Webinar presenter Dr. Kimberly Miller answered a number of your questions after her presentation, Calming Your Storm: Tools to De-Escalate Yourself, Increase Emotional Control and Reduce “Reactivity.” Here are just a few of her responses.
Audience Question: There are people out there who don’t truly understand that notion of learning from that person who has appeared in your life. Kind of like how you were talking earlier about they’re here to teach you or they’re here to test you. How do we, as managers or supervisors help our employees learn to understand that?
Kimberly Miller: Well, it’s super hard to do, and the hardness of it also depends on the individual employee, right? So, there are some good employees who might be more open to that idea, or suggestion, or hidden gift. There are other employees that might be more like Darth Vaders, who are not as open to that. So, the receptivity in part depends on their mindset, how full or empty they are, right? How dry is the desert? Their own insight into their own emotionality? And part of that mindset, too, that really plays into this for me, is, do they feel like a victim? So, you have to consider all those things before you try to just offer stuff to your people, and it might be more of an individual offering. But what you could say, and maybe even do this in a team meeting, could be good. You can go to them and say, and either individually or your team, and say, what have you ever learned from bad circumstances? How have you ever grown from challenges? Just general conversation from the past because there’s not one of us who hasn’t learned something from a bad situation. We’ve all had growth moments. We’ve all had realizations. We’ve all had times where we said, “Well, I’m never going to do it like that, like, I’ve learned that. That’s how to not do it.” So, I would just ask your people, let’s brainstorm all the ways we’ve learned from challenges and difficulties, and unfair things happen. Then, say, in hindsight, when you look at your life overall, have you learned and grown from the difficult times? Do you have a new perspective about the difficult times? And even maybe say, when you look back at your past, have you ever encountered a gift and a challenge? And I’ve never met a person who didn’t say yes. Now, maybe not all challenges for them have gifts, and they haven’t been able to find it all the time. But if you can at least get them to admit, yes, you know what I thought getting a divorce was a disaster. But oh, my Lord, it was the best thing I ever did. And I’m either happy to be single or if I didn’t get out of that unhealthy relationship, I would have never found the person of my dreams. So, you know it sucked, and it was hard, and it was terrible, but you know what? Now, I’m way better off. If you can get them to that point, which I think most people can get to. Okay, what might be the gift in this situation? What might be the opportunity? Or what might be the test? And I would reframe it in terms of training. And I would ask people, how do you get better at stuff? Why you practice, okay. Well, if you really want to get better at stuff, how often do you practice? Well, oh my gosh, I practice all the time, that’s why I’m good at my job, whatever the job is, whether they’re an officer, whether a counselor, whether they’re a lawyer, whether they are an admin assistant, The only way we ever get good is to practice. So, then you could reframe and say, okay, well what if this other Darth Vader, who’s on your shift who works by you or who’s even your boss? What if their only purpose for existence was to help you learn how to cope better and practice personal de-escalation? What if that was why they are in your life? Now, people probably say, well, that’s not fair, and I didn’t ask for that, blah, blah, blah. But okay, yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s not fair. You didn’t ask for it. But what if that’s their only purpose? Because I want you all to think about it this way. If that’s the only purpose, that they’re in your life and then you get really good at this de-escalation and boundary setting and all that. Guess what happens. They have no more power over you. Because if you can practice this stuff enough where these people don’t bother you, you have attained inner peace and true power. But people are always going to push your button. People are always going to do things, there will always be car wrecks and broken champagne bottles and getting cheated on, and having somebody flip you off, and traffic, and not holding the door for you. There’s always going to be things we could get mad about, we could create a storm about. But this is about practicing with enough intention that these other things stop controlling us like we’re a puppet on the string. And that’s just another way you can deliver it. Well, do you like being a puppet on the string? Well, no, okay. Well, here we go, here’s a gift. Let’s practice. Let’s work to cut those strings and get the freedom and the happiness that you’re seeking.
Audience Question: So, can we also use these techniques in our personal lives, like with a spouse or an ex-partner, or as Elizabeth asks, with our kids. How do we adapt these ideas and strategies especially with kids? What would be the, what language would be best?
