Dealing with prima donnas
I love my job, it truly is amazing and constantly engaging. Well, I love most of my job. There’s one part of my job in particular that I just hate – dealing with prima donnas.
While difficult egos exist in every field, people whose livelihood is either based on their own personal ‘brand’ or the brand of another individual seem to find their way into the land of ridiculousness far quicker.
Working with athletes, speakers, agents, and event planners can often mean a life of ego management. What’s most amazing? No one thinks they fall into this category. Every difficult request, rude response, and unrealistic expectation makes perfect sense at that moment to that person.
Case in point:
I’ve been working with a company (names will not be used) to get a well known celebrity to their event. The company has paid the money. The speaker has agreed to do the event. Everyone should be happy, right? Wrong.
Every single step in the process has been a nightmare. How long should the speaker stay on stage? Will the speaker do a Q&A? How many books will the speaker sign? What font should the speaker’s bio be written in? What type of car will be picking the speaker up from the airport? Not one of these questions has been answered without push back.
I have no control over the ridiculousness that is this particular situation, but I can use it to help make sure none of you become the person who is currently making my life a living hell. I know you don’t think it will happen to you, but no one ever does. Below are a few truths that we all should remember, particularly those who speak or entertain for a living.
1- You aren’t that important.
I mean no offense by it. I am sure your kids love you and the world you’ve created would come crashing down if for some reason you disappeared. Unfortunately, the rest of us don’t live in your world. We live in a world that houses over six billion others just like you. Nothing you are doing is that big of a deal.
While I know this news might cause a cataclysmic shift in the fabric of your universe, it’s actually very good news. How much energy do you spend worrying and fretting and yelling and losing sleep over things that are just not a big deal? You can stop. Everything is going to be okay… or not. Either way, you are not that important. Never forget this.
2- Be nice.
So this isn’t my actually my advice. It’s something I’ll never forget former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told me (prior to being Secretary of Defense). It was given in the context of him talking about what made President Bush (Sr.) so unique.
Dr. Gates talked about how in the 40 plus years of working in government, he saw all sorts of personalities, but that those who had the respect and admiration of everyone were always kind. In that kindness, they moved up. Not only that, they experienced the benefits of their kindness by having people go above and beyond for them.
If the President of the United States can be nice to everyone, from the security team to the janitor, so can you. Be nice.
3- Adopt the phrase “I’m easy” (except on dates).
I can’t name the number of times I told someone not to book a speaker because of their reputation for being difficult. You want to get more business? Be easy.
Stop asking for water from Maui, a specific type of projector, a different hotel than the rest of us use. Enough complaining that the event didn’t start on time, or that the person messed up the way you wanted to be introduced. Remember, you have a reputation.
4- Keep the situation situational.
Most of the frustrations I deal with relate to people having no perspective. I don’t mean to drum up the ‘there are starving kids in Africa’ cliché, but there are. Chances are, none of the things anyone who is reading this are struggling with related to any of the lower three levels of Maslow’s Heirarchy.
If the difference in a situation is five more minutes in a conversation with someone you don’t like, or even a missed flight, is it really worth ruining another person’s day?
Key takeaway: just be cool.
A close friend and weekly poker buddy named Holly is an executive at a Fortune 100 company. This is her life motto. In some ways, it’s the summary of everything else I’ve said, but I think it’s worth having it’s own point. How much better would life be if we all constantly had the phrase ‘Just be Cool’ running through our head?
The way we treat others and the words we use have amazing power over both the lives of those we touch but also our own. I know we can all look at others and think “why do you have to be so difficult?” At the end of the day, however, the only people I can ensure stop being so difficult is me. In doing that, perhaps I can help others along the path of a life that models the phrase of my dear friend Holly… just be cool, everyone.
The actual reasons people choose to work at startups
(EDITORIAL) Startups have a lot going for them, environment, communication, visible growth. But why else would you work for one?
Startups are perpetually viewed as the quintessential millennial paradise with all of the accompanying perks: Flexible hours, in-house table tennis, and long holidays. With this reputation so massively ingrained in the popular perception of startups, is it foolish to think that their employees actually care about the work that startup companies accomplish?
Well, yes and no.
The average startup has a few benefits that traditional business models can’t touch. These benefits often include things like open communication, a relaxed social hierarchy, and proximity to the startup’s mission. That last one is especially important: While larger businesses keep several degrees of separation between their employees and their end goals, startups put the stakes out in the open, allowing employees to find personal motivation to succeed.
