The Consultant's Desk

The Consultant's Desk
Poring over the details on your behalf

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Screening: The Art of Listening

I had a wonderful 30-minute morning bus ride and conversation around mid-January 2006 that started in a part of the city that is now considered a ghetto.

The rapid bus pulled in front of me and a man who looked like he's several years older than me tried to board first. Women's rights enthusiast that I am, I asserted myself to boarding first as he complained about not being able to drive his Bentley due to his poor vision. "Then that means you need to have someone driving you wherever you need to go in that Bentley," was the reply over my shoulder. His ears perked up.

He made some comment about no longer suffering from the weaknesses of lust. I responded with a quote from Socrates that echoed the sentiment. He sat up straighter and asked which university I attended. The conversation, emanating from the Socratic quote, took off.

He said he was the first black player on the Pittsburgh Steelers (1957). He spoke of his birthplace outside of the United States, as was all of his siblings (and where they now live). He spoke of his fabulous homes. He first said he has four children.

He spoke of something that was dear to my heart, quality of education, what it takes to imbue our youth with the right motivation to succeed, and where the responsibility for all of this lies. He bragged about the success that all four of his children have attained. As the conversation continued, he suddenly had six.

He spoke of being a Korean War veteran and suffering from post war trauma. I painfully remembered my ex-husband's tales of Viet Nam and asked for a time out. He continued by explaining that due to those flashbacks, he's now being treated at the VA for psychological disorders. He acknowledged that the Manchurians pulled him out of his plane wreckage and sewed up his massive wounds without question. He attributed this to the color of his skin. I attributed it to the fact that he was an American fighting, in part, for their rights and freedom.

He spoke of being a Big Ten golfer who relinquished his position to someone else so that person may succeed. He spoke of the several foundations he founded.

The conversation was wonderful. But I kept wondering why, if he had that much money and success, he was starting that day's journey from a low-income neighborhood. He was well groomed. His clothing was of good and not flashy quality. He was well spoken. He admitted to being 80 years old. That one glitch in the image kept nagging at me but I decided to enjoy the information and conversation.

We parted company. He said his name during part of the conversation and I tried to hear it correctly but did not. I asked whether I could stay in touch because he had touched on several issues that were worth further development, especially for my readers. He refused. Later, I asked again, explaining that I write on career development and recruiting issues and his words and viewpoints would be of value to my readers. He again refused to provide his contact information. He protested that he's on the move a lot and only in town for a short time. I repeated the name I thought I heard and he finally told me his first and last name, and spelled the last for me.

The bus driver protested as he rose to leave. The driver wanted to hear more of the conversation. But it was time for it to end.

When I finally reached a computer, my first activity was to do a search on the Steelers site and look up the rosters for the years 1956, 1957, and 1958. There was no member of the team with the name I was given by the gentleman and no one from a university that he may have attended. By the time I began my research, I thought I remembered that it was a non-U.S. university. As I write these words, I now recall which one it was -- it was U.S.

Perhaps it was a false name he gave. Perhaps the whole conversation and all of the stories were manufactured. The inconsistencies indicated that was the case. Had I been interviewing and screening a candidate, those two red flags should have been reason for me to press the conversation a little further on those two issues. Indeed, I wanted to ask him why he was starting his journey in that neighborhood but didn't have a proper opening to do so. Maybe his puffery was merely his way of impressing me.

Had this been an interview of a candidate, the gentleman would have screened himself out of the running. He had no rational explanations for the inconsistencies in his information.

The important issues, however, are that:
  1. I listened very carefully.
  2. I used my critical thinking skills.
  3. I paid attention to those two or three flags.
  4. Most importantly, I enjoyed the experience and
  5. It was a conversation, not an interrogation.

Remember that it's a conversation and just enjoy the experience as you make your screening decisions.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Handling the Abuser

Somewhere in the United States, a person sits within the confines of their home. They are alone for the moment and feel utterly isolated from all friends, family, and co-workers. Their funds are limited, controlled by someone else. They have to ask permission for the most inconsequential of things. They are depressed, mostly because their life has come to such an empty point. All dreams, hopes, and desires have been dashed into the sand.

