Do you consider yourself an individual worthy of attention and courtesy? Good, your should…so do your co-workers. When it comes to employees, staff, co-workers, team members, however you refer to them, one size of leadership does not fit all. In a previous section of this series I talked about being firm, fair and consistent and that still holds true…however, consistency does not mean cookie cutter approaches to issues.
Over the years, I’ve run companies/divisions ranging in size from 5 employees to 250 employees, in both union and non-union organizations. In every one of them I’ve found myself having to deal with staff issues ranging from fights in the ambulance bay, union complaints, sexual harassment claims, theft of equipment and even staff having to deal with life-threatening medical problems of their own.
On one particularly memorable day, over the course of a six hour period, our team dealt with a serious ambulance crash severely injuring two of our own, an employee that had to be terminated on the spot for aggressive behavior towards a patient and facility staff, a long time staff member who developed complications with her pregnancy and was worried about having to come off the road, losing her job and her benefits, and a younger employee who wanted career counseling about becoming a paramedic. Add in a couple of irate patients with billing issues, reporters looking for information about the crash and just the usual ebb and flow of a day in EMS and it would be very easy to mis-handle these interactions.
If you allow your staff and your day to control you, these issues will pile up, there will be a boiling point after which you will say or do something that will be hurtful, inappropriate and that will do a lot more harm than good…even though blowing up at someone may feel good at the time.
Here are six quick tips for putting space between events and for gearing up or calming down for the next appointment and for making sure that you are fully engaged:
– Closing your door
– Coming out from behind the desk
– Keeping the desk between you and the person
– Excusing yourself and using the bathroom
– Rescheduling for a later time
– Eliminate the distractions, phone, email, inturruptions, etc.
Closing your door. The door is a traffic control device. If you need to get a project done, need time to think, need time to cool down or simply need 5 minutes to collect your thoughts…close the door and train your staff to respect it’s closure unless the building is on fire or an employee is injured. If you’re agitated after just having gone through a disciplinary session with one employee, you’re not ready to sit down and career counsel the next one…you are not in a positive frame of mind until you stop, breathe, regroup, refocus and then start the next session.
Coming out from behind the desk. Body language says volumes and if you are tying to be sympathetic to the staff member afraid of losing her benefits due to a pregnancy (admitedly in the days before Family Medical Leave) but you follow my point, sitting behind the desk in an authority pose does not come across nearly as well as sitting on the same side of the desk for the conversation. Same holds true for the career counseling session.
Keeping the desk between you and the person. Again, body language sets the tone of the encounter. In a discipline situation, especially one in which the issue is aggressive behavior…a barrier is a good idea. Also the posture of authority in this situation is needed, valid and appropriate.
Excusing yourself and using the bathroom. If you find yourself with back, to back, to back, situations…whose fault is the poor scheduling by the way…you need to inject a break to give yourself time to focus and shift gears. I will invite the person into my office and then excuse myself to use the bathroom or grab a coffee (ask if they want one too…coffee that is). The three minute break lets me take a couple of deep breaths, refocus and be ready for the next topic in a fully engaged manner.
Rescheduling for a later time. If your day really has been shot to hell and you know that you can’t focus properly…explain to the person that the day has been so frustrating that you could be of more service to them if you could reschedule. Pick a time that works, thank them for being understanding and then keep the next appoinment come hell or high water. Which would you prefer…the reschedule of a meeting to a better time or to be in a meeting where you knew the other person wan’t really there?
I thought so…if that’s what you’d prefer, so will your troops.
Eliminate the distractions, phone, email, inturruptions, etc. Give the person you’re meeting with your undivided attention. Put the phones on do not disturb, ditch the smart phone (it is making you dumber by the way), do not look at email (another reason to be out from behind your desk), and do not allow other interruptions…make that person feel as though they are the most important person in the world right then…hint: they are!
If you can pull off these relatively simple things, even though your team will not always agree with you, they will know that you’re listening, that you care and that they are important…they will respect you as a leader for your efforts.