51. Why Employees Overrate Themselves + How to Address What You Don’t See

Episode 51: Why Employees Overrate Themselves + How to Address What You Don’t See (Summary)

Ever wonder why you get self-reviews back from employees with marks higher than you’d give them? There’s a scientific reason why everyone thinks they’re above average.  Plus, as a leader, how do you address reports or complaints about things you didn’t witness? We’re diving in now, on Boss Better Now.

Links:
To learn more about Joe Mull, visit his website ​Joemull.com​.
To hear more from Joe Mull visit his YouTube channel​.
To learn how to invite Joe to speak at an event, visit ​Joemull.com/speaking​.
To check date availability or to get a quote for an event, email ​hello@joemull.com​.
To explore options for coaching from Alyssa Mullet, visit ​Joemull.com/coaching​.
For more information on the BossBetter Leadership Academy, visit Joemull.com/academy.
Email the show at bossbetternow@gmail.com.
To leave comments, ask questions, or to message us visit our Boss Better Now Podcast Facebook Page.
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Transcript – Episode 51: Why Employees Overrate Themselves + How to Address What You Don’t See

Joe:
Ever wonder why you get self-reviews back from employees with marks higher than you’d give them? It turns out that it’s human nature to more favorably judge ourselves than maybe we should. Plus, as a leader, how do you address reports or complaints about things you didn’t witness? We’re diving in now on Boss Better Now.

Alyssa:
You’re listening to Boss Better Now. Please welcome speaker, author, and pocket square fan Joe Mull.

Joe:
Well, hello again, BossHeroes. Welcome back to your weekly dose of advice, humor, and encouragement for bosses everywhere. And thank you for making us a part of your commute, or your workout, or your lunch break, or your dog walking. Whatever you’re doing, we’re glad to be in your ears. And also, please welcome my co-host, professional coach Alyssa Mullet. Howdy, my friend.

Alyssa:
Hiya! Hello. I have a question. A very serious one.

Joe:
Yeah.

Alyssa:
But it sounds kind of silly. Why do they call it a pocket square? When, from what I know of them, the top comes out and it’s a triangle.

Joe:
Well, first of all, we need to drastically widen your exposure to the possibilities…

Alyssa:
Oh. Ok.

Joe:
…Of what a pocket square can do, because it does not just peak out as a triangle.

Alyssa:
Oh, okay.

Joe:
It can be bunched, it can be like squished and poofed, it can be like a three peaks, little mountainy thing.

Alyssa:
Oh! Oh, okay!

Joe:
There is quite a lot of fashionable, artistic expression that can take place in the shape and presentation of the pocket square. But the reason that it is called a pocket square, my friend, is because the piece of fabric is a square.

Alyssa:
Okay. So, it isn’t actually…

Joe:
Yes.

Alyssa:
It is indeed actually a square.

Joe:
It is.

Alyssa:
And then it is folded, creatively or not, into all of these other various things.

Joe:
Yes.

Alyssa:
Kind of like a scarf would be, you know…

Joe:
I believe the word you’re looking for is handkerchief. It’s like a handkerchief.

Alyssa:
Right. Yeah, that. That thing.

Joe:
Yes. I’m a big fan of the pocket square. I feel like it just goes, ‘Okay, yeah, I could put on a tie but I’m going next level with my attention to detail and I’m dropping the pocket square in.’ And I actually found that in most cases when I’m, when I’m wearing one, that doesn’t sound like the right word. When I am accessorizing with one that…

Alyssa:
Adorned.

Joe:
Oh! Adorned? When I’m adorned with one. I like that. That I’m kind of doing the messy look. I’m kind of doing like the stuff it in the pocket and it just kind of is poofed out there. I feel like that’s the style.

Alyssa:
Okay.

Joe:
The way to go.

Alyssa:
Is that representative of who you feel you are in that moment?

Joe:
That’s right. Yes. I’m casually stylistic. I just threw this together. Oh, this old thing?

Alyssa:
This old pocket square here?

Joe:
Yes. And a friend of mine a while ago, who is even more of a clothes horse than I am said, ‘The lesson about pocket squares is that you never directly match the pocket square to the tie.’ So, if you’re wearing an orange tie, you don’t go with an orange pocket square. You go with like a checked pocket square, or a pattern of some kind, maybe with a little bit of orange in it, but with something else going on. And that’s really where you go next level.

