Creating an extraordinary organization

Scott Hunter
President, The Hunter Partnership Alliance
Irvine, California
Presenter, 2004 APWA Congress

Only six percent of Americans love their jobs.

Stress-induced depression is on the rise and predicted to be the leading occupational disease responsible for more work days lost than any other single factor.

And poor communication in the workplace is a leading cause of job dissatisfaction.

If everyone would like to work in a thriving, enlivening and nurturing environment, why is it that almost no one loves being at work? Why is it that most of us simply acquiesce when confronted by the drudgery and suffering that, according to seemingly every statistical measure, characterizes life within many companies? Why is it that given the possibility of real fulfillment and satisfaction, we tolerate the gossip, petty jealousy, personal undermining and adversarial communication that seem to pervade many offices, assured of the inevitability of this condition?

Is this condition inevitable? Are we destined to an environment where the most we have to look forward to is Friday afternoon? Not at all. There are specific steps that can be taken to begin to reclaim some of the enthusiasm, some of the air of celebration and some of the fundamental respect for individual human dignity that is apparent within flourishing business organizations or on championship teams.

1. Don't take it personally
Given the dysfunctional communication strategies demonstrated by most adults, repressed anger and upset are frequently brewing just beneath the surface within many individuals. Their angry and offensive outbursts have little or nothing to do with any occurrence in the present moment. Some unresolved upset from the past has simply been triggered and bursts forth in an inappropriate manner.

Under such circumstances does it make sense to take another's outburst personally? Logically, the answer is no. Taking someone else's anger personally is insane because it simply never is a personal phenomenon. This is not to say, however, that it is easy to remain calm in the face of another person's anger, recognizing that it is not personal. It is never easy, but armed with this insight you can begin to develop an ability to stand firmly in the face of another's upset without taking it as a personal attack.

2. Listen with compassion
Life is a difficult and challenging enterprise for everyone, and this fundamental truth goes largely unrecognized. Given this knowledge, rather than reacting to someone's anger or upset, it is possible for you to deeply appreciate his or her feelings and experience. Rather than reacting to someone's anger or upset, it is useful and necessary for you to demonstrate empathy. Remember, there but for the grace of God go I.

3. Just hear the communication
In order to lessen tension within the workplace, it is necessary to provide a safe environment for open, honest communication. Get people to talk about what is going on with them, to describe their present experience, and then just listen. Don't respond. Don't offer advice. Don't try to console. Just listen with compassion and understanding. In the vast number of cases, quiet and attentive listening will allow the upset to disappear.

4. Give up the need to be right
For most human beings, the necessity to be right and the unconscious desire to win are all-important. This drive is expressed with employees, coworkers and even with family. Individuals are reduced to objects, and friends and family are sacrificed simply to preserve an egocentric point of view. We would rather be right, would rather win the argument than coexist happily, but being right and being happy are mutually exclusive.

5. Look for the best in people
Attention on oneself caused by one's own sense of insufficiency drives people into competition with one another and creates a bias toward critical, negative analysis of another in order to enhance one's own social standing and appearance. We literally look for the worst in others in an attempt to conceal or dilute our own self-perceived shortcomings by comparison.

In order to counter this seemingly natural tendency, learn to look for and expect the best in all coworkers and become everyone else's greatest fan. What is it about each individual that makes him or her a valuable contribution to the company? Who are these people really, and what are their best attributes and strengths?

6. Acknowledge people
Everyone craves positive attention, for most individuals live with a sense of insufficiency and of their own shortcomings. Look for opportunities to acknowledge coworkers. What positive impact are they making on the company? Acknowledge people for doing a good job, for making a deadline, for keeping their promises. Acknowledge them for their appearance, for the way they manage their workload, or for the way they treat others. Always remember to keep it authentic and sincere, and look for and find numerous opportunities to thank people for the many large and small contributions that they make to the company.

7. Forgive others
Given the unconscious desire to win at all costs and the necessity to be right, we tend to hold on to every injustice, every wrong, every resentment and every regret. What often goes unnoticed is that unforgiven resentments must always be suppressed, managed or controlled. They arise again and again whenever the person who is the object of the resentment comes into the room or is mentioned in conversation. What makes matters worse is that the suppressed anger also arises whenever any similar instance resembles a past transgression. Resentments divert attention, breed gossip and provoke physical illness.

For your own sanity, it is critically important to forgive others. Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself. Forgiveness does not deny the inappropriate nature of another's acts and does not condone or tolerate future abuse; but in forgiveness, in giving up the resentment and the right to punish, you are left with serenity, freedom and peace of mind.

8. Communicate upsets
Human beings live in the illusion that unexpressed anger, upset and disappointment will simply disappear over time. Nothing could be further from the truth. Like resentments, unexpressed upsets inevitably arise again and again. They divert your attention and sap energy. Moreover, unfulfilled expectations, thwarted intentions and undelivered communications—the stuff of which upsets are made—provide the evidence by which other individuals are tried and sentenced. Only communication can provide salvation for continued viable and productive relationships.

Scott Hunter is a professional speaker, workshop leader, consultant and business coach. His work involves creating meaningful, quality relationships in the workplace to increase productivity, creativity, teamwork and profitability. At the 2004 APWA Congress and Exposition in Atlanta he will give a presentation entitled "Creating an Extraordinary Organization" on Sunday, September 12, at 3:00 p.m. He can be reached at scott@thpalliance.com or visit his website at www.thpalliance.com.