Working with People

Working with people is an art.


Jacquelyn Smith, a Forbes staff writer composed an outstanding article about leadership entitled, “The 20 People Skills You Need To Succeed At Work”, where she outlined the need for anyone leading people to possess “people skills”.

People come to us in all different shapes and sizes. They come to us when they are happy, they come to us when they are sad. People come to us angry, they come to us with indifference. People are some of the most incalculable creatures on the planet. Some of us may feel that people, like computers are predictable and measureable, but when the facts are laid out on the table, people are as unpredictable as the weather.

When engaged in conversations, there are senders and receivers.

One can joke, cajole, even harass another with spontaneity or humor, expecting a laugh as a response, but there can be times when the response may not be one that is expected by the sender. The response may be anger, frustration, laughter, sadness…any number of responses when confronted with a decision to react with an emotion, always triggered by any number of variables. Some people may be experiencing outside influences such as personal challenges, professional challenges, personality conflicts, even a lack of an empathic response to the sender’s attempt at humor.

Some senders insist on enticing a reaction from the receiver.

Sometimes, a sender may insist on  a reaction from the receiver. Reactions could include embarrassment, anger, hostility, rage, subjectivity, or submission. For example, a manager may harass or ridicule an employee by including them in some “harmless” office fun, by making them the brunt of jokes. Perhaps the manager will ask the employee a question that seems innocent, yet is laced with innuendo and cynicism about the employee. Generally, situations generated by managers that involve placing employees in awkward positions can arise from a lack of empathy for the employee, or a desire by the manager to “put the employee in their place”.

The workplace can be a place for professional behavior, or unprofessional behavior.

It is up to the manager to set the tone for the office. Managers must remember that they are not gods, nor are they omniscient or omnipotent. Managers may often be misled by the impression that they are in control of the office and those employees who work for them; but they are not in control. Managers need to remember that they are influencers who guide the emotional tone of those around. them. I have been managing classrooms for over 30 years (on and off), and have had the opportunity to learn a lot about behavior and influence from my students. As a classroom manager, I have found that I am indeed, an influencer of those people I face, but I do not hold sway over their every decision. I can influence the people I am managing by my reactions to any emotion that is expressed by them. As a manager, I might temporarily remove a student in order to get their attention, I may listen to what they have to say in class, or I may schedule a private conference with my student, so that I have the opportunity to offer feedback that is both constructive and helpful to the student. I have learned in all my years of managing my classes that customer service is critical in order to not only maintain a semblance of control in my classroom, but also influence the desire to listen to what I have to say from my students.

It is important for managers to remember that those who represent them are people with feelings, complete with responses.

Managers need to remember that if their employees confront them openly, or object strongly and openly to policy that has been implemented, that manager needs to learn how to give them time to express their feelings. As a manager, I have had plenty of students who were angry or upset about the way I might be presenting a subject or teaching my class. I always am happy to take them aside and listen to them. I work hard in my conversations to maintain eye contact with my student, no matter how angry or frustrated they may be. I will also ask them for examples that they may be thinking of that could improve whatever they may see as an issue to be resolved. I will thank them for their input and give myself a chance to think over what they have said, usually an hour or two while I deliberate. I will then call my student back into the conversation and deliver my decision, thanking them for their input. This routine has always been successful. It has given me the opportunity to see how I am performing as a classroom manager or teacher through someone else’s eyes. I may or may not change what that person has relayed to me, but that is the answer I will always deliver to the class as a whole. I go to great lengths to keep my answers without any defamation or anger, instead going to great lengths to thank the student that addressed whatever they felt the problem was, and how I intend to resolve their complaint. This method has been a time-tested method in using my influence as a manager to lead class after class, again and again for years.

The art in leading or managing people is maintaining a level of mutual respect.

