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The Mumbling Manager

By Shannon Kalvar ·
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Dealing with a rise in workplace aggression

by mindilator In reply to Dealing with a rise in wo ...

the best way to end an undesirable behavior is to explicitly confront that behavior. if you feel someone is trying to manipulate you, intimidate you, aggravate you, ask them why they're doing it. and be specific. why are you trying to intimidate me? why do you appear to be losing control? you said yourself most of the people who do this, do it unconsciously. most people are surprised to learn that their behavior is being interpreted negatively, even though it's obvious. too often their behavior is a mirror of how they feel. those who intimidate are intimidated themselves by something or someone else. 99% of the time confronting someone's behavior disarms that person, changes the topic from what they were doing to why they are doing it, and can even send them into a submissive state since wisdom almost always sounds authoritative. some people are entirely comfortable with their behavior, and won't be affected by the confrontation, or will be avoidant. but confronting them takes you out of the list of welcome mats who will take that abuse and can be a positive step toward changing your relationship with that person.

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Dealing with a rise in workplace aggression

by wilkelley7 In reply to Dealing with a rise in wo ...

I can tell you stories of aggression and intimidation. <br /><br />These are games I play.<br /><br />Simply stepping in close enough to voilate the personal space of your opponent is a low level or body language form of intimidation. If your opponent steps back or away from you, you have achieved the advantage. Not a word ever needs to be spoken.<br /><br />Ever come up to a service counter and have the service person ignore you? Start looking over the counter and pick up the first thing you see pen or pencil doesn't matter you'll get thier attention. <br /><br /><br />

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Dealing with a rise in workplace aggression

by Ssp@Techrepublic In reply to Dealing with a rise in wo ...

<p>Too many words. Could have finished shorter. Well, in my opinion, you have to <strong><em>expect</em></strong> this as the industry follows such an agressive trend (until the breakpoint of course).</p>
<p>Relax until then. Bye.</p>

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Dealing with a rise in workplace aggression

by RL Boston In reply to Dealing with a rise in wo ...

<p>Are employees who possess some shred of professionalism, not to mention maturity, so difficult to find you feel you must tolerate this behavior? If you have no alternative but to deal with the situation perhaps you could ask a third grade teacher how they handle their students?</p>
<p>I am currently looking for employment and I am aware of appropriate behavior in the workplace. Do you think this might harm my prospects?</p>

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Learning about yourself though your team's activity calendars

by Shannon Kalvar In reply to The Mumbling Manager

<p>Monday came. Monday went. My team's
back up to two people this week, though they both have other
priorities at the moment. Which is, oddly enough, okay with me; I
agreed to reassign their time since the problem they now get to to
address caused the vast majority of our support calls. The team
might as well get a chance to do something about it, rather than just
let it beat them up.</p>

<p>In order to maximize our throughput,
though, I have to get organized. So I spent a goodly portion of last
week rebuilding our activity calendar, a six to eight week critical
path style document outlining what's going on, who needs to do what,
and when we want it completed (or at least mostly closed down). It
gives my team a good overview of what's coming up, lets me keep
things on track, and even helps the teams which interface with mine
understand what, and where, my priorities are. It's not a straight
jacket, though, just a snapshot of what we think will happen.</p>

<p>It occurred to me, though, that I might
want to check our actual throughput against my plans. So I pulled up
the last four activity calendars and compared what we've done against
what we accomplished. The first one had more activities than you
could shake a stick at. It was jam packed with action oriented
phrases, stretch goals, and more than a few idle pipe-dreams. The
next few toned down a bit, while my current one is busy but doesn't
have quite the same feel of ?we can do anything!?

<p>So, did I just give up? Did I decide
we couldn't do anything in a reasonable time-frame?</p>

<p>No and no. I did not give up and I
certainly do not think my team contains a bunch of slackers who
accomplish nothing in a day. In fact, some people joke that my team
is the ?hard work vertical?. It's not entirely untrue; we have a
lot to do and are short staffed to boot. Plus I do ask a lot from my
team. As a general rule they deliver, something which constantly
amazes me.</p>

<p>The change stems from something else.
You see, I long ago learned something which seems to elude the
writers of management text books. It's not a big truth but rather
one of those little obvious things which makes everything else work
better. Most of us even know it. We just don't talk about it too
much because no one wants to admit it.</p>

<p>Here it is. Not everyone is a
superstar. Most of us, myself included in fact, work hard and try to
enjoy what we do. It takes us time to figure things out. We need
help at times. Occasionally we can spend whole weeks working on
something which someone else, somewhere else, solved in fifteen
minutes. Sometimes, when we look at a new technology, it really just
doesn't make any sense whatsoever for the first few months.</p>

<p>By itself this truth doesn't mean much.
We all know most teams contain a goodly number of B players, some
over-hyped A players, and some C players we keep around as trade
goods. But when I combine it with my activity calendars and
planning, I get to something kind of interesting.

