Focus on Internal Customers To Build Relationships

I was watching Marie Forleo‘s latest Marie TV episode, “Four Customer Service Secrets to Help Your Business Take Off“, and not only does she provide a great story of a recent experience when she received great customer service, it struck me that these lessons should also be applied to how we deal with our internal customers: our coworkers, employees, managers, and team members – basically everyone we work with

The four customer service secrets were:

  1. Create an A+ experience immediately.
  2. Use your customer’s language.
  3. Details matter so go the extra mile.
  4. Have your customer’s back.

As Marie stated, “all of these lessons illustrate values of respect, caring, and creativity.” No matter what we do, we’re in the business of customer service. Though most of what we learn about customer service speaks to external customers, we need to remember to focus on our internal customers too.

Consider how you can apply these lessons to your internal customer service skills:

Create an A+ experience immediately.

We hear about managers who claim to have an “open door policy”, meaning they’re always available to their employees. Unfortunately, when they don’t walk the talk, what they’re really doing is fostering an environment that doesn’t reward sharing, discussion, or feedback. As Andy Stanley so aptly put it, “leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.”

Focus on the little things to build trust and foster an environment where people feel free to approach each other, and share ideas. Listen, actively. Give time and space to share ideas without repercussion.

Use your customer’s language.

Understanding that other people don’t work like we do is a key component of Emotional Intelligence. Are you working with someone who is more analytical? Use facts and data. Are you working with someone who is more social? Use stories and be more animated. Understanding who you’re working with can help you bridge the gap in communication.

Details matter so go the extra mile.

When you’re working with employees, do you notice what is on their desk? Do they have pictures of family, or do they have a whiteboard with ideas? Do they have inspirational posters or trackers on the wall? Noticing the little things can help you understand the other person, and create connections. Asking about these things can also help build relationships.

Have your customer’s back.

We can’t throw each other under the bus. This means showing up. It means owning our mistakes and learning from them. It means celebrating achievements and giving credit where it is due. As Brené Brown wrote in Dare to Lead,

“daring leadership strategies that promote…belonging include recognizing achievement; validating contribution; developing a system that includes power with, power to, and power within; and knowing your value.”

We’ve learned that the Golden Rule is to treat others as you want to be treated. But in customer service, it isn’t about us. It’s about the customer. When it comes to the customer, the Platinum Rule is more applicable: treat others the way THEY want to be treated.

Considering this, think about the type of customer experience you want to receive, and turn that around. What kind of customer experience do you want to provide?  How do you want your coworkers, employees, managers, and team members to interact with you? It starts with your interactions with them.

 

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Do You Walk the Talk?

Famed Indian lawyer, politician, social activist and writer Mahatma Gandhi is attributed with the quote,

“Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny.”

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This speaks to the core of who we are as leaders. Brene Brown boils this down quite simply to, “Who we are is how we lead.” Meaning, these beliefs, thoughts, words, actions, habits, and values manifest themselves in leadership…either in good ways or bad ways.

What does this look like in action in the workplace?  Consider these two types of bosses. Which do you think is more of a leader?:

Boss #1 consistently micromanages their team. Their work is never good enough, yet the feedback the team receives is not constructive…it’s just criticism. Though they may complete projects, there is always an obstacle that causes a frenzy at the last minute. The team dynamic is overly competitive, stressful, and there is a high turnover rate. Team members horde their knowledge and mistrust each other, and their boss. They don’t take accountability for their mistakes; they blame others. There is no room for development.

Boss #2 trusts their team. They provide guidance but allow their team members the space to get the job done. If a team member misses the mark on a project, it is treated as a learning opportunity. The team dynamic is congenial, rigorous, and productive. Team members share best practices, ideas, and information easily, and own their mistakes. Everyone enjoys being a part of this team. Development is an expectation.

Obviously, Boss #2 is the leader. And, we can identify some of the core beliefs of Boss #2 through their actions:

  • Trust. They demonstrate this trust by not micromanaging; allowing the team members to explore, do, and even fail in a psychologically safe environment.
  • Accountability. They hold themselves and their team accountable.
  • Respect. They give respect, and in return are respected.
  • Communication. They communicate with their team openly and honestly, including the hard things. They don’t shy away from discussions or try to hide information.
  • Empower. They empower their team to try, fail and learn.
  • Development. Their team’s learning is not just an aside. It is an expectation. They enable their team to grow as individuals and as a cohesive unit.