The manager who is willing to show undying respect for their employees and expect the same treatment in return is the manager who successfully influences their team. “People ask the difference between a leader and a boss. The leader leads, and the boss drives.” – Theodore Roosevelt
Read more at is something you earn, something you’re chosen for. You can’t come in yelling, ‘I’m your leader!’ If it happens, it’s because the other guys respect you.” – Ben Roethlisberger

The Elemental Manager (#2 in my Customer Service Series)

I believe that it is important for today’s managers to be managers in the simplest form.

I believe that a good manager needs to be like a good coach.

A good manager is akin to a coach.
A good manager is akin to a coach.

The Free Merriam Webster Online dictionary defines the word “manager” as: “someone who is in charge of a business, department, etc.” Yet, I use the word “Elemental” as the subject of this discussion.

I trained managers for years in the U.S. Navy. I started in 1987, as what is known as a “Team Trainer”. Ask any Navy veteran about the skill level and style of “new managers” in the Navy, and the answer is the same. New managers tend to act like managers of “yesteryear”. That is, new managers tend to use a more coercive style of management. New managers in the Navy tend to be young (19 to 21), so their interpretation of a manager is often one of the following:

  • Raising their voice
  • Belittlement
  • Derisive tone in their voice
  • Harassment
  • Physically pounding their fist on an inanimate object (during times of stress)
  • Threatening their subordinates

Unlike many articles I have read on the web that seem vague and inconclusive at times, I was trained to understand specific leadership styles and trait definitions that I would use to mentor my junior managers:

  • Coercer
  • Affiliator
  • Authoritarian.
  • Pacesetter.
  • Democrat.
  • Coach

My goal was to create leaders with a strong coaching style of leadership. This style would lend credence to how the group was run (90 percent of the time, I was able to show the junior manager the effectiveness of the coaching style, vs. the leadership style they displayed).

The environment many of these managers are (quite literally) thrust into, is filled with a lot of noise from at least 30 possible radio channels going on at once, a higher echelon manager demanding critical decision-making information within minutes, people wandering in and out of the work space and a physical environment of overhead fans and duct fans adding to the confusion. Working conditions are challenging for any manager, so the young manager, like a football captain, will either succeed or fail at their job, depending on their reactions to the various stimuli around them. In this environment, the personal friends of the manager are the people who are treated with a modicum of respect. Any people outside of the manager’s circle of trust are not only ostracized, but consistently belittled in front of their peers and treated with no respect, thus affecting the performance of their job. Yes, these managers can often get the job done, but at the expense of creating a negatively-charged atmosphere that every new person outside of their sphere of influence, wants to walk away from.

In the Leading Chief Petty Officer Leadership Course, given to all Navy sailors, once a professional plateau is reached, the characteristics of my “Elemental Manager” are discussed in great detail.

Forbes also discussed the Navy’s elite rank of manager, the admiral. In this article, Forbes focused on the difficulty of attaining this rank, as well as the responsibilities admirals face.

There are people who may be placed into positions of leadership that are not ready for the position. Leadership.

I recently stumbled across an article in a Milwaukee, Wisconsin online newspaper column written by Philip Chard, a multi-faceted columnist with some sages words of advice in regard to leadership, entitled, “Leadership isn’t given by power; it’s earned”. In his article, Mr. Chard brings up some very important points and qualities about leadership and leaders. He uses words such as Inspiration, Joining (the team), support (encouragement), Include (tapping into the wisdom of those you lead) and Connecting with emotional intelligence.

It is because of my 20-year history as a U.S. Naval manager, that my time as a teacher has been so successful.

As a teacher, I manager all kinds of students in all types of classes. There have ben times, when I had to adopt a coercive style. But, I did not remain in that style, if my students were able to respond with respect for my position. There have been times as a classroom manager, that I have also taken my peers aside and taught them the finer points of classroom respect – including the managers I worked for. I am a firm believer that leadership and customer service go hand-in-hand, and I demonstrate those traits, every time I teach a class. My students often refer to me as having a lot of patience. My patience is based on my knowledge and empathy of the student. I respect the student for having the drive to attend my class and learn what I have to share with them. I refer to every student as “MIster” or “MIss”, a trait I absorbed from my years as a part-time retail sales clerk. I work on displaying my passion for the software program I am introducing and focusing on the many skills of my students. I point out the importance of attention to detail, when working with our templates that we train our students to use, and am constantly striving to ensure that I emulate what I teach. I treat each student with respect, sometimes taking them to one side in order to point out skill flaws, or even student weaknesses.