Alyssa:
Ah, okay! See…

Joe:
I found him to be right.

Alyssa:
…learning.

Joe:
Yeah.

Alyssa:
I am learning things every time on this podcast. Every single time! You just never know what it might be, but I’m a-learnin’!

Joe:
Well, the truth is that I’m probably dramatically overrating my expertise, both in pocket squares and the skill with which I put it all together and the quality with which I consider myself fashionable in my presentation. And there’s a scientific reason why, Alyssa. And we’re gonna talk about that today. There’s a scientific, a social science reason why we are kind of hardwired to more favorably judge ourselves than we should. And this is something that affects people in the workplace in a variety of ways. If anybody listening to this has ever read my book, No More Team Drama, or seen that keynote, you know on the stage I talk about these biases that we have, these shortcuts that our brains take, where they fill in the gaps when it comes to judging ourselves in certain situations and judging others in certain situations. And what I thought I would do is actually play a very short clip from that keynote. I shared this on our social media pages a few weeks ago and it got a lot of fun comments and feedback, cuz there’s some humor in this. But this is a clip about why employees overrate themselves on their annual performance reviews and why that’s a perfect sort of example for this bias that we all carry with us. So have a listen to this and then we’ll come back and talk about it, Alyssa.

Joe (pre-recorded keynote):
There are two biases, two shortcuts, that your brain takes that result in you more favorably judging yourself and more harshly judging others each and every day. The first is something called the illusory superiority bias. I don’t need you to remember what this is called. I just need you to understand what it does. One of the shortcuts your brain takes is to tell you that you are a good person doing the best you can. Most of the time. And the result is we tend to overestimate ourselves in a variety of ways. We overestimate our talent, our effort, our circumstances, our ability, our judgment. This happens on your team too. If we pulled your whole workplace together and announced to everybody there that they were all getting a raise based on merit, based on performance, of somewhere between two and 4%. And then we handed out an index card to everybody on the team. And we said, write on this card, what percentage merit increase you believe you should get for your work here in the past year. *inaudible audience response* 10! There’s always one, right? Some people are like, ‘Uh, who cleaned out the skanky refrigerator last week? This guy right here. Top performer. 10!’ Well, let’s start here. What number does nobody write down? *inaudible audience response* Nobody writes down a two, right? Nobody’s like, ‘You know what? I’ve been coasting for years. I’m gonna take my 2% and be like score! I still got a raise and I’m the worst!’ Nobody does that! What do most people write down? *inaudible audience response* Four. Or three point something. Cause you got those humble braggers who are like, ‘Well, I want everybody to get something. So, like I’m like a 3.14…Pi. I’m Pi. I’m gonna get Pi.’ We overestimate our own ability, our own judgment. We tend to perceive our capabilities at a higher level than they truly are. This doesn’t just happen at work. It happens at home too. How many of you have ever tackled a weekend project and thought to yourselves, ‘I can knock that out in about four hours on a Saturday.’? And it takes four Saturdays? So, we more favorably judge ourselves than we should. And here’s what happens. It’s as if every single one of us is moving through the world with a little angel that sits on our shoulder and whispers in our ear every day, ‘You are the best! You are, like, such a good person and just amazing!’ Does your angel sound like a reality TV star? Cuz mine does.

Joe:
Alright, Alyssa. So that’s the…

Alyssa:
I love that clip by the way. It’s just…

Joe:
Thanks.

Alyssa:
It’s a good time.

Joe:
So, I talk about this a lot in training and on stage in keynotes as a way to help people understand some of the unconscious programming that we all walk through the door within our workplace every single day. Let me give you a chance to react to that first and maybe to connect it to what you’ve seen as a leader and as a coach in the workplace. What was your initial thinking after hearing that conversation?

Alyssa:
I mean, I can definitely agree. And I think, what stands out to me, is this huge disparity between what we tell others we think of ourselves in terms of those performance evaluations and writing it down on the notecard. What we deserve, right? Versus most people’s internal voice. You know, you talked about that angel on your shoulder. And I would say that that’s like the front-facing angel, right? That’s the one that says ‘I deserve this. I worked hard. I’m the best.’ Right? But then the majority of us have this other, not-so-nice angel.

Joe:
Mm-hmm.

