What If I Can’t Do A Task I’ve Been Given?

I feel scared about a new task delegated to me. I don’t know how to do it and I am not sure if I want to do it. But it’s my job and I can’t lose my job. What should I do?

An effective supervisor or manager will not delegate a task that an employee has not been trained to do, has not done correctly in the past, or cannot easily learn to do. It may be that your supervisor did not follow that important rule. Or, it may be that even if you do not know exactly how to do the new task, your supervisor thinks you should or could be able to learn to do it easily. Your boss may have more confidence in you than you do!

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Persuading Management to Better Low-Level Employees’ Incentives

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about improving incentives:

I used to work at a regional branch of ADT. My job consisted of making sales and meeting with customers for a consultation. We have low level “runners” who go door to door and try to set up consultations but receive a base pay regardless of how many consultations they set up. This reduces overall productivity for the business and I believe it would be more beneficial to everyone if there were more incentives for our “runners”, but I am not sure how to bring it up to my boss in a rational reasonable way that makes him support the idea rather than just be skeptical about losing money by paying more to the lower level employees.

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Someone I Mentor Is Trying to Take Over My Work.

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors: How do I deal with someone I mentor
but who now seems to be taking over my position?

I worked with a person at another facility and thought she was intelligent and hardworking. As a result, when I was promoted to the Department Coordinator position I asked my manager to consider her for my old position. Ever since this person came to our department I have mentored her and spent considerable time training her. She now seems to think she can insert herself in my new position and interfere in my job responsibilities. Unfortunately our manager does not correct this behavior.

Even though my co-worker has enough of her own responsibilities, she tries to “be me”, often causing miscommunication. She does not tell me information I need to assist my managers. She takes it upon herself to do things I have already done. I have tried gentle reminders that we both have certain job functions, but the situation has not gotten better.

The previous Department Coordinator and I got along well and I did not step on her toes.  Now, after paying my dues for many years there are certain invitations and privileges that I have earned. Our manager wants the new person included in everything I do, business and socially, with our facility. When our manager finds out I am invited to a special outing she will call and ask that my co-worker be invited. I believe this is unfair even though I understand our manager is trying to make her feel welcome. This was not extended to me when I first started.

There are other events contributing to my frustration and it is affecting my morale. I do not know how to approach my manager without ruining my relationship with her and my co-worker. How should I handle this?

Hello and thank you for sharing your workplace concern with us.  If you like classic movies, watch “All About Eve” sometime and see if you notice some similarities to your situation!

Congratulations on being given the Coordinator title and role. As frustrated as you might feel, you have the title to prove you have gained increasing responsibility. However, as you are finding, Coordinator roles are challenging in many workplaces. The fact that you worked well with a Coordinator in the past is a credit to both of you—probably to you. In almost all workplaces, Coordinators retain many of their former duties, but are given additional duties such as scheduling, purchasing, liaison and communications. Unfortunately, if the former job (I’ll use the title, “Assistant” to match your Coordinator title) is filled, some of the work overlaps and there is a temptation for the Assistant to see herself or himself as a peer of the Coordinator, especially if they both report to the same manager. However, the Coordinator feels, justifiably, that the person who has their former role is a tad bit lower in the hierarchy.

Your situation is made even more frustrating by the fact that the new Department Assistant is someone you recommended and trained. Instead of feeling loyal and being a good colleague, it seems she is wanting to have the networking privileges that you only attained when you earned them with the new title and she is trying to show you up or at least make it seem that she needs to do your work, for some reason.

Her motive might be that she wants to show she could do your job if you are promoted or reassigned to something else in the company. Or, she may feel it isn’t fair for her to work hard but stay in the office, like Cinderella, while you get to interact with people from other departments or companies, in a more personal way. Or, she may want to be helpful and thinks showing initiative is a good thing, not realizing she doesn’t know enough to show initiative wisely.