They are edgy. The least thing makes them cranky -- or at least it seems that way. They flare up at belittling things. They are threatened with reprisals for the most minor of things or badgered for information. Their body trembles with fear at the threat of reprisals for speaking in their own behalf. Physical aches and pains plague them. They are completely aware that physical or verbal attacks are the price to be paid for self assertion.

They remember instances of recreation and laughter for the sake of joy.

They're having nightmares. Night after night, the same theme invades their unconscious state to remind them of the last time they were flung across the room, pummeled for telling an anecdote about how something was vandalized, or chastised for the least of innocent things. Being called stupid, faulted for things that are actually correct, prevented from attending to things in a timely fashion are part and parcel of their evolving psyche. The person becomes part of the 32 million American population identified as battered and abused.

They're in full stage battered person syndrome or post-traumatic stress disorder.

How do you explain to someone that they are an abuser? It's a tricky situation. When you walk away from them, you'll have to shake your head in order to cancel the crazy-talk, circular reasoning, nonsense they've foisted upon you to bamboozle you with their logic and convince you that they're right. But they're not. They're trying to control you and the situation with their nonsense. So adept at this art are they that as you listen to them, they weave a complex tapestry that sounds valid and believable. If they have a position of authority, the legitimacy of their argument is falsely bolstered by the fact of their job title. Their flimsy, flawed reasoning is not questioned but taken as gospel.

How do you tell someone they're being abusive when they're telling you that you need a lot of help with reasoning? They will go out of their way to be a "friend" in order to explain the most elementary of concepts -- concepts that you're attempting to explain to them. These are insults and put-downs. They are belittling. These are concepts that they are simply not grasping and it appears they never will. Their reasoning is too concrete.

But their belittling words are definitely starting to affect your self esteem. Do not let this person make you start questioning your value nor your intelligence. You are fine. If anything, allow your introspection to go so far as to confirm the conclusions before their assault on you; make certain you respond with a reinforced hit on their failed logic.

How do you explain to the abuser that their ignoring you is additional evidence that they’re working at diminishing you and your self worth? Assert yourself. Call their attention to the avoidance tactic. Also, don't allow yourself to be ignored. It's all right to ignore the bully -- to simply not hear them when they speak -- once they've proven what they are. If they're standing over you while talking, it's fine to rise from your chair and bump into them. But then, be polite. Tell them, "Oh, excuse me [insert name]. I didn't realize you were there." But to be certain, you are not required to sit through their berating stream of words. Simply walk away. Don't become a part of the spew. If you must, tell them you just don't have time right now. What they're saying will have to wait until another time. Then just walk away.

How do you help the abuser realize that their tactics to disrupt and destroy something you're about to do, a presentation you're preparing to make, with threats of self harm or some other alarming proclamation, are now recognized for what they are and will be ignored? Let them know it's inappropriate to manipulate others in such an immature manner; it won't be tolerated.

How do you handle the bully and the abuser? Don't lower yourself to their level; don't use their tactics as a counter. They'll revel in the fact that you've made yourself as small as they are and taunt you into doing something even more degrading. Step away from them. Walk away from their acts. Don’t hear their words.

If you're at work, make a note about what happened -- date, time, and place. Do it without adding value terms. Just state the facts and save it. A time will come when you need to refer to it or show it to someone. Just save it as a reminder. It's a reminder not only of what occurred but also that you're soon going to leave that job site for something better.

How do you handle the abuser and bully? Whether male or female, the behavior will affect you. Try as you might, you cannot handle the abuser through normal reasoning because they are not highly likely to understand. You remove yourself from their company and let them fester in their own bile.

Yvonne LaRose, CAC

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Developing Satisfying Performance Reviews

There are many instances when situations arise that toll one's knowledge of the most fundamental of good practices. Recently one of such circumstances presented itself. Although the players appear to be very capable, their handling of the situation showed some reminders are in order. They also showed that it's wise to make certain that your professionals from other countries have more than a passing appreciation of domestic employment laws and practices.

Please consider the strategies previously published in 2003 on

Some managers think of performance appraisal meetings and recollections of torn Achilles' heels or root canals immediately surface. They're sort of "been there, don't want to go again" situations. The more it can be put off, the better. You may be in that state of mind right now.