Alyssa:
On our other shoulder that tells us ‘We are a cog in the machine. We don’t have any originality that we are not unique or special’ or any of the rest of that. And I, I think that that’s what stands out to me the most is that there is this external-facing thing of what we think we deserve. And so, we will self-advocate for that.

Joe:
Mm-hmm.

Alyssa:
But then there’s this, again, in my experience, very dark angel. Who’s like, ‘You don’t deserve crap! You don’t work hard enough. You haven’t put in the 60 hours this week’. You know, like that kind of voice. So, there’s…I am interested and always intrigued as to what goes on in my brain to make one voice louder than the other. And at what points.

Joe:
Yeah.

Alyssa:
Like, you talk about, you know, the science behind what our brain does with that and the bias it creates. And so, I’m interested to understand, like, specifically in the workplace, like, how that gets triggered. Like, which voice that voice coming out, you know?

Joe:
Mm-hmm.

Alyssa:
Is that a thing? Like, I don’t…

Joe:
I totally get where you’re coming from, and it aligns with a question that I get a lot sometimes during that presentation that you just saw.

Alyssa:
Ok.

Joe:
Often after, but there have been times when like hands go up in the middle. And one of the questions that I get a lot is ‘Yeah, but what about people with low self-esteem?’ Or ‘Well, what about imposter syndrome?’ Cause I think that’s a little bit about what you’re talking about that dark voice.

Alyssa:
Sure.

Joe:
That says everybody’s gonna find out that you don’t know anything, and you have no idea what you’re doing. And I think a lot of people wrestle with imposter syndrome. That’s not what this is. So…

Alyssa:
Right.

Joe:
The illusory superiority bias is almost always unconscious to my understanding of it. It is not a front-facing voice. It’s a sort of default setting. You know when you unpack your computer? You buy a new computer, and you unpack it, and you hook it all up for the first time? There are some default settings that always run that way in terms of like the sounds that, that play when you boot up the computer or when there’s an email that comes through and you get notified. You can change those. But if you just leave them the way they are, they’re the default settings and they’ll always operate that way. And so, this illusory superiority bias is sort of like that. There is… there are a couple of ways that it operates in the background. So, for example, when we face a circumstance at work that doesn’t make us look so great. One of the first things we do is defend ourselves.

Alyssa:
Yup!

Joe:
And this is part of the reason why. So, when we’re late to work, we always have a good reason, right? Nobody says, ‘Well, I’m late to work this morning, cuz it just, you know, I, uh, just didn’t care enough to get up early.’ I mean, <laugh>, maybe some people have reached that breaking point lately. But in most cases, if you walk into work and your boss says, ‘Hey, you’re late.’ You’re like, ‘Hey, like my kids spill an orange juice on my pants right before I was walking out of the house, and I needed to change them.’ Or ‘Hey, I was waiting for the, the, the bus or the subway and it was 15 minutes late. What do you want me to do, pal? That’s not my fault.’ Right? We always have context for it. Our default setting is to judge ourselves as favorably as we can in those circumstances as a good person who was just doing the best that they can in that situation and was victimized by things that are out of our control. So that’s one way that this can show itself. One of the famous examples of this was a study that was done of drivers, where we asked, not we, I wasn’t a part of the study, but where researchers asked drivers to rate their skill behind the wheel. And what came out is that 93% of all drivers would rate themselves as above-average drivers. Right? I’m gonna let you sit with that math for a minute, right? Everybody thinks they’re an above-average driver and that the people around them are terrible. Right?

Alyssa:
Uh-huh.

Joe:
We have this illusion of our capacity, and we tend to more favorably judge ourselves than we should. And it results in us having interactions with people in the workplace where sometimes we start from a place maybe of defensiveness or assumption that we shouldn’t.

Alyssa:
I…okay. So that makes my understanding a whole lot clearer. So, what I’m hearing is like that bias is the default, as you’re explaining it. It’s the default setting. And then, only through what I would interpret/understand as like self-awareness emotional intelligence…

Joe:
Yeah.

Alyssa:
…All of these other kinds of things. Right? That we get to actually, you know, have the internal and the external facing systems.

Joe:
Yep.

Alyssa:
So, to speak. How…

Joe:
There’s absolutely a correlation between the impact and the influence of this bias and someone’s emotional intelligence. Right? The degree to which they learn how to take reflective…to do reflective thinking. Right?