In a similar situation of which I’m aware, a Unit Coordinator came back from a couple of days off to find the Unit Assistant had called the people in one of the Coordinator’s groups, to tell them some long-awaited items had arrived. She wasn’t trying to take away the Coordinator’s work, she just enjoyed chatting with people and it was fun to introduce herself and get to know them over the phone. The Assistant couldn’t figure out why the Coordinator was upset. The Coordinator was even more upset when people in her group told her how lucky she was to be working for the Department Assistant, because she was so nice! When she explained that she did NOT work for the Assistant, she felt that she sounded arrogant, so it was a bad situation all the way around.

The Coordinator came to realize she had to separate her ego from her work. She told the Assistant not to make those contacts again, but she was pleasant about it—and even joked with a select few about the implication that she was subordinate to the Assistant. That was ten years ago and so much has changed that she says the year she spent in the situation is a minor memory.

In another case, a Marketing Assistant took phone calls from people who were going to an event and gave implied approval for them to arrive and depart at various times. Those calls should have been referred to the Coordinator, because she knew the overall schedule and would have explained the requirements, before the participants solidified their plans. It was a big mess, all because the Assistant thought she was helping, but didn’t know enough about it to realize she wasn’t helping at all. She was embarrassed and seemed resentful at the time, but got over it and did a good job later.

Your manager could have reduced the problem in your workplace by clarifying duties to begin with and by being sensitive to the conflict that might arise from her own actions of essentially leveling the hierarchy. However, I think there are some things you can do to improve the situation. My suggestions may not fit your workplace and work culture exactly, but perhaps they can be adapted.

1.) If you still are in contact with the former Coordinator, she may have ideas for how she was able to help you stay positive and happy in your tasks while she took care of hers. Even though it sounds as though you simply were a good person for the role, perhaps she guided that at the beginning and you can learn from her experiences with you. She might also have some insights about your manager’s actions. You’ll want to avoid sounding like you’re gossiping or that you’re angry with the manager (you never know when something will get back), but you do have concerns and it’s appropriate to discuss those with someone who might be able to help. Keep the conversation upbeat and positive, assuming the best motivations from others, including the Manager and the Assistant.

2.) Get copies of your job descriptions and compare them, even if you have done so at some point in the past. What are the task differences between your title and the Assistant’s title? Doing that will give you something solid to discuss if the Assistant does something clearly outside her job description. However, it might be useful for you as well.

*Are there some jobs you did formerly that you should no longer be doing, even if you know them and can easily do them? Make sure you’re focused on your current job description not the former one, except for required tasks.

*Are there some tasks you can ask your manager to assign to the Assistant, to free you up for the larger work you’re doing as a Coordinator? Perhaps she needs a few more required tasks to keep her busy. She may think it’s a good thing to get additional responsibilities and it might help you in the long run.

3.) Keep your group of internal and external contacts active in a way that is genuine, not fake “networking.” An occasional phone call, email or text message to check on things is a way to show that you are their liaison with the Department, not anyone else.

4.) One other thing you could do is to talk more directly to those you interact with in your role, who are involved in something ongoing on upcoming. Let them know you and you alone are the person who can help them. Look for positive opportunities, being reasonable about how many times you contact people. For example:

“Kevin, I’m tracking progress on that conference you’re attending and I’ll have the materials to you the week prior. Do me a favor though and contact me about any questions you have. Jessica is in the office, but this isn’t her project and she won’t be able to help you, even though I’m sure she’ll try. Just call me or email me and I’ll get back to you right away.”

“OK Barbara, I’ll get going on those things and will call you back about them. If you have any further thoughts, email them to me. If you call and get Jessica, make sure you let her know you and I have already been working on this. Let her know you and I are talking about it,  so she won’t think she has to do something specific. It will save us all a lot of confusion if you contact me instead and I can get to work on it for you.”

“Jenna, thanks for the update on your trade show booth purchases. Jessica let me know that you had contacted her about it. (Conversation about it.) Do us a favor and use me as your liaison on those purchases, since I’m keeping the spreadsheet about it. That way you’ll always have it tracked correctly. Jessica is happy to help in an emergency and will let me know what you need, but I’m focused on your projects and she has others.”

