Finally Friday

Whew! This has been one crazy month, and I’m excited that the weekend will commence in just a few hours. So, here’s a few links to kick off the weekend:

 

For the job seeker, via Daily Muse: 4 Ways to Defeat Job Search Desperation

For those needing a boost, in honor of World Happy Day: The Happy Movie

For those with an ethical dilemma, via FrauTech: Whistle Blowers and Heroes

In case you missed it, my Daily Muse article on Forbes: 4 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Put on Your Resume

 

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Nerves of Steel: Resolving Conflict

I talked about conflict at work in yesterday’s post, and outlined some factors that pushed me over the edge. Today’s post will look at some ways to mitigate the conflict. Here’s a few things that could have helped:

Attitude shift. Don’t approach the situation when you’re already angry, defensive, or stressed out, because the other party will mirror this behavior. If I come out of my corner swinging at you, the natural instinct is to swing back, even though we’re supposed to be on the same team. Try to agree to a collaborative, professional discussion BEFORE you enter the room. In the situation I described, an undercurrent of tension had been building for several days prior to the meeting. Since we never diffused this tension, it took very little for the situation to escalate into an unproductive and volatile situation.

Fight fair. The agreement to “fight fair” is also part of an attitude shift, and you should set up some “rules of engagement” prior to the meeting. Know your fighting style and trigger points, and discuss these trigger points with the other party or a neutral third party. Agree not to intentionally push someone’s buttons, and agree to stop the discussion if things get out of hand. Know how you and the other party define “out of hand”! Make an exit plan, and agree beforehand that if someone leaves the table to cool off, that person won’t be penalized for a show of weakness or defeat, and that person will come back to the table to finish the discussion.

List the goals. Ultimately, the goal is for the company to make money, but in this case, we had different ideas about how to do that. Instead of focusing on, “I want it done my way”, both parties should have said, “I improve sales using this function, and I think these 3 changes will help me sell better”. Don’t get blinded by the details when you aren’t even in agreement about the goal.

Involve the real decision-maker. In several instances, two non-decision-makers were doing the negotiating or discussing. Instead of leading to a solution, this just led to fighting and blaming. Since neither party was responsible for resolving the problem, we needed a decision-maker there to help navigate the conflict. Decision-makers should also step in to make sure the goals are congruent within the organization. As in the case of one dispute mentioned yesterday, some people didn’t know that my actions were the result of a management decision. Once management stepped in and clarified the strategy behind the decision, people were much less upset and defensive about the way I was handling the situation.

Recognize and compensate. This advice is true anywhere, but particularly in high-emotion situations, all parties need to recognize when the situation is becoming unproductive, and compensate by either leaving the room, bringing in upper management, or re-framing the facts. It’s not weak to clarify a position, request a recess to verify your facts, or suggest that a neutral third-party join the discussion. Honor the agreement to “fight fair”! Tell the other party, “That comment is not relevant to the discussion, please don’t use that reasoning again.” I framed these types of comments as a, “separate issue that is not part of the discussion” before moving on to my point.

Fortunately, my managers felt that I responded as well as I could, given the situation. After having time to reflect, I believe that I can avoid this situation in the future, and ensure a more productive discussion about company issues. I have learned, however, that “nerves of steel” is a myth. I’m human, and no amount of logic or jaw clenching will change the physical response to stress. My heart will pound in my ears, my eyes will start to water, and my voice will shake. Even steel bends under high heat, so my advice is to stay out of the boiler!

Nerves of Steel: Over the Edge

Alright, readers, it’s about to get real today in part 1 of a 2-part post, as I’m adding another post to the transparency category. I was a little hesitant to post this one up, but after discussions with several professionals in my life, I feel like it can provide some value. With that preface, here’s a story about office conflict and nerves of steel… or not.

I work in the aviation/aerospace industry, which is heavily dominated by men, and my office environment is no exception. Further, most of my colleagues are technically inclined, and I’m the only “creative” in the office. Further still, most of my colleagues are old enough to be my parents, and I’m the youngest by a minimum of 10 years. All of these differences make me an easy target for zingers, and when our entire sales staff comes together, the zingers start flying instantly. Granted, they zing each other, too, but eventually, it ends up being several against one, because it’s just easier that way. Joking and “all in good fun” are part of most office cultures, and I can generally dish it out with the best of them. However, this time, it went a little too far, and I had what I consider to be one (ok, fine, TWO) of the most unprofessional moments in my career. So what pushed me over the edge?

Going professional. Most of the time, the jokes have nothing to do with my professional ability. I can counter a comment about being too young to know what “rolodex” means with a comment about fancy coffee or Twitter. I can’t counter a comment about how long I’ve been in the industry, since most of these people have been in aviation longer than I’ve been alive. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have expertise, that I can’t provide insight, or that I’m not an authority in my subject or position. When you start taking shots at my ability to do my job, that’s a problem. When you start undermining my credibility as an educated and experienced professional, your jokes are no longer funny.

