Do I Have To Smile In Our Morning Huddle?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a boss’ threat to be happy in the morning huddle:

I have a problem. I am not a morning person. I am usually not as talkative in the morning as I am in the afternoon. I have worked in the field of orthodontics for twenty years and it has not been an issue. After attending a seminar on teamwork, our manager decided to have morning huddles. At these huddles I usually do not have much to say because my thinking is not as clear in the morning, and caffeine is not an option, since I suffer from anxiety and depression I am not a very talkative person anyway and early morning chatter really does not interest me.

After the last huddle, she made a point of calling me out saying that I have an attitude and, if I do not come in smiling and talking in the mornings, then I may as well not work there. I explained to her that everyone has a different way of expressing emotions and that, if someone is not showing teeth, does not mean that they are unhappy to be where they are.

This manager comes in at least twice a week in a bad mood and we tip toe around her because she likes to pick fights and start arguments with the people she wants to get rid of. I have not done anything to this woman I am well liked by the staff and my employer. How can I participate in the morning huddles and be comfortable with being myself and not coming off as a team member with a bad attitude? Please Save Me.

Signed, Orthotech

Dear Orthotech:

Many people find it difficult to get up in the morning with a smile. Why? Most of us do not get to bed early enough and suffer from sleep deprivation. For some others, it may be as you describe yourself as not a morning person or more particularly because you suffer from anxiety and depression and are not a talkative person. If depression is a medical problem, you probably need to seek help of the medical community and counseling. But assuming since you are working and that most of those in your clinic feel good about you, there must be a solution to your tendency to come off in the eyes of your manager and possibly some of your co-workers as having an attitude.

I think there must be way to do so without caffeine. Consider reframing how you see your job. Pretend that you are the owner/manager of this place. At what time would you want your employees to arrive at work–a few minutes early, exactly on time, or a few minutes late? How would you want them to greet the clients and co-workers? What tone of voice would you like to hear–a smile in the voice on the phone, a cheery hello, asking what’s new, a question concerning about what have we scheduled for today, an offer to do something that will make a co-worker’s job easier???

Get the point? If you were the owner/manager, you would want your employees to come across as pleasant and brimming over with courtesy. You may scoff at the notion of pretending; however, I hope you read this e-mail in the evening since you are a night person. Research has shown that pretending can change how we look at a problem. For example, persons, who are asked to pretend that they are creative, solve problems more quickly and more often than do those not asked to pretend they are creative. Singing though I walk through a storm, I keep my chin up high. I will not be afraid of the dark does affect our attitudes.

Are there other ways you might reframe how you see your work? Is your thinking ego centered? Each of us is naturally egocentric. Each of us focus on my needs, and so we should–on my health and safety, am I liked, are my bills paid, when do I get time off, can I find that accessory for my house, checking to see if my pay is correctly calculated. Ego, however, is not all about self–I, me, my. How well my ego needs are met has much to do with how well I fit into my little circle. So it is that I think and care about a closest companion, my children and parents. Ego, when expanded in this way it is enriched to wego, and so it can be a work. The more you frame the way you see your self in your workplace as WEGO, the more you will express yourself in a positive tone of voice. Your manager, whom you depict as moody twice a week, nevertheless is trying to start the day off with a huddle.

At Wal-Mart, I’ve watched managers jump up on the counter before seven in the morning to start the day off with a cheer. Does this mean that you could not be a manager because you say you are a morning person? I doubt it. I think if you were the manager, you would climb up on that counter and you would lead a cheer. Physical action and voicing positive thoughts start the juices flowing. If you are serious about not coming off as a team member with a bad attitude, it can begin with getting ample sleep and then leaving home for work early enough that you are not trying to make up time in traffic, as you drive to work clearing your throat and saying out loud to yourself, “Hello, hello, this is going to be a good day,” thinking about how you might cut wasted supplies, time, and energy, planning what you might say if you were a cheerleader of your team, composing a question to ask related to the work of the day.

What if you would find something specific to say in praise to your manager about what she is doing that is good? To praise someone for something deserving of praise is akin to urging more of that kind of behavior. Have you told her that her effort to have a morning huddle is good? She saw your attitude as dampening her special effort to start the day off well? I think it is time to praise her for leading the huddles and apologize for being defensive when she spoke to you about your attitude.

Does all this sound like Pollyanna to you? If so, is that not better than for Snow White’s ego-centered stepmother asking, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of all?” Will you get back to us saying if any of these thought makes sense and what you try that works or fails to work?

Bill Gorden, who is answering this early in the morning.