Kimberly Miller: Yes, so, yes, these are universal. They’re not just for work, but they’re home. Personally, it’s for a stranger you see on the street that aggravates you. This works for everybody, in all spaces. So, for children, this has multiple levels of benefit. Number one, you are role modeling for them, right? It’s at that character modeling level. Number two, by role modeling, you are teaching them the tactics and strategies you want them to use, right? Because it’s not doing what I say, not what I do. It’s do what I say, and I do. So, you’re teaching them what you want them to learn and understand and embrace. And number three, I think parents have a hard time with this sometimes, but remember, people do what you allow. But let me give you just a few examples. Y’all have all seen the parents in the grocery who go down the cereal aisle or the cookie aisle, or the chip aisle, and their children are screaming. Sometimes they’re laying on the floor. And y’all see the parents that just to get them to shut up, put cookies in there. That has just taught that child the more they scream and yell and throw a fit in the store, you’re going to get exactly what you want, even when I tell you no. It’s the same thing with communication de-escalation. If your child is screaming and yelling, you can say, I am no longer having this conversation with you and then put them in a safe place. Whether it’s their crib and let him scream there or you put them in time-out if there’s an older child, or you just say, if they’re even older than that, I’m going to leave you in your room, and you can scream all you want and when you’re done screaming, we can have a conversation. But you’ve got to teach them boundaries. You have to say, we’re not doing this, or say, you need to go to your room and take some deep breaths and calm down. When you’re ready to have a conversation when you’re not yelling, then come back and I’ll be ready to have that conversation. It’s just like also with your own self-care. Your kids, if they’re going to learn about that and have their own work-life balance at some point, they got to see you doing that. So that might mean, you know, what? Here’s a snack, dinner is going to be 30 minutes late because I need to go soak in the tub, or I will not be a good mom or dad for you. Right now, I cannot be a good parent for you right now. Here’s a snack. You will not die. Dinner’s going to be 30 minutes late, I need to be myself. And unless you’re dying, a sibling’s dying or you’re profusely bleeding, do not knock on the door. And if you have a partner, you need to tell the partner. You need to handle the kids for 30 minutes or tonight, or whatever, because I can’t, and they need to see that. Your partner, needs to see that, and then when your partner has a hard time, and they come home from work, and they’re in a bad mood, you say, you know what, honey? I’m going to do dinner tonight. I will clean up tonight, and we’ll take care of the kids. Go take yourself and do what you need to do. You need them all that to you for your partner, so you all can help take care of each other. I mean, it’s hard for both people to be working. Then you have kids, and then you’re also being homeschool parents. It means it’s a ripe environment for the hurricanes to happen. But I would use that kind of language. And I would even say, for some of your kids, you know, of course, this is all depending on their age, but I might even say, “I understand that you need something from me right now. And I understand that you’re upset about not getting that thing for me right now. But I am fixing to get on a conference call that’s going to last 45 minutes, and I need this room quiet. Maybe not the whole house quiet, but I got to have this room quiet. I am on a professional call. I know it’s unfair for me to ask you to hold on for 45 minutes, but I need you to do that for me. I need you to do that. I need you to step up. I know it’s not fair and not right. You’re, you’re right, you’re correct. And we’re a partner in this, and there’s sometimes I do things for you that I don’t want to do, and I don’t feel like doing. So, I’m asking you to step up and do that for me.” Now, obviously, that language would be for an older child, right? But I think you can do that processing out loud, right now, with your kids, with your partner, if something comes up. You’re like, well, well, well, we didn’t talk about this. I’m feeling blindsided. It doesn’t mean that you won’t eventually go along with whatever the thing is, but you’re just saying, I need to process for a minute. I mean, this was unexpected for me. Just be transparent and it shows the other person where you’re at. It shows that it’s explaining what you need. So, I think role modeling, using these kinds of examples will help you, your kids, and everybody.
Host: Well, I couldn’t agree with you more, that was a great example of being able to model to kids. Especially those of us who are working from home, that notion of, hey, this is what a professional life looks like. We need to take turns. I’ve got to be on a call right now. You need to be quiet. When I’m not on a call, you can do this. I think that’s what your recommendation was fantastic.