Going public. If you have an issue with a decision I’ve made or a program I’ve implemented, I’m happy to discuss the concerns in a private, professional meeting. However, while I’m standing up to give a presentation to a group of 20 is not the time to air grievances. This is particularly true if the grievance is more a matter of opinion vs. fact (“I don’t really like the color of the ad” vs. “There’s a typo on the website”). Most business books and conflict management books suggest approaching someone in private, since public events say “attack”, and make people defensive. And, it’s true, I felt attacked, and therefore, became defensive.

Going blame-crazy. I work for the parent company, and the sales meeting was for one of the child companies. Several complaints from the reps are in direct conflict with the overall company strategy, which they don’t know about. So, many reps thought that I was refusing to accommodate their requests because I just didn’t like them, didn’t want to do it, or just ignored them. In fact, it was because the requests were in direct conflict with the over-arching strategy, and what upper management had dictated. Unfortunately, the reps never heard from upper management, so they just blamed it on the one person they’d made the request to; me.

Going beyond the line. As the situation escalated, I was clearly not in a position to continue the discussion in a professional manner. Instead of suggesting a recess from the discussion, it kept going. And going. We moved from a passionate discussion with a purpose, to personal shots, yelling, and throwing our hands up. I’ll take ownership of the mistake not to leave a volatile situation when I should have, and allowing myself to be pushed over the line. To me, I was afraid of looking “weak”, “wrong” or “unsure” by walking away from the table. Instead, I feel that I looked angry, explosive, and defensive, which is no better than the impression I’d give had I walked away.

I’ve re-capped the factors that contributed to the melt-down, and tomorrow’s post will give some tactics to resolve the conflicts!

TOOL Censors Cell Phones

My husband and I recently attended a TOOL concert, and I found it pretty funny that the ushers were actively monitoring the use of cell phone cameras and cell phone videos. Remember the attempted cell phone bans from sports stadiums a few years ago? Fortunately, the band and the venue aren’t trying to keep people from bringing them in at all, but it’s pretty useless and futile to try to ban media use once inside. In fact, I think the videos and pictures actually help the brand!

Hyping up the experience. When cell phone videos and pictures are uploaded to social media sites, it just makes the people at home wish they were at the concert. A grainy, shaky, incompletely cell phone video does not do the experience justice, so would-be ticket buyers are not going to abandon a purchase of “the real thing” after seeing a YouTube video. In fact, since they know the video doesn’t come close to the live experience, viewing the video only increases their desire to actually be at the concert. When other fans post up footage, it serves to create even more buzz for the brand. If you can see just a little bit of the awesome lights and sounds at the concert, you’re much more likely to want to purchase tickets in the future.

Engaging the fans. “Engage” is the number one goal of social media, and “conversations” are evidence of achieving that goal. What better way to engage fans than to have them sharing all aspects of your content? It’s an easy segue to say, “You think the lasers look cool on the video, you should see them in real life!” Fans can talk about the best seating, the acoustics, the playlist, and the graphics, and it’s much more than just talk when you’re able to share the experience via social media.

Top-of-mind and building loyalty. Souvenirs remind people of a wonderful experience, and showing those souvenirs makes other people wish they’d been there to have the experience. The more souvenirs a person has to evoke a good memory, the more loyal they become to the provider of the good memory. If someone is logging on to Facebook and seeing tons of pictures and videos of the TOOL concert that they attended, that experience stays at the forefront of their mind, and they want to have that experience again. It’s proven that people want their choices to be supported by their peers, so sharing, discussing, and viewing this content with your peers makes you feel like you made a good choice to attend the concert. This positive re-enforcement entrenches your loyalty to the band, and your likelihood to repeat the choice.

The laws haven’t kept up with technology, but I think marketers are beginning to realize the benefits of sharing the content instead of keeping it in the live venue. I’m hoping the bans will be lifted soon, since they only hurt the brands they’re meant to protect.

A Real Person

When I was a senior in high school, we had show choir rehearsals in the summer. My partner dropped out of show choir, so I was left trying to dance alone. My freshman brother is a pretty talented singer and dancer, so I asked him to stand in until the director found me a new partner, and he agreed. After the first rehearsal, we’re driving home, and he says to me, “Ashley, you’re like, a real person! Boys flirt with you, and you have friends, and you tell jokes… it’s like… wow, you’re a real person!” I found this to be hilarious, and a bit confusing, as I’d had boyfriends and friends over to the house several times throughout high school. I “got it” when I realized that my PARENTS are real people! (Trust me, THAT was a shock to the system!) I’ve noticed it before, but some recent interactions with my Big Boss made me realize that he’s a real person, too.

