the most powerful changes can be created with simple shifts. Any one of these strategies can transform your company. Which will you embrace?

 

Beth Caldwell is the founder of Leadership Academy for Women and the author of the book Smart Leadership. She’s not afraid to tackle the tough choices that come with being an influential leader. Beth works with companies and organizations to confront conflict, deal with drama and make important decisions.

How will you be remembered?

One of the most important things you’ll accomplish as a leader is to create your legacy.

No one likes to think about this, but there will be a time when you’re no longer at your company, your family will grow up and the position you hold in the community will one day be held by another.

Please consider this important question: How will you be remembered? Whether it’s in your home, at work or in the community, when you leave the role you’re in now, will it be remarkably better than it was before you arrived?

If you’d like to leave a lasting legacy, one very influential way is by empowering others up the ladder of success. When you help others to be great, you become even greater.

Here are three things to keep in mind when you want to leave a legacy of excellence:

Understand the strengths of everyone on your team

Many people make the mistake of hiring a team of people who are just like them. It’s understandable, you want to be around people you feel comfortable with, but a wise leader will develop a talented team of experts in every area necessary.

Review your goals and mission statement

Surprisingly, many leaders don’t know their company mission statement. Have you looked at yours recently?

Review your current goals with your team and make sure that each individual is very clear about their role in achieving success. When people feel needed and valued, you’ll see an immediate difference in engagement and teamwork.

Don’t be afraid to let someone do a better job than you

This is critically important in creating your legacy, and it can be tricky, because many leaders get entangled with their egos on this topic.

If you can keep the success of your company as the main target, then you will welcome the idea of having a team member that knows how to do things better, faster or smarter than you.

An influential leader is not threatened or intimidated by the talents of others. In fact, you want to attract team members who are smart, confident and innovative. Recognize that by having a talented team your organization will thrive and everyone will benefit.

 
These three simple and effective strategies don’t cost a lot of money, require lengthy meetings or expensive consultants.

You have the power to influence great change, and this process doesn’t have to be complicated. What will you do today to create your own legacy?

 

Beth Caldwell is the Founder of Pittsburgh Professional Women. Beth is the author of the book “Smart Leadership: 12 Simple Strategies to Help You Shift from Ineffective Boss to Brilliant Leader,” and the lead instructor of the Leadership Academy for Women.

Stand up for yourself, your company

Do you avoid negotiation? I did for many years. Until recently, I viewed negotiation as a conflict conversation.

When one of my mentors encouraged me to view the negotiation process as a way to creatively solve a problem, I gained a new level of confidence.

Here are five things that you can do to tap into your negotiation power:

  View negotiation as a problem-solving conversation instead of a meeting with an opponent.

When you are preparing for your meeting, instead of imagining that you are going to have to give up something, envision the conversation as a process to find the best solution for everyone involved.

  Be prepared. Before negotiations begin, prepare yourself by knowing exactly what you need to come away with and how much you are willing to concede. You’ll feel confident and will be less likely to get caught off-guard.

  Understand the view of all parties. Women have the inside edge on empathy, which is a great negotiation skill.

Understanding what they want and why will help you to come to a solution, even if you cannot grant everyone’s wishes. When you show interest and compassion for everyone at the table, you’ll be viewed as a problem-solver instead of the enemy.

  Recognize fear. Most resistance and conflict is rooted in fear. People genuinely do not like to make changes.

Be aware that some of the objections you’re hearing may be alleviated with reassurance. If you are crystal clear on what you want to achieve, you’ll be able to reassure all parties instead of reacting to complaints or outbursts.

  Leave emotions out of negotiations. Remember, this is about problem solving and it’s not personal.

Center yourself before the conversation. Keep your voice steady. If the emotions of any party run high, take a break.

 

Standing up for yourself and your company does not have to be viewed as an act of aggression, and you may be missing out on opportunities, benefits and salary.

Don’t be afraid to practice negotiation so you can develop your skills. Look around you for opportunities to improve situations and ask for what is needed, on behalf of your company, your community or your favorite cause.

The more you practice negotiating, the easier it will become.