Alyssa:
Yeah.

Joe:
If they come away from an interaction with somebody that didn’t go so well and they pause and they go, ‘Okay, so in what way might that be my fault? What could I have done differently?’ You’re short-circuiting, this kind of assumptive thinking that can operate in the background. You’re absolutely right.

Alyssa:
So that’s a really interesting point. Like how…I guess the first step in trying to recognize that in ourselves is to do exactly what you’re talking about.

Joe:
Yeah.

Alyssa:
Is to…hopefully, you/we can get to the point where we’re in the moment. Right? Doing those things, stopping ourselves before the default sets in of, ‘I didn’t do that.’ Or, you know, the defense mechanisms, you know, outpour. And we can have that kind of real-time. I know that’s what I would like to strive for.

Joe:
Yeah.

Alyssa:
But I also know that I need the time <laugh> to not be in front of somebody.

Joe:
Yes.

Alyssa:
To make those other processes work.

Joe:
Yes. So, you just…

Alyssa:
So is that…Okay, go ahead.

Joe:
No, go ahead. I didn’t mean to cut you off before you finished your question there.

Alyssa:
No, no! Is that like a thing? Like, is that a skill that I can continue to try to hone so that I am more confident/competent in using it in real-time? Or is that like kind of a pipe dream, not really feasible?

Joe:
No, it absolutely is! And it’s, it’s interesting because you just described the framework for one of the most insightful books on this topic that has ever been written. And I think I’ve mentioned it here on the show before. It’s a book called Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. And Dr. Kahneman is a behavioral, economic…sorry, behavioral economist who studies behavioral economics. He’s really the founder and the pioneer of that field. He studies and works to understand human behavior around risk and decision making. And <laugh> when you read this book, you do feel like you’re reading something written by one of the smartest people to ever walk the planet. It is dense and it is heavy. And we’ll link to the book in our transcript, our show notes here, on the BossBetterNowpodcast.com webpage in the episode, if you’re looking for the book. But it’s fascinating because in all of his work, what he has suggested is… And you’ve heard this before. I know you have. We’ve started to come to some conscious awareness of this. That our brains operate with two levels of thinking. There’s that initial, emotional, reactive thinking, what is sometimes called the reptilian brain. Right?

Alyssa:
Right.

Joe:
That is shortsighted. It’s emotional. It doesn’t necessarily serve to preserve relationships. It’s very sort of primal. And then there is the second level of thinking, which requires a little bit of time, but actually uses our emotional intelligence and does engage in more critical thinking. And it results in us regulating our behavior and considering the circumstances of others more carefully, but often that doesn’t happen without time. So, if you’ve ever had the situation where you’ve had an interaction with someone that was really frustrating, and you left that interaction really emotionally charged up. Sometimes in the first few moments after that interaction, we experience these kinds of extreme emotions, and we make extreme pronouncements. Like ‘I’m never talking to that person again.’ Or…you know. And then sometimes we do that thing where we go, ‘Oh! I should have said this!’ Right? And…

Alyssa:
Oh yeah.

Joe:
And it’s the zinger that gives me the win more so than like the…really the responsible way to try to resolve and find common ground in that situation. And so, if you’ve ever had that happen to you, I’m also willing to bet that sometime later, maybe it was a couple hours, maybe it was a day, maybe it was a week, maybe it was a month, thinking back about that conversation led you to go, ‘It’s over. I’m not worried about that anymore. It’s passed. It’s done. It’s not as big a deal as it was.’ Because your secondary thinking system got the time that it needed for that emotional response to burn itself off.

Alyssa:
Hmm.

Joe:
And for that more reflective thinking to take place. And so what I wrote about in my No More Team Drama book, and what I talk about a lot in this keynote, is that we actually have to teach members of our teams, how to move through that process and how to do that sort of reflective thinking where we debunk the assumptions that sometimes get made, without us even consciously being aware that they are made, so that we can be better teammates, better colleagues, better humans.

Alyssa:
Excellent! Excellent! This is…a thousand different scenarios are going through my head. <laugh> I’ve done every single one of those things repeatedly. And so being able to move through those layers, right, is a goal that I, I will continue to strive for. But I think that just bringing this to our knowledge of this unconscious bias, this default setting, once we start to acknowledge that, there’s lots of power just in acknowledging that this is the default setting. You’re operating against <laugh> this default setting sometimes.

