Tolerance On The Job

If you were to say you are a tolerant person, would you be casting yourself in a positive light or unintentionally exposing a character flaw?

I don’t often come across this word on too many resumes, nor hear when I listen to most people describe themselves in interviews; particularly with the, “Tell me about yourself” question. However, I have come across this word several times in the last week when reading some LinkedIn profiles, and in correspondence I’ve received from job seekers. Each time I read the word, I became aware that I was conflicted reacting to the word. I knew the writers using it intended to be speaking positively about themselves, so why then was I unsettled with the choice of the word?

Tolerate: Allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of things one does not necessarily like or agree with, such as opinions or behaviour, without interference.

So I started to imagine myself in my workplace; I imagined all sorts of people in their workplaces too. I conceived of situations we all might have where other people held opinions that we didn’t like or agree with, where people were behaving in ways we didn’t like or agree with. Finally I imagined myself allowing the existence and practice of those same behaviours and opinions.

Somehow, I find myself accepting of others opinions that I don’t necessarily agree with much easier to accept than I do behaviours. I’ve no right to impose my opinion on someone else with the expectation they change theirs to mirror my own, any more than that person has a right to expect me to change mine to match theirs. I have no qualms with this part of what it means to be tolerant. In fact, it is in differing opinions that I – that we – learn. When exposed to the differing views of others, we are afforded a chance to perceive something from a differing view, and with that new information re-evaluate our opinions or behaviours.

When we outright dismiss another person’s point of view, we run a risk of dismissing the person who holds it, and every experience in their past which has led them to hold the view they now have. Opinions we hold are after all, the summation of all our experiences to date. We shape our opinions based on what we’ve seen, read, heard, felt, tasted and experienced. With everything we experience we either solidify our opinions or we adjust them. So it stands to reason when someone or some group holds a differing opinion, we have a chance to hear why, learn and then choose to maintain our view or modify it.

Allowing the occurrence of behaviour I don’t necessarily like or agree with however, is something I find harder in some situations. Here I believe I’ve hit upon what rubs me the wrong way when I read others describe themselves as tolerant.

In most organizations, there is a person or group at the top that hold a common belief system. They refer to this as their values. It is their expressed objective to bring people on board who share or develop similar beliefs in order for those beliefs and values to be consistently experienced by end-users. When consumers experience the same behaviours with each interaction no matter the representative of the company, that consistency brands the company and reinforces the view the consumer has. They come to expect – be it positive or negative in their mind – to be treated a certain way, to experience service a certain way, and come to know therefore the company in the same consistent way. This is branding.

When an employee holds an opinion that varies from those of the larger company; they may choose or not to make that opinion known. However, behaviours and actions are observable, and when those behaviours appear to fly in the face of the values the company purports to uphold and believe, the consumer is conflicted, the brand weakened. This is one of the biggest fears organizations have. Too many people acting and behaving in ways that differ from the organizations expectations, and the brand loses its strength and becomes muddied.

When you observe a co-worker behaving or acting with a client or customer in a way you know contradicts the beliefs or values of your organization, tolerating such behaviour may not be best advised. Tolerance here may become a flaw. The real challenge is to correctly identify which differing behaviours and opinions to respect and leave unchallenged, and which behaviours and opinions to openly address and how.

Not all of us are comfortable addressing the opinions and behaviours of others any more than we are comfortable having our own opinions and behaviours discussed.

In the workplace, sound advice is to identify the behaviour (not the people themselves), that is at the crux of any discomfort you experience, and assess if it flies in the face of your own opinions and behaviours and/or those of the organization. It’s a fine line allowing individual expression; thought and behaviour while at the same time having everyone pull in the same direction.

Tolerating behaviour and opinions sometimes is the thing to do. Other times, those opinions and behaviours need to be challenged and discouraged; especially when those opinions and behaviours depart from the organization expectations, or when the people stating them demand your conversion to their views. Knowing which is the real test of good judgement.

Challenging Authority At Work

The longer you report to a person, the greater the likelihood that eventually you will question a decision or opinion that person has, no matter how much you respect them personally. It’s inevitable and undeniably going to happen. So when it comes about, it’s not really so much your difference in opinion that could spell trouble; it’s possibly the way you handle yourself in the process.

Like so many things in life, there is a wrong way and a right way, and an awful lot of ways in between that you could choose to air your feelings. I have found from listening to many of my clients over the years, that going about things the wrong way can lead to immediate dismissal, a stalled career or a whole lot of energy spent trying to repair damage done in what otherwise was a good working relationship.

