Turning employees’ emotions to their/team’s strengths

The early morning breeze felt so soothing and rejuvenating that the day already seemed too positive and brighter to me until I saw Ritika [*name changed to ensure privacy] sitting with a gloomy face as soon as I entered my work area. I instantly felt that I could ‘choose’ between getting upset on seeing Ritika in sad mood and helping her revive her energy so that she’s happy. I opted for the latter, an obvious choice for me most of the time.

This scenario isn’t very new at the workplace. Ritika was just another person who couldn’t hide her emotions and that was showing off in her work now.

My good morning wish to Ritika did not elicit an exciting response as I had expected. She didn’t say much on my probing her about how she was feeling… I decided to come back to her in a few minutes sensing that she wanted to talk to somebody and share her feelings…

Ten minutes later I got up from my desk and invited Ritika to join me for coffee if she wanted to. She felt good with the offer as that meant a bit of break for her from work, which is what she needed at that time.

After normal talks with her about the day and the weather [I intentionally avoided any work-related discussions then], she started feeling bit relaxed and gave me a meek smile. That was quite unusual of Ritika as she’s known for her giggles at the workplace. It made me a bit worried about her and I said, “Today Ritika isn’t looking too nice!”. She seemed bit surprised at this statement of mine when she was expecting me to do some talks to pep her up.

I continued, “Today a nice smile is missing from Ritika’s face and she can tell me if I can help her in any way to bring it back. Even the team is missing her giggles today.” This made her smile a bit and I could see her feeling bit proud on hearing these remarks which showed that her giggles do help in creating a good work environment, which of course, was a big contribution from her. She felt important and comfortable at the same time. I decided not to ask her any questions but rather encourage her to speak herself, which is always a better thing to do if any team member is not feeling good about anything. On seeing that she was feeling bit relaxed now I said, “That was a nice coffee… Let’s get back to work now and you cheer up and have a great day!”… She suddenly stopped me and told that she wanted to discuss something…

I feel that such discussions should be encouraged with the team members. These help in gaining good insights into an employee’s mindset, what concerns him/her, what can be done to make him feel better, some fresh insights on the improvement areas in the workplace/work approach/managing strategies/organization etc. These also help build a good team environment and rapport with the team. But the first objective for any such discussion should be to help the person feel better and focus on work. However, at the same time, such discussions should not be done purely on judgmental basis but rather should be seen as a way to empower people to think, analyze and make their own decisions and also identify their strengths as a person/professional.

As a result, I invited Ritika to come to a lobby with me, which was a better place to discuss. She told me that she had been staying as a paying guest and sharing room with 4 other girls. She has been really nice to all of them, cooking food for them, cleaning the house and taking care of most of the daily chores – without seeking any help from the rest of them. The reason of her being upset was that she was not feeling well the previous night so couldn’t cook food. This annoyed all other girls and they ordered her to cook for them. Ritika felt bad at their reaction and also at their being so thankless to her, who had been taking care of most of their responsibilities at the house. She felt as if she was being treated as a servant…

Now this gave me insight into lot of interesting aspects about her strengths, for example: her willingness to help others, dedication and hard work, contribution to creating a good work environment with her sense of humor [as team was missing it that day!]… At the same time, I could see a few areas of improvement clearly, which if groomed further could make her a very good person and a good professional at the same time.

Again, the choice is ours – whether to take the later as her ‘weaknesses’ and deny her higher responsibilities all together OR putting her strengths to best use along with identify training needs for her/team and grooming her in turning her improvement areas to her strengths.

 I again opted for the latter as I’ve always strongly believed in the people power, which is just there to get unleashed and be put to a productive use. Here, we need to be extra careful and not make the person feel that he/she is being judged based on her discussions. We need to encourage that person and do our work at the back-end.

A very important thing came out during this discussion. Ritika was a great person and trying to give her best all the time but what she needed to understand the ‘ownership’ aspect of work – whether at home or in the job. I told her that it was great on her part to help out her room mates but at the same time she was setting wrong expectations for them and also letting them take her for granted. Her approach was making her a victim of their demands and also discouraging them from taking care of their own responsibilities at her expense. Moreover, she was losing on her self-respect.

She agreed to this and realized that she was doing a big mistake. After she understood the message clearly, she got up and said, “Now I know how to take care of this”. Next morning, she was beaming and instantly rushed to me on seeing me in the office. She said, “Thanks a lot! My roommates had tried to repeat the same thing today but I made it very clear to them that they have to do their share of tasks and also behave nicely to me. They got surprised at my reaction but it seems that they have got the message”. Although I felt that she was being bit too direct to them but was also happy that she got the message.

I felt very happy for Ritika and at the same time, I decided on the next step for the entire team – A small training on “RACI”: Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed: A matrix to describe the roles and responsibilities of team/people to deliver a project or operate a process.

A small incident had helped me gain so many insights and of course, helping myself/my team also become a better person and a professional.

