Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Are your co-workers a little brittle? Try the TRUE COMPLIMENT RX

I’ll bet the people around you are more brittle than they appear. Personally, I think we’re in the danger zone. Collectively, we are worn out from the recession.

In my experience, this is when people crack – when the worst is over but the recovery isn’t quite here. It’s a strange limbo where adrenaline winds down, leaving us finally free to actually feel our cumulative exhaustion. I’ve cracked under circumstances like these, and I’ve seen others crack – just when you think everything’s OK.

Run past the top; don't sneeze through vacation

Or, to put it more mildly, it’s like when you first start training for a 10K. You set a goal to run up all the hills, not walk up parts of some of them. But you make the mistake of aiming just for the top, then you poop out. Experience teaches you to aim for a further-along spot past the top.

Or let me put it this way: You know how some people work too hard all the way up until the first day of vacation, knowing that relief is in sight and they will soon be able to rest as much as they want? Often, they catch a cold and spend their vacation sneezing and coughing.

We’re in the about-to-begin-sneezing-and-coughing stage, all of us. And that even goes for us Edelmanites, who have spent the recession inside a lovely, warm nest thanks to our family-owned company’s financial independence and our executives’ conviction that it’s the people that make the place. Heck, we’ve even profited and won awards. There were no layoffs. Nobody’s pay was cut. We’re continuing to hire and promote people.

But still.

2009 sucked.

This is why I’m suggesting a branded campaign called

True compliment rxJ

Here’s how it works:

Pause to reflect on what it is you like about working with the people around you. Tell them what you notice and appreciate. Or if they’ve repeatedly worked from home in the middle of the night because that’s what it took for a while there, say “Thank you,” even if you can’t offer a bonus or immediate relief.

Look them in the eye and say, “Thank you so much for your dedication. You’ve really helped us hold things together during a tough time. I especially appreciated your catching that huge error Tuesday night. I could hardly believe it afterward when you told me how you managed to find George in time to correct it, even though he was on the road.”

That’s better than, “I’m sorry. I promise it will get better eventually.”

Or how about: “Your sense of humor is one of the things that keeps me going during the work day.” Or, “I’ve noticed that you have a way of really bringing people together. I don’t think the team would be quite so cohesive if it weren’t for you. I don’t know how you do it. But I think it really makes a difference in our creativity and effectiveness.”

Or: “I always learn something from you. Thanks so much for filling me in on these things. It sparks my day and makes me stronger in the long run.”

No assumptions; people want connection

Don’t assume that continuing to receive a paycheck or having plenty of work to do is acknowledgment enough. People want to feel connected and appreciated.

Life has taught me that brittle, fragile, emotionally worn-out people are extra susceptible to little bumps, whether good or bad. A small dose of good at a time like this can make more difference than it would during normal times.

Likewise, emotionally brittle people are less likely to give a compliment. So we all need to push ourselves to do so at this time.

The downside of empathy

Even those of us who have managed very well through the recession can be brought down by those who haven’t done so well. I mean, really, how can you read about foreclosures and layoffs and not feel other people’s dread and fear?

One of my closest friends is in the construction industry, where the unemployment rate is a shocking 50%. She’s been out of work so long that she now gets conflicting notices from the government saying her unemployment is ending – er, no, being extended, umm, maybe, uh, yes, extended for now.

And think of the people who keep surviving successive waves of layoffs, each time knowing they are on the edge of the chopping block. Or the mandated unpaid furloughs that some government employees must take.

Our local swimming pool and library are closed one extra day each month. Just reading the flyer tacked on a bulletin board makes me wonder how the employees are faring.

Has your child’s teacher received a pink slip? It hurts to think about it.

High-stakes client relations took a toll

During the initial freefall in late 2008 and early 2009, client relations felt very “high stakes.” Everyone felt that even the strongest of relationships could be at risk, due to financial pain alone, regardless of the immensity of satisfaction about the work being done. People were on edge. It showed. I saw some bad behavior.

So let’s all chip in and build up one another’s emotional reserves for the long haul still ahead. Notice. Appreciate. Look people in the eye. Or jot them a little note. Nothing heavy. No big deal. Keep it small and genuine.

And don't combine it with a request. Let it be one purely nice moment.

Avoid Ghost of Christmases Yet to Come

It’s medicine for the soul – yours and theirs. It’s one of those things that you’ll look back on and be glad you did. Take the True compliment rxJ today. Don’t wait for Clarence Oddbody (“It’s a Wonderful Life,” 1946) or Marley’s ghost (“A Christmas Carol,” 1843) to show up and turn it into a lot of trauma and drama. A small bit of niceness now goes a long way for later.

"A stitch in time saves nine."

"Do unto others ..."

You get the picture.