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Category Archives: Tough Situation Tools

When things are out of control, are they really?

controlSome things are entirely and wholly out of my control.  Severe weather, for example.  I cannot effect change in the weather.  Whether it’s a sweltering heatwave, a blinding snowstorm, or a stormy hurricane, I can’t make the weather calamity go away, no matter how hard I try.

But, on the other hand, there are plenty of things I can do to control how I react and respond to harsh weather.  I can seek out a cooler environment (inside an air-conditioned shopping mall for example), delay my road-trip to future date to avoid wintry driving conditions, or gather essential documents and supplies as I evacuate to safer ground.  Instead of complaining about the effects of severe weather, I can choose to take thoughtful actions to avoid, or at least, mitigate the damage.

Just because we can’t control the situation doesn’t mean we can’t influence the outcome

There are a myriad of events in our lives that are outside our sphere of control.  But that doesn’t mean that we can’t influence the final outcome.  Continue reading

What is your response to difficult workplace situations?

As a leader, you will often find yourself dealing with difficult workplace situations.  Many of which will test your resolve and tenacity.  Some will be people-related, others process-related, and yet others will have to do with ethical and moral dilemmas.  Several will make you stumble and even fall.  And more than likely, a few will cause you to question whether the entire leadership journey is worth it.

You don’t stop walking because you sprained your ankle

difficult workplace situations

You don’t stop walking because you sprained your ankle.  Instead, you take the unfortunate experience as an indicator of what not to do and what obstacles to watch out for, but you still keep walking.   Sure, you may rest up for a couple of days, perhaps even use a walking aid for a few more, but eventually you stand up, take a few tentative steps and continue walking towards wherever you need to be.  You may be more thoughtful about what route you take and you may be more aware of your surroundings, but at no point do you say “That walking thing didn’t work out so well, I think I’ll stop doing it.” Continue reading

When you’re overwhelmed at work, it’s worth considering another approach

“I can’t talk to you for very long, Merge, we’re buried!” said a client when I returned his call earlier this week.  “What’s going on?” I asked.  He went on to describe the turmoil and chaos in his department at the insurance company where he works.  “We’re overwhelmed at work.  Claim volume is up 200%, our phone lines are flooded, and our call agents feel like they’re drowning.  Plus I can’t get enough adjusters out into the field fast enough, and clients are getting frustrated so they’re calling in more than usual, increasing call wait times even more.  I feel like we’re in a dark tunnel with no end in sight.  Help me!”

Now obviously, this manager’s current state of affairs is driven partially by external circumstances (in this situation, recent weather-related catastrophic events are the root cause of the increased call volumes).  But I was reminded of a phrase often used by a mentor of mine many years ago, so I asked this manager to look at the situation with another filter.  My mentor frequently used to say “Just because it is dark doesn’t mean we’re buried.  Often, it means that no one has bothered to turn on any lights”.

It’s the leader’s job to turn on the lights

Fortunately, the phrase caught my client’s attention.  Enough for him Continue reading

Dealing with adversity – wisdom from P!nk!

musicnotesThe song “Try” by P!nk popped up on my playlist as I was out walking in my neighbourhood the other day.  Now I’ve heard this song many times in the past, but for some reason (likely because I have recently been dealing with adversity in my personal life), I noticed the lyrics in the refrain more than I usually do.

“Try” by P!nk
Where there is desire, there is gonna be a flame

Where there is a flame, someone's bound to get burned

But just because it burns, doesn't mean you're gonna die

You gotta get up and try, and try, and try

Gotta get up and try, and try, and try

You gotta get up and try, and try, and try

Now I know that this song is actually about romance, but it caught my attention because the words so appropriately so apply to our both our personal and professional lives as well.  If you replace the word “desire” with “adversity”, suddenly these lines take on a whole different meaning.  What was intended to be a song about finding love is now solid advice for dealing with adversity, for never giving up, both in the professional and personal arenas. Continue reading

An ageless folktale about dealing with adversity

hot water as a metaphor for adversityEvery so often, a conversation with an elderly relative reminds me of a story from Indian folklore that I heard when I was a child.  Recently, that happened again, this time on the topic of how one reacts or responds to adversity.  The story tells of a young person who was complaining to his grandmother about the challenges he was facing in his school and job – difficult assignments, tough professors, a demanding boss, not enough time to relax, and always, a seeming shortage of funds.

