After the Webinar: Positive Vibes Only. Q&A with Halcyon Frank

Webinar presenter  Halcyon Frank answered a number of your questions after her webinar, Positive Vibes Only: Combatting Negativity with Empowerment. Here are just a few of her responses.


Audience Question: In speaking of nipping negativity in the bud, what about when somebody just needs to vent? I have people who come to me who just need to get the negative feelings out. What are your thoughts about these venting sessions? 

Halcyon Frank: I think there’s totally a time and place for venting because we do, right? I almost feel like it’s a physical build-up. I think in those cases depends kind of on the long term. So, if they’re coming to you repeatedly even different calls, but like every day that can kind of be a slippery slope. Because if you’re like, after every call they’ve got to come vent. Especially, it’s tough, because we never know how calls affect each other. It’s so personal. And so, we don’t want to shut anybody down who can really be affected by these calls, but also watching what kind of space we’re making for them. If we’re like, “After every call, come in and vent,” it can kind of be a slippery slope, because then they will continue to vent after every call, even on those calls that they probably really don’t need to. And so, I think it looks like that, how much space are we giving them, opportunity are we giving them, and making sure we’re not just letting them vent all over the place. And two, in the long term, in the sense of are they venting and it’s a 1 time thing, maybe stuff overlaps so it trickles into other stuff because stuff is always connected. But at the same time. Or is it like every day, they’re coming in and complaining about that same call from last Tuesday, or they’re coming in and complaining about that meeting from last month, or that co-worker about the same situation they had? And so, I think that’s kind of how to figure out making sure we’re allowing space for venting, but also not setting them up to where they feel like, “Well, I can just go talk about this every time,” because I think that contributes to negative feelings when you’re like, “Oh, I have negative feelings. I’m just going to go vent to my manager,” or whoever it is instead of to kind of, you know, that self-soothing if you will. And I’m not a scientist, so I don’t know how it works, but that’s kind of how in my mind, we’ve all got to figure out two ways to regulate ourselves. So, if we’re constantly being allowed to go like talk about something. It kind of can be detrimental for ourselves as well.


Audience Question: What if management refuses to acknowledge how toxic things are getting and simply just blames the line staff? 

Halcyon Frank: That’s such a tough question, because, at some point, you do need management to understand. And then, it comes to a point where you have to ask yourself like, “Is this workplace, is it working enough for me, or is it doing more harm than good?” Definitely working with your frontline peers, though, to get everybody on this, them on the same page, because I think you do have a little more impact when everybody else is on the same page, or maybe voicing the same concerns potentially can have more of an impact on management decisions. Unfortunately, I do think there are times when you know they’re not going to change, which is incredibly frustrating, and unfortunately happens so often in so many workplaces. But I think to even just starting with your peers and creating certain expectations amongst yourselves can be really helpful. And like I said one agency I was at was pretty toxic. But on the shift that I was on, we had built our team, we knew how to work together, we worked really well, and we kind of were able to insulate ourselves a little bit because we just set the norms amongst ourselves. And so that does help. But I wish I had a really good answer for that because it just happens way too often.


Audience Question: What do we do when the boss is part of the problem? How do we have that conversation with the boss who’s actually participating in the act of negative behavior? 

Halcyon Frank: I think the first step and one thing that I didn’t do that going back, I think I would have tried to do at first is, if you don’t have any type of relationship with that boss, first starting there, right? So, we talked about the video like, you develop a relationship with those expectations. But that also goes with feedback. And doing that, it’s important to establish a relationship and develop the trust there before you just go in, and you’re like, “Hey, you’re really a terrible leader and these are all our issues with you.” So, if you can start to first develop a relationship as tough as that can really be sometimes. Starting there and then trying to have those conversations of these are our frustrations. And again, clear is kind. But again, not intentionally, being mean either. So, building the relationship so that way that you can have more honest conversations and kind of recognize that they may not change. And so, what are you going to do? How are you going to change your behavior? What does that look like for you if they don’t? Or are there other actions you can take depending on what they’re doing? Whether that’s, you know, HR with a hostile work environment or stuff like that. Every agency workplace is different. Some workplaces are very small, you don’t have an HR. So, it just depends. But are there other avenues, first starting… Because sometimes, too, I think, we assume that managers know, and sometimes they don’t. And so, just starting with clear communication with them that like, “Here’s what we’re experiencing.” And some of you are probably like, “Ugh, we did that, and they don’t blame me.” And I, 100% get that. But there are sometimes I think we assume they know, and they don’t. So, just making sure they’re even aware.