You’d adjust those for what sounds right in your workplace and your role, but it will be helpful to make sure the problem isn’t caused by people contacting the Department Assistant instead of you, because they think it’s OK to do it—or even think it’s preferable to do it.

5.) In supervisory classes, I teach about Intervention related to employee problems and I say, “The earlier, the easier.” It’s easier to talk to an employee after the first time you see an error, than after they’ve done the same error a dozen times. It’s also easier to talk to a co-worker right away, when you sense a conflict. However, since I know we often delay, hoping things will get better, I also teach the concept: “Make the next time the first time.”

What I mean by that is, if something has gone on for a while, and you haven’t said anything definite about it, pretend the next time is the first time and correct the situation as if it’s new and you want to clear it up. That allows your tone to be friendly and breezy about it, no matter how frustrated you are. “Hey, Jessica, I see you sent the list out to everyone in my contact group. I want them to know I’m the one coordinating that program,  so do me a favor and let me handle all of the communications about that project, OK?” You can explain any problems that were created or you can simply leave it at that—it’s your job and you’ll do it.

By making the next time the first time, you can establish a start line for dealing with the situation, if you think it has become more than just an irritation. For example, you tell her in a pleasant way that her actions in doing such and such a thing created confusion, so don’t do that again. Instead let you do it because it’s your work. If she does it again, you can be more firm about it. “Jessica, this is like the thing last week I asked you not to do because it was my job. What’s going on, that this is happening again?” A co-worker can ask that just as well as a supervisor might, so you’re not overstepping your position, you’re trying to get the work of the department done, the right way.

Don’t say much more than that. Put the pressure on her to explain herself and for you to get a better idea of whether she is purposely trying to cause problems or is she is genuinely confused about work assignments.

If she does it again, you have something much more solid to take to your manager and it won’t sound as though you didn’t try to work it out. Write an email to your manager and give the three examples, factually. You can also mention previous situations to show it has been recurring.

Ask your manager for assistance in working through the situation. Put your focus on how it causes problems for your internal clients, delays work, creates errors or some other work related issue.  Don’t emphasize that it undermines your role or creates a morale problem for you. Managers usually care more about the effect on work than they do about the effect on feelings—that’s just a harsh reality.

Talking to your manager should be a last resort after you’ve tried everything else, because it sounds to me as though your manager might not agree with you and might feel you are being overly sensitive or not wanting to help your co-worker. It would be unfair for her to feel that way, after all you have done to help your co-worker, but that may be another reality! She may genuinely not see that it is an issue–and may think you are so much more advanced in your work skills that there isn’t comparison or competition.

6.) Use your job description to arrange your work area and clarify your title and roles. In a similar situation, an Assistant was given a Coordinator title and wanted to feel and show that she had transitioned from her former work, even though she was still doing many of the same tasks. She cleared her desk and made it look different. She created the space in a way that fit her new duties. She put holders on her cubicle walls, each labelled for various projects, people and groups. She used those for hard copies and print-outs of various things. Most things were on her computer, but she wanted a visual look that showed she had work she didn’t have before.

7.) I can also understand your frustration—and perhaps some hurt feelings—when your manager makes a point of telling you to include the Department Assistant in the activities and events you had to wait until you were the Coordinator to attend. Your manager may think it seems inequitable for the Assistant to stay behind while you attend functions the Assistant would enjoy. (It could even be the Assistant has talked to your manager about attending and hinted that she would like to go but doesn’t think you will ask her.)

You said you recommended the coworker for your former job because you were impressed with her work. Maybe your manager sees those same qualities in her and wants to help her get to know people, so she’ll have contacts down the line. A really nice thought would be if your manager thinks you might move up again one day and the Assistant can move to your role then—and maybe that IS part of your manager’s thought process.