<p>Looking over the progression of my
calendars, I can see my own learning curve with my team. At first I
built the activities without much understanding of what my team could
and could not do. Over the weeks and months I learned who could
process which tasks faster, who could solve what kinds of problems,
and who I needed to lay off of for a bit.</p>

<p>Building the activity calendars also
helps us keep prioritized. We all have way too much to do in any
given month. We cannot do it all. What we can do, though, is figure
out what will have the greatest impact and direct our work in that
direction. So long as we hit the high impact items, the rest of it
will probably fall into place.</p>

<p>Speaking of, its time to get back to
working on the next activity calendar. I want it to be ready next
month when things start to get back to normal.</p>

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Learning about yourself though your team's activity calendars

by Wayne M. In reply to Learning about yourself t ...

<p><strong>Consider Scrum</strong></p>
<p>I think you could make life easier for you and your team by using Scrum ("Agile Project Management with Scrum" by Ken Schwaber, "Agile Software Devleopment with Scrum" by Ken Schwaber and Mike Beedle).</p>
<p>First, you need to simplify your activity calendar.  It is too complex to update.  Go with a spreadsheet listing Task, Priority, and Time to Complete or even  go to a three ring binder with a page dedicated to each task.  This makes it easy to add, remove, and reprioritize tasks.  </p>
<p>Second, rather than assigning tasks to your team, let them select the tasks from the prioritized list.  You may need to encourage some of your less aggressive team members to take on tasks requiring newer skills and not to accept all of the grunt tasks that other team members do not want to do.  Let each team member determine the appropriate tasking level for himself.  Scrum recommends this planning on a monthly basis.</p>
<p>Third, have daily 10-minute status meetings.  If anyone is stuck on a task, it will quickly become evident when he cannot report daily progress or has a backlog of blocking issues.  It also sets the stage for someone else to provide recommendations or guidance.</p>
<p>It may be possible to do more by doing less.  Step back and let the team take on the planning responsibility and focus on completing items rather than having nice looking to do lists.</p>
<p> </p>

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Learning something useful by being hit by a truck

by Shannon Kalvar In reply to The Mumbling Manager

<p>So, this week I got hit by a truck.
Oddly enough, that's not only a metaphor; on the way to work I got
smacked in the small of the back by an SUV. Fortunately I'm
reasonably bouncy, so I just ended up sitting on the truck's hood
until the driver stopped. The more metaphorical trucks which hit me
this week may prove a bit more problematic to address. Or not, I'm
not sure yet.</p>

<p>That is the nature, I think, of shock.
You are not sure where to go or what to do. You turn, look, plan,
think, execute, all in the space of a breath. You hope the result is
what you anticipated. Sometimes things turn out at you planned.
Other times, not so much.

<p>However, the real test is not in
whether or not the shock occurs but rather what we choose to do about
it. We all get caught flat-footed from time to time. We all get
frustrated, make mistakes, or don't fit into a given situation.
These moments tend to linger on in a closed environment, poisoning
everything we do.

<p>When the truck hit me I bounced up,
kicking my legs out and letting the force carry me up. Doing so
stopped me from falling under the truck. It also redirected the
shock of contact through my back and waist, preserving my bones and
knees. I ended up sore but not injured; bowed but not broken.</p>

<p>My reaction to the metaphorical trucks
is still playing out, right now, as I write this. I have very few
options opened before me, but perhaps I can come up with something
new. Something innovative, quite, and wise which will allow this too
to pass without doing any more damage to me.

<p>It's hard for an IT person to let
things pass, to let go. We are problem solvers and dreamers, makers
and changers. To let go involves releasing that central facet of our
business, the thing which differentiates us from the line workers and
the people who remain forever content in the sticky web formed by
simply being rather than living.