Her response: to place three pots of water on the stove

The grandmother responded by placing three pots of water on the stove.  When the water in each was boiling, she placed two potatoes in the first pot, two eggs in the second, and a scoop of tea leaves in the third.  About twenty minutes later, she pulled out the potatoes and eggs and placed them on a plate, and strained the water out of the tea leaves into a cup, and placed them all in front of the young man.  Puzzled, he looked up at her. Continue reading

The right way to communicate unpopular decisions to your staff

Sometimes you will have to make decisions that will not be liked by your staff; it’s one of the responsibilities of leadership.  Sure, good leaders strive to minimize the fallout on their people, but sometimes doing the right thing for the company as a whole means hurting some of the individuals within it. Whether that means layoffs, reorganization, or even just a strategy shift, there are bound to be a few people who are put out by your decision. While you can’t avoid making unpopular decisions, there are things that you can do to help your team understand and accept the new reality. And that is the topic of my new column for ProfitGuide.com.  In The right way to communicate unpopular decisions to your staff, I offer five ideas to deliver the message, yet soften the long-term impact.

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What do you have to add to the list?  What specific things have you done to make sure people understand the implications, and to mitigate the ensuing damage?  Please share by commenting below.

P.S. I am now in my second year as a regular contributor to ProfitGuide.com’s panel of business experts. You can find links to my previous columns on their site. For your information, Profit Magazine is a sister publication to Canadian business magazine giants Canadian Business, MoneySense and Macleans, and their list of columnists reads like the Who’s Who of Canadian business, so I am honoured to be in such distinguished company.

How to break bad news to a client

In the world of business, things don’t always go according to plan.  Shipments can get delayed, production lines may break down, and unforeseen events might prevent people from getting the job done.  My latest column for ProfitGuide.com is titled How to Break Bad News to a Client.  In it, I lay out seven steps for when things just don’t go your way and you now have to tell your customers the unfortunate truth without jeopardizing your reputation and credibility.

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So do you have anything to add to my seven?  How have you handled the difficult situation of breaking bad news to a client?  Please share by commenting below.

P.S. I am so proud to be in my second year as a regular contributor to ProfitGuide.com’s panel of business experts. You can find links to my previous columns on their site. For your information, Profit Magazine is a sister publication to Canadian business magazine giants Canadian Business, MoneySense and Macleans, and their list of columnists reads like the Who’s Who of Canadian business, so I am honoured to be in such distinguished company.

Deal with performance problems sooner rather than later

BrokenWindowA recent conversation with a manager in a client organization about dealing with an employee performance problem reminded me of a Mega Minute I wrote back in October 2004 titled Broken Windows and Leadership.  In it, I referred to the Broken Windows theory put forward by authors James Wilson and George Kelli in 1982 to explain the epidemic element of crime.  The ultimate premise of the Broken Windows theory is that small things matter, often more than the big things.  The hypothesis is that if a window in a building is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge.  Soon, more windows will be broken.  That leads to more petty crime, then serious crime, and finally urban decay.  The point: if you’ve got broken windows, it’s important to fix them right away, before they turn into bigger problems.

I was reminded of this because this manager and I were talking about the importance of dealing with an employee performance problem promptly.  Continue reading

How to reduce the effect of destructive criticism

Back in February, my professional colleague Patricia Morgan wrote a guest post on workplace resiliency, specifically on how resilient people have an attitude of gratitude, even during tough times.   Her post was received so well that I asked her to join us again, and today she writes about another aspect of resiliency – responding positively to destructive criticism.

PatMorganReduce the Destructive Effect of Criticism

“I have some constructive criticism for you.”

Stop! Before criticizing it would be best to consider the results of doing so.

People with high resilience manage unwelcome criticism. They censor the criticism they both give and receive.

There are those who are totally against using any form of criticism and then there are the critical hardliners who say “A real friend will tell you the naked truth.” Then there are people who have a critical mind and perspective. Their gift is a logical critique that forewarns of problems. They could save us potential angst and trouble.  But where is the balance?

Here are reasons not to criticize: Continue reading

Need to have a difficult conversation with an employee?

Mgr-Emp-1Difficult conversations are just that … difficult … which is why so many of us keep putting them off. Has this ever happened to you? You have a problem or an issue you need to bring up with one of your employees – perhaps it’s a missed deadline, or constant tardiness, or a complaint from a customer – but things are overwhelmingly busy around the office and you can’t seem to make the time. Plus let’s face it, you’re not exactly looking forward to the conversation. So you might do what so many others in your situation do – you say, in passing, to your employee “We need to talk, but now is not a good time.” Don’t.

Why? Well, for one, the anticipation of not knowing what’s going on (even though your employee likely has some idea) will make your staff member feel apprehensive. Essentially you will be creating unease and anxiety without providing an opportunity to alleviate it. If your goal is to resolve the situation or get the employee to change their behaviour, then you’ve created a losing proposition before you’ve even started. Two, Continue reading