Brené Brown, in her book, Dare to Lead defines a leader as:

“anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes and has the courage to develop that potential.”

As the old saying goes, “actions speak louder than words.” Or, more simply put, true leaders walk the talk.

 

 

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Uncover and Challenge Your Unconscious Biases

Patricia Devine is a psychology professor and director of the Prejudice and Intergroup Relations Lab at the University of Wisconsin, Madison was a graduate student when she conducted a series of experiments that laid out the psychological case for implicit racial bias—”the idea, broadly, is that it’s possible to act in prejudicial ways while sincerely rejecting prejudiced ideas. She demonstrated that even if people don’t believe racist stereotypes are true, those stereotypes, once absorbed, can influence people’s behavior without their awareness or intent.”

Unconscious bias (sometimes referred to as subconscious bias or implicit bias) is something our brains naturally do to categorize information and make quicker decisions. Unfortunately, because our unconscious mind uses instinct, not analysis, it is fallible and, well, biased. We all have unconscious biases. They can be based on race, gender, weight, hair color, socio-economic status, job title, and more.

Because this is happening without our knowing…the unconscious part…some of our actions or decisions may not align with the person we think we are. Think about it. Here’s an example of how this can take shape in the workplace, “Are you biased? I am.” presented by Kristen Pressner during a TEDx Talk. During her talk, Kristen discusses that although she’s been a proponent of women leaders, she discovered her unconscious bias when she was asked for compensation increased from both a male leader and a female leader and what that looked like.

So how can you uncover and challenge your own unconscious biases?

In an article for The Atlantic, “Is This How Discrimination Ends?“, author Jessica Nordell discussed Patricia Devine’s continued work on eliminating curing people’s hidden prejudices. Devine said, “you have to be aware of it, motivated to change, and have a strategy for replacing it.”

Test Yourself. You can uncover your own biases by taking one or more of the Implicit Association Tests (IAT) tests designed by three scientists – Tony Greenwald (University of Washington), Mahzarin Banaji (Harvard University), and Brian Nosek (University of Virginia). As they describe on their site,

“The Implicit Association Test (IAT) measures attitudes and beliefs that people may be unwilling or unable to report. The IAT may be especially interesting if it shows that you have an implicit attitude that you did not know about. For example, you may believe that women and men should be equally associated with science, but your automatic associations could show that you (like many others) associate men with science more than you associate women with science.”

Be aware that there are challenges to the validity of this testing because of its low “test-retest reliability”, however it does bring awareness to one’s biases, which is a good start.

Mental acrobatics. Ok, really this isn’t that mind-bending but, Kristen Pressner discussed mentally flipping the person you’re thinking about with someone else. Her example flipped the common stereotypes of a man and a woman. When she flipped the male stereotypes to the woman, and vice versa, it felt a little off. If it feels off, that’s when you check yourself. So “flip it to test it”. Give it a try…here’s a visual example from @ManWhoHasitAll on Twitter:

Now ask yourself, what seems off? Why does it seem off? How can I challenge my assumptions?

Introspection. Be honest with yourself about the stereotypes that affect you. Reflect on the decisions you have made in different situations and analyze who was involved, why you made the decisions you made, what caused you to come to those decisions? If it was a different person (man or woman, race, etc.) would I have made a different decision? Why?

Exposure. Spend time with people who are different from you. Moira Forbes, explained in a Bulletproof podcast, “being around people from different backgrounds keeps you on your toes — it challenges your belief systems and pushes you to see things from another perspective. You’ll start to appreciate different viewpoints, become more accepting, and begin to respect people more for who they are, rather than for how you think they should be or act.

Exposing ourselves to these ideas, images, and words means learning, purposefully. It also means looking inward to understand where our unconscious bias is coming from and not only actively challenging our assumptions and unconscious biases, but working to replace them as well.