Audience Question: There seems to always be that one person who thrives on negativity and always engages others in their negativity. What can I say to those who ask what they can say, or what they can do to offset that? So how can we, as peers, kind of coach others to hold back and not be part of that cycle? 

Halcyon Frank: I think part of it is just pulling back and not being part of the conversations, being willing to either verbally shut it down, or just using non-verbals to not engage, not feeding into it is part of it, because I think to some of it is like they want the attention right? And there’s a part of gossip that they say is for social. And it’s how we create connections and those kinds of things. So, making sure we’re not feeding into it, because eventually, they’ll see it as, “Oh, like, they’re not engaging in this, that’s not how we build a relationship,” and maybe even trying like, if they’re coming to you. And their way to create a relationship with you is to talk about other people in the workplace, maybe finding another topic, a common ground that you guys can talk about that’s not that. So that way, if they start on there, you’re like, “Oh, let’s talk about this other thing we have in common instead.”


Audience Question: How do we call people out on their toxic behavior without seeming mean ourselves? 

Halcyon Frank: I think a lot of that is the relationships you have with people and your delivery. We all know that you can say certain things a certain way, and it sounds really mean but again, if you don’t have a relationship with them, or like any kind of common ground with them, I think in my experience it’s more likely to come across mean because there’s no relationship there. So, watching how you say it, but also again to, if there’s not like establishing a relationship or saying it in a way that… Especially in public safety, we talk so much about objective documentation. So, it’s not that somebody won’t receive it and feel it’s negative, but also to when you approach things in an objective way of, “Hey? This is what you said, and this is, what the outcome was.” is a little easier in the sense of, “This is just what it is, this isn’t my opinion, this isn’t what I’m thinking about it, this is what happened, and this is what the outcome was.” And so, these are just my suggestions. And again, I wish I had, you know, more clear that you could just do XYZ. But hopefully, if nothing else, it kind of gives you some ideas to maybe of how to address stuff.

Host: You know, ideas are always welcome because sometimes we get so trapped in our own situation, it’s like you can’t see that new idea without some recommendations. So, I really appreciate you bringing new ideas to the table here.


Audience Question: Would you happen to have any group exercise ideas that could possibly help with building positive perspectives?

Halcyon Frank: That’s a good question. None off the top of my head.

Host: I had an idea, and maybe this will spur something for you. You know, when you have team meetings or when you have group discussions. Sometimes, even something as simple as asking, “What’s the best thing that’s happened to you this week?” or “What’s one great thing that happened to you this week?” Sometimes that can shift people out of their perspective of negativity. But I mean, that’s not in the moment. That’s a structured meeting environment. So, maybe, does that give you any ideas, Halcyon?

Halcyon Frank: Yeah, I think even something simple is like that. So, we choose like what we focus on. Same way, like, if you have a bad morning, and you stew on it the rest of your day, will probably go poorly, because that’s what you’re focused on. They talk about how you don’t notice all the yellow cars until you’re thinking of a yellow car. And then you’re like, “Oh there’s so many yellow cars.” So, I think even any activities like that. And also recognizing, too, for some people positive might be, “Well, I woke up this morning,” because I feel like we all do have those days where we’re like, “I’m alive,” and instead of looking at that so negative like, “Yes, you’re alive, that’s right. And you know we’re happy you’re here.” That is great because some days the fact that we woke up this morning just feels like the highlight, and we’re going to celebrate that. Especially in our jobs where we work with so many people with so much trauma. Even reminding myself, as I’m saying this, if the best thing that happened to us today is we woke up today, at least just acknowledging that as a positive. And we’re going to work through the other stuff.


Audience Question: You mentioned how sometimes different shifts at even the same organization will have different cultures. Can you talk about why that happens? 

Halcyon Frank: I feel like that’s a whole other webinar. Well, it goes back to poor communication, probably to an extent whether that’s peer-to-peer management or whatever. Because in my experience, when you’re on a night shift, you sometimes get different information or not as much information as on the day shift. If your admin is on duty during the day, they’ll get stuff verbally to where you get it at an email which causes, you know, differences potentially and how it’s received.

