The Company is last – Sacrificed for personal gain – Part 2 of 2


The third dimension uses the team as a factor in selecting talent. Who can work with the team or who is best to lead the team? Blind obligation to the protégé has allowed the wrong person to be hired to manage a team. Incompetent managers destroy a team by firing or chasing away strong talent. So, it is important to wisely consider the impact of a new person on the team. One manager was complemented and received accolades / rave reviews for clearing out the alleged deadwood in his new District. The entire team of nine people could not have been dead weight, especially when some were recently star performers in national contests.

Individuals who hire or promote properly with the team in mind, ultimately make decisions that benefit team and company. If a team is lacking a certain skill set, it is prudent to hire and bring that into the group. The rationale of helping the team function stronger to reach their objectives is an outstanding method of managing / leading the team. It is also, prudent to train appropriate people with the aptitude on the team, to develop these skills.

There are countless examples of high performing teams receiving a new manager. The team performance plummeted when the new person arrived. This happens in sports and in business. The ability of the leader to bring out the best is a talent that should not be undervalued.

Larry Brown, the professional basketball coach was a phenomenal teacher. When he was give a team with young eager players who wanted to learn the basics of professional basketball he excelled. When given a team of veterans his results were not as spectacular. The veterans would view him as a micromanager and his constant instruction was not well accepted. Superstars will blossom in a different system, with a coach who knows how to appropriately challenge them.

If a manager is hired who does not use the right style the team does not develop to its potential and the team and the organization suffers. Regardless of the talent, considering who is best for the team is a valuable tactic in accelerating results. So often we expect the team to conform to the manager or else leave the organization, but it may be wise to hire the manager to match the talent or the team.

Conversely, managers have declined to hire the right person because members of the team were biased in giving feedback about the candidate. Men have said no to women candidates because it might change the culture of their team, especially their meetings. Generation X and Generation Y at a stage of their development were viewed in a negative light. Incumbents felt threatened by their perceived technological advantage and being low on experience, otherwise known as wet behind the ears.

Minorities have been denied access to teams because the manager did not think they would fit in well. A manager has to be mindful in making decisions that are good for the team, but not at the expense of the company’s competitive positive in the marketplace.


The fourth perspective is who is best for the organization. This should weigh heavily on the minds of the managers / leaders. After all, the company is the reason for selecting talent in order to serve the needs of their clients. This is a prime area where the business case for diversity plays an important role.

Diversity of thought, ideas and perspectives are a valuable asset to any organization. Diversity of age, race, ethnicity and gender are excellent surrogates for diversity of thought. People are different, with different interests and influences which gives them a different perspective. This is vitally important in solving problems in a new way.

If a manager is insecure, they may not like to be questioned, so they use an autocratic, “because I said so style.” They view questions as challenges and may squelch, denigrate or punish those who do not abide by the status quo. She understands the status quo. They view those who persistently question as trouble makers and traitors to the rich tradition of the group.

New managers are prone to this since they have not developed confidence in their competence. Veteran managers are not immune to this predicament for they may feel authority is being threatened, when they are questioned. A company is held hostage if these practices diminish or stymie creative expression. Innovation is necessary to survive in a competitive environment, where similar or superior products are vying for the client’s attention and business.

In a global market place, ripe with generational variation and ethnic/racial diversity, organizations that display this richness may be poised to attract and retain talent and business.

A competitive advantage can be gained by expressing cultural awareness and competency in a business setting. Sometimes you don’t want to be at a competitive disadvantage by a lack of diversity, especially if the competition is portrayed as having better managers.

The four perspectives should be considered in decision making. A manager might focus on the first two steps at their peril. The team and the organization become secondary and morale and the monetary consequences are detrimental to the business. Managers must be held accountable for decisions, so that they ultimately benefit the organization and the shareholders.

An over reliance on steps one and two manifest itself in poor morale, lower employee engagement scores on internal surveys and higher turnover rates. Individuals may not apply to your company, nor interview for a position, or join your company if they find out you have a poor reputation for employee development or have a toxic climate. Candidates are very astute in their research. A manager questioned extensively by a candidate to make sure she was applying for the current manager, rather than the correct territory. She had heard about a particular manager’s harsh management style and she wanted to avoid him.

Focus on the protégé only has enabled incompetence to destroy many teams, lose customers and increased the number of lawsuits for harassment and discrimination. Team focus should not be heavily focused on maintaining the status quo if it has become stagnant and inflexible.

