After the Webinar: Communicating with Executives, Supervisors and Managers. Q&A with Al Cobos

Webinar presenter Al Cobos answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Communicating with Executives, Supervisors, and Managers: Selling Your Ideas Up the Chain of Command. Here are just a few of his responses.


Audience Question: How did you deal with or get through to subordinates who are not willing to accept criticism and are always on the defensive? 

Al Cobos: My go-to is the onboarding questions. I’ve dealt with this with the deputies and detectives that I’ve supervised over the years. I worked for a law firm right after I retired, and the questions are still the same. They’re onboarding questions like, the first question is “What’s our reason for existing?” and it doesn’t matter if your law firm, you’re police agency, you’re a public service entity. There is a mission statement, there is a role that we fulfill for the particular job that we have. “Why do we exist?” and ———————- “To make as much overtime as possible,” Okay, I get that and a lot of deputies do make a lot of money with overtime, but what do you tell your family? What’s the reason we exist? What do you tell your friends? What would you want to put on your resume? So, I changed it, it’s the same question, but I changed it to really move toward “Why do we exist?” And then, once you can get them towards, “Why do we exist?” “What do you expect from the organization?” “What are the expectations of organization?” to contribute to this why do we exist answer? And then, you move that towards “What responsibility is brought to the table by each individual team member?” and then you can dial that in further with a question, “What’s your responsibility when it comes to that?” So, ultimately, I’m going to work towards this, “What’s your responsibility?” But I don’t start there because of the ticked-off angry employee, that’s your starting point. But, if you can walk them down a path towards what’s their responsibility, and that takes about 5, 10 minutes of conversation, you’re going to nudge them in the right direction, and it’s a conversation that you can have on a daily basis. So, not formally or informally with that particular employee, but it’s something you could talk about generally, saying Hey, all right, what do we got going today? And you start to move in the right direction. It takes time though; I’ve dealt with a number of disgruntled employees. A tough decision-making class for discipline employees, in the Sheriff’s department. We just have about 25 people every single month. And I love upset people in there, but ultimately, I knew I was going to ask him a question, “What’s your responsibility in letting anger go?” I didn’t ask that question. It’s almost six hours into the class because we had gone through this process about them being self-reflective. But I use an example because I started the class with the question, “How many of you are angry?” “What’s your responsibility for letting the anger go?” It doesn’t resonate because we haven’t gone through their conversational process. So, you can Google onboarding questions. Harvard Business Review has a good source of onboarding questions, and I’ve always used that as a template to start dealing with difficult or angry employees.


Audience Question: I often find that I can share my ideas and pertinent information with my direct supervisor, but then find out they failed to pass it along up the chain. How do I get my direct supervisor to take what I share as being important? 

Al Cobos: It’s, that can be a little bit more difficult because now, you’re talking about two different structure level. Some organizations are very, very sensitive to that. I know with my supervisors; I was usually pretty good about going through the chain of command. However, if it were during an open meeting, and I went to quite a few meetings, I would pose it as a question. And I would, let’s say, my lieutenant wasn’t presenting some information, I think is a really good idea, and something should be acted upon but it’s not getting passed onto my captain. So, when there’s a meeting and the captain is present, I would ask you to say, “Hey, you know, we’ve been tossed around this idea.” —– collective we, “we talked about this particular idea, is this something that is attainable? Is this just an idea that should be worked on or looked at further?” And that way, you’re not excluding your supervisor, that didn’t pass it on. You kind of presenting in a way that you guys have been talking about it, but that way doesn’t look like your supervisor has not passed it on. Even if you meet with that secondary supervisor two levels up, individually and your supervisor’s not there say, “Hey, you know, we’ve been tossing this around…” And you can kind of present in that situation. If you don’t have the opportunity to meet with them personally, maybe an e-mail. The problem with e-mails, once you send it, it’s permanent, but there’s a similar approach. Just look for opportunities to where you can convey your idea to the supervisor it’s intended for. Maybe it doesn’t have to go through your supervisor. Maybe there’s a friend of that supervisor of two levels up, that has a friend that you can speak to. Maybe they can kind of bring it up in a roundabout way. So, there’s a number of different ways. Again, if got to look at it as an operational parameter. I can only go through my supervisor to get this information to the next supervisor up. That’s a common operation parameter. But is it the only one? Are there other mechanisms to get it to the intended person? So, there’s some creativity that can be used, but again, when it is presented, I would present it in an exclusionary effect fashion like, “Hey, I spoke to my boss about this, he was supposed to talk to you about it. What, do you think about this idea?” Because now, there’s that second-level supervisor is thinking, “Why wasn’t this idea brought to me?” The other strategy could be, you’re talking to your supervisor, you want to go to the next level. What’s the risk in presenting his idea? Or you can simply say, hey, “I’ll take the, the responsibility for presenting or promoting the idea,” or “Could I have the opportunity to present it?” So, there’s a number of different questions you could ask. But generally, using, maybe another person, another operational parameter to get the idea there is another way it could happen.