Whatever the motivation, your manager has apparently decided you should include the Department Assistant in some events. I think you should just figure the situation has changed from when you were in the Assistant role and, for now at least, you and the Department Assistant will attend events together. One way to handle that is to look at your schedule and unless something is clearly not appropriate, invite the Assistant on your own rather than waiting to be directed. If it’s a group she hasn’t been to before, be the gracious person who introduces her around. Enjoy having a title and role that will allow you to invite someone to  meetings and events. You couldn’t have done that before you got your promotion, but now you can.

Others attending will either know the titles and roles or they won’t. If they do, they’ll know you are inviting someone lower than your level in the organization and think you were nice to do it. If they don’t know the titles and roles, let your demeanor give them an idea of who is the most mature and competent.

If there is some aspect to the meetings that makes it inappropriate for the Assistant to be there, let your manager know–but honestly, I don’t think you’ll find a reason your manager will agree with.

8.) You indicated there are other things going on that have lowered your morale and contributed to your feelings of frustration. Whatever those are, you can always feel confident that you are on the right track if you put your focus on fulfilling the goals of your manager and providing excellent service to your internal clients, in a way that complies with the directions and guidance of your manager. None of us work in isolation—we all have someone who is responsible for their own work and for ours. The more our work is trouble-free for our managers and executives, the more valuable we are to them. The more we want to do it our way, not their way, the less valuable we are.

Your manager is probably aware of some of your feelings and doesn’t want you to feel that way—or doesn’t see a reason for you to feel that way. He or she has concerns and pressures too and just wants things to go smoothly. The more you can let the current situation become a minor irritation instead of a major conflict, the more positive your manager will feel about you. As I mentioned in another section, if you feel you must talk to your manager emphasize the perspective of how the current situation hurts the department.

That may not be advice you need, because that might not have anything to do with your situation. However, I have noticed that a title increase or a promotion often is accompanied by some frustration and disappointment when the reality is different than anticipated. Further, it’s sad to have thought you’d have a warm relationship with the new Department Assistant, just as you and the last Coordinator had, only to find it hasn’t happened that way and there is tension and some resentment instead.

Putting your focus on helping your Department and your manager be successful will ultimately help you be more successful. Ironically, that is what will help the Assistant be successful too. Dr. Gorden refers to this concept as WEGO—working together to achieve workplace goals.

Things change and you will not always be in that Department or with that manager or coworker. Be the person who transcends everyone and everything by learning new skills, improving old skills and becoming more credible and valuable all the time.

Best wishes to you. If you have the time and want to do so, let us know what develops.

Tina Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors

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My Boss Wants Me To Do Leadership Training

A Letter to Ask the Workplace Doctors about Leadership Training


My boss asked me to incorporate leadership training into our Conference department to help benefit the team as a whole. I was eager to begin working on this, as I reflect back to my college experiences both in your class and the organizations I was involved in. Not only am I referencing team building activities I learned, but I’ve also started reading your books to help lead me in the right direction for my team.

I’m starting with Value-Added Attitude and Action to help introduce a more family based approach to leadership within my conferences team. (Time Capsules and Working for the Best are next on my list.) I’m only a few chapters in, and have already made notes and marks to share with my group. I’m fascinated and disappointed at the same time – Fascinated by your research and words of wisdom about the work place, and your perspective on complicated issues; Disappointed in myself that I’m just now reading these books five years after receiving them.

I’m very inspired by your work, and hope to bring these ideas and concepts to my work place. We’re only a 30 person company, but I think if we can start small with the Conferences team (4 people), maybe we can branch out and change the whole company. This was just want I needed, as I was beginning to feel like I was starting to dig a rut in my career – but this as sparked me to better my company and see what I can do.

I’m keeping moderate expectations so I don’t get discouraged, but I know in the end I’ll get more out of it personally than anything. Thank you for reminding me that I can attempt to change the world, even if it starts with my team of 3 other co-workers.

Response from Dr. Gorden: You have recently been challenged by your boss to build leadership training in the Conference Department of an amazing company, Benjamin Media.