Candidates have gone to other companies and employees quit to join the competition because of a toxic climate and the manager’s insistence to hire and stay with a manager exhibiting pernicious managerial malpractice.

Consider the competition and how they utilize the four perspectives. Do they make decisions based on team and organizational benefits? Are they stuck in personal benefits and rewarding the protégés? Are their decisions for the business, such as minimal customer interruptions, more veteran representatives, competent management to develop the people and the business.

When discussing hiring and promotion decisions with managers, ask the following questions; “How does the person benefit the team and the organization? What skills are they bringing forth that match the needs of the team and what strategy did they disclose that shows an understanding of working to bring out the talents of a diverse team of employees. You really need to know how they are uniquely qualified to add significantly to the bottom line and what in their past or their interview comments convinced you that they are the best person for the job.

Copyright © 2013 Orlando Ceaser

Managing Up – Part 2 (The Manager’s Perspective)


Managers can recount individuals and situations where they felt employees did an excellent job of managing up. The person did not seem manipulative, arrogant or self-centered regarding their career. They demonstrated many of the attributes mentioned earlier in the “Do” category and did not participate in the “Don’t” area at all. Many times they shared similar interests, but were not clones or mini me’s from the Austin Powers movie. They direct reports contained some of the following qualities;

  • Brought something intriguing to the table, with special qualities or contributions
  • Provided information about the job, concerning the workplace and on the industry
  • Reliable and could be counted on to follow through on assignments
  • Performed their jobs well, exceeding expectations
  • Took an interest in the manager’s job
  • Make the manager and the team look good, drawing rave reviews from many in senior leadership
  • Authentic in their approach to the job and their clients
  • Could be trusted to tell the truth regardless of the consequence

The manager is the manager because they like to get things accomplished. They are aware that some people are inauthentic in relating to them. Because the manager has input into hiring, performance reviews, compensation and terminations, employees tend to be guarded even when they have an open door policy. Many employees genuinely stated their opinions and intentions, whereas others are playing games, telling a manager what they think they want to hear, to win praise and recognition.

The Know System™ for decision-making was featured in the book, The Isle of Knowledge (available on The Isle of Knowledge is a fable set in the South Pacific with the hero on a journey of enlightenment, to better decisions. He is mesmerized by the journey and the inhabitants on his quest to ask the right questions to make better decisions. The Isle of Knowledge contains a methodology to help people manage up in an easy to follow series of questions.

The Know System is based on the word Know. If you use the four letters in the word Know you will have a system to gather information. Take out a sheet of paper or your computer, smart phone or tablet. Write Know at the top of the page or screen. Begin writing the words that come to mind. Be generous with the rules, but only use the letters from Know. You will arrive at the following words that are useful for this exercise;

  • Know, Won, Now, No, On, Own, OK, Ow, Wo, Wok, KO


A skillful employee will start off asking questions to learn about themselves (self-awareness) and their manager. What do they know and what do they need to know? They may use Who, What, Where, Why, When and How to gather the information they need on personal and manager goals, values and interests. Who can give them information on the manager when they are conducting their interviews to learn about the manager’s habits and history?


Self awareness will give them their goals and objectives. If they managed up effectively, what would their world look like? How would they feel, what would they gain from it? How can they make it a win / win where the individual and manager’s goals are reached?


What are they doing now to manage up? Are their techniques the right ones? Are their techniques consistent with their goals? Are there aspects of their performance and personality that are forming a barrier? Are they operating with the right priorities and set of objectives?


We recognize there are some things they must remove from their activity list. They must say ‘No” to some things. They cannot say yes to everything and reach their goals. They may reach burnout unless guidelines are put in place. There are sections that are frowned upon by your manager; you may feel it is advantageous to be on the same wavelength. There are procedures you have said yes to that requires a change of heart and direction.


You must be on at all times. Authenticity is required as we stated earlier, but you must also be persistent and consistent. When you are on message, on target and on fire, you create a barrier to ward off those elements that try to distract you. There are negative people who will try to bring you down as well as your manager; you need to make sure you don’t inadvertently toss your manager under the bus.


You will be held accountable for your actions. You are responsible for your career and your daily performance. The relationship with the manager is largely up to you. If you adopt this mindset, you will take the necessary steps to make it a success.