 

 

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Don’t Let Negative Feedback Make You Negative

Early in my career I was the Marketing Director for a commercial real estate firm in Manhattan. I had a great relationship with the team of brokers I worked with. I was having a great year developing new marketing ideas for their properties. Everything was going well. So, when it came time for my annual review, I was pretty confident. Then, I was hit with a ton of bricks.

During the review I touted all of the great things I had done, all of the projects I had worked on, and the successful outcomes. I asked for a raise. And then came that ton of bricks…the comment made to me was, “everyone is replaceable.” A punch to my over-confident gut. After all the great work I had done, this was what I was told.

I spent the next hour on the phone with my mom crying and ranting and spewing expletives. How could my boss say that to me? What a jerk! I’m the best employee he ever had! I’ll show him! I really wanted to to just quit and walk away. How dare he dismiss all of my hard work and dedication to doing my job! How dare he!

Well, after venting and crying and spewing a few expletives, I began to get over myself and realized, well…he is right. Everyone is replaceable. And it was my choice to decide how I was going to take this feedback and use it. As Tasha Eurich wrote in her article for Harvard Business Review, The Right Way to Respond to Negative Feedback,

“processing and acting on negative feedback is not always easy. It can make us defensive, angry, and self-conscious, which subsequently impairs our effectiveness. What’s more, we can’t take all feedback we receive at face value.”

When I finally calmed down and stopped to really think about the feedback I received, I realized I was overreacting, and not really listening. The review had gone pretty well. They were pleased with my work. They were happy with me. But, in my making an assumption about getting a raise, I got feedback I wasn’t expecting.

There are tools to help deal with feedback you aren’t expecting, whether it be constructive, negative, or good. Most of our initial emotional reactions have to do with our own self-image, and hearing something contrary to it. Here are some of the tools Ms. Eurich provided:

Pause. Don’t let a knee-jerk reaction get in your way of growth. Give yourself time to pause, reflect, and absorb the feedback you have received. Process your emotions, and identify them. Why do you feel this way? Put it into words.

Get additional input. Seek out friends and coworkers you trust to tell you the truth; to tell it like it is. Get that reality check. You need to be able to understand the feedback. Eurich labeled these trusted friends and colleagues as “loving critics”:

These “loving critics,” as we named them, were people they trusted and who would be brutally honest with them.

Show, don’t tell. If the feedback you receive indicates your team or coworkers don’t think you care about them because of a something that happened, or even inaction on your part, you need to act – and in a sincere manner. You can’t just tell them, “I do care”. You need to show them by doing something. This is part public relations (your image). Your action needs to align with the feedback, your desire to change, and your need to show your team or coworkers that you are actively engaged in changing yourself.

Make the First Move. You can’t improve in isolation. You need to seek out the feedback of others, get additional input, and understand the feedback so you can take action. Though easier said than done, it is best for you to make the first move, approach those who gave you the feedback, acknowledge your part, and seek to work out a way together to improve things going forward.

Fail forward. It’s not always easy to admit to ourselves, or others, that we have flaws. But, when we do, it helps create a connection with our coworkers. As Eurich so aptly stated,

Sometimes the best response to critical feedback is to admit our flaws — first to ourselves, and then to others — while setting expectations for how we are likely to behave. When we let go of the things we cannot change, it frees up the energy to focus on changing the things we can.

The adoption of these tools takes time and practice. You can start small by seeking out feedback from your “loving critics” and reflecting on the feedback, acknowledging your emotions, and putting together a plan to change.

 

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Calm Your Inner Beast

Have you had that moment? You know the one…you’re trying to keep calm, but someone just keeps pushing your buttons over, and over, and over, until finally, you lose it. You blow a gasket. Your skin begins to flush, you start shaking, and you unleash a verbal storm upon that person and you can’t even think straight?

It’s embarrassing afterward. This is so not like you! Trust me, I have been there. And it isn’t pretty. Most likely, the person who was “pushing your buttons”, wasn’t the cause of your scream-fest which could rival a tired toddler on a good day. So what’s going on? How do these blow-ups happen, and what can we do to calm that inner beast?

David Maxfield, a leading social scientist for business performance, and co-author of New York Times bestsellers Influencers, Crucial Accountability, and Change Anything, recently answered the question of taming a temper with some valuable tips and tricks.