Audience Question: How do you deal with somebody who’s clearly pushing your buttons and they are clearly out of line. They are rude, they are being they are truly being disrespectful. How do you show that grace that you’re describing? But at the same time, you still stand up for yourself? You clearly teach them, I will, I do not want to be treated this way. How do you do that?
Kimberly Miller: Great question. So, here’s two things I would say. And of course, you have to pick your own language the way you’d say it. It depends on circumstance and all that. But what I would say is, I find it really interesting that at this moment, the only options that came to your mind was calling me names and speaking to me in a disrespectful tone. So, I find that really interesting and quite concerning at the same time. And because of your choices, I am choosing to end this conversation, because I will not sit here and take abuse, I will not get screamed out and I will not be called names. So, if there is a time in the future, you would choose to make a different choice. And you would like to engage with me on this topic in a different way. I welcome that, but until that time, this conversation is over, and I am leaving.
Audience Question: We are getting a number of questions from folks who are supervisors, who are managing other people. So, one question that we had come in was, at some point, when I have an employee who cannot be ‘fixed’, we can’t seem to remedy the problem behavior. We can’t seem to get that employee to do what it is we need them to do. At some point, action has to be taken. How can I feel confident that I’ve done everything I possibly can before I take a final step at this employee?
Kimberly Miller: Yes, and I’m glad that you’re willing to take the final step. I cannot tell you how many organizations I talk to that won’t do it. They’re like, well, you know, you can never fire anybody around here. Well, you know how it is or that’s just how people are in our organization, or whatever 100 other excuses. And that affects obviously you know your culture. That one person, F5 tornado can take out an entire division team, an organization. So, you have to either bring them into the eye and get them to dissipate their storm and be a productive employee or you got to get rid of them, period. So how do you get to the place where you feel confident that you’ve done all you could, and you can make that bigger step? Number one, document, document, document, document. And the other problem I see in organizations around the country, is they wait to document. It’s not like it’s unknown for 15 years. People have been talking about this person for after the first five they were a problem. But the people are conflict avoider, they didn’t write it down. Co-workers weren’t willing to do their part and give them feedback, or whatever. And so, you have this known problem, and you don’t have the paper to support the bigger decision, so I would say, make sure you have all your ducks in a row with that, in terms of documentation. And in the future, document everything. I’m not saying to the point where right, you’re a micromanager, and it doesn’t always have to be official. But you could say like in your coaching notes, or if you keep those for your employees or mark in their evaluation, how many informal counseling sessions you’ve had, like, I would mark all that down. This is the first day I saw the problem. Had a conversation with Jeff today. Talk to him, told him. You know, what was expected. Told him how his current behavior is outside of those boundaries and what I actually needed him to behaviorally do differently. We’ve agreed to check in once a week, or whatever that is. But you not just say what you did, you say, what is the plan? And I would also write it down in behavioral language. Don’t say they’re a jerk. Don’t say they’re disrespectful. Don’t say they’re lazy. What does lazy look like? What does disrespect look like? Like put it into measurable things, and then write down the measurable behaviors. You want the person to fundamentally do differently. And then, depending on your organization, work them up through progressive discipline. Show how you’ve maybe sent them to classes, or you’ve gotten them a coach, or a mentor that can help them with whatever, you’ve gotten them remedial training, you have continued to coach them on their mindset, suggested books, or whatever. Everything you’ve done, I would write down, and then you have to go within the framework of your organization about how that eventually looks, but I think then the decision becomes quite clear. And I would also make sure you say this to all of your employees that are challenging employees. This is a partnership. I’m going to do my job. I’m going to hold you accountable. I’m going to do my best to support you and coach you and get you resources and training and information like whatever you need. But if you don’t do something with what I get you, you control your own destiny, and that might lead to your termination. So, you have to also remind employees throughout this process, they are not victims. They have to step up to the plate. And if they choose to not do that, you’ll get angry about it. But I, when I’m having hard conversations with people, and I’ve had to fire people, and I’m like, I showed you the path. I held your hand halfway down the path, and you chose not to do this, so this really shouldn’t be a surprise. This is the decision, period. And I don’t get mad about it. I’m like, you chose not to do these things, so you control your own destiny. Don’t get mad at me, and I don’t own it when they get mad. And I’m like, That’s not my stuff, you’re mad. Well, you do the work, So that’s it. The document, make them own responsibility, do a partnership, but then let them go.