Chances are you're trying to make one meeting do for everything. So you're preparing for the performance review, the salary review, and a few other matters, all in one sitting. There are definite things you want to praise. You probably have a few who could use some improvement. The prospect of all of this is giving you a new ulcer and you're putting the preparation as far off as possible. It doesn't have to be that bad. Before you get yourself as prepared for this meeting as you would to go to Antarctica for six months, reconsider the purpose of the performance review and isolate the meeting to just that – communicating about how the employee has been doing compared with their job description.


As with any other meeting, prepare for it. Outline an agenda of what will be covered. This will help you to be the leader of the meeting so that you keep the conversation on track and both of you know what matters will be the focal points of the discussion. And as with any other meeting, make certain your employee has a copy of the agenda so they don't feel there's going to be a surprise attack of some sort. This will enable them to be as prepared for a discussion and stay focused.

The essentials of the discussion should start with the job description. Pull out a copy of the job or position description that was the basis of hiring or promoting your employee. Your conversation needs to cover an assessment of what they've been doing compared with what their "contract" says they are expected to do.

In addition to the job description, you'll want to discuss what you see that the employee has been doing well. People are people. No doubt there are areas that need improvement so feel free to discuss those. You'll also want to agree on the "how" and the "when" of the improvements. Finally, you want to leave time for discussing new work opportunities, where appropriate, so that the employee has some planned growth in their position.


Well, you now have a skeleton agenda. The next issue is having the meeting. At first blush, this may seem like a minor issue. However, this is a sensitive talk. It's a meeting about the very personal matter of how the employee is working and the caliber of their work. Plus the issues for review, there are some "climate" conditions that need attention.

Make certain that you schedule the meeting; don't send an emissary on your behalf. This should be a private meeting -- not in the middle of the office where everyone can share in the conversation. It should be free of interruptions. If you're expecting a conference call, schedule it for a good amount of time after the appraisal meeting so the appraisal doesn't become rushed. Have all of your phone calls held.

Finally, meet in a place other than your office -- some neutral area -- that is free of things that can cause barriers such as tables or desks.


Over-emphasis in this next area is not overkill. This conversation is a personal one. When a person feels they're being criticized or attacked, your meeting is not going to go well. The conversation will stop and what you'll have is, at best, a one-sided monologue with a half-hearted agreement in word. Think of this as a one-on-one coaching period and speak as though you are coaching. Use positive terms and sentences throughout your conversation.


It's one thing for you to do an appraisal of the employee's work. But this is supposed to be a conversation and a time for feedback. What you want is feedback from the employee about how they perceive how they've been working. It's rare that the manager rates an employee's performance lower than the employee. Usually it's the other way around. The employee is more critical of their work.

Although this is supposed to be a conversation, encourage the employee to talk when you reach the appraisal of how they're performing compared with the talking points of the job description. Allow for self appraisal.

Once they have made their appraisal, this will be a prime time to talk about
  • how you perceive their performance compared with their self appraisal
  • areas for improvement
  • steps to take to make changes
  • whether they are ready for some new opportunities for growth


It's fine to have a meeting and get all of the talking points covered. But part of this performance appraisal covered areas for change. Talking about change is not commitment to it. Put in writing what the employee will do, what you will do to assist or support them in doing this and when it these things will be done. Then both of you need to sign this contract for action. If it needs modification, as with any other contract, they can be made by mutual consent of both of you via a signed writing that memorializes the changes.


You've probably read enough material on performance reviews until you eyes have glazed over. It's one thing to read. It's quite another to actualize the reading. How about something that will help you practice doing an appraisal, complete with "bad move"-"good move" scenarios? The matters we've been discussing today, in addition to some other important considerations attendant to a successful performance review, are available on video.

In CRM Learning's "Discussing Performance," you can spend 20 minutes watching the supervisor and employee go through the bungled steps and then the "let's try this again" versions of a performance review. Interspersed with discussions about why the bungled and the better happened, this tape allows you to see and do from a safe perspective so that you have a performance presentation of the cause and effect relationships of words and acts. After each scenario, there is a very useful and brief discussion of why things went the way they did as you segue into the next phase. You're empowered with a conceptualization of how to have this meeting.