Here is some of what he shared. I highly recommend reading his full post, “How to Tame Your Temper“:

  • Forwarned is forearmed:  “Knowing up front that someone is going to try to make you angry inoculates you from getting angry.”
    • Think about who makes you angry and why?
    • Prepare yourself for this-this is your forwarning.
  • Go to the Balcony:  “Distance yourself from the events that are making you angry.”
    • This is not a physical act, it is a mental one: psychological distance

William Ury, cofounder of the Harvard Negotiation Project, calls this strategy “going to the balcony.” Step back from the heat of the moment, distance yourself, rise above it, and watch it objectively as if from a balcony.

  • Recognize Your Triggers: “The more we can anticipate our triggers, the more we can prepare positive reactions and avoid blowing up.”
    • Begin to recognize your emotions, and identify what is causing them.
    • Acknowledge these emotions.
    • Think about how you can change your reactions from negative to positive.
    • Practice. Practice. Practice.
  • Challenge Your Story: “The key insight here is that it’s our story, not the raw facts, that causes us to feel threatened and that generates our strong emotions. And our story is often faulty.”
    • Read Mr. Maxwell’s quick overview of how emotions work.
    • Ask yourself the two crucial questions he poses:
      • Do I have enough facts to be certain my story is true?
      • Is there any other, more positive story, that fits this set of facts?
    • Re-evaluate your story.

Taming your inner beast takes work, practice, introspection, and some stumbles along the way, but doing so can help you avoid those embarrassing meltdowns.

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Victor Rodriguez

Kindness is Magic

Kindness is magic. It can create connections, deflate tense conversations, and open up doors that would otherwise be closed.
 
That doesn’t mean you always like the people you work with; however, when kindness is a core value, you start from a place of good intention, which can quickly change the dynamic of a relationship or a situation.
 
Choosing to be kind to someone who gets under your skin at work is a mindset that can change your behavior – this is important to how you appear and sound to others (think sarcasm vs. genuine).
 
In Rebecca Knight‘s Harvard Business Review article, “How to Develop Empathy for Someone Who Annoys You“, she provides some great tips on how to approach a co-worker with empathy. A good start is to observe and try to understand why the co-worker annoys you in the first place. Is it their communication style, the fact that they are always late to meetings, or disruptive in meetings, or never finish their work on time? “Depersonalize the situation” as Knight quotes. Once you figure out the WHY you are bothered, you can figure out how to approach it.
 
Along with staying calm, being curious, and focusing on your similarities, Knight focuses on being kind:
 
“The fact is, “it’s easier for you to be empathetic toward people you like because you give them the benefit of the doubt,” McKee says. When dealing with someone you dislike, you often assume the worst, and that mindset shows up in your behavior. Try to short-circuit that reaction and “do or say something that’s surprising and nice,” McKee adds. Compliment the person on an idea they raised in a meeting, or offer to help out with a project. It shouldn’t be forced, however. “It has to be authentic.”’
 
Read more in her article to learn from case studies and how to approach kindness: https://hbr.org/2018/04/how-to-develop-empathy-for-someone-who-annoys-you
 
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Bridging the Gap

 

There are a host of personality tests out there, from the highly-specific type like the Myers-Briggs to the simplistic Facebook quizzes. They all have one thing in common, getting to know more about yourself and your typical characteristics and style of communicating and interacting with others.

One benefit of these assessments that sometimes falls through the cracks is that through building awareness of yourself, you can begin to identify the styles of others. This awareness of self and others is the foundation of emotional intelligence or EQ. Daniel Goleman, psychologist and author of Emotional Intelligence, lays out his crucial competencies of emotional intelligence in his video, Crucial Competence: Emotional and Social Intelligence in Leadership.

As you become more aware of yourself and others, you can more readily identify their styles and characteristics. The next step is to flex your style to the other person’s to bridge the gap. Through bridging the gap, you can make the other person more comfortable. Communication becomes easier and more clear. And a constructive path forward is forged.

The only person you can control is yourself. It is not an easy task, especially when faced with a person who may be on the opposite end of the spectrum, or assessment, as you. But with learning and practice, it can become second nature.

 

 

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