Host: Excellent advice. You know, I had a mentor one time who used to say, you never quite know why you’re hiring somebody. You can do all the research and all the background checks in the world, but there’s always an element of an unknown. But if you’ve done your job as a manager, you always know why you’re firing somebody. I love how you just described what he used to say.
Audience Question: Kimberly, you said something in the middle of that advice? I just, I wanted, what I was hoping you could flesh out just a little bit. You talked about documenting and tracking what you’ve done, what the employee did. Do you have any handy ways that you as a manager have used? Do you use an Excel spreadsheet? Do you literally pull out the old paper files? How do you track easily? How can you make documentation easy?
Kimberly Miller: So, I think a Word document is easy. I think an Excel spreadsheet for all your employees is easy. If your organization already has a structure, like an electronic database, for supervisory notes, or electronic evaluations, where you can add stuff outside of the annual evaluation time, that’s great. But, the problem is, some of these files or paper can get lost, especially if they’re just controlled by one person. And it’s sort of an individual choice to create that because you can get a whole team of employees that are not your people, because either they all move to you, or you get assigned to a different job, and you’ve been keeping great notes on your people, which your replacement likes, but you go to somebody else’s space. And they have no notes at all. And that can be super frustrating. So, what I would recommend is if your organization doesn’t already have, like, a formalized way to capture the data, that you look into programs. And one program that I love, and a lot of my clients use, is called Guardian Tracking (https://guardiantracking.com/) you can get a free demo on their website. I’m not affiliated with them, I just love their product. I don’t get any compensation or whatever, but it’s a great program. And you not only can eventually upload your formal evals to Guardian Tracking, but it really is this sort of early warning software program. And I like it because it’s strength-based. And it focuses on catching people doing things right because too often, we talk about employee problems, we’re catching them when they do stuff wrong. And many supervisors still have the mindset. Well, if you’re doing everything right, you’re not going to hear from me, And you’re only going to hear from me when you mess up. This is like supervision by neglect. I mean, it’s horrible. So, I believe in catching people doing things right, and also catching the early warning like red flags and that software system allows you to do that. Now, the other great thing about the software system is if you move to a different part of the organization and you’re taking another supervisor spot, and they take your spot, all you have to do is click different permissions, then all your notes, all their goals, the progress on their goals. All of your meetings are all right there. You never lose it. And then, when you go and see your people, their personal goals, what they’ve been doing, their strengths. All that is categorized, and it never goes away. But the other great thing about it has accountability in it. So, let’s pretend in this scenario. You’re my employee, Chris is my boss. So, if I’m supposed to have regular conversations with you as my employee, Chris gets a notification. Well, Kimberly supposed to talk with Suzanne once a week. It’s now been two weeks. She hasn’t had a conversation, so Chris will get alerted to the fact that I haven’t put an entry in our daily logs or weekly logs, whatever. Then she follows up with me, “Hey, you’re supposed to be having this meeting and coaching her. You haven’t had to meet, what’s going on?” And that’s where you can create this organizational accountability. So, people are catching things. They are documenting things because I know many of you have a whole lot of people you supervise, and it’s hard to keep up with all that. So, that’s just one example of a software program I like. But I’m sure there are other ones here. Getting the whole organization to buy in, is going to be ideal. If you don’t pick Excel, Word, whatever, that works best for you, and document it in that way. Whatever is most efficient and effective for you.
Audience Question: Rebecca flips the script here just a little bit. What if you stormed out a person in power in front of others, or in front of others in power? How do you recover?
Kimberly Miller: Yes. So, humility is one of the best character traits ever. And many of us don’t practice it enough. So, go apologize and be humble and say, you know what, I lost it. And if you get in front of a group of people, maybe when that group gets back together you do it as a group. You say, “You know what, I owe everybody in this room an apology. I was yelling at Armando and he did not deserve me yelling at him and I was disrespectful. And that was not the professional appropriate way for me to do that to him or to show that behavior in front of all of you. I am embarrassed. I apologize and I am going to publicly commit that I am working on this and I’m going to do it better.” So, I just own it and say it. Everybody knows you did it. And people will appreciate humility and vulnerability and ownership and it’s a great example for everybody else too.
