Looking for a fight?

Don’t get angry. Don’t get even. Get real.

Do you ever have the feeling that someone is trying to pick a fight with you, but you can’t quite figure out why? It’s a lot like the schoolyard bully — some big kid who’d pick on you in hopes you’d take the first swing, so he could really pound you. Now that we’re so-called adults, this kind of behavior is usually less physical and more passive-aggressive. Either way, it’s unproductive and unprofessional. Unfortunately, I’ve seen it happen often enough that I’ve learned to decode the behavior. I find it helps to remind myself that, most of the time, it’s not about me. It’s about something they’re working through and, for whatever reason, I have become the target of choice.

Often this kind of bullying behavior is triggered by some minor or imagined offense on our part. Instead of responding right away (so we know we’ve given offense), our colleague harbors the resentment, nurtures it, and when it finally erupts, it is over-the-top and inappropriate. I suspect most of us are willing to excuse it as, “they’re just having a bad day.” But there is a danger that our colleague is digging a hole they can’t get out of. As business leaders — and as friends — we need to help pull them out, even if they are reluctant to own up to the real source of the grievance.

No one likes to be called out. Especially in a public forum. But if you feel someone is consistently giving you the passive-aggressive treatment, or even worse, if you find that everything someone else is doing seems to rub you the wrong way, so that you lash out at them, it’s time for a one-on-one chat. Be honest. Talk about what you’ve observed, and try to achieve reconciliation.

This is more than business etiquette. Our work is too important to allow for unproductive, disruptive, adolescent behavior. We expect our colleagues to be intelligent; we should be able to insist on emotional intelligence too. This works both ways. If we never learn what we’re doing to offend our colleagues, we can never make it right and relationships will deteriorate, along with the quality of our work. You don’t have to be best friends, but you need to respect each other and the work it’s your job to accomplish together. Instead of digging trenches, you need to march toward mutual goals.

I wish we could simply mandate that passive-aggressive behavior is unacceptable in the workplace. Our time is too valuable. Our emotional construct too vulnerable. Honest, one-on-one discussion can untangle and preempt a lot of office drama. It requires a degree of vulnerability, but it’s imperative to organizational health. And it’s the only way to disarm and redeem schoolyard bullies.

We don’t learn from talking; we learn from listening

{A Note to Readers: This is another in a series of blogs focused on Customer Experience that I am collaborating on with the amazing Katy Wild. I can always expect to learn something from Katy; I trust you will, too. ~ bph}

American author Bryant McGill said “One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” One of the core principals of uncompromising service is to listen to your customers… really listen.


We’ve all had this annoying experience where you are trying to explain something you need, describing a situation you’re in, or asking for assistance and – before you can even finish the first sentence – you are already being offered the solution. This has happened in my personal life but also in business when speaking with peers, managers, and vendors! I always appreciate their insight, but it’s difficult not to get frustrated, especially when it becomes a one-sided conversation in which they simply want to make themselves heard (to make me go away?), convince me they have a fix (for something that’s not broken) or just make a sale (for something I don’t need). When your answer is not about giving me the solutions I asked for or the help I need, you are making my problem worse.

A friend of mine recently witnessed this situation – and the victim was one of her customers. She and two of her associates took an important client to dinner at a nice restaurant in Los Angeles. This was an executive from a high-profile, multi-million-dollar company that they had disappointed with a few service failures over the last year. The purpose of the dinner was to try to make amends and lay the foundation to extend the current contract.

The evening started off on the wrong foot with the two associates arriving 15 minutes after the reservation time. Once everyone was settled at the table, after pleasantries were exchanged, one of the associates began talking about his personal travel and how exciting it had been over the summer. Then the conversation moved to his children, how many important people he had done business with lately, and lastly, how successful his company was. He never stopped talking about himself. Worse, he never asked the customer how HE felt the company was doing with his account, if there were any adjustments that should be made, or if HIS business was growing or struggling in the current market.

When the talkative associate excused himself from the table for a phone call – another bad move – the customer looked at my friend and said “I wonder why I was invited to dinner?” Obviously, the situation did not put her company in a positive light, and she had to make serious reparations to extend the association. In the end, she did renew the account, but the gentleman in question was asked to be removed – and he was her boss!

Freeman is so fortunate to have many customers that love us, our innovation and our enthusiasm! But we can never take that for granted – and should never assume we intrinsically know what they want or need. The only way to find out?  Ask them… and then listen to what they have to say.

My favorite quotation about listening? This one by Thomas Edison, “We have but two ears and one mouth so that we may listen twice as much as we speak.”