When employees find themselves personally fulfilled by their work, that work reaps many of the benefits in the employee’s dedication, which in turn helps the startup propagate. Many aspiring startup employees know this and are eager to “find themselves” through their work.
Nevertheless, the allure of your average startup doesn’t always come from the opportunity to work on “something that matters.”
Tiffany Philippou touches on this concept by pointing out that “People come to work for you because they need money to live… [s]tartups actually offer pretty decent salaries these days.”
It’s true that many employees in their early to late twenties will likely take any available job, so assuming that your startup’s 25-and-under employee base is as committed to finding new uses for plastic as you are may be a bit naïve—indeed, this is a notion that holds true for any business, regardless of size or persuasion.
However, startup experience can color a young employee’s perception of their own self-worth. This allows them to pursue more personally tailored employment opportunities down the road—and that’s not a bad legacy to have.
Additionally, startups often offer—and even encourage—a level of personal connection and interactivity that employees simply won’t find in larger, more established workplaces. That isn’t symptomatic of startups being too laid-back or operating under loosely defined parameters. Instead, it’s a clue that work environments that facilitate personalities rather than rote productivity may stand to get more out of their employees.
Finally, your average startup has a limited number of spots, each of which has a clearly defined role and a possibility for massive growth. An employee of a startup doesn’t typically have to question their purpose in the company—it’s laid out for them; who are we to question their dedication to fulfilling it?
How Peloton has developed a cult-following
(OPINION EDITORIALS) How has Peloton gotten so popular? Turns out there are some clear takeaways from the bike company’s wildly successful model.
Peloton is certainly not the first company to gain a cult-like following–in the past we’ve talked about other brands with similar levels of devotion, like Crossfit and Yeti. Now, full disclosure: I’m not an exercise buff, so while I’d vaguely heard of Peloton–a company that sells stationary bikes–I had no idea it was such a big deal.
I mean, it’s not really surprising that an at-home bike that offers the option for cycling classes has grown so much during the pandemic era (a sales growth of 172% to be exact). But Peloton has been highly popular within its fanbase for years now. So, what gives? A few factors, actually.
If your company really wants to guarantee the vision and quality you’re aiming for, one of the best ways to enact it is through vertical integration, where a company owns or controls more than one part of its supply chain. Take Netflix, for example, which not only distributes media, but creates original media. Vertical integration lets companies bypass areas that are otherwise left to chance with third-party suppliers.
Peloton uses vertical integration–everything from the bike to its Wi-Fi connected tablet to the classes taught are created by Peloton. Although this may have made the bike more expensive than other at-home exercise bikes, it has also allowed Peloton to create higher quality products. And it’s worked. Many people who start on a Peloton bike comment on how the machine itself is well-built.
Takeaway: Are there any parts of your business process that you can improve in-house, rather than outsourcing?
But with people also shelling out $40 a month for access to the training regimen Peloton provides, there’s more going on than simply high-quality craftsmanship.
Hey, plenty of cults have charismatic leaders, and Peloton is no exception. Okay, joking about the cult leader part, but really, people love their trainers. Just listen to this blogger chat about some of her favorites; people are connecting with this very human element of training. So much so that many people face blowback when suggesting they might like training without the trainers!
The trainers are only part of this puzzle though–attending live classes is a large draw. Well, as live as something can be when streamed into your house. Still, with classmate usernames and stats available while you ride, and teachers able to respond in real time to your “class,” this can simulate an in-person class without the struggle of a commute.
Takeaway: People want to see the human side of a business! Are there any ways your company could go live and provide that connection?
Pandemic aside, you can get a decent bike and workout class at an actual gym. But the folks at Peloton have one other major trick up their sleeve: Competition. Whether you’re attending a live session or catching up on a pre-recorded ride, you’re constantly competing against each other and your own records.
These leaderboards provide a constant stream of goals while you’re working out. Small accomplishments like these can help boost your dopamine, which can be the burst of good feeling you need while your legs are burning mid-workout. With this in mind, it’s no wonder why Peloton fans might be into it.
Takeaway: Is there a way to cater to your audience’s competitive side?
At the end of the day, of course, Peloton also has the advantage of taking a unique idea (live-streamed cycle classes built into your at-home bike) and doing it first. Plus, they just happened to be poised to succeed during a quarantine. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from what Peloton is doing right to build your own community of fanatics. There are plenty of people out there just waiting to get excited about a brand like yours!