Audience Question: How do we approach a manager who is very reactive and seems to be at a constant storm? What can we as an employee really do when it’s the boss?
Kimberly Miller: Yes. So, here is the gift in this and I know that y’all probably don’t want this gift. This is your opportunity to lead up. And I would approach this person not on the F5 day when they’re mad at you, but on a regular day and say, hey, did you just have a minute for a chat? And if they say, no, don’t force a chat. Find a day where it’s a normal level of storm. Just some lightning and thunder. Maybe a little hail. But nothing more. And then, say, “I just have a question for you, because I do really want to be a good employee for you, and I value our relationship. And it seems like, a lot of times, you’re on edge, you seem really stressed out, you seem quick to get in an angry or frustrated space with me and the team.” And I want to first ask, “Is there anything I’m doing that contributes to that? Because, if there is, I want to apologize and I want to own it, and I want to know,” Right? And they might tell you something that you’re doing or not. But you’re starting by saying, basically, I’m being curious, and I want to know if I’m contributing to your level of frustration and blah, blah, blah. Then, the next thing you could say is, no matter what they say. So, is there something that I can do that could help you, or, there is a project I can assist with. Is there kind of something I can take off your plate? If she’s always, or he’s always going to get food for the team meeting, “Can I start doing that? Can I start planning some team things? Could I type out the agenda for you?”, offer what can I do? And if they say no, then that’s fine, but probably they’ll going to ask for a little bit of help. Let’s hope it was a good conversation, and just say, “Just so you know, and I know you don’t want to be this kind of supervisor, but a lot of people feel like they have to walk on eggshells around you, and I do I know you don’t want that. Perhaps some reasons that you get easily frustrated with us is because of the personal challenges you stated you are facing at home, but we don’t know when you might be struggling, so even if you can just tell us you are having some struggles and ask for grace, that might help the whole team. It’s been my experience, when I’ve heard people do that or when I have lead up in this way, 99% of the time, they appreciate it. They don’t feel attacked and judged by it. And they are willing to say, hey, you know, I don’t mean to bite your head off. I’m having some personal stuff. I don’t want to talk about it, but I will really work on that, and I just ask that you give me a little grace. Then that usually works.
Audience Question: But that takes a lot of nerve to be vulnerable like that to your boss and to just to provide that really honest feedback, that that takes a lot of nerve.
Kimberly Miller: Well, it does. But not as much as you think. If you have a relationship. So, the other thing, I want you all to think about, whether you’re going to lead up, or whether you’re going to lead to the side by one of your fellow supervisors that’s a tyrant with their people, or whether you’re going to lead to the side with your partner, or lead down with your children. We all want influence. We all want people to be open to influence. So, the other piece of navigating the storm and helping other people get out of their own storm is proactive relationship building. Because people think about wanting a relationship, or needing a relationship when they don’t have it, as an example, right? A difficult employee? Well, I wish I had a relationship, and they’d be open to this feedback. Well, you need to work on that 10 years ago. The best time to build a relationship might have been 10 years ago or two years ago. But the second-best time to build that relationship is today, work on the relationship today. So maybe the person who asked about, you know, leading up with their boss. Maybe you’re not comfortable to do that because you don’t have a strong relationship. Work on building a strong relationship. Make that be your part. So maybe you just go in and say “Hey, is there anything I can do? Am I doing anything to aggravate you?” And you don’t challenge them about anything else. You say, I just want to check in with you, seem real aggravated with us lately. I don’t know if it’s me, I don’t know if we can all do something better to support you and help you, and you don’t make it all about them yet. Like, it might just be the first step, is building relationships. But that’s the key to everything in life. Leadership, parenting, discipline, feedback, networking, everything is about relationship. But we don’t often do that, especially, we don’t do that with people we don’t like, or we think are jerk or whatever. But that’s the work. That’s where you get influence is through investing that time long term.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Calming Your Storm: Tools to De-Escalate Yourself, Increase Emotional Control and Reduce “Reactivity.”