<p>Okay, that's a bit overly romantic. I
suspect my mind isn't as focused as it needs to be. However, it
contains within its purple prose an element of truth. We do what we
do, I do what I do, IT does what it does, to create positive change.
We strive always and forever to achieve the nirvana called
?dial-tone?, where our systems simply work and we fade away into
the background, out of sight and out of mind.</p>

<p>On a more positive note, the team did
well this week. We finished up some nagging issues, continued to
work on nagging problems, and uncovered yet another metaphorical
viper in the pit. With any luck we'll chop that things head off
before all **** breaks lose again.</p>

<p>Onward and upward and all that.</p>

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Some questions about motivation and imagination in IT

by Shannon Kalvar In reply to The Mumbling Manager


<p>This week my team changed directions a bit; we will now work much more closely with our two counterpart teams in our efforts to get things done. That is, frankly, for the best. Although I'm proud of the team's activity and professionalism we really will function better as part of a greater, more stable group. The process shouldn't take long either.</p>

<p>This weekend, though, I spent some time thinking about the topic of romance in IT work. No, not romance in the sense of windswept heather moors or dewy-eyed glances at members of the opposite sex, though I'm sure that's a popular topic too. Rather, I'm thinking of romance in its older definition, as in the romance of flight or the romance of travel. The idea that something can have a mysterious fascination or appeal, something strangely beautiful about it and that could well be a good thing.</p>

<p>We don't talk much about it, but it's always there, just at the edge of what we think about. It's easy to get bogged down in the frustrations of everyday work, in the long painful hours and the agony we inflict on one another in our attempts to prove whatever. It's elusive, sometimes, especially when we have systems crashing around us and no way to bring them back to life save shear force of will. </p>

<p>You can hear it, a little bit, in the conversations we have when things quiet down. In those rare moments when we share what's really going on in our heads or share the stories which really stuck with us. You can see it in the eyes of those who have gone though the tunnel and into the whatever which lies beyond, the place where they see the systems in their mind's eye and know with bone deep certainty born of wisdom rather than knowledge what must be done.</p>

<p>IT people, at least those of us in infrastructure, don't talk about it much. We don't talk about how much joy we feel in solving the problems, in the slow migration from instability to invisibility, in the exploration and optimization of an existing system or the installation of a new one. On the rare occasions we broach it at all, it's to claim we are simply too hard headed and pragmatic for such drivel. What really matters, we say, is what we do now to solve a problem placed before us.</p>

<p>We laugh at leaders who try to kindle the romance for us again. At least, we laugh in their faces. In my own heart, though, I rejoice when I work with a leader who realizes what we do matters. I may pull up my technician's mask, but in truth I'm glad someone, somewhere, has a clue. I know from talking to others they feel the same way, though sometimes it takes pulling fingernails to get them to admit it.</p>

<p>Unfortunately there's a problem with romance. It's a quality which occurs naturally, an intersection of experience and participant we as leaders cannot create. It occurs spontaneously when we both open ourselves to it and the circumstances occur in which it can flower. The emotion, the experience may last for only a few moments then vanish again until the next intersection occurs.</p>

<p>Naturally occurring emotions arising spontaneously out of circumstances and a particular mindset seem like a pretty unstable leadership tool. How can we, as leaders, ?make? someone feel something? How can we show our followers the romance of what we do or let them know we understand when they do not? Should we even try, especially in today's management heavy environment? Do we have any hope of recalling what it means to have a vocation, to believe in what we do, in a world where people think fear makes a better motivator than hope? One where management textbooks tell you such pearls of wisdom as ?time is a commodity? and ?the decision to hire or train is a buy or build decision?.</p>

<p>I'll write something more practical next time, I swear. </p>

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What does it take to stop?

by Shannon Kalvar In reply to The Mumbling Manager

<p>So, we came to the end of another week
and I'm forced to ask the question: what is practical? Why are we do
focused on delivering or solving the immediate need at the expense of
the future? Why do we burn ourselves and our environments into the
ground rather than spending the time and effort it takes to do it
right the first time.</p>

<p>Oh, I know. I've heard all the
arguments, more times than I can count. ?We have to do it this way
because of the mistakes in our past?, we say. ?We have to make
it happen now, and worry about what's right sometime later, or
everything will fall apart.? Doesn't anyone, ever, notice that the
more you do that the more effort you have to spend, year after year,
until finally the total cost it takes you to support your efforts
simply isnt' worth it any more?</p>

<p>That said, it seems to me we rarely, if
ever, have any idea of what it means to STOP. Yes, I meant to
capitalize that word. The amount of effort I've seen pouring down
dead ends, unstable situations, and yes bad data structures is simply
phenomenal. My current employer is by no means the worst of what
I've seen, though in my darker moments I may mumble otherwise.