How a simple period in your text message might be misinterpreted: Tips to improve your virtual communication
(OPINION/EDITORIAL) Text, email, and IM messages may be received differently depending on your communication style and who you’re communicating with. Here’s some ways to be more mindful.
Life is full of decisions, learning, hopefully some adventure, and “growth opportunities” through our careers and work. One that some of us may have never considered is how our text, email or IM communication comes across to the receiver – thus providing us a growth opportunity to take a look at our own personal communication styles.
It may have never occurred to us that others would take it a different way. After all, we know ourselves, we can hear our voices in our heads. We know when we are joking, being sarcastic, or simply making a statement. The way we communicate is built upon how we were raised, what our English teachers stressed, and even what we’ve been taught through our generational lens.
NPR put out an article recently, “Are Your Texts Passive-Aggressive? The Answer May Lie in Your Punctuation”. This article discussed what to consider in regards to your punctuation in text.
“But in text messaging — at least for younger adults — periods do more than just end a sentence: They also can set a tone.” Gretchen McCulloch, a linguist and author of the book Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language, told NPR’s All Things Considered last year that when it comes to text messaging,”the period has lost its original purpose. Rather than needing a symbol to indicate the end of a sentence, you can simply hit send on your message.”
While it may seem silly that the receiver would think you are mad at them because you used a period, here are some things to consider in our virtual communication now that we are all much more digital:
- There are no facial expressions in a text except for emojis (which, even then, could be left up to misinterpretation)
- There’s no sound of voice or inflection to indicate tone
- We are emailing, texting, and sending instant messages at an alarming rate now that we are not having as many in-person interactions with our colleagues
Gen Z (b. 1995 – 2015), who are the most recent generation to enter the workplace, grew up with much quicker forms of communication with their earlier access to tech. They’ve had a different speed of stimulation via YouTube videos, games, and apps. They may have never experienced the internet speed via a dial-up modem so they are used to instantaneous results.
They also have quickly adapted and evolved through their use of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and now TikTok. The last two platforms are designed for pretty brief attention spans, which indicates our adaptation to fast communication.
Generational shaming is out and uncomfortable but necessary conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion are in (which includes ageism). You can’t just chalk it up as “those kids” don’t understand you, or that they need to learn and “pay their dues”.
So if you are of an older generation and even a manager, here are some considerations that you can take regarding your virtual communications:
1. Consider having yourself and your team take a DiSC assessment.
“The DiSC® model provides a common language that people can use to better understand themselves and to adapt their behaviors with others — within a work team, a sales relationship, a leadership position, or other relationships.
DiSC profiles help you and your team:
- Increase your self-knowledge: How you respond to conflict, what motivates you, what causes you stress, and how you solve problems
- Improve working relationships by recognizing the communication needs of team members
- Facilitate better teamwork and teach productive conflict
- Develop stronger sales skills by identifying and responding to customer styles
- Manage more effectively by understanding the dispositions and priorities of employees and team members
This quiz is designed to help you identify your main communication style. It helps you to be more conscious of how your style may come across to others. Does it builds relationships, or create silent conflicts? It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to change, but you can adapt your style to best fit your team.
2. Always ask your direct reports about their preferred method of communication (call, text, email, IM, meeting).
Retain this information and do your best to meet them where they are. It would also be helpful to share your preferred method with them and ask them to do their best to meet you where you are.
3. Consider putting composed emails in your drafts if you are fired up, frustrated, or down right angry with your team.
You may feel like you are being direct. But since tone will be lost virtually, your message may not come across the way you mean it, and it may be de-motivating to the receiver. Let it sit in drafts and come back to it a little bit later. Does your draft say all you need to say, or could it be edited to be a little less harsh? Would this be better as a meeting (whether video or phone) over a written communication? Now the receiver has a chance to see you and have a conversation rather than feeling put on blast.
And finally, be curious.
Check out Lindsey Pollak’s books or podcast on the best ways to work with a variety of generations in your organization. Lindsey is a Multigenerational Work Expert and she does a great job explaining her research to drive multigenerational workplace success. She gives ideas on what all employees, managers, and even corporations should consider as we experience so many generations and communication styles in the workplace at the same time.
You may laugh that your children or employees think you are mad at them when you use a period in a text. But there’s a lot more behind it to consider. It may take adaptation on all sides as communication styles and the “future of work” continue to evolve.
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