Audience Question: How do introverts get people to listen to them in a whoever shouts the loudest wins kind of culture? 

Al Cobos: That’s a good one. You know, it goes to where we’re at, now, in terms of a society where the loudest person is going to win, but I’m assuming it could be it could happen to some type of formal or informal meeting. Given everyone the floor. So, I’m looking at this from different vantage points. So, let’s say the introvert is running the meeting. So, I’m an introvert. I’m running the meeting and I’m the one who’s getting shut down. Lay the ground rules, “Hey, we’re going to listen to everybody. Loud does not mean correct. Loud does not mean right.” So, use the parameters set for the meeting. “We’re going to discuss this, but in terms of the ground rules, just getting loud and being argumentative does not mean that you’re going to prevail. Everyone can be listened to.” So that’s one way to do it if you’re running the meeting. If you are an introvert, you could ask the question and say, “Hey, can we have some ground rules, and how are we going to present this information?” Are we all, or how are we going to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to present their ideas and even alluding to.” I’ve seen it in the past with other groups,” you want to say this, particularly with other groups. “Usually, the loudest person got their way. And I just wanted to make sure that we evaluate the best ideas versus the loudest idea presenters.” I mean, that might be another way of doing it. So, I know when I ran meetings. And if someone got loud, I would say, “Okay, that’s fine. Any other ideas and we’re going to listen to everybody here? And just because you’re loud doesn’t mean I’m going to listen that much more, or the idea has more weight, because you’re more forceful about your presentation in the idea.” So, kind of different ways of being able to talk about it, but you got to ensure everyone has equal access to present their idea. But if you’re the introvert in that meeting, you could ask. You could ask your supervisor anytime, “Hey can you lay some ground rules?” because you will have good ideas. I just want to make sure that everyone gets lists to not just the, the most aggressive or forceful person presenting ideas.


Audience Question: So many times, decisions are made at a higher command level. Often, they are not shared with certain staff, especially professional staff as they don’t see the need, they tend not to realize that the decisions have a ripple effect across more than just sworn officers. So how do professional staff get a seat at the table and share? 

Al Cobos: It’s something that, it’s a that’s a cultural condition within the agency, and I can only speak for LA County Sheriff’s Department. But I was trained early on, I was when I got to patrol it was 1991. Did a couple of years working in the jails. And I got patrol in 1991, and my training officers were very adamant that you treat professional staff correctly because they’re going to help you do your job. They’ve got skill sets that you don’t have, and the reason behind that was because there had been this huge divide. I’d say the divide is still there, but it’s not as bad as it used to be. But it’s getting a seat at the table. It’s not the easiest thing, it’s selling an idea. Questions can be asked, You know, when it comes to policies being written, I know the focus question would be the focus is on sworn staff but with professional staff, there are impacts here. What do you think or what are the impacts on professional staff? And then what is the value of having a professional staff on board, when these policies are being created, simply to mitigate some of the negative outcomes that can happen or that have happened in the past? So, it’s one way to ask the question, then you have to get the similar to the sworn side, you have to have the right professional staff member at those meetings. I know the LA County Sheriff’s Department, they do have a hierarchy, they have the equivalent of, like a director, is your —– chief on the sheriff’s department. Having said that, though, culturally, the sworn staff, they usually have a problem being supervised by a professional staff member. But we expect it fully the other way around where you have a sworn member supervising professional staff. So, I think there are some cultural issues that need to be addressed. I wouldn’t look at trying to change them, per se. The starting point would be recognizing that those differences are there, and then promoting the value of professional staff and sworn staff, having a seat at the table that you spoke of, so the outcomes for changes within your organization will be, the impacts will be lessened. And I always say, “Let’s talk to the people who do the work to see how these changes impact them.” Well, if we’re only looking at sworn staff, relieving a whole set of people, our professional staff, which arguably they do a lot more work than sworn staff do at times, because of the type of work they do, so the impacts can be greater. So, those are the type of questions that can be asked, but I spent almost 34 years at the LA County Sheriff’s Department. Relationships it did get better between professional staff and sworn staff. But that divide is still there. It’s not 100% away. Definitely a lot better, but it’s a cultural aspect and those things are difficult to change, but they can happen over time. So, it’s just a matter of what’s the value of having them at the table, and what are the positive outcomes when we do make change.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Communicating with Executives, Supervisors, and Managers: Selling Your Ideas Up the Chain of Command. 


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