Second Opinion: Dr. Gorden forwarded your message and his reply to me, since we work as a team and have found that often the combination of our unique perspectives are helpful to the person writing to us. Your question reminded me of several similar situations in my history and I wanted to share some thoughts about how those turned out, with the hope that it might be helpful.First, let me say that I agree with Dr. Gorden that what we think of as being “the way we are” can be changed if it matters enough to us. If you think you will lose your job if you do not find a way to play the role of that job at the hours those roles are asked for, you will likely find a way to do it. The optimal situation is to find a career and a workplace where you can be just the way you are without any adjustments–but that is not the usual case. I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t have to play a role on occasion and act in a way that his/her natural self might not act. There are teachers, who are not morning people, but we expect them to smile, be friendly and act energized when they deal with children in the morning.

There are salespeople, who are not morning people, but if they want to sell products to morning customers they have to find a way to be as peppy then as later in the day. Business-people, people in the trades or service workers, spouses and children, all are a mixture of energy at different times of the day, but sometimes the setting requires that they act differently than their natural tendencies might encourage. So, your first decision is not so much how you can come across differently in the morning, as it is, do you want to stay in that job. More about that in a moment!The issue of morning people and night people and all of that, usually is more rooted in personality type in general. Some people are naturally more talkative than others any time of the day. But some of the extreme differences are, I think, purposeful efforts to be unique and to have a persona, and eventually the behavior becomes a habit. That isn’t a bad thing if the habit is one that doesn’t interfere with our effectiveness. But if people don’t respond well to our ways of communicating, we need to re-think them and learn new habits–whether they are natural to us or not.Let me give you three examples of how habits can be changed, and the results if they’re not changed.

Consider Chuck, who used to drive co-workers nuts with his Mr. Happy Tooth persona! Chuck would bounce in his office every morning and go desk to desk with chatter and good cheer. However, he went way overboard with it, to the point of being offensive to many. He would say hello and if someone didn’t respond to the level of energy he thought was appropriate, he’d stop, look at them with mock concern and say, “Come on now! Is that the way to start the day? Let’s cheer up! Let me see that smile. Come on! Come on! Smile for me!” I’m surprised a homicide didn’t occur!

Chuck’s manager had to talk to him about just the opposite thing that you were talked to about. His manager told him that the overly effusive comments in the morning–or at anytime–were inappropriate, irritating and distracting to the point of interfering with work. Chuck said he didn’t know any other way to be and his boss told him bluntly that he’d better learn because he wouldn’t still be there if his actions continued. Chuck changed. At first he went too far the other way, but finally he settled into the practice of NOT going desk to desk in the morning, but instead getting to his own work and waiting until mid-day to be more sociable. Here’s what his manager noted: Once Chuck got over the habit of morning-mania, as people call it, he calmed down enough that he was appropriately cheerful and friendly the rest of the day. And, once he made himself use more appropriate communication styles he never again got in people’s faces with his personal remarks. Chuck didn’t have to go to a class to learn any of that. He simply had enough incentive to change his habits. His problem was not that he was a cheerful morning person, it was that he was extreme in his actions and that would not be acceptable any time.

Next, consider Darlene, who worked next to a friend, Pam. Darlene told me Pam came in every morning ready to chat and laugh, but Darlene needed an hour or so to just get herself together and get going on work, so she didn’t want to be social then. She had tried to talk to Pam about it, but that hadn’t seemed to make a difference in the amount of time Pam spent in morning chatter and friendly talk. Darlene didn’t want to hurt the friendship and wondered how to approach it. In this case, no one had talked to Darlene, suggesting that she act differently. She wasn’t having problems with her boss. She simply wanted to maintain the best possible relationship with her co-worker.

So, I suggested that she take the lead with morning talk and get it over with! That way, she controlled the amount of social time and could easily move into her own work, feeling that she had shown her support for Pam. That’s what she did and it worked for her. Almost every morning, the minute Pam got to work, Darlene would spend about five minutes talking to her–not easy for Darlene to do, but worth it to keep the friendship. Then, she would say she had to get to work and Pam would start her own work as well. They never had a problem after that. Pam could have been the one to make the adjustment, but Darlene took the lead, which I thought said a lot for her maturity and professionalism.

