Tag Archives: Communication

LEAD through Service Failures

One of my favorite things to do is watch failure happen. That doesn’t sound very leader-like, does it? I’m not saying I like to trip toddlers or give team members impossible assignments. But how we handle failure is an immediate barometer of our leadership.

Continue reading LEAD through Service Failures

What to Do with Blogging Employees

Great! One of your employees has started a blog. Now what?

By Cortega9 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
When I started blogging, a former employer freaked out. I would leak all of our secrets! I’d say something that reflected poorly on the company! I’d spill the beans on something highly confidential! Continue reading What to Do with Blogging Employees

So You Got Screwed…Now What?

You’ve been cheated or taken advantage of. Someone– a boss, a coworker, a friend– took advantage of your trust. You made an agreement with someone and got screwed.

Get over it.

Image courtesy PublicDomainPictures, CC
Image courtesy PublicDomainPictures, CC

I’m not being mean here; I’m not just talking to you, either. I’m talking to myself.

For weeks I’ve been bitter, fuming over a broken agreement. What’s worse, the agreement was just between myself and someone I thought I could trust! The details weren’t outlined in a contract or announced to coworkers. I got screwed and nobody knows it.

When we’re wronged, there’s a yearning for some semblance of justice. We don’t want to get over it! We ache for validation. We beg God to smite the wrongdoer. We (read: I) want to see this “karma” thing take its toll.

Even now, I’d love to use my fledgling platform to articulate how badly I was wronged and who did it! But if I (read: we) allow these people to control my thoughts in such a way, I’m really doing wrong by myself.

Sinatra said: “The greatest revenge is massive success.” It’s true! In order to get there, we’ve got to take responsibility for our feelings. We’ve got to turn the focus from our transgressors to ourselves.

5 Steps to Get Over It:

  1. Reflect: So this seems a little cheesy, right. But time to grieve what we lost (even if it was just a delusion to begin with) is important. A period of reflection will allow you to examine the reality of what happened. In order to get over it, we’ve got to figure out what “it” really is or was in the first place.
  2. Recharge: This doesn’t have to take place in a secluded cabin in the woods. Whatever makes you feel alive, do that. Resist the urge to climb in a bed with a gallon of ice cream. That’s never a good place.
  3. Release: Some people require real, actual, tangible closure. If you need to approach the person who wronged you and express forgiveness, do that. But don’t make it about telling the world what that person did wrong. In my situation, I’m going to privately release and forgive my transgressor and work through the bitterness.
  4. Resolve: Decide in your heart to be better than your missed opportunity. Don’t make it an “I’ll show him!” Show yourself what you’re capable of. Dream big and get after it.
  5. Re-Get Over It: Couldn’t find a good re- word for this. But get over it! Whether you’re a teenager or a keenager (read: really old), you’ve only got so long to live. You’ve got even less time to be out there doing crazy dream-building stuff. Don’t allow someone else to make that time about them.

You’ve been lied to or done wrong in the past and it will probably happen again. “Get over it” is probably not a sympathetic or empathetic response. But it’s vital for your long-term success.

The quicker you can put a situation (and sometimes a person) in the rearview mirror, the better.

You can connect with me on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+!

The Shackles of Expectation

Were you expecting an Expectation, Part 2? Joke’s on you. Or me, since I felt led to explain the title-joke.

Here’s the deal: expectations are sometimes healthy. We expect certain things: good service for a fair price, excellent service for a little more; an honest effort and decent grades from our kids; respect and teamwork from our coworkers.

Certain expectations, though, destroy opportunities.

Photo Courtesy Peter Eckersley, CC
Photo Courtesy Peter Eckersley, CC

I have used the example of Jesus’s Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem to illustrate the danger of expectations. It wasn’t wrong for the people of Jerusalem to get their hopes up. In their excitement, though, they missed the whole point.

People on both sides of the Messiah argument knew what Jesus was “supposed” to do. They crammed him into their “Messiah,” “Prophet,” and/or “Heretic” boxes. The high priests and elders weighed and judged him, the young Jewish politicians clamored for a mighty deliverer from their earthly oppressors.

But he disappointed them all.

Even Pontius Pilate, one of my favorite New Testament characters, failed the test of Expectation. Believing he had the perfect solution, that perhaps he would save Jesus, Pilate put a no-brainer decision to the people expecting a rational answer. Who should go free: the notorious murderer or wandering miracle man?

But they disappointed him.