 

Beth Caldwell is the founder of Pittsburgh Professional Women. Beth is the author of the book “Smart Leadership: 12 Simple Strategies to Help You Shift from Ineffective Boss to Brilliant Leader,” and the lead instructor of the Leadership Academy for Women.

Biggest mistakes made by women in leadership

As I travel and meet men and women leaders from all over the country, I’ve noticed some significant habitual differences between men and women that have a huge impact on the way women appear as leaders.

These habits can hold your organization back from enjoying absolute fulfillment and success. But when they are conquered, the entire company can move forward. Be aware of these serious mistakes:

Being invaluable

Whenever I visit a company in trouble I see a consistent common denominator — the woman who knows everything. She is the go-to person that knows every process, every system, every secret, every answer and solves every problem. If a crisis occurs, everyone turns to Nancy Know-it-All.

Being invaluable prevents you from moving up and holds the company hostage. When everyone depends on one person to make all the decisions and handle every issue, future leaders aren’t able to respond and their talents go untapped.

The worst part of being invaluable is that you’ll never be promoted. Why pay you more if you’re already being paid to do everything?

Listening to your inner critic

I often tell women that their biggest enemy is the voice in their head that says: “What will people think if I ______?” Be aware of your inner critic and notice when those negative messages creep up on you.

Instead of fighting or ignoring this, pay attention to what these messages may be telling you about your fears and insecurities. Most of the time they are untrue and unnecessary. Once you realize this, it will be easier to take risks and step forward in your career.

Multitasking

Multitasking is a female superpower. Seriously, it’s impressive to see some women handle numerous tasks at one time. But while dealing with multiple tasks at once seems productive, I notice that the multitaskers also seem to be scattered, make frequent mistakes and often wind up working late to meet deadlines or complete projects.

Consider the projects and plans that you have outlined right now. Ask yourself, “Is this something that I would expect a team member to accomplish with the same deadline?” If not, rearrange things to be more practical.

When you become mindful of what’s possible and realistic, you will be more productive than you dreamed possible.

Not using skills to negotiate

Women have an inside edge on empathy, which is a great negotiation skill. Still, they often resist the opportunity to negotiate, and it’s a big mistake.

I realized recently that women who avoid negotiating, either for themselves or their company, are those who view negotiation as conflict. Instead, treat a negotiation process as a way to creatively solve a problem. Standing up for yourself and your company does not have to be viewed as an act of aggression. The more you practice negotiating, the easier it will become.

 

Conquering these habits begins with awareness. As you move away from these common mistakes, you’ll be modeling excellent leadership skills for all of the men and women in your company.

 

Beth Caldwell is the founder of Pittsburgh Professional Women. Beth is the author of the book “Smart Leadership: 12 Simple Strategies to Help You Shift from Ineffective Boss to Brilliant Leader,” and the lead instructor of the Leadership Academy for Women.

Spruce up your environment, on a budget

Last year a frustrated executive contacted me. His employees were bickering and constantly complaining. Profits were down. Turnover and absenteeism had increased significantly. He was desperate for help. I agreed to visit and make some recommendations.

When I arrived, things were hectic. Phones rang constantly and were answered with abrupt tones. Everyone had his or her head down and the entire office felt frantic and stressful. One employee said to another, “Customers won’t stop calling. I can’t get any work done.”

In the waiting area, I saw photos of Olympic medalists Nadia Comaneci, Olga Korbut and the former Bruce Jenner on the walls. In the next room, a poster said “Celebrating America’s 200th Birthday.” Someone had taken great care and pride decorating this office … nearly 40 years ago in 1976.

I noticed dust in the corners and on the windows, faded paint, curling wallpaper, shabby lighting and telephones and equipment that hadn’t been updated. The entire building was exactly like the workforce: tired and stressed.

I wondered if the company had also overlooked updating other aspects like technology, accounting systems and training. When I spoke with the executive, his attitude was, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

But the results of a shabby, dirty, cluttered and out-of-date workplace are frustrated and stressed employees.

