Rattlesnakes in Your Workplace, Part 1

As companies build and grow, I am fascinated to still find certain types of industries that breed rattlesnakes in their workplace. You can find rattlesnakes in all types of industries, yet often times you will find them in the healthcare environment. No, they aren’t growing rattlesnakes for their anti-venom serum — they are taking great people and turning them into rattlesnakes. How does this happen? It’s all about the communication.

So let’s define a rattlesnake. This is a person who when something is said to them is quiet — they don’t say anything at that moment. They don’t have the skills, they lack the confidence, or they just aren’t “quick on their feet” with a response. They need to let that thought “percolate” so off they go — slithering into their office. And they run the thought over and over in their head. I mean how many times has someone said something to you and late that night you then think of that great “comeback?” You think “I wished I had said … ” It’s like that, only you don’t say it that next morning, you don’t confront the person, question them, ask for more input, or hold them accountable for what they said — instead that incident builds and builds over time.

Oh you might hear a “rattle” over the next few days — a short, snide comment, a dirty look, a passive act of rebellion (not changing the printer ink, not turning in specific paperwork, forgetting to bring something to the meeting, losing the research, etc.) but no mention of that incident will be spoken.

SEE ALSO: Effective Communication

And then it happens! Have you ever gone into your workplace on a perfectly normal day and you say something to one of your colleagues and “out of the blue” one of your team members verbally bites you hard and you wonder “where did that come from?” That’s a rattlesnake and there are two types — the ones who can’t help themselves and don’t get training from others and they ones you create in your workplace — so let’s talk about them both.

  1. Rattlesnakes in Your WorkplaceSome people have never learned or been given the communication tools to handle negotiation, stress, criticism, empowerment, etc. Often times they lack the confidence to speak up — especially to someone that might intimidate them. They are internal thinkers and are not “quick responders” when confronted with something.
  2. Others have been raised to be rattlesnakes — unwittingly. If you have many rattlesnakes in your department then you must take a hard look and how you are creating and breeding them. What kind of environment breeds rattlesnakes? Here are some examples:
  • Environments with a micro-manager. A “leader” who does not trust in the ability of the people they have on their team. They like having control, secrecy, and play politics. You can often hear them say when asked a question, “You don’t need to know that, I’ll let you know if that’s important, go back to work, it doesn’t pertain to you, I’ll get back with you,” (and they don’t). They like to think they have all the answers.
  • An environment not open to feedback. One of the best examples of leadership I found in a hotel manager who each week would sit an employee in his chair and ask, “if this were your place, what would you do differently?” Then he would implement those best ideas. When it came time to interview for new team members, (usually because his team members were promoted from within and grew to new locations), the line was out the door and around the building. All team members felt they were leaders at the hotel — from doorman to landscape, to housekeeper to front desk.
  • An environment where you ask for feedback and then don’t act on it. Companies are often disappointed with the low participation in their surveys. Want to know why people don’t respond? They don’t believe their investment of time in filling it out or answering the questions is going to get put into any kind of actionable change. It’s a waste of time.

So take a look around your office and if you’re hearing the rattle or have gotten bit lately — it’s time to do something about that.

(Editor’s note: This is part of a multipart series. Part two will deal with real solutions for change.)

Sheryl Nicholson is a speaker, trainer, author and podcaster. She is known as the Implementation Coach because of the results she guarantees with her trainings. You can listen to her podcast Get a Life Balanced on itunes. For more information, visit www.TampaBayMotivationalSpeaker.com.

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