Opportunities are destroyed when we expect:

  • Who He or She Should Be: It’s OK to expect a certain level of performance out of team members and friends. But when we try to fundamentally alter someone’s personality or trade out their strengths or hammer down their weaknesses, we’re wasting both parties’ time. Disappointment awaits! Get to know your team or group of friend’s strengths and play to those. You never know when your organization’s next visionary leader is sitting right in front of you. And you never will if you stifle her talents and shoot down her dreams.
  • What They Will Say: Too often we try to get our way or fulfill our own expectations by manipulating others. We manufacture buy-in through one means or another. Sometimes we’re so confident of our influence that we resort to the madness of wholly-democratic decision-making. When it comes to your vision, you’ve got to create genuine buy-in, and it must come from you. When it’s time to do the right– not the popular– thing, you’ve got to get the people behind the decision, not hitch the outcome to a coin-toss.

Shocked, the disciples fled a crowd that had days earlier swept Jesus into town in a raucous parade. Incredulous, Pilate washed his hands and turned over an innocent man.

In both cases, it was the arrogance of certainty that turned expectation into a deadly disease. Jesus must be this or that. The masses must punish a heinous criminal.

Don’t allow that same spirit to come over your encounters with new team members or friends. Humble your heart with the knowledge that there is still much to learn.

Don’t shackle greatness with your lousy expectations.

You can connect with me on Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn!

How to Deal with the Unfamiliar

In our part of the country, “religious difference” means Baptist, Methodist, or Pentecostal. Once in a while, though, our funeral home has the privilege of serving Hindu or Buddhist families. Sometimes, this is uncomfortable for me; can you imagine how uncomfortable such an unfamiliar experience must be for these families?

Image: pashukaru76, CC
Image: pashukaru76, CC


I had no idea what I was doing as I sought to guide this family through planning their ceremonies. To be honest, they were unsure of what they were doing. With so much uncertainty, I was more that a little intimidated.

As I reflect on the process, I have developed a five-step process to dealing with any kind of uncertainty:

  1. Find a Point of Contact: About halfway through the service, I realized my point of contact was unfamiliar with Buddhist customs, so I sought out the Buddhist monk who would lead the ceremony. Unfortunately, he didn’t speak English. Finally, I listened for a family member who spoke English well enough to navigate complex issues and was familiar with the family needs.
  2. Understand Their Need(s): Until this point, I probably knew more about rocket science than Buddhist funeral customs. We had served a Buddhist family not long before, but everything was totally different this time. Once I had found a point of contact, I listened for every detail of the ceremony, seeking not just to know their needs but to understand the ceremony each part supported.
  3. Know Your Need(s): After I understood the family’s needs, I sat down and made a list of everything I would need: facilities, materials, props, help, time. I listed out what I didn’t know, I listed out attitudes that I needed to change to genuinely serve this family, and I listed out the details of the ceremony I needed to pay special attention to. By making lists, I was able to break a complex ceremony into small, easier-to-accomplish task groups and goals.
  4. Connect Your Resources with Their Needs: A lot of repurposing went on with our materials and props. Having identified what I needed, I put these things in place and waited to see how the family would arrange what I had set out. We dedicated a space for their use, matched tablecloths as closely as we could, and adjusted our staff and facilities to the family’s needs.
  5. Be Flexible: Toward the end of the ceremony, everything changed. Nearing wit’s end after a three-day crash course on Buddhist funeral rites, it would have been easy to lose my grip on calm! But a few minor adjustments in our plans (even at the last minute) were easy to pull off and enabled a critical process to take place right when it needed to. A cool head and quick feet are acquired traits, but essential!

I can’t tell you how many situations could fit into this progression. Whether it means overcoming language or culture barriers, moving a project into uncharted territory, or evaluating your personal leadership journey, you must be courageous and refuse to let challenges become obstacles.

When an uncertain or uncomfortable beginning evolves into a rewarding experience, you’ve done more than provide great service– you’ve captured the heart of a new friend.

You can connect with me on Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn!

Be the Duck!

What kind of terrible motto is that?! When you envision or imagine your “spirit animal”, it’s probably a lion or eagle or something, right? Usually, I’m trying harder to “Be the Duck!”

CC by Bruno Monginoux www.landscape-photo.net
CC by Bruno Monginoux http://www.landscape-photo.net

My wife and I were expecting our first child before we were married. In fact, I wasn’t quite out of high school. When my future father-in-law called me over to his house, I was less than excited.

The entire experience is a bit of a blur now. Understandably, he was boiling. Inches from my face, he vented his rage and disappointment. He has confirmed that the slightest aggression from me would have invited a very physical confrontation.

But I didn’t flinch. Accepting responsibility for our poor choices and thoughtlessness, I did my best to convey my intention to remain involved and make the best decisions for my child. In the shadow of that conflict, service and communication breakdowns in my daily walk seem minuscule.