From this distance as an outsider, I sense you are at a stage of seeking clarification–Clarifying what that means to your boss is a beginning point and gradually learning what his/her definition of leadership training means will come as you share with him what it might mean to your team. So mapping that out can be a collaborative process of invention.

Although you didn’t ask for it, my advice is not to think in terms of leadership training in general, but rather as to how it might be integrated in your current and future Conference Products, such as how companies in a specific field of one of your magazines do train and develop leaders.

And secondly, as a communication expert you might explore what leadership trainers might make conference presentations from outside a particular field. This is a form of bench-marking leadership training by seeing what others are doing both in different fields and by those of us who train in organizational dynamics.

What my partner, Johnny Miller, and I did for General Electric is one example. What my associate workplace doctor, Tina Lewis Rowe, does for police departments and city government is another. She speaks to many conferences.

Leadership training is integral to any company’s workforce management planning. My study of Union Carbide’s effort to respond to the chemical spill disaster in India is another story of corporate leadership.

These are the kind of thoughts I would give if you had submitted a question about what you should do to Ask the Workplace Doctors and I hope they will assist you. read more

Time On My Hands

How can I avoid wasting time when their is no work to be done. How should I drum up work as a Data Entry Clerk?

Signed, Nothing to Do

Dear Nothing to Do:

As a manager, I encourage each one of my employees to always look busy even when there isn’t work to do at that moment. Nothing is worse at the corporate level to see an employee sitting at their desk and reading a magazine, surfing the web, chatting with a co-worker or on their smartphone when they should clearly be working. It does get noticed by management from all levels. It gets noticed from the direct manager wondering why the employee clearly is not trying to find work and it gets noticed from the hire ups that maybe it’s time to downsize the employee who doesn’t have enough work.

I tell my team to find something to do even if it means cleaning off their desk or going through files in their drawers and organizing. Some strong advice I learned long ago when I first entered the work force is if you leave your desk to go to the restroom or even take a break, take something with you to include a notepad and pen. Look important and look like you are doing something productive. Even today I never leave my desk without those 2 things.

A good employee is one who asks for additional work when times are slow. Those are the employees who show initiative and want to work. Those are the employees you want to keep when times get tough.  If you ask your manager for work, trust me a good manager always has work to share or a project to start. Guest Respondent, Ann Guariniello, IT Partner Servicre Desk Manager, ComDoc

Second Opinion: Ask a supervisor what he or she WANTS done. Every manager I know has problems with employees creating work for themselves that the employee thinks is a good use of time, but the manager would have had them doing something different. Self-initiative is only appreciated when it is on track with what the manager or supervisor needs to have accomplished for the organization.

A couple of weeks ago a supervisor was complaining about an administrative clerk who had developed a newsletter concept and had examples, etc. The supervisor said, “If I had known she had free time, I had a whole bunch of things that needed to be done. And a newsletter that is not going to happen, is not one of them.”

So, I’ll bet there IS work to be done and a supervisor could suggest some things!

Tina Lewis Rowe read more

Helping New Managers Know You Want to Help

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about communicating with new bosses: I along with 6 other sales associates and an assistant manager are having a hard time communicating effectively with our new bosses.

I work with a small team at a retail clothing store. Lately, we have been in a big transition of getting a new store manager and co-manager. I along with 6 other sales associates and an assistant manager are having a hard time communicating effectively with our new bosses. Since we have been there longer than they, we want to try and help in any way possible. I think they are taking it the wrong way and seeing it as us trying to be superior to them. How can we communicate effectively so we can all work together and achieve success in the work place?

Signed, Seen as Trying To Boss

Dear Seen as Trying To Boss:

Those of you who have been trying to help your new manager and co-owner sense your efforts are seen as trying to be superior. You provide no evidence that you are perceived that way. Perhaps you are not. But whether the new management sees you that way or not, now is the time to open your channels of communication. How? By asking.