Joe:
Yeah. And that it’s human nature. Like, you know, sometimes we hear leaders say, ‘Oh, why can’t my team just act like adults?’ And maybe in this circumstance, they are. It’s human nature to believe in our own capacity and our own judgment, our own skill, to be a little bit higher or better than it is in some circumstances. And so, I would hope that one of the takeaways from this conversation for the BossHeroes who are listening is when you get that self-review back from an employee who gave themselves all fours and fives, just take a moment and go…don’t have that ‘Oh, who do they think they are? Like, come on!’ and just kind of take that moment, say, okay, this is nature in action. This is human nature in action. I’m gonna have to walk them through in a kind of coaching conversation, one of that more reflective, critical thinking to evaluate whether or not these are accurate scores. And yeah, that’s a takes time and it takes work. Um, but you will get farther with that kind of an approach than laughing. Like when you sit across from them and you’re like, ‘You really gave yourself a five?’ <Laugh>

Alyssa:
For sure.

Joe:
Nice try.

Alyssa:
For sure.

Joe:
Yeah. That’s not gonna get you anywhere. So, I also think that for folks listening, it’s just a reminder to check yourself. Anytime you come out of an interaction or a situation, you can check yourself and say, ‘Okay, is it possible that I’m more favorably judging myself here than I should? Where could I have shown up differently? Where can I adjust my thinking, adjust my actions, take responsibility for the role that I played in what has happened up to this point?’

Alyssa:
Yeah, absolutely.

Joe:
Well, we would love to hear from you BossHeroes, both your reactions to what you’ve heard so far today and your questions and ideas for future episodes. We are into the new year now, and we are actively planning the slate of upcoming episodes. And so, we would like your questions, your ideas, your problems, and your wins. And so, drop us a line over at BossBetterNow@gmail.com, and who knows, your question, problem, issue, or win may be featured right here on the show. In just a few moments, we’re gonna answer a question from one of our listeners that I think is gonna be something that a lot of people struggle with about how do you address what you don’t see.

Joe:
But before we do that, Alyssa, we have to do the Camaraderie Question of the Week. Bosses build camaraderie on teams by making it easier for people to find things in common with each other. And that’s why here on our show, every week we give you a question you can use to facilitate connection and build camaraderie. Alyssa, we have all faced decisions in our lives that, when we look back on them, were pivotal moments in how we got to where we are today. Let’s call these “fork in the road moments” of our lives. As you think about your life…this is a big question. As you think about your life, what was your biggest fork in the road decision?

Alyssa:
Without a doubt, the decision to become a stay-at-home parent. And, you know, looking back on it <laugh>, it seems like, um, it wasn’t a fork decision at all.

Joe:
Mm-hmm.

Alyssa:
Meaning the path, I could not see this way…There was no other road <laugh>.

Joe:
Mm-hmm.

Alyssa:
And I think that that is only because for probably one of the handfuls of times in my life, at that point, you know, eight years ago, I actually listened and saw the signs that said, there’s a choice to be made and you know what choice you need to make. It didn’t feel like it doesn’t feel like a choice now because the signs all told me, you are not gonna be able to be the kind of mom that you want to be and have this director-level corporate job that you have worked your entire being for lots of years to achieve. You are not gonna be able to have both things.

Joe:
Mm-hmm.

Alyssa:
And it wasn’t…it was seeing that decision as not that I couldn’t achieve it. Not that I wasn’t worthy/didn’t deserve those choices or that I couldn’t have achieved those two things at the same time. It was that I couldn’t do it there.

Joe:
Ah!

Alyssa:
And so, the choice made itself. I read the signs, they clearly screamed at me, quite literally, in the face of another person. This is not going to be the path forward to achieve what you want to. So, my <laugh> my little opening to the world from that very important question is look for the signs.

Joe:
Mm-hmm.

Alyssa:
They will show you the fork in each path.

Joe:
Well, I think that’s a really interesting distinction that you made too. It wasn’t just that the fork in the road moment for you was feeling like you had to choose between being a stay-at-home mom and this professional career path. Because a lot of folks are able to successfully navigate that, and you might have been able to successfully navigate that.

Alyssa:
Absolutely!

Joe:
So, no judgment here. It’s just that for you, what it really was about, was that moment in your life, in that job specifically too.

