Thursday, January 25, 2007

Do you work in a negative workplace?

We all have our New Years resolutions. Mine is to keep learning, keep growing, and share new ways to help us all communicate better in the workplace - and that's where you folks come in. I'd like your opinions on one of the next major areas I'd like to address, beyond my firm's flagship customer skills and coaching programs.

As I travel around delivering organizational training, the single biggest complaint I hear from people - often whispered in private - is how much negativity and conflict there is in their workplaces. Whether it is between managers and staff, between different departments, or between individual co-workers, there is a great deal of stress and pain in the workplace.

What I also hear is that most traditional "Dealing with Negativity" training programs simply don't work. A staple of motivational speakers and local trainers, these programs generally exhort everyone to be nicer - and the people who need it the most generally roll their eyes and don't change anything.

I know there is a better way. We fundamentally get into conflicts because (a) we have different personalities with different expectations, and (b) we don't know how to communicate in ways that help us get more of what we want - and these are skills that everyone can learn. When I have personally helped "turn around" negative workplaces before, it has been less a matter of telling people to be less negative, and more one of teaching everyone how to communicate better.

I'm also torn about how to title such a program. No one wants to proudly hang a graduation certificate on their wall from a "Workplace Negativity" program - especially when what they have really learned are a new set of interpersonal and leadership skills. But using it in the program title certainly grabs people's attention and gets them saying "wow, we need that here".

So what kinds of negativity issues do you have at your workplace? If you were bringing me in to do a workshop with your team, what areas would you like to see people learn to change? And how would you title such a program? Let me know at rich at Thanks!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Last Word

Before humor columnist Art Buchwald passed away this week, he did something that was, well, pretty much in character for him. He recorded a video obituary for the New York Times, which starts off with a cheerful, “Hi, I’m Art Buchwald, and I just died.” (Click here to watch it.)

It turns out that this is actually part of a new trend at the Times, and in a CNN interview, the reporter who spoke with Buchwald also claims to have several other Last Word interviews “in the can”, with subjects ranging from a former President of the United States to a noted scientist.

It was fascinating to watch Buchwald’s video obituary, which in sum total was a touching retrospective of a life well lived – particularly for a man who overcame a tough childhood, a struggling early career and frequent bouts of depression to brighten our lives with his books and columns. But what stuck with me the most was his simple answer to the question, “How would you like to be remembered?” Without hesitation, he replied, “As someone who made people laugh.”

So how would I like to be remembered? If I were about to be run over by a beer truck tomorrow, I’d have to say as a loving husband, a good friend, and hopefully as someone who, in a small way, helped people communicate better in the workplace. But it struck me that I’d like to be able to say much more than that.

I’ve never particularly cared for fame, riches, or personal aggrandizement – none of which you can take with you anyway. It doesn’t really matter to me whether anyone remembers me by name (except my wife and family, of course!). But there is so much more to learn about how we communicate, and still so much pain in many of our daily working and living relationships, that I’d like to leave this all-too-short life leaving behind a bigger contribution than I have. So – thanks to you, Art – I realize that I have a lot more work to do, God willing.

So, what would your video obituary say? And how would you like to be remembered?

Monday, January 08, 2007

Higher education: the workplace of the future?

“Academic politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low.” –attributed to Henry Kissenger

This quote was one of the favorite sayings of my late father, an academic who eventually rose through the ranks to become a university president. But looking back over the last few years, I’m not sure that the stakes are so low any more.

Because I live and work in the shadow of Cornell University, and began my own career as a campus service employee, I frequently get invited to work with teams of university employees all over the country, ranging from deans to dining workers – and looking back at training several thousand people on campuses over the past few years, I feel that in many cases they have become the prototype for the competitive workplace of the future.

The pressures on campuses nowadays are many, including competition for a declining percentage of college-age students, increasing financial constraints, and a world whose knowledge needs are growing by leaps and bounds. But what’s impressive – and exciting to me, as an organizational development person – is how many colleges are responding to these pressures. Many are now viewing students as customers, seeing the globe as their classroom, and shifting their focus from simply teaching subjects to developing young – and not-so-young – leaders. The end result is that on many college campuses, there has been more change in the last five years than in the fifty that preceded them.

What this means for me personally is that campus leaders are among the most open-minded and innovative management thinkers I have seen, and it has been a true pleasure to help them examine their core workplace values, change the way they manage and coach people, and develop service quality levels that would be the envy of most businesses. If you want to see what the workplace of the future will look like, most of us should – literally – go back to school.

* * *

Special note for my friends in the health care profession here in upstate New York - I am leading a workshop just for you, entitled "Customer Survival Skills for Your Health Care Practice", at the Academy of Medicine in Rochester, NY on January 25. For details on this and other public seminars from yours truly, visit

Don't live in the Northeast? Not a problem! Contact me through the website above to learn more about how to bring my communications skills, coaching and workplace culture programs in-house to your team. Here's to a successful 2007 for you and your workplace!