Saturday, June 16, 2012

How NOT to win friends and influence people

My apologies to Dale Carnegie who wrote the book How to Win Friends and Influence People, a motivational book that was published in 1936 and which is still immensely popular all these years later. I simply had to comment on some of the leader behaviors that I have been witness to this past month in my workplace, which never cease to amaze me (or others I discuss them with). I’m not the target of these particular behaviors; other colleagues are the unlucky ones for the time being.

How would you like to be at this kind of meeting, one that I recently attended as an observer, where a manager spent most of the time negatively comparing his employees to a new stellar employee? And when these employees attempted to object, as some of them did, they were told that they are mediocre (in Norwegian—‘middelmådige) workers at best, and that mostly what they do is sit on their butts and keep their jobs warm (in Norwegian—‘å ruge på sin stilling’, much like a bird would do sitting on its nest to keep the eggs warm). It’s an interesting development, and it amazes me yet again that leaders in any workplace, in 2012, have not yet understood that insults, sarcasm and passive-aggression don’t win them friends, nor do they motivate the employees who are the targets of this behavior. The targets seem to have decided to mount a counter-offense, which has led to conflict between them and the leader(s) in question. And who knows where it will all end? I am a spectator at present and will likely remain so, unless I get forcibly dragged into the fray. Perhaps all of this is a test to separate the wheat from the chaff, or to get the perceived 'lazy' employees to quit. A management strategy to get rid of dead weight. Who can really know?

I find this type of behavior so unprofessional and childish. I will allow for the following: that leaders can think what they want to think about their employees, for example, that they are lazy and unproductive, but that they should NEVER voice such opinions publicly in a meeting format, in front of these employees’ colleagues, as was the case here. I was witness to what occurred, as were several of my colleagues. None of us liked this behavior. We ended up at a loss for words--blindsided--in other words, taken aback by it, so that it is difficult to mount a response. These are the types of discussions that are best conducted behind closed doors, between the employees in question and their bosses. But this doesn’t happen in my workplace. Rather, everyone should know what the leaders think about the employees in question—a modern form for putting folks in the public stocks and letting them stand on display for all to mock. I really do believe that some leaders think this type of behavior will light fires under the butts of the employees they think are lazy and unmotivated. That treating them negatively will create a positive result. I know that it will not. How do I know this? Because I have had the privilege and responsibility of mentoring a good number of PhD and Master’s students during the past ten years, and motivating them to do a good job NEVER involved insulting them or degrading them publicly. I am happy to report that I have not treated any of them badly. Ever. The result being that they voice their satisfaction with my mentoring, guidance, help and advice. I can attest to the fact that being nice and caring about their development and progress yield results. It also creates self-confidence where there might not have been much at the start point. Helping people to believe in themselves—their talents and gifts—is a gift in and of itself, a gift that creates personal and spiritual growth in the persons who practice this. I think this is common sense, but I'm wondering if perhaps some of these leaders need to find Dale Carnegie's book on their desks come Christmas time. 

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