My frequent admonishment to my wife and friends is to emulate (see what I did there?) the duck. You can gain greater peace and more effectively manage conflict if you’ll:

  • Oil Your Feathers: Ducks are almost always preening. Other birds do this, too, pulling oil from a gland through the feathers as they groom themselves and pull their feathers into optimal position. Because ducks know they’ll eventually get back in the water, they are always waterproofing their feathers. Conflict is a natural part of life; you’d better be oiling your feathers.
  • Let it Roll: Picture this: it’s freezing cold, the ducks are all hunkered down, and here comes the rain. If the rain and ice got to the ducks’ bare flesh, they could freeze to death! But because the ducks have oiled their feathers, preparing for this reality, the rain rolls right off. The ducks know they’re vulnerable! But by protecting the warm down feathers and the bare skin beneath, they are insulated from the sting of the rain. You’ve got weak spots; you’d better be protecting them.
  • Shake it Off: After a dip in the pond or a heavy rain, what do you see almost every animal do? Shake it off! The story of that garage conversation is intensely personal, and carries the greatest lesson of all: your relationships must progress regardless. No matter how uncomfortable our confrontation got, I knew that this man would be the grandfather of my child. If I was going to continue a relationship with my future wife, he would also be my father-in-law. It isn’t easy, but shaking off conflict after it is resolved or the steam has blown off is crucial to your success.

Maybe you have a job and relationships that never involve conflict. I wouldn’t trade you for the world! When properly navigated, conflict actually builds better relationships and develops character. When you encounter conflict, you could roar like a lion (“I’m the king of the jungle!”), but it’s much better to “be the duck!”

Build Value, Even With “No”

My parents-in-law are quite popular with my kids. It’s a pretty universal experience– kids love grandparents! When you never have to say “No,” you don’t have much conflict.

Photo courtesy Flickr user sboneham, Creative Commons
Photo courtesy Flickr user sboneham, Creative Commons

Recently I approached an Office Depot about donating copy services to a great cause with which I volunteer. I prepared a 60-second elevator pitch of our project and our needs, articulating the value we bring to kids and the community as well as our gift-in-kind copy needs. My calculation of the gift-in-kind donation: about $80.

When I walked in, the employee at the copy desk was very kind and paged the manager. Although she was wearing an earpiece attached to her walkie-talkie, I could hear the manager’s aggravation. I knew it was a “No” right away, but I stuck around just in case.

“Hi, I’m Justin Buck,” I greeted him with a smile and outstretched hand. But he met me with a blank stare, circling the counter and ignoring my weathervane-ing arm. After probably ten seconds of talking, he interrupted me.

“Look, I get like fifteen of you a day. If you want to bring in a letter asking for whatever it is you want, you can. You might get a discount or something.” After an uncomfortable silence, I smiled and thanked him for his time.

Here’s what he missed:

Everyone is a customer! I’m not just begging for money or favors, here. Our family business uses Office Depot for almost all of our supplies, even though we could probably get a better deal at Sam’s Club (where we already have a membership). I’ll start the cost analysis tomorrow and pitch the switch to my wife, who makes our financial decisions.

Every interaction should build value! Imagine if the manager had told me that his store donated $XXXX in copy services each year and was simply overbudget. Imagine if he had said he would advocate for discounted printing to his management team. All of a sudden, he’s built loyalty in me by spinning a “no” into a value statement.

His team was watching! I purposely selected a time in the day when I knew the store wouldn’t be busy. The manager’s team (the kind copy-desk girl, a cashier, and a trainee) had nothing to do but watch him totally fail at interacting with a customer. Because we replicate what our leaders do, I cannot envision a bright future for customer relations at this manager’s store.

At the Funeral Home, we often have to turn down opportunities to donate to worthy causes. If a great cause crops up and fits our mission, we can usually find the funds to support it; even when we can’t, I often find myself writing a personal check to affirm the organization’s efforts.

This experience, though, reminds me to treat every interaction with the dignity and attention that builds value. Even if the answer is “No”.

In the comments: How do you say “No” without damaging relationships? 

Preparing for the Future the Old Testament Way

An excellent depiction of succession comes straight out of the Bible. As Israel is preparing to enter the Promised Land, the nation needs a new leader! In your organization, this may be a crisis. You’ve got or you’ve been a great leader. But what if you’re sidelined by age or ability?

Photo Courtesy tableatny, Creative Commons

This is the situation Moses is in. He isn’t the leader Israel needs to take the Promised Land. He’s too old. He’s more diplomatic lawgiver than militaristic conqueror. He’s been a great leader. But it’s time for a change.

Israel didn’t promptly gin up for an election. The leading Israelites didn’t fill the airwaves with attack ads or go out kissing babies. There was no political superstar who burst onto the scene.

The transition was not a crisis.

How did Joshua so smoothly take the reins? It didn’t start the day Israel needed a new leader.