So, I think that plays into it. All the personalities. This is not everywhere, and it by no means is like a sweeping broad generalization, but in jobs where seniority plays into your schedule. I think you know a lot of times on like a day shift, you’ll have really experienced seasoned people. Versus night shift, you’ll have more new people, because that’s you know where you go, and you’re new half the time. And so, I think all those play into how we can have all these different dynamics, and some of those will just exist. But going back to making sure, you know, we have good communication, and we’re taking time to make relationships with people outside of our shifts as well when we do that shift work. I like routine. So, I’m very much a fan of “Let me work with the same dispatchers, let me work with the same officers.” But there’s also something to be said for switching things up and rotating things from time to time to make sure we’re also not just kind of like creating our own division by not making relationships with other people on other shifts.


Audience Question: What happens when management is aware of the fact that there’s toxicity and they can’t change it, or they can’t seem to get their arms around changing the problem? And I’m going to insert a follow-up question to this, how should management react even when they’ve tried to make changes in the past? And lastly, what should the employees do? 

Halcyon Frank: I can’t even get like one softball today, Chris. I don’t know that this necessarily is direct to that question. But one big thing, if you are a management, do not let an employee hold you hostage. And when I say that I know we all have staffing obstacles. I firmly believe this is a Halcyon opinion, but I firmly believe, if you have somebody who anytime you want to change a procedure or adjust a schedule or do something like that, and their immediate reaction is “Well, then I’ll quit.” Knowing that you are short-staffed, it would really be tough for you. Do not let that control your decision-making. If it is for the good of the overall, don’t let one person hold your agency or workplace hostage. This is going to sound terrible, but if they want to walk they will walk, it does not matter. And so, making sure we’re looking at the bigger picture. Like I said, don’t forget about the other people working there. I have worked in agencies at 50% staffing, and I will tell you all day, quality over quantity. Even if I only had one day off a week when we were 50%, I had far less stress than when we were at full staffing, but half of those people were still very new, or shouldn’t have been employed there on my 2 days that I got off. And so again not a direct answer. But I think that’s really important, don’t let one person hold you hostage, because also, everybody else in the agency sees that they get negative, because they see what’s happening, or they’re going to try the same thing and it just becomes a continuous issue of somebody, “Well, if I try to quit, they’ll bend to my whim.” And so, making sure that —- . Sometimes it. It’s definitely a long game, though, too. You know, we as humans, especially working in emergency services where so much happens quickly, are so used to “Got to put out this fire right now” and shifting a whole culture is not a fire you can just put out. It’s a long game. It’s going to take time. And I have found 2 in certain situations when you start shifting it, whether you’re management or employees when you keep at it. Those who are not on board will see themselves out at a certain point, or they will start to kind of come along enough that they’re not the rotten fruit in the basket. They’re at least on board enough to go along with things. They’re not going to be your champion of empowerment, but they’ll go along with that. So, I’m not sure that exactly answers the question, but hopefully helps.


Audience Question: As a supervisor, how do you address behaviors when you’re not the one who has seen it, and it’s been brought to you by another person? Do you ask about it? Do you put it on your radar and wait to see the behavior yourself and only address it after you’ve seen it yourself? Again, you don’t want that aspect of someone complaining about the individual and you don’t want the person you’re reprimanding to feel like everybody’s talking about them. So, how do you take that feedback and then incorporate it into performance improvement with the individual who’s spreading toxic negativity?

Halcyon Frank: Yeah, I think partly, it depends on the behavior. Obviously, some behaviors need to be addressed very quickly whereas other things may not be the same kind of level that has to be addressed. One. Yes, you understand, not wanting to make it like so they know, “Oh, so and so talk to you?” So, first and foremost, do your research as well. Is it something that might have been on a recorded line, or in documentation, or somebody ——. Always, always, always do your research. Do not go off of one person. I’ve seen that backfire a lot of times. Because there’s just a whole lot of destroys trust and a whole lot of things when you just take, you know, one person’s opinion. Also, Don’t send a blanket email. Again, that’s a Halcyon opinion. Don’t just send a blanket email, nobody’s reading that. And I promise you, whoever actually the issues with are going, “That’s not me. And ignoring it.” I don’t know if I have a perfect solution, but I can tell you what the solution is not, and that’s a blanket email unless it is something that you’re seeing pop up with multiple individuals, and then it might be something where you can address in a conversation with everyone, then that’s okay to kind of, do a more blanket approach. But I think, doing your research, kind of what type of behavior is it will go to is it something that we need to address? We kind of have to forget that we don’t want them to make like people are talking about them, but it rises to a level where we have to address it. Versus is it a one-time offhand thing that we can keep an eye out? I think it’s pretty situational with that.


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