One of the first things you would be wise to acknowledge is where you find yourself on the organizations hierarchical chart. Are you the supervisor or boss? If so, realize the title on your business card doesn’t necessarily mean every decision you’re going to make will be the right one. Nor does it mean that all the people who report to you have less intelligence or somehow don’t see the big picture the way you do. You are entitled to be treated with respect based on your position in the organization, but you also gain respect from your employees based on the respect you show them.

If you answer to an authority figure at work such as a supervisor or boss, you would be wise to respect the person you report to, and ultimately defer to their authority as the final decision-maker on the big items. You can get yourself into trouble if you overstep the boundaries of your position and start making decisions you have no right to.

I’ve listened to both men and women who got fired or let go from places of work who despite overstepping their job descriptions, failed to learn the lessons. “The guy’s a jerk. I could do his job with my eyes closed. He’s an idiot. I told him what to do and that if he didn’t he was stupid. I wouldn’t go back if they begged me, and I’d do the same thing again if I had the chance. Good riddance!”

The comments made above tell me more about the person making them than they do about the person being talked about. The person talks in issues of right and wrong, my way or the highway, black and white. Further, the message communicated is that if things aren’t done the way the speaker sees things, then the other person is an idiot. Ouch! There isn’t any respect being shown for holding a different opinion, and there’s no credit being given to the supervisor for seeing a bigger picture, knowing more background in a situation or their own work experience.

If you are going to question someone with authority, let me give you some helpful advice. First of all, always respect the other person and their right to hold an opinion different from your own. Ultimately you both want the same thing; to maximize your resources, improve conditions, solve a problem, generate numbers, maximize profits, etc. So keep your thoughts and your comments confined to the issue, not the person.

When you challenge something, don’t challenge authority, challenge yourself first. That’s right; challenge yourself. Your challenge is to respectfully bring up a topic, suggest or recommend an alternative to a process. Understand right from the start that you may be successful and you may not. You may be the one who has to relent and you might not be given a full explanation as to why your idea – so blatantly better – is not the right one at this time. Your title and the title of your supervisor or boss alone might mean you walk away having been heard but your ideas not acted on. That’s the order of things.

Picking your battles, understanding you won’t always win and seeing things differently than ‘You won I must have lost’ or ‘I won you must have lost’ are smart attitudes and behaviours. The boss is no more an idiot in every given situation than you are right in every situation. Far from being about who is right, wrong, smart or an idiot, words you choose should always be about the issue, not the people.

Conceding on issues may just be a sign of your strength by the way. By presenting your ideas for improvement but openly deferring in the end to whomever is in a position of authority, you demonstrate good interpersonal skills and your Supervisor will appreciate that. You can still be passionate about your ideas on a subject, and you might even find the person in authority gives your future ideas more thought because of the respect they feel you’ve earned by respecting them.

Personality clashes sometimes get in the way of respectfully exchanging ideas and respecting those in the workplace. It’s a wise person who pauses to see things from another person’s perspective when they can, and asks for clarification when they can’t. People want to feel listened to, their ideas heard and considered. In the end, the higher a person is in the organization the greater is the ultimate responsibility for major decisions.


Guys: Hands And Eyes Off The Ladies

I’m not the first guy to pen an article on watching yourself around females in the workplace, and unfortunately I won’t be the last either. I think it important however to continue to be counted among those that think visually undressing your co-workers and flirting with the opposite sex is in poor taste in the workplace and for it to come from a male perspective as well.

Thinking of your own workplace, ever had a woman walk by and then saw some guys turn and crane their necks for a long look at her backside? Anything wrong with that? What about the wink between males and shaking one of your hands like she’s soooo hot? She doesn’t know you’re giving her all that attention so what’s the harm? Plenty.

Come on guys. Surely in 2015 you’d think we’d be past all the flirting, sexual innuendos, hugs as excuses to feel their bodies next to yours and brushing up against co-workers and making it look like accidental contact. Come on. Most of us are well past these juvenile high school antics but not all of us – and that’s a problem. And don’t give me any of that, “well her skirts so short she’s just asking for it”, stuff either. You should know better.

Okay let’s play out one of these little fantasies. Where do you think things are really going to go anyhow? Do you honestly think you’re going to have a torrid love affair in the janitor closet, maybe pat her bum while she’s at the photocopiers without any reprisal, or bare it all for your pleasure after hours on your desktop? Really? Not happening. We can do better guys. Give them respect.