OK, Ow & Wo

If you are doing a poor job at managing up, this Ok performance is not satisfactory in the long-term. Jim Collins in his book Good to Great said “Good is the enemy of excellence.’ If good is the enemy, Ok cannot be far behind. The only time Ok is satisfactory is on a checklist. If you have a list of the areas you want to cover, to manage up effectively, OK will work marvelously, as a confirmation that an item is completed.

Ow is the sound we make when we are in pain. Sometimes pain says we are doing the wrong thing or we are doing the thing wrong. Pain also is the discomfort we go through anytime we do something different or we change. Some of the strategies in managing up maybe new and difficult and the awkward nature may seem painful. Soon they will be a part of your repertoire and beneficial in helping you manage up.

Wo is the sound you hear when people want to slow down a horse. This can apply to us, if we are going too fast, implementing too many techniques. You may need to reduce the list to a manageable number of actions and only add when you mastered a few at a time.


Sometimes you have to stir things up a bit when you institute variety and change. Just because you have always acted a certain way does not mean that you always have to act that way. Variety is the spice of life and makes flexibility a breath of fresh air. Innovative techniques are ways to endear you to a manager and become an indispensable part of her inner circle.


If you are not successful at managing up, it is safe to say, your failure could knock you out of the running for whatever goal you want to accomplish.

Managing up is a skill set that is built on relationships and high performance. You may institute many of these practices and still not be invited into the manager’s inner circle. You may try them and the relationship with your manager is still distant and cold, but it is your responsibility to make every effort to make this work. The manager has a lot of power and influence over many aspects of your career. You can make a difference in showing them you are an indispensable member of the team, who rallies to make them look good, has their back and able to help them achieve their goals and objectives.

Copyright © 2013 Orlando Ceaser

Managing Up – Part 1

 Managing up can mean different things to different people.  One may view it as a set of techniques and strategies to allow a subordinate to survive when working for a difficult supervisor. Another may see it as a means to harmonize actions with the person you are reporting to in order to pave a smooth road to more money and a promotion. Still others may see it as manipulation or performance acting in order to achieve a personal objective. Whatever your point of view the general consensus is there is a need to work with your manager in order to improve the climate in your work place and achieve personal and organizational goals.

I will draw largely from many years of reporting to a variety of managers. The techniques mentioned will be some that I’ve used personally or observed used masterfully by others. I will also refer to the literature around management and leading, ultimately providing the perspective of a person reporting to a manager and the viewpoint of a manager receiving the strategies.

Articles written on the topic of managing up, advise employees to first understand their personal motives and objectives. A high level of emotional intelligence through greater self-awareness, let’s you know what you wish to gain from a relationship with a supervisor. These may be a variation on rewards and recognitions to include, increased compensation, promotional opportunities or simply survival goals. It is also helpful in designing strategies to work with your boss. This analysis also exposes the non-negotiable, things you will not give up to succeed in a manager / employee relationship. You need to know what is in it for you or what you need to acquire to make it worth the time spent. The personal drivers of your behavior will become clear to you during this time of reflection. It is important to be genuine, transparent and honest with yourself.

Secondly, you must determine the goals and objectives of your manager. If the boss is a perfectionist, give her what she wants. She needs to deal with different styles, but you may not have the rank or credibility to change her. Managers have different management and personality styles. You need to know if they are autocratic, where they believe all objectives should come from the top of the organization or participatory where teams are emphasized.  They may also be consultative, persuasive, decorative or laissez-fare. The management style will give you insight into how they will run their slice of the organization.  A review or management style literature contains definitions of the styles and how to work effectively within them.

Managers leave a corporate footprint within their organizations. There will be evidence everywhere on their trials and tribulations, conquests, contributions and celebrations of achievement. The information is present within the company history and you will find it by indulging in research or investigative reporting. This research will involve interviews and asking the right questions.

These interviews may start as early as your pre-employment interview or the job interview prior to the promotion.  You want to determine what drives the manager, what makes them tick and what ticks them off.  You want to know their philosophies, values, ambitions and thoughts around teamwork and individual achievement, so you can see if their goals mesh with your work ethic. What are the manager’s views about performance and how it is rewarded or punished? You want to know what excellence looks like to them, their work habits and decision-making strategies. Do they involve their team in decision-making? Do they value those who come to them with solutions rather than problems to be solved? The manager has a track record as clear as footsteps in the snow; you want to know as much as possible, so you don’t make mistakes when managing your career while managing up.