I strive to be a coach.

I believe it is important for a manager to achieve the same “peace of mind” that I bring to my students. I also believe that it is important for a manager to listen to their subordinates, for after all, we too, are their customers.


I decided to write about something serious today, Customer Service.


Just what is Customer Service?

Here’s the Wikipedia definition:

Customer service is the provision of service to customers before, during and after a purchase. According may vary by product or service, industry and customer. The perception of success of such interactions will be dependent on employees “who can adjust themselves to the personality of the guest,”[1] according to Micah Solomon. Customer service can also refer to the culture of the organization – the priority the organization assigns to customer service relative to other components, such as product innovation or low price. In this sense, an organization that values good customer service may spend more money in training employees than the average organization, or proactively interview customers for feedback.

From the point of view of an overall sales process engineering effort, customer service plays an important role in an organization’s ability to generate income and revenue.[2] From that perspective, customer service should be included as part of an overall approach to systematic improvement. A customer service experience can change the entire perception a customer has of the organization.”

My definition of Customer Service expands to body language, voice tone, honest caring, listening and attention to detail.

Body Language is more than just gesticulating your arms.

Body Language is your smile, eye contact with whom you are speaking and appearing vulnerable to the person you are serving. Eye contact is an important part of customer service, because without the connection, you appear NOT to be listening. Vulnerability demonstrates an empathic response to the person you are talking to. Your transparent vulnerability is translated as “I care about your needs, which precede mine”. In other words, “I Want to Help You”.

Voice tone is a critical part of communicating with another person.

Voice tone can bely pain, anger, frustration, happiness, sadness, impartiality or ignorance. I learned many years ago, just how important voice tone is, when I was a telephone solicitor. Yes folks, you probably hung up on me. But chances are greater that as I gained more clarity and self-assuredness, you were prone to hang onto every word I said. I learned how to slow down my speech (NO ONE enjoys listening to a fast talker – puts them on guard). I smiled when I talked into the phone (smiles REALLY DO travel). I cared about the stranger that I spoke to over the phone (caring works wonders, no matter how nervous you might be, no matter how defensive or aggressive they may be and no matter how aggressive you probably are).

Honest caring is the key to success.

Honesty goes a long way. I found out early that if I did not believe in what I was promoting, I could not stand by it. If I truly cared about what I was doing, and that what I was doing would make a difference to the life of the person I was speaking to, then I had no problem helping the person that was in front of me.

Listening is tantamount to the attention the person you are facing deserves.

When I shut my mouth, look directly into their eyes and listen to the person I am talking to, my result is always the same. The person I am listening to takes only seconds to open up to me. They will tell me their life’s story, all the problems they are going through, and what they need to make their life better. It is my responsibility (not my job) to oblige them, with whatever is in my power to do so. It doesn’t matter, if I am teaching someone how to use the computer for the first time, learn how a function works in Microsoft Office, or find them a book, CD or DVD that will help them forget about their real life for a while. Whatever I am doing is of vital importance to the person I am interacting with, and I will listen to what they have to say, before I make a recommendation.

Attention to detail is an important part of every single thing that one does, when they are working with people.

Ever go to the drive-thru at a fast food place and either not receive what you ask for, or get something totally different? I’ll give you one guess why. Someone didn’t pay attention to detail. Customer Service is all about attention to detail, it is the foundation of the service that you are providing. Attention to detail goes hand-in-hand with everything I have discussed thus far, for without listening, caring, watching the tone of your voice and paying attention to your body language, what you are performing is nothing more than the antics of a monkey. Attention to detail is the perfect dance of Customer Service, it is what gives you the quality of looking effortless in everything that you do. It is the graceful waltz of a perfect 10, compared to the jerky motions of an incomplete movement, borne of no confidence, no dignity and a lack of self-assuredness.