Alyssa:
Absolutely! Yeah, absolutely.

Joe:
And I think your earlier point is spot on. I think that it’s pretty rare that people know that they’re in the middle of a fork in the road moment when it’s happening. I think we can look back and say, ‘Wow! That was a really important decision that I made. And I didn’t even know.’ I think that if you asked this question to your teams, you could get some really funny answers. You know…

Alyssa:
Mm-hmm.

Joe:
The person who ‘I wasn’t gonna go to that New Year’s Eve party. And I just didn’t feel like it. And I was tired, but like just outta guilt, cuz I know my friend put a lot of effort into it, I decided to go…’ And that’s where they met their wife. And now they’ve got kids like, you know, I think those are kind of neat stories to tease out as well.

Alyssa:
Yeah, yeah!

Joe:
Which is why when I was thinking about my answer to this question, it was at the first level. It was, oh, okay, well the decision to go out on my own and start my own business and to kind of take that leap of faith to do it. And I thought, if I’m facilitating this discussion with a group of employees, I wanna get more granular than that. So, I wouldn’t just wanna just take that at face value. I might say, ‘Hey Joe, in the early weeks of that, or the early months of doing that, making that decision to do it or in the early stations of doing it, was there a single action that you took that you can look back on and say, that was the catalyst to where you are now?’ Because what I would tell you, is that truly the fork in the road moment for me was probably going to my first National Speakers Association, Pittsburgh chapter meeting. A colleague of a friend of a friend had heard that I was thinking about starting my own business and founding a boutique training firm. And he said, ‘Oh, you should definitely go to check out NSA, Pittsburgh.’ And I was like, ‘What’s that?’ And on a Saturday in May, I wandered into this morning meeting in Pittsburgh and there was a really dynamic marketing speaker from Philadelphia who had traveled across the state to present that morning to that chapter. And I took notes for three hours. Just…I still have this notebook filled with all of these notes. And it was like, I was thinking about starting this business and I wandered into this room, and I wasn’t really gonna go, but I did and now I got this notebook full of all of this information about how to actually go ahead and execute what I was trying to do. And I’ve been going ever since, and now I’m on the board of directors for NSA and, you know, I’m feeding my family because of what I’ve learned from the generous people in that organization. And if I wouldn’t have gone into that Holiday Inn in Monroeville, Pennsylvania on that random Saturday in June of 2013,

Alyssa:
Yeah.

Joe:
There wouldn’t be a Boss Better Now podcast, folks.

Alyssa:
And thank God there is.

Joe:
<laugh>. So, I feel like that’s probably my fork in the road moment.

Alyssa:
Beautiful.

Joe:
And so, keep, you know, probing a little bit in the not, you know, violating kind of way. Where you ask people, is there another story in there somewhere that you could tell us? Is there a single moment or a single thing that you did? I think you’d get some really fun answers from your team on something like this.

Alyssa:
Yeah. Absolutely.

Joe:
And that’s the Camaraderie Question of the Week!

Joe:
Well, friends, remember you can get original videos, encouraging messages from me, subscriber-only access to our training and events, breaking news, and more by signing up for my twice-monthly BossBetterNow emails. They are free and of course, we never sell your information. These are just another way that we try to achieve our mission of filling the workplace with better bosses. To sign up, just visit BossBetterNow.com.

Joe:
All right, Alyssa, how do you address what you don’t see? This is a question I get asked constantly in workshops, after keynotes, in email, in comments on blogs. And we actually got an email from one of our listeners who wrote in with the example of an employee taking too many smoke breaks and other employees are seeing this, but the boss isn’t necessarily seeing it. How do you respond when employees complain about violations, but the boss doesn’t see them? Of course, you know, I have thoughts. <laugh> Where do you wanna start first?

Alyssa:
Well, maybe I would…I wanna hear your thoughts because maybe mine are way too simplistic. But the thing that comes to my mind is this. <Laugh> When I used to babysit for my neighbor across the street and our boys are the same age. It was constant that I had to say, ‘Okay, are you telling or are you tattling?’ Oh, interesting. And there’s a difference. Okay?

Joe:
Yeah.

Alyssa:
Telling is when you are being hurt or the other person is being hurt by their actions.

Joe:
Mm-hmm.

Alyssa:
Or behavior. Right? And so, you are trying to make it safe. Right? Tattling is trying to get somebody in trouble.