The interviews should involve direct conversations with the manager, but also input should be solicited from others who have worked for her. A talk with their peers and others within the company will be helpful. You ultimately want to build a bridge with your performance to get you from where you are to where you want to be. If you are currently working for the manager you should have much of this information, but are you using it to your advantage? Here are a few do’s and don’ts that may be helpful for you.


  1. Perform your job with excellence
  2. Make the manager look good
  3. Determine values, philosophies and pet peeves
  4. Avoid conflict unless the manager thrives on it to test your mettle
  5. Keep them informed about matters involving their area
  6. Have their back, protect them and cover their blind side
  7. Maintain confidentiality of key events that occur in your area
  8. Become an invaluable asset – indispensable

The first step in managing up is to do your own job with excellence, within the parameters of corporate policy and professionalism. Know your job and do your job. Know your boss and do your best to make them look good. The manager’s job can be one of the loneliest jobs in the company. The higher they rise in an organization, the more this statement applies. If you become a valued asset to the manager, this will enable you to manage up more effectively. Rosanne Badowski, co-author of Managing Up: How to forge an effective relationship with those above you says that your boss wants you to “go above and beyond your tasks assigned to you so that you can enhance your manager’s work.”  Penelope Trunk in the November 2006 issue of Managing Up said, “Helping your manager makes you a greater asset and will make you more competitive for a promotion – managing up is a “help me help you” type of role, and it can certainly work in your favor.”

If you are focused on continuous improvement, the manager will be impressed by your dedication. They may welcome you taking on additional responsibility by showing yourself worthy to handle the increased workload. This distribution of responsibilities will give you insight into their job, which could be helpful as you move up the company ladder. The manager may be open to mentoring and offering career advice to help you navigate the competitive waters of your industry or organization.


  1. Compete with your manager – a victory is a defeat
  2. Make your manager look bad, incompetent, foolish or ridiculous
  3. Hang your manager out to dry by failing to keep them in the loop
  4. Embarrass the company and subsequently the manager
  5. Gossip, complain or speak ill of the manager to peers or others in management

There may be times when you may feel your boss is threatened by your presence and performance. You may catch the eye of senior leaders and your boss may feel you are the heir apparent to their job. This is a very delicate situation and you must do everything in your power to ensure that she can trust you and have your loyalty. Even if you are better than your boss in a certain area, do not rub their nose in it. Become a resource for your supervisor and use humility, offering your skill set for the benefit of the entire team. You must resist the temptation to go over their head, even when the senior leader gives you permission. Discuss this matter with your boss and ask for advice on how to handle. If you do not feel comfortable with this approach, consult your mentor or trusted advisor or alternative strategies.

Guard against setting up an adversarial relationship with your boss. A manager gained a reputation of being well-connected due to his many company relocations. This caused a problem with him and his director. The Director was the type who wanted to have access to all information. One day the manager mentioned in a meeting that he had copies of information the Director desired. The Director was furious and challenged him to disclose the person who sent him the files. When the manager surrendered the name, the Director replied, “So that’s your source of information in the Home Office.” The manager filled with ego, naively replied, “One of my sources of information.” When the words left his mouth, he said, he knew he had made a mistake. He worked from that instance to correct this error in judgment.

Copyright © 2013 Orlando Ceaser

Next installment

Managing Up – Part 2

The Manager’s Perspective  

Due to be posted March 12, 2013

Perform or perish – Part 2

 My Manager’s job

Many people feel it is best to let their work speak for itself. But is everyone ware of the scope and quality of your work. I know individuals who feel their job is to work and the manager’s job is to inform upper management about their performance. They place their hopes and trust in a manager being their advocate. It may be the manager’s job, but it is their career that is at stake. People would be astonished at the silence of their managers in meetings. Most managers have the credibility with their peers to be taken seriously. But some cower in situations when they should speak up for their people. You may not know how hard or if your manager is fighting for you. Ask for accounts of their conversations with their peers and superiors to feel more comfortable about their actions.

A manager must accurately state the case for his direct reports and must defend them against challenges from other managers who may share a different opinion. Many times the other manager may have data unknown to the current manager, especially around teaming issues.  Efforts should be made to ensure the information is recent and relevant. The manager must in essence fight for their people.  My point is that your manager may be your greatest advocate, but you must become personally involved in letting people know about your performance. If you won’t fight for your recognition and reputation, at least ensure that someone is out front, fighting for you. 