Ask how you, who have been and now are working in this clothing store, can help make your new manager and co-manager’s job easier. If you ask that question, most likely the new management team will then ask what ways might you show them the ropes—what suppliers you know, what merchandise sells, what scheduling arrangements work for you, and who are your customers. So open up the channels. Ask how they want to be talked to and when. In turn you will spell out how you want to be talked with. Informally, this is a process of getting to know each other and to establish the dos and don’ts of how to communicate effectively.

This is not a complex matter if you ask rather that tell new management what you think. Most of all it is an opportunity to share your commitment and concerns that your store does well. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.            William Gorden


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Going Sour. Or Communicate Effectively

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about coworker communication:

I currently work for the Cleveland Indians and our marketing department is going under new management. With everyone being with the company for a different amount of years, the communication between the employees and the new management are going sour. What are your suggestions to communicate effectively?

Signed, Going Sour

Dear Going Sour:

Because your questi0n lacks specific examples of “going sour” within your organization, my remarks are general. Therefore these few suggestions:

1. What is wrong with communication between management and the rest of the organization? You can’t fix what you can’t describe. So from your position in marketing what isn’t as good as it might be? If there are interpersonal or interdepartmental problems, find over-arching goals that can make those who have complaints about each other see the value of the whole organization working collaboratively

2. Think team. What has marketing done that pleases management? What deserves applause? Build on that. Don’t complain. Don’t point fingers. Apply the same skull session collaboration that is in use by the team to marketing. Talk positively about each other within the department. Praise each other just as does the team high fives an effective play.

3. Know your product. Your product is your team and your stadium. So talk about players–tell their stories and do the same for people who buy tickets–tell their stories too.

4. See Marketing as you would if you owned the Indians. That means cutting wasted supplies, wasted time, wasted energy, and wasted money. In short, see the big picture and  don’t walk within your working area or about the stadium without picking up trash. Don’t expect someone else to do the clean up. Every part of the park and organization is waiting for your department to see them as essential to the Indian’s organization.

5. Raise awareness that professional ball has evolved from playing for the fun of it.

Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. If any of these thoughts makes sense and can be applied to your department, please let me know how.

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Favoritism By The Boss

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about favoritism by the boss

“My boss favors the golden boy manager. How do we (other managers and our staff)
deal with this and keep motivated?”

Our problem is about the difference between a boss and a leader. I am a manager of a Finance team and report directly to the Finance VP — along with four other managers. The problem is that the VP shows favoritism to one of the other managers and it is obvious to all other managers as well as our staff.

This favoritism ranges from giving extra support in meetings to securing financial and people resources, The ‘golden boy’ is on a pedestal (they also have a friendly relationship and have lunch together, call each other on weekends, etc).

How do we deal with this and keep ourselves motivated? How can we help our boss be more of a leader instead of only a boss that shows favoritism?

Not Quite As Favored

Dear Not So Favored:

Yes, your V.P. is more boss than leader. Put that thought of favoritism by the boss way back in your mind if you can’t put it out of your head. Bosses shouldn’t play favorites, but some do. Some find a closer working and social relationship with certain subordinates. Some help them as mentors do.

Rather, focus on finding ways to prompt your VP to engage all of you in working together as a team. Among the most subtle, yet direct ways, to coax your manager to be a coach, are found by posing questions in staff meetings such as:

• Are there ways that we might make our division (department, work unit, whatever is appropriate) more effective?

• How might we improve the way we communicate?

• Are there some things we can do to make each other’s jobs or units work easier?

• We appreciate the fact that you do not micromanage, but are there things we managers might do to help our staffs see the big picture your work as VP of Finance represents?

It would be wise to have a list of incidents that you might mention that prompt whichever such questions you pose. It also would be wise to not spring questions from nowhere, but to have planted the seeds with the VP informally. Possibly ask that such questions be put on the agenda with the purpose of improving coordination and cooperation among you managers and staffs.

