Business is a contact sport. For employers and employees
alike, the rules of the game include confrontation and an ability
to participate actively in it. Are you “up to”
competing? The implied employment contracts of the past are
insufficient for workers today. The sentiment, “If you do
good work and don’t give us any problems, you can count on a
paycheck for a very long time,” no longer applies. Simply
being nice has run its course. Simply being nice is not enough.
Simply being nice can cost you your competitive edge. Yes, of
course, we still want nice. Nice and much more, actually. Are there
times and ways when initiating confrontation can be the nice thing
Tough Times Warrant Tough Conversations
We have all been drawn more or less kicking and screaming into
the global economy. There is no turning back. New questions
ï€ As an employee, can you now demand and
forge employment relationships based on mutual shared interests
instead of solely the interests of your employer? What types of
conversation are required for this new relationship?
Are you prepared to treat your working colleagues, managers,
and co-workers alike, with an honesty that honors the high stakes
game of our economic future? What is your comfort level with
honesty and truth-telling?
Are you now prepared to hear similar truths from the people
you work with?
Can you participate in productive confrontation and still
maintain or even strengthen
Many of us have not been prepared emotionally or
psychologically for the level of honest dialogue called for now. In
many cases our employers are not any more prepared than we are.
This is a problem and the solution is one for which you need to be
responsible. The first step to competing in the global economy is
to cast aside your preference for polite and superficial
How Nice Is Your Workplace?
We might all like to believe that “you can catch more
flies with honey than with vinegar.” And while I am certainly
not advocating hostility, I am suggesting that we face the
objective realities of our work situations and relationships. To
avoid doing so is far from nice. There is nothing
Not being told until the last minute that your position is
going to be eliminated.
Not receiving an honest and objective assessment of your
competency in an interview and later finding out after your next
interview that you are unqualified.
Not finding out until your yearly evaluation that you have
performance issues that could have been addressed ‘in the
moment,’ and now you are on the verge of being fired.
Conversations that present you with objective and “hard
to hear” information may not be pleasant. And you need them
anyway. Your competitive edge depends on them, in fact. If you have
explicitly asked your evaluators, as you should, for this kind of
feedback, it is possible to feel hurt, vulnerable, embarrassed, and
yet grateful all at the same time. Can you trade in your fear of
“being seen as a failure” or “not measuring
up” for the gratitude inherent in being told the truth?
Isn’t it nice to tell and be told the truth?
Fearing Failure Keeps Us From Being Competitive
Conceptually, we would all agree that we have much to learn
from failed initiatives. However, as a culture, Americans have done
a masterful job of stigmatizing failure to a point where those who
fail even at the highest levels of accomplishment are subjected to
questions of character and often off-handedly given the label of
“loser.” With this as a cultural backdrop, is it any
wonder that American workers don’t clamor for honest
evaluations of their performance?
A case in point would be the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens,
Greece. Michael Phelps, a young American, was touted as a possible
gold medal winner for each of the seven events in which he was
entered. He won five gold medals and earned the bronze medal in the
other two events. The headlines that followed his performances in
those two events read, “Phelps Settles for Third,” as
though he had made a conscious choice not to win the events! It
certainly implied that if he was a true champion his two bronze
medals would have been gold. No one looks forward to being labeled
a “loser.” In fact there are many people who would
rather not compete at all than fail. But in the global economy, not
competing is not an option. We must redefine our ideas of failing
as opportunities to learn, grow…and become more
“Toughening Up” Can Be Our Secret Weapon
“There’s no time like the present.” Now
there’s an idiom that needs little explanation! In truth,
there is no time other than the present. If you are going to
prepare yourself today for what lies ahead, you will take the
Immediately initiate a relationship with your employer or
manager that sets mutually understood measures of desired
Among the ground rules you establish with your employer or
manager, include a responsibility on their part to inform you
immediately when they are not satisfied with your performance,
suspect a limitation you are trying to protect, or observe a
deficiency of which you may be unaware.
Establish early on in your employment relationship that you do
not expect lifetime employment; neither are you promising lifetime
employment. You expect the relationship to last for so long as it
is mutually beneficial. When the relationship is no longer viable,
notice will be provided in a timeframe mindful of the challenges
faced by all parties involved.
Do these conversations sound confrontational? They should.
Each of these ideas confronts the “over-used and tired”
employment relationships in place today. Those same relationships
are the ones that keep you competitively over a barrel.
Take heart! The initial sting of these honest conversations will
subside once you recognize the “gift” of personal
insight and opportunity for growth you have received. After the
conversations are complete, ask yourself “What have I learned
and how will I use that information to become even more
‘confrontational’ and competitive?” Rather than
dreading or avoiding tough conversations, it is possible for you to
now embrace and welcome them. They are your secret weapon to
competing in the global marketplace.