  • Moses cultivated the next generation of leaders. Remember the spies Moses sent into Canaan to survey the land? He was cultivating young leaders from each tribe.
  • Moses established Culture Keepers. New generations of leaders will need guidance. The 70 elders of Israel were his delegates in the Nation, there to train up new leaders and keep the culture built over 40 years in the desert.
  • Moses allowed his leaders to lead. Moses was secure in his leadership and in his anointing. He allowed his judges and leaders to actually lead. Sometimes, we give lip service to raising up new leaders without providing them with authority.
  • Joshua was patient and obedient. Of course he was! Moses was anointed by God. Other promising leaders, though, rose up against Moses and were destroyed because of it. Joshua waited until it was his time.
  • Joshua allowed himself to be mentored. It would have been easy after Joshua was proven right about entering Canaan for him to become a surly “Told-You-So” quasi-leader. Instead, he drew and remained close to Moses.
  • Joshua led from his own strengths. Joshua was a military leader. When it was time for him to lead Israel, he broke in many ways from Moses’s leadership style. He didn’t try to be Moses. It was time to take the land, and Joshua was the man for the job.

Another important element in this story is the relationship between Moses and Joshua. Joshua had been anointed by God, but he had been anointed by Moses, too. Israel’s trust was confirmed by the blessing of its leader.

Israel mourned 30 days after the death of Moses. The Israelites’ grief wasn’t out of a place of hopelessness, though. The outgoing leader had prepared and anointed the successor his people needed.

By the book of Joshua, Israel was ready to say “All that you command us we will do, and wherever you send us, we will go.”

Have you been in a successor role? What made the difference in your experience? If you’ve been the outgoing leader, what was most difficult for you?

How to Discover (and Meet) Unspoken Needs

Sometimes, people don’t want to tell us what they need. Maybe they’re embarrassed or afraid. Maybe they simply don’t know. Regardless of their reasons, most people let their needs go unspoken and, consequently, unmet.

As I meet with families at the end of a loved one’s life, there is often more baggage to unpack than our time together will allow. While I’m no psychologist or psychiatrist, I can generally sense when there’s something unresolved that may hinder a healthy grieving journey.

You can sense it, too. When a customer seeks your product or service, you know he or she doesn’t just need a widget or to enjoy your company. They have unspoken needs that drive them to seek you out.

Find these unspoken needs by:

  1. Building Trust: It takes more than expertise to bring down walls and barriers. Gain trust by genuine dedication to the best interests of your client, advocating for his or her needs, validating his or her feelings, and humanizing yourself. Follow through on your promises, make personal guarantees, and always be honest.
  2. Using Low-Risk Probes: I often start arrangement conferences with a general question: “What did Mom like to do with y’all when you were kids?” “What were Dad’s hobbies or passions?” “What’s the first memory of Mom that comes to mind?” These are low-risk questions or requests that not only help me get to know Mom or Dad but also can uncover regrets or injuries a family may need to deal with. You can use general, low-risk probing questions to begin conversations or exchanges that uncover unspoken needs.
  3. Speaking to the Experience: Unless you want your interaction and relationship with your clients to be short-lived, your conversation can’t focus merely on the short-term. By speaking to the broader experience rather than to the time-limited interactions you may have, you are promising the client that you’re in for the long-haul, interested in his or her long-term satisfaction. Additionally, a broader view of the experience will require that you step out of your role as salesperson and pull together the intangibles that make your service successful without necessarily including monetary gain.
  4. Letting Them Know It’s Ok to…: People sometimes require permission to grieve. I remember the first time I was bold enough to offer someone such permission. A thirty-something woman was seeing her father for the first time after his passing. Stiff-lipped, she refused to let a tear break the brim of her eyelids. In the past, I might simply have stood in the corner, silently waiting for the discomfort to pass. This time, though, I stepped forward, making myself available. “I told him I wouldn’t cry. I told him I’d be strong for the kids,” her voice quaked. “The kids aren’t here now. It’s just you and your Daddy. And it’s OK to cry.” She was waiting for permission, for validation. When a client reveals their needs, sometimes it’s all they need.
  5. Make Thoughtful Recommendations: Once you’ve uncovered the unspoken needs of your client, be brave enough to put yourself out there by making thoughtful recommendations and suggestions. You’re the expert…right? If you believe it, you should be confident enough to assess the needs of your client and make suggestions. What we’ve tried to do at our funeral firm is go from “Order Takers” to “CARE Takers”. Take your time, name the needs of your client, and act on them.

The last step is the most important; without meeting unspoken needs, uncovering them is useless. But when we meet the unspoken needs of our customers, guests, or clients, a deeper relationship is formed that goes beyond sales metrics. Seeking this kind of impact takes us back to our own unspoken need in the workplace: to connect our products or services with a need in the community and do work that matters.

In the comments: What keeps you from making thoughtful recommendations? Are you afraid to help your clients face their own fears?