Joe:
Right.

Alyssa:
Because you don’t like what they’re doing, but it’s not hurting you or the other person. So, to apply that, you know, it seems maybe a little elementary in the workplace, but honestly, it has its place. Because you know what? The smoke break thing, like, maybe they’re keeping track of how many times you go to the bathroom. You know?

Joe:
Mm-hmm.

Alyssa:
And there might be a medical reason behind that. Maybe they’re actually not going out there to smoke. Maybe they’re going out there to whatever. Maybe that smoke break helps them be able to have the next hour, two hours’ worth of sanity. If they take 10 minutes.

Joe:
Mm-hmm.

Alyssa:
Right? So, is it, like, is this the hill you wanna die on?

Joe:
Yeah.

Alyssa:
Is this really what you wanna put your energy into? I…That’s my take. I don’t know. <laugh> Am I being too simplistic?

Joe:
Well, sounds like… No! It sounds like the conversation we just had in the first half of the show. Which is let’s pause for a moment and ask ourselves, am I maybe more favorably judging myself than I should as, ‘Oh, well, I’m the arbiter of what’s morally right and correct. And I’m the smoke break police here at the office.’? Or, you know, maybe there’s a perfectly good reason for why that person is stepping outside more often. And maybe it goes to some of the reasons that you just listed. And do I want to use up my sort of workplace cache by running to the boss and talking about those things? I think the second half of your conversation is the one that we have with the employees. Right? I think if we present it to employees as are you telling or tattling, they’re gonna experience that as condescending. That works great for my five-year-old. Right? <Laugh> And even to my nine-year-old.

Alyssa:
How can we say that more professionally?

Joe:
But right. But say…okay. But are you…so are you bringing that to me because there’s some harm being done to others, or does it just bother you that this feels like a violation of the rules as you understand them?

Alyssa:
Yeah.

Joe:
Let’s kind of…

Alyssa:
How is this impacting you specifically? You know?

Joe:
Yes. To the larger question for our listener who wrote in how do you address what you don’t see? I would probably start out by letting…by moving my team through two conversations. The first conversation is what do you want somebody on the team to do first if they have a problem with you?

Alyssa:
Mmmm. Yes.

Joe:
Yes. Do you want them to go to the boss first? Do you want that to be move A? Step one? Is that what you want? If somebody has a problem with you, do you want them to go to the boss? Almost everybody says ‘No’. If you have a problem with me, I would want you to come tell me. Okay. So, if we can all agree that that’s what we want. Guess what that means? It means that anytime you have a problem with somebody else, your step one is not to go to the boss. You can’t have it both ways. And we’ve talked about this on the show before. So that’s the first conversation that I’m trying to facilitate with my team. What do you want, how do you want people to handle it if they’ve got a problem with you if they’re honked off or bothered by something that you said or did? And then you can do some of that, teaching people how to give feedback and teaching people how to receive feedback and coaching people through the steps to engage in that kind of healthy conflict resolution that adults too often need help with.

Alyssa:
Yup.

Joe:
The second conversation that I would have with my team is a follow-up to that one, which is, as a general rule, I typically try not to get involved in things that I don’t see, because that’s not fair. If I come to you and say, ‘Hey, I wasn’t here for this, but I heard that the grapevine that you took a whole bunch of smoke breaks.’ I just threw gas on a fire. Cuz your first question is gonna be like, ‘Who’s watching me and who’s counting and who are my friends?’.

Alyssa:
Yup.

Joe:
And it just creates all this sort of team drama. And so do the work to encourage people, to address things with others first and get agreement on this, on your team. That’s kind of step one about their step one. And then you’re doing that work, as I said, to teach them over and over again, how to give each other feedback. So, if somebody comes into your office and says, ‘Hey, listen, I’m not trying to, like, narc people out here, man. But you know, Alyssa’s taken her fifth smoke break of the day and it’s just not fair. You know, I need a fifth cookie break.’ <Laugh> So if I’m the boss at that point, I might say, ‘Okay, I can get that that’s bothering you. How did that conversation go? When you tried to talk with her about that?’ ‘Oh, hey man, I don’t wanna rock the boat. I don’t want to be in any of that drama. That’s not my job. That’s your job, man. You’re the manager.’ ‘Hold on. Time out. Like, we had a meeting, there was a conversation. I was there. We all stood in front of each other and said that if we have a problem with each other, we’re gonna go to each other first. This is a core value that we have all committed to. And if you wanna have any standing with everybody else on this team going forward, if you want them to trust you in the least, little bit going forward, you gotta keep your promise, man. Why don’t you and I talk about how that conversation’s gonna go? What are you gonna say first? And then what are you gonna say next?’ And we could even roleplay that right there with that employee to get them ready. And then you can’t let them off the hook. You gotta like the next day be like, ‘Hey, did you talk to Alyssa? How’d that go?’

