While walking up a steep hill next to my old apartment building, I ran into a solid, orange beam – literally. I was moving at full speed, messing with my phone (naturally!), and hit the beam with such force that my phone went flying into the bushes, I dropped to the ground, and my water bottle rolled down the hill.
Disoriented, I tried to figure out what the heck flew out of nowhere and smacked me in the head. Lying there on the sidewalk, with tears rushing down my cheeks, I saw the orange beam and instantly got angry.
Why weren’t there any cones or signs to warn me? I thought, applying pressure to my throbbing head.
I laid there for two solid minutes before anyone came to check on me (a social phenomenon known as the bystander effect).
Finally, one of the workers approached. “You OK?” he asked.
“No, my head hurts,” I said, and then angrily asked about the lack of warning. (Granted, looking up when walking helps to avoid such collisions, but cones would have helped.)
“I was just around the corner,” he pleaded.
“That didn’t help me. You’re supposed to have cones out.”
He shrugged his shoulders and avoided eye contact with me, clearly fearful that he might be in trouble. “I was just around the corner,” he repeated. “I was coming right back.”
Rather than continue this circular dialogue, I pulled myself up off the ground and headed to the apartment building’s main office, where I asked for the phone number of the man who owns the construction company.
The owner apologized profusely and agreed his crew should have put cones out. When I asked him to do me two favors, I suddenly understood why the worker was fearful instead of helpful.
“Please be sure they understand the importance of putting cones down when the lift is that low,” I said. “And please encourage them to be sympathetic and apologetic, and to own full responsibility for mistakes.”
“In our weekly meetings, we go over exactly what to say in these situations,” he assured me. “But they continue to react that way. They’re afraid I’ll make them pay. I never do, but to ensure they’re careful, I let them think I will.”
Now I completely understood the problem: You can’t keep people fearful and then expect them to react with kindness. Our teams usually put out what we, as leaders, provoke in them.
If you want people to respond with kindness, you have to show them kindness. If you want them to treat customers with sympathy and respect, you have to do the same with them. Mistakes happen in all areas of business, and when we make our employees fearful of messing up, we not only discourage growth and innovation; we also negatively impact our customers’ experiences.
If you want your employees to treat your customers a certain way, ask yourself: How am I treating my employees?
Rather than using fear as a motivating force, trust your employees to do the very best job they know how to do. Ask how you can support them, and give them the freedom to care for your customers. If you don’t trust them, fire them and find people you do trust. It really is that simple.
Join the Conversation: What are you provoking in your team based on the way you treat them? And how does this affect how they treat your customers?
Keeping it simple,
Misti Burmeister, best-selling author of From Boomers to Bloggers: Success Strategies Across Generations, Hidden Heroes and Power Suck.