We have established that you have a role in promoting your performance. You have heard it said that it’s not what you do, but who you know. To state it more factually, it is not only what you do, but also, who you know. Internal and external networking is vital to create a database of advocates who may be instrumental in getting the word out about you. There are five steps to networking effectively. Social media is becoming an integral part of reaching out to potential advocates. LinkedIn and other sites are essential for getting your profile distributed and noticed. To disregard any of these steps may limit awareness of the impact of your performance. They are as follows:

Who do you know?

Who knows you?

What do they think of you?

What can they do for your?

What will they do for you?

Who do you know?

Today it is critical to know a wider range of people. Within your company it is important to know more people in order to gain additional perspectives, share your ideas and results. Do not limit your contacts to people at the higher levels of the organization. Nothing is more alienating than to brush by people whom you don’t feel have enough status to help you. You never know who can be helpful.  

 President of a small company had a decision to make between two women executives for a Vice President position. They were even in all of the objective parameters. The President asked the custodian about his impression of the two ladies, without stating his intention. The custodian said one was very standoffish, condescending and would almost throw the garbage can at him. There was no eye contact and she made him feel like a lower class citizen. The other person, he said was friendly, maintained eye contact and seemed concerned about him as a person. She made him feel good in her presence. This was the extra information the President needed to make his decision.  

Who knows you?

There are people in the company you want to know you. Your boss and his superior are good places to start. How do others know you? Have you initiated a conversation with them at Sales Meetings or other company functions? Sometimes we think a senior executive is too busy to talk to us and we ignore a chance to strike up a conversation with them. We may also worry that others will accuse us of sucking up to the big bosses. Disregard those thoughts and prepare and practice conversation starters for prominent and not so prominent people within your company. It is always good to know people from different departments and functions. Your paths may cross again some day when you can help each other. Be prepared. It is also acceptable to ask someone to introduce you to people you don’t know. Your boss would be an excellent person to make the introduction.

What do they think of you?

To know you is not necessarily to love you. I knew a young lady who knew the right people and they knew her, but they didn’t like her. She had no idea as she socialized with all the key people in the company. There is an expectation of professionalism and self awareness. If you have annoying habits such as being an incessant talker who never listens and constantly berates people, you may not have a favorable image. You want to ask around to determine if you have attributes that others would like you to change. You also have to be receptive, listen and make the changes. Thanking the person for their suggestion is also a sign of professionalism and good manners.

What can they do for you?

Some positions are obvious in what they could do for you. These individuals may be involved in calibration discussions or succession planning meaning. They may be able to add insight or their impression of you as a candidate for a promotion. As I mentioned earlier be nice for the sake of being nice, knowledgeable and professional. The rewards will come later.

What will they do for you?

This is usually resolved by their response to a request for action. The skillful use of a “close” when appropriate can work in your favor. Will they accept your phone calls or e-mail messages with questions, comments or ideas? Will they be your mentor? Will they provide you with advice or counsel on key business matters? Will they write a letter of recommendation for an internal job interview? The power of your relationship or their sincere desire to be instrumental in career will pay dividends for you. When the time is right do not be afraid to ask for the strong appropriate action from them.  People like to help people viewed as a person on the way up.

In today’s flatter organizations and leaner and meaner environments, we have to ensure that we accept the ultimatum to perform or perish. Our performance (true impact) should also resonate with key decision makers in the company. We must achieve our sales goals and exceed them where possible. Our clients must view us as indispensable. We should go the extra mile to ask your clients to write the company extolling your virtues and value to their offices. The market and our customers will pick the winners and losers and those who have not performed, will perish.

Copyright © 2009 Orlando Ceaser

Perform or perish – Part 1

I interviewed with a manager from a medium size pharmaceutical company. The DM spoke of sales success as a ruthless priority. There was an intolerance of mediocrity. If your performance was “subpar and under the bar” you were in trouble. He looked at me intently and uttered that familiar phrase, around here, “Money talks and BS walks.”  I had heard the phrase many times before and being quick on my feet, I responded, “What’s the use, if you don’t produce.” I wanted him to know I could swim in shark infested waters and that I was the person for the job.