You don’t have to spend a lot of time or money to improve a workplace environment, and the results will be well worth it. Here are some low-cost and easy ideas to inspire employees, decrease stress and increase productivity:

Clean up the clutter — Do you really need that printer and office equipment stacked in the corner? Recycle or donate equipment you no longer need. Empty the closets and storage areas. Donate books, office supplies and equipment to schools or nonprofits that can use them.

Everyone feels more productive in a clear, clean and uncluttered space.

Update lighting — A dark workspace can deplete creativity and cause low energy, and extra bright lights can make people feel edgy and nervous. Take advantage of natural light, whenever possible, and install modern lighting to brighten up key areas. Modern bulbs also may save on energy bills.

Polish up your decor — Look at the decor on the walls, in the lobby and in meeting rooms to be sure that your space reflects the feelings and energy of a successful and thriving company.

Stand outside the front door — Look at your building from the outside facing in. Is the parking area safe, well lit and free of trash? Is the building well maintained and are the doors and windows clean and inviting? The way someone feels when he or she walk through your door is important.

Play soft music — Workplace music has been used for hundreds of years to increase productivity and improve morale and alertness. I recommend you turn off the news in the lunchroom and reception areas. Instead, inspire creativity and calmness by playing soft music.

 

Remember, a positive work environment allows your employees to thrive, so do what you can to eliminate negative aspects and create a space that is positive and productive.

 

 

Beth Caldwell is the founder of Pittsburgh Professional Women. Beth is the author of the book “Smart Leadership: 12 Simple Strategies to Help You Shift from Ineffective Boss to Brilliant Leader,” and the founder of the Leadership Academy for Women.

Cut the distractions

Almost every leader I work with wants to solve the work/home balance issues that have been plaguing employees for years.

Today, with mobile availability, distractions and interruptions throughout the day can be nonstop. Receptionists no longer handle routine paperwork and screen phone calls. Open door policies and open workplaces allow an ongoing rotation of unnecessary conversations.

Most employees are continuously connected to the world outside of work with technology. The days when you went to work, did your job for eight hours and dealt with family issues on personal time are long gone.

Employee distraction adds up to a decline in profits, and many professionals bring work home, feel frustrated and wonder if they will ever get it all done.

Here are some tips to help you maintain productivity and leave work at work:

Set boundaries

Talk with your family to determine what communication is appropriate while you’re at work.

Grandma falling or someone heading to the hospital means an instant phone call or 911 text. Doggie lost his favorite ball at day care, “I can’t find the ketchup” and I got an A on my test are all topics that can be discussed at the dinner table.

Resist the urge to check in

Even though we have the ability to connect all day and instantly, resist the urge to do so. Do you really need to call home and ask “Did you remember to buy concert tickets?” or “Has the cable bill been paid this month?”

Encourage your family to make a list

No matter what the age of your children (or parents), everyone wants to have the opportunity to share their good news and have quality conversations with the people they love the most.

When your family has news that they want to share with you right away, teach them to pause and think before calling, texting or sending an instant message. Is this something that can wait until you’re sitting face to face?

Create rituals where you can spend actual quality time in real conversation with every person that’s important to you.

Let them know that if they get the lead in the school play or make the varsity team you want to know right away. Everyday news can be put on a list to share in person. (Lists can be made with crayons and paper, on a cellphone, virtual notepad or journal.)

When you’re with family, be with family

It’s a little easier to set up a work/family boundary at work — when you have an actual building that you’re walking into with clear-cut responsibilities. Be sure to do the same at home.

If you ask your family to give you privacy and an interruption-free day while you’re at work, then you owe it to them to be fully present at home.

Seven smart strategies for making confident decisions

Being a decision-maker is an important part of leadership, but decisiveness is not always a natural trait. People often avoid making decisions in order to avoid making mistakes.

Whether your decision is large or small, failure to act is failure to progress. Most issues don’t improve when you ignore them.

Think of it this way, when you put off making a decision, you’re effectively making the decision to:

  • Not take action.
  • Not grow.
  • Not risk.
  • Not move forward.

Causing confusion

Prolonged decision-making wastes time and is confusing and frustrating to the people you lead.

