Political Discussions at Work: Should you open your mouth?

A few weeks ago, when I walked into a high end clothing store in NYC, the greeters were so engrossed in conversation, they didn’t see me. ‘How can Donald Trump not pay taxes? I can’t believe he says he understands the little guy.’ The day after the first debate, the cashiers in the grocery store were arguing over whether Hillary Clinton should have worn red. This past week waiters at a local restaurant ignored me and other patrons, as they gawked at  heated-discussionTrump’s ‘Bus video’ on their phones.

Talking with co-workers in the workplace is not new. We all do it- it helps pass the time, gives us a break and builds connections. Political discussions are also not new to the workplace, but this year the political arena is particularly thorny and emotions are running high. In the workplace, expressing your emotions and opinions might or might not be advisable. A few things to consider before you open your mouth:

1- Do your job– In the above examples, workers were shirking job responsibilities in favor of chatting with co-workers. Remember, you are on the clock- so the chatting shouldn’t prevent you from doing your job. Plenty of time to get your point across when you’re on a break or at lunch.

2- Keep it private– Make sure you are heard ONLY by the people you’re speaking to. In the above examples, customers could easily overhear. In other settings, supervisors, executives, clients and visitors may hear what you’re saying. Many dangers: Your words are taken out of context and repeated (Jane said WHAT?) and you’ve become the center of office gossip. Workers- including your boss- make judgements based on what they think you said. The outsider may report you to your supervisor- could be a competitive co-worker out to get you, customer who needs service or the CEO wondering why he/she’s paying workers to hang around and talk. Lots of possible outcomes here- none of them positive.

3- TRUST– If you decide to share political opinions in the workplace, choose your audience wisely. Ask yourself: Can I trust this person? The answer- YES or NO- should come to you immediately. If you’re not completely sure, don’t risk it. Your gut instinct is NEVER wrong. ‘Maybe’, or ‘I think so’ – will land you in trouble. Stay quiet. You won’t regret it.

In this heated and emotional climate just weeks before the election, BE CAREFUL. It’s so tempting to join in and share your strong feelings- be part of the lively debate. But at what cost? You have to return to work tomorrow and the next day- your words and actions TODAY may come back to bite you. Ask yourself: Is it worth it?

SMILING IS MANDATORY! Customer Training Pitfalls

When I worked as a hotel server and bartender, my co-workers and I attended many guest service (hotel speak for ‘customer service’) trainings. We were told to smile, use the guest’s name and accommodate special requests. There was no discussion of these directives and workers were not encouraged to ask questions or provide feedback. The following issues cropped up:SMILE

1-SMILE- Must I smile all the time? Not sure this is physically possible and/or appropriate in all situations. Customers often share upsetting stories: luggage was lost, room isn’t ready, son missed his plane. If I listen and respond with a bright smile pasted on my face, clearly I’m not hearing and empathizing (maybe I’m crazy!). What about when I’m busy serving a full restaurant: taking orders, processing checks, delivering food and drinks? I’m focused on the task(s) at hand and probably stressed. My priority is to stay calm and manage the workload- smiling is the least of my concerns.      Yet it’s #1 in customer service training.

2- USE GUEST NAME- The goal is to make the guest/customer feel special and valued, but this may have the opposite affect. If I ask your name, that may be seen as intrusive (I don’t want to know you- you’re just supposed to wait on me!). If I find your name from the front desk or reservation list, this may feel like stalking (How do you know my name? I’ve never been here before) And finally, knowing and using the name may create a false sense of familiarity between customer and employee (We’re not friends).

3- ACCOMMODATE SPECIAL REQUESTS- This one is particularly tricky because there are no limits set. How far do I go? Guest requests a drink that is time consuming to prepare and requires ingredients from the kitchen (on another floor). I can’t leave my post, so I need to find someone to make the trip to the kitchen to pick up and deliver the ingredients. Then I’ll need to take more time to prepare the drink. One customer is happy (maybe- it was a long wait!) but what about all the others requesting a glass of wine, beer or martini? They have to wait too, while I accommodate the special request. Now I’m stressed, behind in my work and more guests are unhappy. Was this the right way to go?

Training needs to be much more specific and these real life scenarios need to be FAKING HAPPYaddressed if management hopes to truly ‘serve’ the customer. Employees need to work through difficult situations with supervisors, so they are clear on how to proceed.

Smiling should be encouraged, but not required throughout the shift. Teaching employees how to use their personality- sense of humor, empathy, interests and knowledge- to connect with guests is needed to develop a strong authentic relationship. A smile (especially if it’s pasted on) is not enough. Using the guest’s name- maybe, if a relationship has developed (regular customer) but workers need to know the boundaries and how to professionally set them. It’s not part of my job to make ‘friends’ and giving customers a false sense of familiarity can muddy the waters and prevent me from effectively doing my job. Accommodating special requests is fine, but again- specifics. What are the policies and protocols? Once workers know when to set limits, they need to be taught how to effectively and professionally tell the customer: I’m sorry, that’s not possible. And deal with the fallout.

Training that is specific and practical is time consuming and requires management to think through their policies and expectations. Take the time to do this- it is well worth the effort. Your employees will appreciate it and begin to develop an authentic relationship with customers. No need to demand the smile now- it will come naturally- for both worker and customer.

An edited version of this appears on Art Petty’s Management Excellence Blog. Lots of great articles
and Art is terrific. 

Post Thanksgiving: Is GRATITUDE a trap?

Thanksgiving is all about being grateful for what you have. Count your blessings; make a gratitude list; be thankful forGRATITUDE this meal with family and friends. Nothing wrong with that. Evaluating and appreciating your life- what has meaning for you- is certainly a worthwhile activity.
HOWEVER, gratitude can also be a trap – an effective way to shut down conversation and eliminate complaints. For example, you speak out about your job: manager plays favorites, we don’t have supplies, meetings are too long and disorganized. Response you receive: You should be GRATEFUL you have a job. Lots of people are out of work and would kill to have your job.
NOW WHAT? Conversation over- back to work. You are shamed, dismissed and sent back to your corner. No need for further discussion or exploration of the problem- There is no problem! You have a job- be GRATEFUL- and get back to work.

What can you do? You really need those supplies and you’ve been passed over for extra shifts and promotions.
HOW TO COME BACK FROM: BE GRATEFUL

1- SMILE and AGREE
We can all agree that gratitude is important. We can also agree that many people are out of work and would be happy to tGRATEFULake our job (or any job). So, start there. Agree with your boss: ‘You are so right. I am grateful to have this job.’
2- YES AND….:
Now that you have agreed and validated your boss, you can go beyond gratitude to state your case. Focus on the importance of improving: ‘Certainly we all want to do the best job possible’ (no argument here). I really need supplies to do that- specifically XYZ. I’d like to know when you expect delivery. In the meantime, please let me know how to handle this without supplies.’
3- KEEP SMILING and FOLLOWUP
Keep that smile in place (even if it feels frozen). There is little to object to from an employee who smiles and suggests improvements to benefit the company. No matter what response you receive from your boss, offer to followup: ‘I’ll check back early next week. I know deliveries can be delayed.’

Be grateful for what you have and count your blessings, but don’t let gratitude stop you! We all have the right to examine, evaluate and offer critiques. Creative ideas and suggestions should be welcome- they contribute to progress and growth. Who can object to that?

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