Thursday, December 1, 2011

Training Starts At Home, or Should It?

As we propel at the speed of light into 2012, I have noticed the need for more and more training of staff in the job market. You are probably thinking, of course, training on the job is a great thing and needed so that each employee can do a better job.  Well, I would like to see training start a step further to address the lack of soft or social skills needed to be a productive team member.

Once upon a time, soft or social skills were taught in the home by parents.  Children were always taught to say excuse me, thank you or a simple salutation of hello when walking into a room or elevator where others were already gathered.  It seems to be the norm in certain parts of the country to avoid any human interaction at any cost; making eye contact is out of the question with the fear that someone may address you in some way.

Some of the places where we are all guilty of being unsociable or polite include:

  • Airplanes and other types of transportation– everyone seems to try wearing the invisible cloak from Harry Potter. If they don’t exist and I haven’t been introduced to them, why say hello or excuse me for coughing or sneezing all over the place without covering their mouths.

  • Supermarkets – apparently the word excuse me must be eliminated from one’s vocabulary as soon as they enter the store. Even saying hello to the cashier seems to be difficult for most people. Quite often a simple smile can do the trick. How often to you smile?

  • Restaurants – How often do you say hello to the people or person at the table next to you that you just showed your bottom too as you squeezed in to sit at your table. It’s always a good idea to say hello to your server and ask them how they are doing? Believe me, it will make his or her day because no one ever asks. The key here is to be sincere or don’t bother because people know when others are being fake.

  • Super Shuttle – Today I tried an experiment when taking Super Shuttle from Dulles International Airport.  There were 3 other people on the bus and I wanted to try wearing my invisible cloak to see what would happen. Just as anyone would expect – absolutely nothing happened. People looked at each other and never made a sound. Half way through the 2-hour trip, I said something that made people laugh and from that moment on everyone was chatting with each other and having a delightful time. Even the driver chimed in with a few comments.

  • Walking to work while talking on your phone or trying to check emails is probably the rudest trait of all. Quite often those who strive to multi-task and get things done really aren't getting very much done at all, well at least not well.  They also cut people off, bump into people and quite often fall down flat on the sidewalk. Challenge yourself, try walking to work or home without being attached to your mobile device one day out of each week. Figure out a reward for yourself if you can actually do it.

For the past year, I have been working in our nation’s capital, Washington, DC and the lack of social skills feels deeply rooted and here to stay. This lack of these skills has nothing to do with the amount of education that one may have, nor what their economic status is or can potentially be, or even one’s cultural background – it’s simply across the board throughout the workforce. It exists with people making over $100,000 and with those making less than $20,000 per year. Initially I thought that the lack of soft or social skills only existed with financially challenged people, but I was wrong. I challenge you to become more aware and observe for one day how many times someone was socially inept for the job they were doing. Have you ever noticed how excited we are to reward any worker for actually doing their job? For example, in restaurants when we find a great server we all tend to leave no less than a 20% tip when they are basically doing their jobs well. Most of us are so accustomed to bad service or difficult staff providing inferior outcomes that we are overjoyed when someone really does that job in what we consider exceptionally.

The challenge is to check yourself out first and become aware of the number of times you may have been rude or impolite to another person for no apparent reason or didn’t use the social skills that you were taught as a child or learned along the way to becoming an adult.  Often we can all be guilty of being lost in the pressures of our work. Today I was craving a small dessert and my car drove me to the nearest Whole Food.  Did I mention I was also hungry? Well, when the staff person presented herself to me I immediately started giving orders of what I wanted. When she returned I said to her, please forgive my rudeness; I forgot to say please and hello to you. She laughed and said you are the first person to say anything at all to me or smile. She then told me a story about how her young daughters ages 7 and 8 always remind her to say thank you and please. We had a good chuckle about it and promised to check ourselves and our behavior even during those stressed times.

After conducting trainings with local corporations, community organizations and government agencies it became clear that companies should be obliged to take training to the next level.  Research states that most of us spend more time on our jobs than we do at home, therefore spending more time with our co-workers than with our families. Try counting the number of people that you may have contact with from the time you start your day to the end of your day.  I conducted an experiment with myself and I was surprised at the number of people that I encountered throughout my day.  Let’s see, it started with the concierge staff in my apartment building, people on the street that I speak to everyday, people that are lost and asking for directions, the clerk at Caribou Coffee, the security team in my building, people on the elevator and co workers.  This list goes on and on and that’s only a small portion of the morning.  In a day, I may come in contact easily with 75 to 100 people. All to often we assume that everyone has great manners and skills to communicate effectively if they have a college degree or if they are from the dominant culture in America. Fiction. There are a series of things that can be done to incorporate the workforce, where people spend so much time, into their lives.  Here are a few examples that friends and colleagues shared with me over the Thanksgiving holiday:
  • New staff orientation or structured welcome– It’s important to introduce new staff to other staff members. Granted they may not remember all the names but it will be more difficult to not speak to someone the next day if they have been properly introduced.

  • Creating a team of energetic, outgoing staff members to be on a welcome committee. This team could share or develop a list of things to do in the neighborhood. For example, where to get coffee, lunch or the best place to meet friends for cocktails if they are new to the area. They could also provide information on the local transit system.

  • Take a new staff person to lunch day, especially if they are in your department.

  • Try talking to new staff members in everyday language instead of using acronyms which can be more confusing. If you must use things like COB (close of business) or other ridiculous words that really aren’t that easy even when you know what it stands for – at least in the beginning verbalize the entire meaning. For example, CDC – Centers for Disease Control, etc. 

My challenge to you is to take a day to watch yourself and jot down your initial reactions
to others.  Many people have told me that often they don’t interact with others, especially if they don’t know them because of perceived fear of the unknown. If someone is wearing a beautiful dress, tie or shoes share that thought with others. If someone’s label is hanging out alert him or her to the fact. Or if someone’s fly were down, they would appreciate knowing it before stepping into a meeting.

Remember, even a dog knows the difference between being kicked and stumbled over.

Tip: Try assuming the best of others.

Let us know your thoughts and what you have observed in your surroundings.