The country seems to be divided on subjects other than political issues. Take Halloween. Half of my friends love Halloween and half loath Halloween. Last year a team member said, “My kids are not going to dress up in silly costumes and go around the neighborhood begging for candy.”
In my opinion, Halloween is a fun holiday because I like the cartoon-like pumpkins, ghosts, and black cats, not to mention the glow-in-the dark skeleton costumes. Giving the neighborhood kids a mini-candy bar is a chance for me to get to know them better and make them sing a song to get their treat. Of course, tooth decay is not my responsibility.
To celebrate Halloween this year, we packed a pumpkin to a Halloween party and enjoyed the night cutting amazing figures into the motionless and seemingly willing pumpkins. When we finished, we lined them up, lit a candle in each and enjoyed witches, bats, cats and even the word “Boo” staring back at us.
From an analytical perspective, Halloween is intriguing because you take a risk and dress up like something you are not. You pretend to be a clown, a cowboy, Darth Vader, tin man, Lego man or anything else your mind can conjure up. You can wear a mask so people have to guess who you are.
Halloween and Your Work Team
I see several parallels to Halloween and the office. To some the associations may not be easy to see but here are a few:
Office Tricks – In the office, many people pull tricks on others every working day: they are late turning in their assignments, they volunteer and don’t follow through, and they say one thing in a meeting and express an opposing viewpoint to others after the meeting is concluded.
Antidote – I recommend dealing with behavior tricks, not ignoring them as is often the case. Here are some tips:
- Be sure goals and deadlines are clear, even volunteer assignments. As a leader, it is easy to assume the owner of the task will meet a deadline or assume that the owner of the task will automatically put the task first in line and finish it promptly. The need to check with and gain commitment from the task owner on their workload and a reasonable time frame for them to finish the task is often overlooked.
- Meet with the person who is “tricking” you in private to discuss late work or no follow through. Explain how their behavior is holding the team back from reaching their deadlines and goals.
- Once you document a coworker or colleague is agreeable in a meeting and then disagreeable in the hall or on IM, meet with the person personally and have a discussion that draws out their perspectives. You can work through and negotiate points of disagreement. The goal is to stop backbiting and prohibit a rumor mill.
Office Masks – Many wear masks to work. They mask their true feelings and give feedback based on what they think the other person wants to hear. The mask they wear to work may not reflect who they truly are and they leave their authentic self in the cubicle when they interact with the team.
Antidote – Working from authenticity is more productive than working behind a mask. There are several reasons coworkers and colleagues wear masks to work. Here are three of the most obvious:
- The job is not a fit for them and they mask their dislike or their inability to perform at the level you would like them to perform. Open a dialog with this person and determine if the person needs a different job assignment or would like to serve on a committee or project that more nearly fits their skills.
- The worker agrees because they do not feel heard or they do not feel as if their opinion matters. If the facilitator of a meeting disregards input and the decision is consistently made based on the opinion of the person who has filibustered the best, team members stop offering ideas and solutions and agree in a group think manner.
- The team member does not feel safe intellectually or emotionally. To feel safe, ideas must be recognized and evaluated even if not implemented, not made fun of or dismissed as silly or stupid. Just having an idea validated as possible, makes an individual feel valued for their opinion.
Difficult Coworkers – Some workers don’t even have to wear masks, they can easily be labeled as the “witch” that criticizes everything and has to get even, the “ghost” that is invisible when extra assignments are handed out, the “spider” that looks at you as if there are cobwebs in his brain when you are giving instructions and the person that is just plain “batty” and dips and swoops around with no determined path or outcomes.
Antidote – Here are some simple guidelines when dealing with difficult team members:
- Refrain from blowing up. Count to 10, take a time out, or use other stress technique you have learned.
- Work to discover the root cause of their behavior. In most cases, their disagreeable nature has nothing to do with you and everything to do with their personal relationships outside of work or their ambitions that have been stifled in the organization, or a need to contribute that is not being met.
- Give them the benefit of a doubt. Look at the issue through their eyes.
- Make an appointment to speak to them in person and relate how their behavior makes you feel or is impacting the team. Seek clarification on how they might see the situation in a different light.
- However wrong you feel this last tip may be, here it is: You may have to ignore their nasty ways because you ultimately control your own emotions and mental attitudes.
Turning Halloween from Tricks to Treats
If your company values attitudes and relationships, taking a few minutes to celebrate a holiday provides a break from the intensity of the work day with an increase in productivity. Tensions are reduced, people laugh, and camaraderie is built – as long as the festivities are not disruptive.
Several years ago in a company where I worked, a woman dressed up as a cow with a full bag of milk and udders. When she appeared, work for the rest of the day vaporized.
At one company their Halloween celebration involved their customers. They had employees carve pumpkins, take a picture and post them on line. The customers voted for their favorite by donating money which was given to a charity.
Whatever your company chooses to do for Halloween, while you sit with your coworkers sipping cinnamon and cloves spiced cider and eating sugar cookies decorated with candy corn and mini-chocolate chips, be aggressive: ask that everyone gives treats, not tricks, to coworkers by being cooperative, solving problems through dialog, and giving each other the benefit of the doubt.
Imagine what your office would be like if for Halloween everyone gave 24 hours of treats and avoided all tricks.
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