In research circles and the halls of academia, researchers and professors are told to publish or perish. In sales and marketing organizations all over the world, a variation of this battle cry can be heard. We are in a constant struggle to prove our value by selling our products and services and competing for our jobs. We “fight extinction with distinction.” Our existence or extinction is governed by our ability to meet or exceed the demands of the marketplace. If we are to be successful, we must accept the ultimatum to perform or perish.

Many companies are in a reduction mode; reducing the size of sales forces and other resources. Some good representatives are displaced in the process, but an effort is made to keep the top performers. Territory performance is evaluated and the under performing ones are eliminated, left vacant or absorbed into adjacent geographies. It is imperative to understand how performance is measured, exceed expectations and ensure that management is aware of your full contributions to the bottom line.

How is performance measured?

Everyone should understand how performance is measured in their organization. Sales teams rely heavily on objective factors such as, market share growth, new customers, satisfied clients, new prescriptions, total prescriptions, customer satisfaction or engagement scores, pieces sold, number of calls made, customer conversions and documents or people processed. There may also be subjective factors such as, behavioral traits, competencies or success factors which represent how the employee achieved their goals. 

Performance is captured and referenced in performance reviews, (formally once or twice a year) and coaching discussions on work days and other interactions with the manager. Frequent performance discussions against objectives will eliminate surprises at the end of the year and ensure that the latest document accurately reflects your results. You may want to initiate these fireside chats if your manager does not do this routinely.

Understand the evaluation system

Many companies will force rank their employees based on their overall performance. If there are 10 people in a District, they are ranked from 1 – 10, with the top representative occupying the #1 position. This process is helpful in distributing performance ratings, merit increases and incentive compensation. This process may also be used to determine the lower 10% of performers. Some companies will remove the lower performers if they are at the bottom of the list two years in a row.

Companies may categorize employees as A, B or C players. Thomas DeLong and Vineeta Vijayaraghaven in their Harvard Business Review article defined A, B and C players as follows:

A’s are star performers. They are employees who put their professional lives ahead of their families and personal lives because they are striving to accomplish more or move upward in the organization. They are the risk-takers, the “high potentials,” and employers enjoy finding and hiring them. They are also the players most likely to leave the organization for opportunities elsewhere.

B’s are competent, steady performers who balance their work and personal lives while still doing the bulk of the work of the company. They tend to stay put, don’t require a lot of attention, and they get the job done. Because they stay, they tend to carry the corporate history with them.

C’s are performers who are not achieving enough to satisfy their employers and are most likely to be asked to move along.” In hard times Companies try to keep their A & B performers.

There are other variables in assessing your performance and that includes comparing it to your peers who may work for other managers. Calibration is a process used to discuss employees in an effort to measure employees against their peers. There are some managers who are hard on their people and therefore distribute lower ratings and incentive payouts, but they have stuff standards. Other managers have been known to be easy on their people and rate them higher and reward them with higher incentives whether they earned them or not. To even the playing field a process of calibration was established. This is considered a more equitable system because it allows managers to discuss their ratings with the peers. In this scenario people of comparable performance are compared to ensure equity in the system.

Managers are challenged to evaluate performance in a pay for performance environment. Force ranking and calibrating are ways to ensure that people are reviewed, rated, rewarded and retained based on their performance. Your objective is to ensure that you are viewed near the top of the pack, as an A or B player which is validated by the calibration process. No system is perfect, but assessment is here to stay and necessary to provide data for promotions and when tough personnel decisions, such as staff reductions have to be made.

Tooting your own horn

In Philosophy 101 the professor asked, “If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? In business if you are making a contribution, you want the world to know about it.

There is a feeling in our culture that you should not toot your own horn, let others do it for you. We label those that do, arrogant and braggarts. Ironically, some of these individuals get promoted, because management has a better assessment of their ability. We may become disillusioned and accuse management of favoritism.

Copyright © 2009 Orlando Ceaser

Perish or Perform – Part 2 on December 3, 2012

Sensitivity and Incivility

Are we becoming thin-skinned and too sensitive? Is a lack of civility and etiquette affecting our communications? These two questions randomly pass through my mind from time to time. People are repeatedly making verbal miscues and finding themselves in trouble.  We are constantly at odds and up in arms against comments made that are deemed offensive. Etiquette provides us with rules for civil behavior. Following these tenets is like the rules of the road in driving a motor vehicle. We assume everyone knows acceptable behavior and the penalties for failing to obey. When there is a lack of trust, insecurity and incivility, sensitivity is wide-spread.