Key takeaways from this example that can be implemented at the professional level:

DOs:

1. Work as a TEAM. Sharing responsibilities and knowledge is good when required.

2. Keep the team environment and objective in mind.

3. Honestly perform your duties and responsibilities

4. Take ownership of tasks and also encourage others to perform the tasks assigned to them

5. Learn to delegate and empower others too to perform and grow. Build leaders.

DON’Ts:

1. Never encourage other team members to SHIRK their responsibilities when they are supposed to perform them.

2. Never lose on your self-respect by letting others take your goodness for granted. Take the right steps with dignity without being violent, abusive or aggressive.

3. Do not set wrong expectations.

4. Do not be too selfish or individualistic.

Personal SWOT

Most of us are quite apprehensive when asked to present our SWOT analysis at interviews and I’ve personally met so many people who don’t know what SWOT is. They get stuck on this during interviews.

Here are few excerpts from my original article on personal SWOT that was published on rediff [http://in.rediff.com/getahead/2006/sep/08swot.htm]

Coined by the military, SWOT stands for ‘Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats’. It aims to identify strengths, improve on weaknesses, utilise opportunities and minimize weaknesses.

Various forms of SWOT question during interviews:

1. Can you highlight some of your strengths and weaknesses?

2. Can you present your SWOT Analysis?

3. Why should we hire you and what are your areas of development / improvement? What opportunities do you foresee for yourself in this job?

4. What threats can you identify in the job we’re offering and how do you think you can tackle them?

What experts say

SWOT is a very helpful tool for HR executives in assessing potential candidates. “Those who know their weaknesses and can openly express themselves through SWOT, have been observed to be able to adjust well in an open work culture. They are firm believers of candour in the workplace and appreciate open feedback for smooth running of an organization. SWOT helps in understanding the career aspirations of an individual and assessing how far he or she is willing to go with the organisation,” says Shikha Kumar, HR Manager, ISHIR Infotech.

<For more expert quotes, refer to my original article on rediff>

Do some homework before you appear for the interview:

. Have participatory sessions with your friends to know more of your strengths and weaknesses.

. List down all your strengths and weaknesses.

. Explore the prospective job/employer/company to identify opportunities.

. Gain more knowledge about the industry to detect threats.

Handling SWOT at interviews

Before the interview, ensure your resume maps to what you might talk about. It should also highlight your strengths.

1. Strengths: Positives you can capitalise on, these should be your ‘key selling points.’

Think of what makes you special. What influences and motivates you? What are your attributes for success? What key traits do you have? You can talk about your personal characteristics here like: Good analytical skills, determination, persistence, etc.

Examples of strengths:
a. Very confident and assertive.
b. Good communication skills.

What the interviewer ‘buys’ is ‘how are these strengths helping in the job he has to offer’ and ‘what is the value they add to the job’. For example, while appearing for a sales job interview, the following strengths can be highlighted:

a. I am very confident and assertive in whatever I do. I have been able to leverage customer service by converting unhappy customers to loyal customers by understanding their problems, educating them, giving them confidence and being able to solve their problems.

b. I have been involved in company presentations and workshops, and have been imparting training. My communication skills help me stand up and put forward my views in front of a group of people.

c. Having worked in customer service for two years, I have good customer service skills and customer relations.

2. Weaknesses: Negative areas you need to improve on.

This is the toughest aspect to think of and share with your future/potential company. Also, this is one area where your answers need to be more diplomatic. Avoid hinting at something that may impact the job execution in your potential company. We all know and admit that no one is perfect. Do not say ‘I don’t have any weakness’. Be realistic and show that you realize and are well aware of your weaknesses. Give confidence to your prospective employer that your weaknesses are not going to hamper your job.

Examples of weaknesses:
a. I sometimes tend to get into too many details that delay execution.
b. I can’t say ‘No’ if someone asks me for help with some work.

Never highlight personal weaknesses like ‘being emotional’, ‘short tempered’ etc.

3. Opportunities: Positive external conditions you can take advantage of.

Talk about various opportunities you foresee in that prospective job. This will show your interest and reflect a positive attitude.

Examples of opportunities:
a. While working with international customers, I may have the opportunity to learn new cultures; newer ways of working that will further help me to provide customised and better services to my customers.
b. By imparting training, I will be able to improve my confidence level and presentation skills.

4. Threats: Negative external conditions you can’t control but can minimize.

There are threats we all face at our workplaces, but we need to know how to survive with them. While talking about ‘threats’, try to foresee the ones you may face at your prospective job.

Examples of threats:
a. Competition for the job I want.
b. Overworking myself by taking on so many responsibilities.
c. Changing job requirements of the field.

Also suggest certain ways you may minimise these threats. For example:
a. Getting trained on certain skills to survive competition for the job.
b. Trying time management to avoid getting overworked.
c. Upgrading my technical skills and proficiencies and keeping abreast of industry changes to cope up with job requirements.

Take away points

. Map your STRENGTHS to your prospective job.

. Avoid hinting at WEAKNESSES that may have a negative impact on your prospective job. Also try to present an improvement plan that you have to overcome these weaknesses.

. Identify OPPORTUNITIES in the prospective job and mention how these can be advantageous to you and help in performing the job better.

. Detect THREATS and present ways to minimise them.