Performance reviews are actually very constructive periods of time; they're opportunities for growth for both you and the employee who's being reviewed. Leave the other issues for another time and conversation. And leave those old ways of the painful reviews as relics and sign posts of the past. Use these review and evaluation times only for the focused purpose of discussing performance.



Additional Reading:

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Diversity Training - Knowing Where to Start

It was less than a month after becoming part of the retirement community for what is supposed to be final recuperation and then whatever comes next. However, the signs of problems became more obvious and increasingly profound. The facility is in dire need of diversity training. There need to be focused discussion about race relations and equal treatment. The awareness of domestic violence and handling the issues of the abuse -- whether physical, verbal, economic, or psychological -- need to be brought up several levels and surpassing mere elder abuse.

The other matter that provided evidence of the profound need for attention is the fact that several key employees (who are guilty of the offensive, disparate behavior) are not native Americans. Instead, they are immigrants. A few others are so young that the Civil Rights Movement isn't even in their vocabulary, let alone a true appreciation of what the term means. It was merely a section of their Social Studies class that they memorized and then forgot in order to get the grade of "A" or "B" in the class and then move on. Still others who are immigrant employees merely want to avoid making waves and overlook situations that need handling. Their philosophy is "Don't make a big deal" about it.

The most telling situation was at the February 5 Activities Committee meeting. The Director of Activities and her assistant rattled off a list of things that would be done for the month of February. One of them was recognition of President's Day by way of a re-enactment of a speech by Thomas Jefferson. The month's activities was read and explained and then stopped. There was absolutely nothing said about recognizing Black History Month.

The interesting thing about the Activities omission was the fact that on January 27, the Chaplain had asked that I deliver the sermon for the worship service in February in honor of Black History Month. The recognition was not going to be isolated to merely one service. Chaplain had the insight and foresight to realize the significance of the event. She wanted acknowledgement of Black history and achievements throughout the month. My presentation of moments in Black history at each worship service throughout the month of February was the anticipated contribution.

The President of the Residents' Association also perceived the importance of Black History Month recognition as well as use of capable talent. She asked that I deliver an inspirational at both the Sunday midday and evening meals starting in February and continuing from then on. February could focus on Black History but she wanted someone to handle delivering the inspirational or blessing for each meal.

These two requests were encouraging. They represented the fact that there is awareness and sensitivity to many of the issues impacting the community. They also represented the fact that there is an undercurrent seeking increased support and momentum to begin setting the example of acceptance and appreciation not only in word but also in action. The positive foundation was laid.

It was easy to determine where to start in recognizing Black History. Start by talking about how it started and why. Recognize and remind of the fact that the acknowledgement and celebration has not always been a full month of activities. In fact, it has been slightly over 100 years that recognition has even existed. It used to be only one week in the shortest month of the year.

The next important issue was to recognize not just the traditional, well-known names in Black history but to call attention to the other significant people and their contributions to the richness of our American culture. But that also was not sufficient. Names can quickly be forgotten. A brief five minute talk is nothing more than a distraction. Appreciation of the struggles and sacrifices that witnessed and became the reason the inroads and successes were significant were also needed.

Perhaps remembering the 1950s peaceful demonstrations, over and above Rosa Parks' momentous bus ride, are also needed for laying the proper groundwork toward positive change. In just 50 years, it appears we have forgotten the integration of schools, the fire hose and police dog attacks on well-groomed peaceful marchers, the peaceful lunch counter demonstrations that became the catalysts of positive change and acceptance.

Yes, those appear to be the right starting points. The most critical of all of it is the awareness and support of the community management. Fortunately, although there is not awareness of how pitiful the acceptance is and how lacking the practice, there is a desire to be among those counted and exemplary of being a healthy environment. The important first step is recognizing that there is a problem. The next step is identifying the type and degree of the issue. Next is developing the proper strategy to cause appreciative modification and change. And finally comes constant reinforcement.

Diversity training, as with any other type of behavior modification and development, takes teamwork and diligence, in addition to realizing that it must be started and then doing so.