Almost every work working unit, especially a team of managers who speak for their staff and those in their charge, needs to take time out to do as sports’ teams do after and before every game–that is to have skull session on what went well (or has been working well) and what might we do to make this next game (quarter, month, week) go more smoothly and effectively.

Bosses don’t always have a sense of how important such sessions are. So those in their inner circle must help them give time-out skull sessions a genuine trial period. Learning to work together is not a quick fix but an on-going process. So will you weigh these thoughts and let us know what you do and what does or doesn’t work? Possibly, we will have some additional thoughts to send your way a bit later.

While you are doing all of this, look at the way you treat the employees for whom you are responsible. Make sure they do not have a reason to complain about favoritism by the boss! You may be surprised at who they think is your favorite!

Working together with hands, heads, and hearts takes and makes big WEGOS.

Earning our signature WEGO is an on-going process of work group communication. That is how work groups earn the right to call themselves a team. Will you send us what you and your work group do to create agenda skull sessions to review and improve team collaboration? What works? Or what does not work? The hope and purpose of Ask The Workplace Doctors is this kind of learning from each other.

William Gorden
Ask the Workplace Doctors

To our readers: Do you have questions about favoritism by the bossboss vs. leader at work, verbal abuse between employees, unpleasantness, challenging/problem employees and other workplace communication problems? Look at our archives of thousands of questions and answers to find an answer. If you need additional assistance, write to us, providing enough details to help us respond effectively. read more

Improving Communication Where I Work

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about improving communication: Making sure everyone is on the same page with issues is crucial in any organization. My question is: How can I make my organization communicate more effectively?

I work at a YMCA and a big thing that plays a role in success for the organization is communication. Making sure everyone is on the same page with issues is crucial in any organization. My question is: How can I make my organization communicate more effectively?

Signed, Making It Effective

Dear Making It Effective:

I’m sure you have come to appreciate what your local Y does, and, if you have worked there long, you have become aware of its outreach to the neighborhood and needs for funding. Once you encounter its day to day efforts to provide a healthy environment for young people and the community you will begin to be a problem solver for your organization. Communication is the glue that holds the organization together and the lubricant that enables scheduling and carrying out of its programs. I predict that you asking this question in practical ways as you interact with coworkers and clients.

Its answer is not a matter of you making communication effective but of you facilitating communication; providing information needed and engaging management and coworkers in addressing that question to specific situations; to creating agenda for staff meetings, analyzing what is wanted and needed, and getting buy-in to solutions. Just as a sports team conducts skull sessions before and after its games, you and your coworkers need plan, review and decide what you will do next to correct what didn’t work. Sport teams teach us that playing together doesn’t just happen. Smooth and winning play demands direction, practice and huddling.

I could say more, but your question lacks details. But I will add, if you see the Y as a career, you are joining an organization with a long and rich history. Have you studied it? Can you talk about its core values? Can you describe it nation-wide and world-wide reach? My father, like many young men, lived in a Y while attending business school and working at his first job. Did you know that? So soak up the organization’s history and tell its current stories; of the lives you see bettered by your programs, of the young men who turn away from drugs and of those who volunteer to help those less fortunate because of the Y. My best to you as you seek to make the Y more effective. Send us specifics about what you and your local Y are doing. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

William Gorden read more

Manager Too Nice?

A question for Ask the Workplace Doctors about a boss who is a friend of the family and consequently won’t correct me.

At the frozen yogurt shop that I worked at over the summer, and plan to work at again this summer, my manager treats me as a friend. She is very close with my mom and she loves me. I feel that she doesn’t feel comfortable reprimanding me, or telling me when I am wrong. She does not want me to think of her differently. Although I never want to be told that I am wrong, I do want to know if I am doing something wrong. I get embarrassed because no one takes the time to teach me. She does not mind me asking questions, but I want to know. I do not know how to go about the situations. She is in charge, yet she does not necessarily act like it. I want to have someone that I can ask questions to.