Most workplaces have codes of conduct in place to protect all workers; male and female from unwanted attention in the workplace. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s the boardroom, the office, the file room or the factory floor, you could find yourself out of work and fired for misconduct if you engage in inappropriate behaviour. As I write this there is a news story in Toronto with the Canadian Broadcasting Company and one of its ex-employees who was fired for his sexual advances and unwanted physical attention. That case is underway and is going to take a long time to wind its way through the system, but a reputation is lost, a company out a good employee, and a $50 million lawsuit launched by the disgruntled and fired employee for defamation of character. What a mess.

Females don’t dress in the workplace to excite and tease. There are rules for how to dress and what is acceptable and what is not. Any woman, (or man for that matter) who is exposing more skin than appropriate would be reminded of the policy and immediately asked to correct things. What a shame if you personally lost your job on the spot if it came to that, and you had to join the ranks of the unemployed for what amounted to an inappropriate comment, sexual advance or something similar. Not only would you be out of work but instead of kissing that woman, kiss your job, income and your references goodbye. Is it worth it? No!

Rules are put in the workplace to protect everyone. Everybody should feel the workplace is a safe place to be, and workers should respect each other in the same way they themselves would like to be thought of and respected. The days of the ‘old boys’ club where guys on a factory floor would make openly sexual jokes and use crude and vulgar language around their female co-workers are few and far between and hopefully almost extinct. Imagine the stress those woman were or are under having to appear ‘like one of the guys’ and take it in order to fit in, but when alone feel dirty, ill-used and ashamed.

My guess is that in some places you can have all the policies you want but there are still some men who see women as sexual objects to be snickered about and talked about. It’s wrong guys. Do yourselves a favour and be one of the first to tell your co-workers that you yourself don’t appreciate it. Stand up not only for that woman who walks by, but also for the culture and atmosphere you’re trying to create in your own workplace of respect for each other as people.

Social media including Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. are all in the news from time-to-time for all the wrong reasons; somebody pressures someone else for some nude photos and then they get shared and then someone’s reputation is soiled and sometimes leads to suicide, ridicule, shame and humiliation. See something you know is wrong? Don’t share it yourself and ask the person to take it down, remove it, stop the sharing and tell them why its wrong.

People have enough to worry about these days just learning their jobs, striving to do them well and fitting in without the added stress of prying eyes to worry about. So no more looks down necklines, mirrors under doors, offering women your lap instead of your empty chair. We are better than this men.

I’d like to ask you to pass this on, to share it with others. If it landed anonymously on your desk, you might ask yourself why too. Respect the women you work with for the women they are and what they contribute to the workplace. We’ll all be better off for it.

When You Disagree, Do It With Class

Right off the bat I hope you will agree with me that disagreements are inevitable, and having a view on something that is not shared by everyone else is going to happen. When you find yourself disagreeing with someone else, remember that how you handle the situation is almost as important as the outcome of the disagreement itself.

Now when you disagree, it may be where it’s only between yourself and one other person. They have a view, and you have a view. Sometimes the disagreement can be resolved by looking into facts, and gathering evidence to support one view or the other. So in the case of you believing the photocopy machine is working fine and someone else thinks it isn’t, get up and together attempt to photocopy something. When it either works or doesn’t, issue resolved.

Sometimes too, you might find yourself holding onto a view that is in the minority. Now you still might be right, but your opinion or view until proven is not shared by most of those around you. If there is a way to come to conclusive proof one way or another, that evidence can quickly get a group moving again instead of holding a debate. So if you think it’s going to rain tomorrow and spoil the company picnic, but most other people think it should still go ahead because skies at the moment are sunny, you could check the forecast and make a decision. You’ve gathered informed opinions of others based on atmospheric data, and can make an educated decision.

Sometimes however, there is conflicting evidence. So it could be that in one part of the country some trends go one way, and in another part of the country, the same trends are not happening. And as we are daily in positions to converse with people from around the globe, we are often dealing with people whose experiences to date are different from ours. In other words, what we have experienced as fact and beyond debate is not a shared experience. People in other areas have had different experiences than us, their data is different, and therefore the views they hold are opposed to our own.

You may also experience this on a micro level, where you sit around a table with people from other departments, who have different priorities, and have their own agendas. When what they want to accomplish or get out of a meeting doesn’t fit with what the rest of those assembled want, disagreements can emerge.

What generally happens in these situations is that some people immediately start to dig in. They get entrenched in their positions, and refuse to budge from their point of view, closing themselves off from the arguments of others, and are unwilling to consider views other than their own. If you are alert, you can recognize these people because they typically start counter-arguing while others are still talking. They’ve stopped listening whatsoever, and are already forming their next arguments sometimes in an attempt to bully others into compliance. The group decision is paramount to them and not the relationships of those involved.

