Zen and the art of pep talks

Zen and the Art of Pep Talks

Being a manager is more than just about showing up for work and assigning work to your various employees and subcontractors. It is more than just checking up on people, and more than just about shaking hands.  Psychology is a huge factor in being a manager, that can not be overlooked.

Working at a large company or tiny company doesn’t always make sense in terms of who does what and why.  In an entrepreneurship, the sole proprieter does all tasks in the business, unless they require some technical expertise in which case he hires an IT firm to help him. In a larger outfit, workers graduate to be managers if they are any good.  In a way this makes sense, because you need to be an expert on the work you do before you can supervise it. But, supervising is a completely different skill set, and they don’t teach this in school.

At school, if you studied business, you might study marketing theory, management techniques, and accounting. But, try out your skills in the real world with real people, and you will quickly realize that you are up against much more than what the text book said. You need to not only manage the actual work people do, but manage their attitudes as well.  What you might not realize, is that if a particular someone has the wrong attitude, your whole department could be doomed!

There are different types of attitude challanges that an employee might have and as a manager, you need to be able to quickly identify what type of psychological roadblocks the employee has, so that you can give them a pep talk that teaches them not only how to get through their roadblock, but how critical it is that they do.  Many employees don’t realize how serious an attitude problem could be.  It can kill a work relationship, and is contagious as well in many cases.

Imagine that in a room, there is one employee who doesn’t like being there and gives dirty looks to everyone.  Let’s assume that the others are not so pleased to be there either. The negativity spreads and circulates around the room — you can’t have that.  The manager can try to give regular pep talks to the most negative employee to get them to be more cheerful.  You could focus on how well that employee is doing, or how exciting the next project down the line is going to be.  Focus on positive things, and the positivity will spread — by definition. If the negative employee is incurable, or too high maintenance (pep talks don’t come cheap these days), then maybe it is time to say good bye.

What if you have a customer service rep who feels helpless even though they are an expert in their field?  This happens all the time!  I have a phone rep who is amazing, but lets customers walk all over him. Then, he gets all bent out of shape after they walked all over him.  I had a long time with him today and explained that he is the king. He has the knowledge, skill and experience, and these other people who are bothering him can barely tie their shoes. I said, “They should treat you with respect otherwise you shouldn’t even waste a nanosecond with them”.  I asked him if a professor, police man, border control agent, or other authority would let a civilian talk to them like customers talk to him — and he thought about it and said, “I guess not”.  Then, I said, “So why do you get upset when these ignorant types start antagonizing you?”.  I told this guy that HE was the authority, and that he sets the terms, and other people have to conform to his standards — or the discussion is over.  After this pep talk (which actually took over an hour in its entirety), my rep had a completely different perspective, and felt 200% better — just like that.

You might have a third type of situation where a good employee is just not giving 100%.  You could compliment this person on what their achievements have been, and what you think they can do next month.  Let them know that a little more effort could change their whole life — and that this is big.  It could mean promotions, more respect, and a completely different life in the future, and all it takes is another perspective, and a little extra effort.  The main ingredients here are enthusiasm, and the fact that the change you are asking for could have such huge results, that people’s whole lives could be permanently changed as a result.

Pep talks are life and death for a manager. If you don’t know how to do this, you need to study this like you study for a mid-term.  In a sense, giving good pep talks is sales work.  You are convincing someone to do something that they wouldn’t otherwise do, and giving them earth-shaking reasons why it is so important to do that thing you are proposing.

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