How to Talk Straight


Dear How to Talk Straight:

Yours is an unusual question, and, since you say you will again be working at the yogurt shop this summer, I predict you are again thinking about ways to talk straight with your “Too Nice Boss.” Work life is an on-going learning experience if we see it that way. Your posing this question is to explore how you might answer it, even before you get an answer from the Workplace Doctor.

Apparently, you work well and are competent, so your boss hasn’t felt that she must correct you, nor has she needed to because she has seen you soon correct yourself. You don’t say if you have ever informally talked with her about talk. I don’t expect that you have. Talk about talk is a topic that isn’t often talked about even in university interpersonal communication courses. Yet it is a way to transform a boss-bossed relationship to one in which the two of you make it as normal to talk business, normal to talk about less effective performance and normal to talk about your dreams as it is to talk small talk. How do you go about this?

There is no set formula nor is it a one-time conversation. You might approach such a talk directly or indirectly or combine them. Here are several suggestions to consider, some which you likely have unconsciously already done, beginning with an indirect approach:

Approach your boss as a mentor. She undoubtedly wants to see you see her that way. So informally and perhaps in a sit-down conversation one day, tell her about your dream job. She obviously doesn’t expect you to want to work in a yogurt shop for the rest of your life. For example, you could acknowledge that your dream job might be impractical and based on the kind of celebrity-minded world that young women and some men see. Ask her if your dream job were to host a show that interviewed celebrities, what she would advise you do to prepare for such a job. Let her dream with you and talk about grooming, clothes and who is cheating a partner. I predict your boss will help you weigh the pros and cons of such a dream job.

She might simply say, “Go for it, girl”; however, she might dare to help you think about what really is of value; and if you are just struck by the aura of fame and fortune. I don’t know if your boss is a practical kind of individual or if she is entrepreneurial, or if she is a socially conscious kind of individual, but you will learn about that from the kinds of questions and comments she makes to your dream-talk conversation. If she is practical, she will pose questions about the cost of education and school. She will talk about how some young adults are trapped in jobs they don’t like because of getting pregnant. She will tell you about those whose marriages are happy and unhappy with the hope that you will seek a career that will enable you to support yourself if single. In short you will learn the practical and important lessons your boss has learned.

On the other hand if she is business-minded, she will tell you about what it takes to start and manage a business, its financial know-how and lessons she has learned the hard way. And if she is keenly aware of social problems, she might talk about the extreme income gap between those at the top and at the bottom or be concerned about the very real consequences of global warming; of droughts and fires, hurricanes and tornadoes due to our uncontrolled use of fossil fuels human causes for global warming. Such talk will enrich your and her understanding of how a career path can ignore or make a difference in this complex world of ours. If you ask for her advice, whatever her strong interests, she will seek to help you think through your career directions; its ups and downs and most of all its values. 2. Next consider a direct approach to talk about talk with your too nice manager. As your conversations progress, you probably will also raise the issue of talking with those in authority, even someone like her who is the nicest boss in the world of yogurt.

This could evolve to you candidly saying what you wrote in this question to Ask the Workplace Doctors; that you feel she might be too nice to you because she is your mother’s friend and that you want her to be frank with you as she would with any employee. 3. Finally, here is yet another suggestion for dealing with this question that incidentally is not something about which to worry. An indirect group approach merits consideration.

You might suggest that the Workplace Doctors recommends that a work crew can benefit from skull sessions, just as do sports teams before and after a game. Such sessions can be times to applaud work done and or to discuss how to correct mistakes. They can zero in on cutting wasted supplies, time, and money. They provide opportunity to brainstorm innovative ways to boost productivity. Skull sessions are times to talk about talk; to ask and reflect on how a work crew might communicate more effectively. A tangible outcome from skulls sessions is to spell out communication do and don’t rules, such rules as when one should call in and to talk to a co-worker and boss directly and not to gossip about them behind their backs . These rules inform and educate about what is expected. When employees collaboratively generate the rule, they “buy in” to them. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, and that can happen in a yogurt shop.

William Gorden read more