<p>Stopping requires more than just
knowledge. Anyone can learn how to do it, if they just spend a few
hours reading most technical blogs or any operational methodology.
It requires an act of will, a choice to stop moving and reconsider,
even under the pressure of others to act. Action is, in and of
itself, almost a religious mantra for some organizations; it's hard
to resist the siren's call for long.</p>

<p>As leaders we choose to either foster
that will in our followers or crush it. We foster it by listening to
dissention, supporting the decision to stop in the face of chaos, and
bringing teams together to listen or understand. We crush it by
trying to act as the focal point for all elements of an activity,
thereby stripping our followers of their choices. We can also crush
them by refusing to stop ourselves, by driving forward over the
bodies of those who ?stand in our way?.</p>

<p>What is the consequence of stopping?
What happens when we decide to pull back, to place a barrier along a
mad course? What happens when we choose stillness over motion and
focus over the wild flailing we so often call activity?</p>

<p>It's hard to say. On the rare
occasions I've gotten support for stopping it generally turns out
well. Taking a breath to reassess allowed us to remove problems from
our path, problems we would otherwise have to deal with as incidents
over and over again. It gave us the opportunity to catch our breaths
and reset our minds, allowing us to see what was in front of us
rather than just charging forward. That in turn allowed us to change
plans, reorganize work, and achieve some truly exciting results.</p>

<p>The question, though, is when can an
organization support the ability to stop? What elements must exist
in the organization for it to allow its employees the ability to say
?you know, this is nuts, let's chart another course?? What
elements of leadership need to exist, what levels of selflessness or
selfishness, what political strength or weakness?</p>

<p>I'm not sure I have any answers yet,
though it feels a lot like I have more questions. I suspect the
asking of questions will go on for some time though ? it's kind of
what I'm doing right now in my life. And in my other writing as
well; it's a way of thinking I find refreshing after the doldrums we
call work.</p>

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The value of acknowledgment

by Shannon Kalvar In reply to The Mumbling Manager


<p>Another Monday. Goodness they seem to come fast these days. The team leapt out the gate in record time; I barely caught up with them before they got to work. It was almost like they felt eager to get on with it all. Which is a good thing, given how much we have to do.</p>

<p>The day also started out well for me personally, as a valued customer gave me some good feedback and a few words of appreciation for my efforts. The feedback will allow me to carry forward with some things I'm concerned about. The appreciation, though, gave me the lift I needed to start catching up with my team. Mind you they were already far ahead of me...</p>

<p>Appreciation comes in many useful forms. The simplest, and most commonly encountered, comes in the form of straight praise. ?Good job? and ?Great work? don't mean much in today's environment, but people still get a little thrill from hearing them. In order to be effective, though, these simple tools have to connect to some kind of achievement. Otherwise, they feel a lot like giving a gold star to someone just for showing up. Personally I use these to mark the little achievements we strive for every day, especially when the team gets something done which will avert rather than solve a disaster.</p>

<p>A more complex form of appreciation comes cloaked in two little words ?thank you.?. If ?good job? serves to acknowledge work, ?thank you? acknowledges the person doing the activity. Its a personal statement of your recognition of another's effort. It is most effective when coupled with a sacrifice on the part of the actor; an action or expenditure of time above and beyond the call of duty. The ?thank you? indicates that you saw the sacrifice, understood it, and appreciate it even if it was not personally for you, but rather for the team or the greater goal. In my own life I try to thank those who sacrifice for me, even if it is expected of them for some reason. After all, a sacrifice is still a sacrifice even if our jobs require it.</p>

<p>A still more complex form of appreciation requires us to take the measure of the person we communicate with. We must assess his impact on his environment, what interests him, and the choices he makes to realize those interests. Then we can comment on his efforts within the context of what is important to him, relating those activities to the overall goals of the business. This allows the individual to feel appreciated as a unique part of the organization, with a unique contribution, regardless of where he sits. I'm not very good at this type of appreciation yet myself, though I recognize it in the better leaders I've worked with.</p>

<p>The most important thing about acknowledgment, though, is that it must be sincere. You must honestly think the person did a good job, truly appreciate their sacrifice, and believe that no matter how off they seem from you their contribution is important. You must focus your attention, at the expense of your own time and energy, on the other person for a period of time. Intent counts for more than technique in this case; an awkward yet real acknowledgment means more than a well-practiced but unfelt one.</p>

<p>It's this lack of sincerity which makes acknowledgment difficult in most companies. People get conditioned to expect falseness. They become cynical and bitter, so much so that even honest acknowledgments sometimes fall flat on their face. </p>

<p>Oddly enough, this same factor makes it difficult to accept an honest acknowledgment. You forget what it's like, so only later in the day or week do you realize what just happened. Either that or you turn it, and its ability to motivate you, aside out of fear you might once again expose yourself to an emotionally dangerous situation.</p>

<p>I know I'm in that boat myself some days.</p>

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