Some people dont’ do well with disagreements at all. They’d rather give in and go with a view they don’t believe in if it means avoiding conflict and salvaging relationships with others. The danger here is that they don’t always share their reservations or viewpoints, and those are often the very views that the group can benefit from because otherwise they are holding back information the group might need to make the best decision.

When you find yourself in disagreement, first ask yourself how important the issue at hand is for you personally. So if the entire work group wants to order in Chinese and you’d rather have Mexican, it may be wise just to go along and order in Chinese, unless getting both is an option.

But when the stakes are higher, you may be less willing to ‘give in’ and go with the group, such as in the case of cuts in staffing needing to be made and your department being suggested as the place to start. In such a case you may find yourself more inclined to defend. It is integral however to listen to others points of view and the arguments they make and then with all the information, hold true to your position, revise your opinion as need be etc.

The key thing when experiencing disagreement is to do it with class. Listen to others, and make sure that you give them the opportunity to be heard and to express themselves. Not only will you perhaps get new data yourself, but it gives others the belief that they have been heard – and how things work out in the end isn’t always as important as making sure people feel heard and validated. This validation is especially true if people are to leave and actually implement directives resulting from what was discussed and agreed on by the majority.

One of the worst things you could do is appear close-minded; not willing to even entertain viewpoints other than your own, and impose yourself on others.

Respect for other people, other people’s points of view, and the realities in other departments, businesses or parts of the world is what we should all strive for; but that’s just my opinion!

Do What You Agree To Do

Things beyond our control sometimes crop up and challenge us to respond from time to time. One such incident happened just yesterday to a colleague of mine. He spent some time developing a program of Life Management content and specifically geared each days lesson to a target group of young fathers on Social Assistance.

In developing the two-week class, he contacted and got commitments from fourteen young men who agreed to attend and yesterday was day one. At the time he was supposed to start, he walked into the Employment Resource Centre I was staffing and when asked how many had shown up, he held up two fingers. “Two”? I said and he nodded. Now I know it’s all about the client and we’re the ones with the jobs and get paid whether or not we run a workshop, but all that effort and work to prepare, the cost of printing books etc., and only two clients follow through. How disappointing for him as the Facilitator.

To his credit, he spent the day phoning each man who had previously committed to being there and asking for an explanation. You can guess the replies he received such as, “I just woke up”, “Was that today? I thought it started tomorrow”, and the classic, “I forgot”. So today he’ll re-start the program and hopefully a minimum of 10 are now expected. Of course these young men are on Social Assistance for a reason, largely the choices they’ve made and continue to make. The life skills they need are precisely the things the course would cover and address, and hopefully be one of the small steps they need to take to move in the right direction.

The interesting thing is that none of the participants was made to attend, all had been personally contacted to determine their level of interest, there was no penalty for not showing up, and in fact, they would all be financially compensated for attending. A head-scratcher for some of us to understand. While we tell our potential clients all the time to only agree to do things that they really intend on following through on, many do not. Maybe if you facilitate workshops you too have had a similar story to share.

One of the really nice qualities of the colleague of which I speak is his even-keeled demeanor. Not too many lows or exaggerated highs, level-headed and forgiving. He and I know that the guys who choose not to attend are the ones that fail to benefit, not to mention their sons or daughters. Rather than some punishment or requirement in order to receive rent and food money, it’s an opportunity to learn some skills to take forward, maybe find a better attitude or new ways of looking at things that they can adopt and again, move forward to their goals.

In addition to nine days of classroom learning, the tenth day is to be a fun day with father/child activities at a local gym and pool followed by some grub and an appearance by the Big Man himself all the way from the North Pole. I’d think that day would be one to look forward to and the timing being in December would be a nice way to end the year and start thinking about making some changes in 2013.  I hope it works out. Some of those activities planned have to now be scaled back, as the non-class on day one means cutting out a days worth of learning.

My hope is that if you are out there looking for a job yourself, and you are given an opportunity to participate in some training event, that you take full advantage of it. You may not get an opportunity to start on day two if the class went ahead on day one without you. These training  courses are opportunities to improve your skills, make you more marketable to employers, boost your own self-image and self-esteem, and of course to learn something and think of things differently than you might have before.

If you want to be respected by others, show them respect as well. Show up when you are expected or call to explain your absence or delay. Apologizing for absences and lateness is just good manners. Sure you have a lot going on and it may be hard to get around and you have a lot on your plate. The very reason you are often being offered training and learning opportunities is to give you skills that will eliminate some of your barriers to employment. It would be a shame if you couldn’t be depended on to attend things you sign up for and are skipped over on a list for something you really want because your reputation is one of being irresponsible. In short, do what you agree to do.