This may also cause unnecessary worry among your staff. If you are not clear and confident when you do make a decision, they may be hesitant to support you.

When you appear confident and decisive, your team will feel more secure about the changes and improvements that you’re expecting of them.

Tips for decisiveness

Here are some strategies to help you become a confident decision-maker:

1. Review your company’s mission statement and values. Is the issue out of alignment with these values? If so, then your choice is an easy one.

2. Ask smart questions, the kind that will reveal potential problems. For example, if you’re making a decision to purchase new equipment, instead of asking the salesperson, “How is this working for other companies?” Ask, “What problems have other buyers had with this type of equipment?”

3. Delegate the information gathering. Have a meeting to discuss all of the information, and then ask your team for their input before making a decision.

4. Rely on logic, not emotion. Don’t allow fear of what others think or what may go wrong keep you from moving forward.

5. Trust yourself to make the right choice. Remember, you can always adjust course and make changes if necessary.

6. Set a deadline. Make the decision to make a decision.

7. Once the decision is made, break down the next action steps and determine how and who will monitor progress.

Smart leaders don’t put off making decisions. If you’re the type of person who avoids decision-making, it will take some courage to change, but this becomes easier with practice.

Decisiveness is not only an admirable trait; it’s an important leadership skill that improves the confidence and trust of your entire team.

 

Beth Caldwell is the founder and executive director of Pittsburgh Professional Women. Beth is the author of the book “Smart Leadership” and the founder of Leadership Academy for Women.

Seven strategies for conquering conflict at work

Difficult situations are an opportunity for growth. But I remember one very frustrating situation when I said aloud, “Do we really need any more personal growth this year?” That situation was frustrating, but it reinforced something I’ve realized again and again — avoiding conflict makes the situation much worse.

The truth is smart leaders deal with difficult situations, which takes courage. Problems don’t disappear when you avoid them. Have you ever worked with (or for) a difficult person? Have you ever hired an individual who wasn’t a right fit for the position? These situations typically don’t improve over time.

Also, avoiding conflict is costly, resulting in loss of profits, productivity, creativity and quality staff, while increasing frustration, resentment and absenteeism.

Here are seven strategies to help you resist the urge to avoid conflict:

1. Assess the situation without emotion. It’s important to be centered and nonemotional before you address conflict. You set the standard for communication, so make a point to keep emotion separate from the facts.

2. Reassure the team. Begin difficult conversations by stating your intention. “It’s important that we restructure in order to meet deadlines without layoffs or overtime.” This eliminates worry and uncertainty and invites collaboration at the onset. If someone is afraid of being fired, they aren’t listening to anything you say.

3. Determine an acceptable outcome. This is critical to keeping your conflict conversations brief. When you determine the appropriate outcome, write it down. If the conversation turns to complaining, steer everyone back to the intended outcome.

4. Set a time limit. Workplace drama wastes time. Here’s a statement that will prevent complaining and keep your conversation on track: “I have 20 minutes before I need to move on to another project. Let’s spend that time discussing solutions.” If the conversation moves past 20 minutes, check your watch and stand up to indicate that it’s time to move on.

5. Remain consistent. If conquering conflict is a new habit, it may take time for the team to adjust. When you navigate new waters some people become seasick. It’s your responsibility to stay on course and make sensible decisions in the company’s best interest.

6. Recognize the warning signs. Remain consistent by addressing conflict before it affects productivity and profits. You’ll begin to recognize early warning signs in time to take preventative measures. This saves everyone unnecessary stress, especially you.

7. Build your conflict confidence. Increased productivity, a boost in profits and a pleasant environment will make you more confident about addressing problems immediately. Team players will be more secure and the entire office will respect and appreciate your swift action.

Almost any workplace and relationship is going to experience conflict. Understand and accept that, as a leader, conflict management is a part of your leadership role.
Remember that you are a conflict role model. When faced with difficult situations, don’t delay. By facing tough issues, you’re establishing a setting for growth and the opportunity for your company to thrive.

Beth Caldwell is the founder and executive director of Pittsburgh Professional Women