Why would I post this article?

Not because I am angry at anyone, or any one thing. I am posting this as a reminder to myself, of the importance of service.

Food going down the wrong pipe

Have you ever been eating lunch, and suddenly are overcome by an epileptic fit of coughing, hacking and choking from food that you just ate going down the wrong pipe?

I just had that experience, and thought I would talk about the perfunctory results of this action, rather than how to prevent it, or deal with it, while it is happening. I figure there are plenty of people, who can tell me how to prevent it. But…lest we forget Murphy’s LawMurphy’s law is an adage or epigram that is typically stated as: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

Yes folks, regardless of how many times you may attempt to tell me how to eat, choking on something that I am eating could inevitably happen for any of a number of reasons.

The experience of choking on food in your upper airway can be an excruciating, burning sensation.

If one looks at the symptoms of choking on something, they can look very scary:

  • The person cannot speak or cry out, or has great difficulty and limited ability to do so.
  • Breathing, if possible, is labored, producing gasping or wheezing.
  • The person has a violent and largely involuntary cough, gurgle, or vomiting noise, though more serious choking victims will have a limited (if any) ability to produce these symptoms since they require at least some air movement.
  • The person desperately clutches his or her throat or mouth, or attempts to induce vomiting by putting their fingers down their throat.
  • If breathing is not restored, the person’s face turns blue (cyanosis) from lack of oxygen.
  • The person does any or all of the above, and if breathing is not restored, then becomes unconscious

I believe that coughing until you are unconscious is inherently dangerous.

Interestingly, many of us do not remember the results of not aspirating. Who can forget the burning feeling that you have, as you struggle vainly to rid yourself of this foreign object, lodged in your epiglottis? How about how many times you are drinking something; water, soda, alchohol…anything to take away the burning sensation that accompanies the burning sensation in our throat, preventing us from breathing properly? Oh, why do we forget so easily?

Just look at the A-list people who have died from choking on food:

  • Hollywood star Clint Eastwood saved a man from choking on 5 February 2014 in California.[8]
  • The former President of the United States, George W. Bush, survived choking on a pretzel on January 13, 2002, an event that received major media coverage.[9]
  • Jimmie Foxx, a famous Major League Baseball player, died by choking on a bone.[10]
  • Tennessee Williams, the playwright, died after choking on a bottle cap.[11]
  • An urban legend states that obese singer Mama Cass choked to death on a ham sandwich. This theory arose out of a quickly discarded speculation by the coroner, who noted a partly eaten ham sandwich and figured she may have choked to death. In fact, she died of a heart condition, often wrongly referred to in the media as heart failure.[12]
  • Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother notably experienced three major choking incidents where a fish bone became lodged in her throat: initially on 21 November 1982, when she was taken from Royal Lodge to the King Edward VII Hospital for an operation at 3am;[13] secondly in August 1986 at Balmoral, when she was taken to the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, though no operation was needed;[13] and in May 1993, when she was admitted to the Aberdeen Infirmary once again for an operation under general anaesthetic.[14]
  • Dr. Royce Johnson performed an emergency tracheostomy on Pauline Larwood(Bakersfield California resident) at “The Mark” a local restaurant. Pauline was choking on her steak when Bo Fernandez, General Manager Executive Chef at The Mark said, “She’s choking! She’s choking!”‘. After attempting the heimlich maneuver Dr. Royce Johnson made an incision on Larwood’s throat and inserted the casing of a ballpoint pen into her trachea. Larwood was then rushed to a local hospital and was further treated.[15]
  • Air Marshal Subroto Mukerjee, the first Chief of the Air Staff of the Indian Air Force (IAF), died on 8 November 1960 at Tokyo by choking on a piece of food lodged in his windpipe.[

I don’t know about you, but it makes me want to swear off food.