I think sometimes we put the boss on a pedestal, thinking they’re this far off, aloof person with whom we can’t interact like “normal people”. And, in some companies, that’s true. My Big Boss is the CEO of our parent company, so he’s incredibly busy and important. I always feel like I need to get to the point when I need his sign-off on something, and generally, when he says, “jump”, people say, “how high?” But he’s not a power monger at all. In fact, he’s a pretty regular guy, and he’s not all business, all the time. He always makes a point to ask how I’m doing and how my MBA classes are going, and he’ll usually relate some kind of story from his time pursuing the MBA. He’s told me funny stories about his kids, and he jokes with the other VPs and C-level managers. On one business trip, I was having a meeting recap with my direct supervisor, and my Big Boss walked past on his way back from the gym. He sat down in his shorts and tennis shoes and talked strategy with us for an hour. His insight was really helpful, and he took a lot of my ideas in stride, which made me feel great about contributing to a conversation that could have gone way above my head.

I think realizing that the boss is a real person, too, is helpful in the workplace. Realizing that you’re all on the same team, you’re all trying to make your way in the business world, and you all have families and lives outside the office builds camaraderie, and increases productivity. I know I’m much more willing to make sacrifices for a boss that I can relate to, and a boss that seems to be in the trenches as well.

JC Penney Downs Discounts

 

I felt great about purchasing these pants prior to the new pricing.

Pants: JC Penney

T-shirt: Target

Blazer: Target

Scarf: Target

Flats: Payless

Like the outfit? Click here for more details!

 

A classmate of mine asked for my take on the new JC Penney strategy, and after a discussion with my dad about the strategy, I decided to do a little hands-on research. JC Penney is the king of huge discounts, all the time, on all their items… at least, they were. This article details their new strategy to drop prices across the board to an “everyday value” price. They’re also moving to whole numbers, instead of the $19.99 or $29.99 prices, the tags will now read $20 and $30 respectively. So, what’s my take on downing the discounts?

My initial reaction was that the everyday value price was a smart move, but the whole number pricing was a bad move. When you’re in the dressing room (I use this example since I most frequently buy clothes instead of other items from JCP), you know the price on the tag is not the price you will actually pay. However, there’s no uniform discount, so you can’t really remember if the $69.99 dress is 40% off or 50%. Then there’s the extremely rare occasion where the item isn’t marked down at all. So, you pick out all the items you like, and then circle back through the aisles to try to determine how much money you’re actually spending. This is particularly important and frustrating if you’re on a budget, since the discounts drastically reduce the prices. As a marketer, I’m also frustrated that you’re trying to anchor me to a price that’s MUCH higher than I actually think the item is worth. I know full well I’m not willing to pay the price on the tag, and I know full well I won’t have to pay the price on the tag, but even with all my insight into this scheme, I still battle my human brain. And, my human brain automatically considers the number in front of my face, no matter how ridiculous it may seem! So, I don’t appreciate the mind games, JC Penney, just give me a price!

Now, JC Penney is giving me the price, but since they’ve trained me to reject the price on the tag, it’s quite difficult to break that habit. I took several skirts into the dressing room, and I had to force myself to consider the price as stated. I was happy to pay the $25 listed, but I felt like something was wrong about paying “full price” at JCP, even though the price was less than the amount that I valued the item. Again, all my marketing know-how pales in comparison to good ‘ole human instinct. The whole pricing was also a shock to the system. It’s one little penny, but for some reason, the price of $25 instead of $24.99 just made me feel a little off. Again, you’ve trained me to think I’m paying less than $25 by constantly knocking off the penny, so again, you’ve made me feel like I’m paying full price at a place that shouldn’t ever receive full price for an item!

The other issue with the whole pricing, is that they picked some odd prices for rounding. Signs with “$6 and up” or “37 and up”… what? At this point, you’ve now triggered my $10 price point or my $40 price point, but I’m not willing to pay $10 or $40. Again, I can analyze it to figure out why this bothers me, and rationalize that it’s silly, since I won’t actually have to pay $10 or $40. But still, had you told me $5.99 and $35.99, you’d trigger the lower price point that I am willing to pay. Further, the whole pricing just feel cheap, and JCP is trying to bill itself as quality. Again, it has very little to do with how much I actually value an item, and how much I’d actually be willing to pay for the item, and much more to do with how I feel during the buying experience. And, JCP is trying to make you feel better during the buying experience, as their competitive advantage and value-add. But they haven’t made me feel better, they’ve just made me spiral into a marketing nerd analysis of why I would normally be fine buying the $25 skirt, but today, it feels funny! (Granted, I’m a HARDCORE marketing nerd, so the general public probably doesn’t go through such analysis while buying, but the research has shown that the points mentioned above do affect people, whether they know it or not. So, sans crazy marketing rabbit hole, people might choose to abandon the purchase altogether!)

Long story short, this strategy has some major pitfalls to overcome, and it’ll be an interesting case study once the new wears off. How do you feel about the new strategy? Like the outfit? Click here for more details!