Alyssa:
Oh my gosh! Oh, now that, that is like such good advice. Like I’m energized just by hearing that! <Laugh> Like, that is a real freaking solution to a real freaking problem. Yes!

Joe:
And it unfolds in phases. I mean, you can hear the phases. It’s the proactive work of getting the team on the same page before things happen. And then when things happen, it’s coaching people and giving them the skills that they need to go have the uncomfortable conversations, which will never be uncomfortable. And that has to unfold a little bit here and there over time. Now there is one exception to the rule when it comes to bosses addressing things that they don’t see. Well, I guess there would, there would be two exceptions. I’ve often said that a leader’s number one job is to keep their people safe. And so, if we see or hear about things that are happening, that actually put people in harm’s way, I probably don’t care as much about who talked to who first, I may have to jump in there and get a handle on some of that stuff. So that is sort of an exception to the rule, but here’s another one. I do think leaders can address complaint patterns. I think that if I have somebody who comes to me to express a concern about so and so is smoking outside beyond the number of smoke breaks that they’re allowed. And the employee goes and talks to that person. And then we revisit the policy, and this has become kind of an ongoing issue. Then maybe I, as the leader, need to sit down with that person and have a conversation about the pattern.

Alyssa:
Mm-hmm.

Joe:
Or I had a conversation recently with a leader who told me that a member of the team had been asked to punch her timecard out for lunch after she was getting back from buying her lunch. So, what was happening is the employee would go across the street and stand in line at the local deli or whatever to buy their lunch and would come back to the office and then punch the card to start their lunch break.

Alyssa:
Oh.

Joe:
Or would, would ask a colleague, ‘Hey, I’m gonna go get my lunch and I’m going to eat over there. So would you wait like five minutes until I’m actually sitting down to eat and punch the card for me?’ Like they were convinced that like I got this 10 minutes of free of travel time or whatever for lunch that doesn’t count. And the…a couple of employees said…

Alyssa:
Yeah. That’s not the way that labor laws work.

Joe:
That’s not how any of this works. Right. Yeah. And the employee did not care and did not respond to this, you know, their colleagues kind of calling them out on this. And so, the boss had to sit down and not having seen any of this behavior and kind of say, ‘Hey, I’ve got…I’m hearing things over and over again.’ And so, we can rise above the whole who said it? Well, it’s not a…it’s not a one-time thing. There isn’t one person who said it. It’s ‘I have repeatedly had people come into my office, different people on this team, all of whom are expressing the same concern. And that to me is a pattern. And so, I wanna sit down and talk with you about the pattern.’ And so now it’s, my concern is the pattern. This is the behavior we need to talk about. We’ve moved away from the incidents.

Alyssa:
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Joe:
We’ve moved away from the individual circumstances that are being reported on by employees. And instead, I’m talking to you about the pattern. And so, if you, BossHeroes have a pattern of behavior that is consistently happening, that you don’t see, address that pattern. It gives you a way to walk through that door without it becoming ‘Well who’s saying what?’

Alyssa:
Yeah, absolutely. Good, good, good advice!

Joe:
Well, let us know if that works for you or if you have any other ideas on the best way to address, what you don’t see. And that’s our show for this week, friends. If you like what we’re doing here, we would like you to tell others about it. We’d really appreciate you sharing the podcast with others. You could consider sending a link to your management team so they can check out the show or you can post a link and maybe some nice words about this show on your LinkedIn or Facebook status. Hey, we even make it easy for you. Just type in the podcast website, BossBetterNowpodcast.com and one of those magical links will appear on your social media. In the meantime, thanks for listening, and thanks for all that you do to care for so many.

Alyssa:
This show is sponsored by Joe Mull and Associates. Remember, commitment comes from better bosses. Visit JoeMull.com today.

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