Choose Discomfort

January 16th 2014

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  • A senior level person in your company comes to work grumpy as a crocodile one day and perfectly pleasant the next, dealing with co-workers according to his mood.
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  • One of your employees has trouble understanding that personal calls are just that: personal. She’s on the phone in her cubicle several times a day, sharing the details of last night’s date. Everyone within earshot gets to know, too.
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  • Your best business developer pitches a scathing fit in his secretary’s cubicle when things don’t go as planned.
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Lucky you. As the owner of a business, you have the challenge of deciding whether and how to respond to situations like these. And they happen every day. Each situation is different; each requires its own thoughtful response. It also requires a willingness to enter into a potentially uncomfortable conversation.

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It’s interesting that most business owners feel fully capable of dealing with the technicalities of running their enterprises. The internal issues, however, cause plenty of stress. Owners know through experience how costly internal drama can be, both in terms of short-term productivity and longer-term morale and turnover. Ultimately, though, business owners are just like everybody else: they avoid conflict because it’s uncomfortable. They sit on their hands and hope the situation will resolve itself.

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Rarely do conflicts like these resolve themselves. In fact, it’s likely that the perpetrators don’t even realize they’re doing something wrong. Why? Because no one tells them. Sure, they might receive one of those useless emails that tries to correct everyone’s behavior while achieving nothing at all (except perhaps to irritate those who aren’t misbehaving). And they might hear something about their general attitude in an annual evaluation, if their supervisor remembers to mention it. But they don’t receive the most useful thing of all: a one on one conversation that clarifies the immediate issue and seeks a resolution. They don’t receive it because you, the business owner, don’t want to be uncomfortable.

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It is well worth your discomfort to confront difficult internal issues. By having what may be an awkward conversation with an employee or partner, you help the other person become aware of his or her behavior and offer an opportunity to change it. Valuing your own comfort over clear communication and prompt action creates backlash: your challenging employees continue their inappropriate behavior, because they are unaware; productivity decreases because everyone else is dealing with the challenging employee except you; and morale drops when your best employees see that bad behavior is unacknowledged and sometimes even unintentionally rewarded when you do nothing.

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The next time an internal issue arises, take a deep breath. Then have a face-to-face conversation with the employee about your expectations and how they’re not being met in a particular situation. Be specific. Make it clear that you want improved behavior and ask for their cooperation.  Tell them how much you value their good work and that you want to see them focus on doing more of it. Find a way to leave the conversation on a positive note.

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Though your palms may sweat and your heart rate may increase in the knowledge that you have a situation to deal with, deal with it anyway -- sooner rather than later. It’s the best way to change things for the better.

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