Jan, a former employee, reminds me of the description you gave of your situation. She was withdrawn in the morning and told everyone, often, that she wasn’t a morning person. They could have accepted it if she simply was more quiet in the morning, but at least participated in meetings and smiled in response to greetings and comments. But Jan was withdrawn and somber acting in the morning–and much of the rest of the time as well. An appropriate smile and greeting to her elicited no facial expression at all and only a one or two word response. She always said, in response to discussions with her about it, that she wasn’t as upbeat acting as others, but she did good work and felt that should be enough. Her boss likely would not have fired her over her behaviors because Jan wasn’t specifically mean or unpleasant and her other work was generally good. But, he did pass her over for a grade increase because he felt Jan showed no spirit of cooperation for anyone else, so why should anyone go out of his/her way to help her? Jan’s refusal to change her habits resulted in the loss of thousands of dollars for her every year. Eventually she quit and went somewhere else. She told co-workers that she didn’t like the atmosphere at work. Her manager told me that he was going to weed out any applicants for the job who said they were “morning people”, because he had noticed that usually meant “grumpy”!

So, that brings us to your personal situation. I think there is more to it than only your comfort level with communication in the morning. It seems to me that you have some issues about your manager anyway–and they sound justified from your perspective. On the other hand, a manager does not usually go to a class on teamwork if she thinks the team is doing fine. So, from her perspective there were problems already. Since she called you aside to talk to you, it may be that you were one of the targets of her concern or frustration already. I think, if you want to continue working there, you need to look at a bigger issue: How are you interacting with your manager all of the time. But, let’s assume this: Your manager is not complaining about your work. All you are being asked to do is present yourself in a different way, especially in morning meetings. You can do that! You absolutely can! President Dwight Eisenhower was once asked to what he attributed his military success. He said, “I find out what my commander wants and I give it to him.” That is true of regular work as well.

Those who are supervisors, managers and executives, have the responsibility and the authority to develop a work team that works for them and the business. Often their description of that work team fits their own ideas about how a workplace should be. Employees have the choice of either fitting that description or going elsewhere. But in this case, it seems that you are not being asked to do anything unreasonable–just difficult for you, given your personality and even your physical/emotional condition.

So, let me suggest some things in addition to the fine suggestions by Dr. Gorden.1. Talk to the physician who is aware of your medical/emotional condition. Ask if there is written material for people who have anxiety and depression that might provide helpful information about how to work within that situation. Perhaps you could consider counseling based on your work needs. You have to deal with a situation that not only is affected by your condition, but also could be made worse if you become concerned about work.

2. Do you have a friend at work that you could partner with on this? In the morning, during the huddles, instead of talking to everyone, start your comments or conversations with her. Make eye contact with her, and then move around to everyone else. But in your mind, continue as though you were talking to your friend. Let her in on it if you think that would help. It’s easier to interact with a friend than to interact with your manager (about whom you don’t feel positive) and with others with whom you are not close.

3. Instead of trying to change yourself from being a morning person, focus on your beliefs and thoughts about work. If the lottery committee showed up and gave you a check for ten million dollars in the morning, you can bet you’d be perky. If you had good news, you’d smile easily. The reason it isn’t as easy at work is because you don’t feel as positive about that. A young friend of mine told me that she had a crush on a new male employee at work. She said, “I sure do look forward to going to work nowadays! I feel like I’m in a Disney movie, dancing around the copying machine at work with little bluebirds on my shoulder!” Shows you that most of our actions are based on something other than our sleep cycle and being a morning or evening person!

4. Even if you do not talk much, have a facial expression that is open. The absence of a facial expression does not look bland; it looks hostile. If you are sitting without moving your face to show that you are listening and responding mentally, you likely look as though you are bored, angry, disgusted or unfriendly. When someone makes a remark, nod your head in agreement. Look around the table as you react. Take notes. Make verbal sounds of agreement or encouragement, even if you don’t talk. You don’t have to “show your teeth” as you say to show support and teamwork.

5. If your employer and co-workers feel positive about you, strengthen those links. When you feel a strong connection with work, you will find it easier to fulfill the role you are being asked to fulfill. Then, work on the link between you and your manager. You didn’t say if you work with clientele and patients or not. If you do, that is where your focus should be much of the time. They are much more nervous and uncomfortable than you are and need your friendly support.

6. It sounds to me as though you had a rather unpleasant conversation with your manager, in which you were defensive and even a little snippy. I say that based only on your short summary of the conversation, so I could be mistaken about that. One thing is for sure though: When your manager tells you of her concern that you do not contribute to the huddles, what she is after is, “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I was coming across that way. What can I do to make that better?” Anything else sounds like criticism of her for asking you about it. You’re correct that your manager doesn’t control your attitude, but your paycheck rents your behavior. A change of behavior is being asked of you, so you need to decide how important the paycheck is. However, as I said, I believe you will find you can do and be what is being asked, without straining yourself or your personality at all. You CAN do it. You simply need to convince yourself that it’s important to do. I hope these additional thoughts are helpful. Best wishes as you work through this!

Tina Lewis Rowe