The burden in the communication process is on the speaker. But does the receiver play a role in being tough enough to withstand the message.  The speaker must be careful to avoid offensive words to convey their thoughts and feelings. These words may detract from their message and cause the receiver to block out important information. However, the receiver will have a hard time making it through life if their feelings are constantly hurt by a stray word or two.

Speakers must also be aware of current word meanings and interpretations. Otherwise their communication would require a disclaimer; “These words may not reflect the feelings or intentions of the speaker. However, if definitions exist that are not widely known, or have changed; the uninformed speaker may be walking into an ambush.

We are exposed to communication blunders every day. The headlines portray public figures such as politicians, news reporters and celebrities who surprisingly make hurtful comments. A person speaks and someone or a whole group is offended. “How could they say something so insensitive is the cry from a group, individual or their sympathizers?”  The poor person sits or stands there looking confused and wonders; “What did I do wrong?”  Could they have been so clueless we want to know? Or did their vocabulary betray their inner feelings?


Are we really too sensitive? We have been part of many groups in our life time. These groups may have had unflattering names, labels and mistreatment associated with them. We may have been made to feel inadequate and strange or merely despised by these labels. When these labels are brought up again the mental flashbacks sometimes cause us to react in a manner seeking revenge. Additionally, we may have bad memories of being the new kid on the block, the shorter or taller one, in the “out crowd”, a different gender, race or ethnicity, economic status or from another neighborhood.  Are we allowing the actions of a few cruel people to affect the way we act? Richard Pryor tells a story of a dog in one of his routines who is on edge. He wonders if the dog had been abused since it was jumpy and scared at the slight movement and sound.

An employee was sensitive to a manager calling him Magic every time he saw him. One day in frustration he confronted the manager and asked him why he called him Magic. The employee was thinking black magic and was offended. However, the manager told him about a time the employee made a problem disappear, as if by magic. That was the origin of his comments, a misunderstanding that brought on insecurity and hard feelings. The employee was expecting a fight when he confronted the manager and was worried about his job. But by talking about it the problem was eliminated. He could have saved himself hours and days of aggravation if he addressed the problem sooner.


There is a rampant disregard for individuals and authority which is evident all around us. Is this due to selfishness, carelessness, misunderstandings or a deep seeded discontent for others? Are these feelings contained under immense pressure until they burst through to the surface in words or gestures? We may never know the answers, but we can ensure that it is not expressed in a negative manner around us. In reality we cannot control how a person feels or thinks, but we can ensure their actions are in line with acceptable behavior.

Incivility is apparent at work in our schools and on the political stage. We even try to justify if by calling it free speech. Respect and common sense should join forces and create a more thoughtful society. This will require cultural awareness and gender awareness greater than we currently display. It is a model of behavior for our children and the next generation. If rudeness is acceptable and allowed to perpetuate, we will get more of it. Stature and position will mean nothing. Children act this out when they feel they have the license to disrespect adults if the students feel the adults deserve it.

Some companies have tried to tackle incivility and inappropriate behavior through a code of conduct. Addressing incivility with aggression will cause more harm than good. The perpetrator will gain supporters and strength from any punitive action.  Violence is counterproductive and as unacceptable as the incivility it hopes to eradicate. The correct response to incivility is filled with grace and professionally. However, the individual may not respond with the same level of elegance and professionalism.


Many would argue that individuals should be judged by their reputation or track record. If a person’s body of work is positive and productive and they make a careless slip of the tongue, they should not be branded and persecuted. If the comment is out of character for them, it may not be a reflection of their true personality. We should not assume they are living a hidden double life and have fooled most of the people all of the time.  I had a high school history teacher who claimed not to be prejudiced in any manner. But he said, “If you cut me off in traffic my temper may cause me to swear at you with some indelicate language. I will use words I grew up and I am not proud of it.” We would fire him today if his comments ever made it on the evening news.

We often want to fire, fight or prosecute them to punish people for their first communication offense. We should probably institute a one strike rule and exact some kind of penance such as put them on probation or assigns them to perform community service. We often scorn those who ask mercy, although we would want mercy for ourselves. It is interesting how imperfect people demand perfection from those who are around us.

Sensitivity affects us in the workplace. What would happen after an obscene gesture if no one responded? If would be like a joke that bombed. The comedian or speaker will panic and resort to other methods to get your attention and earn your favor. We hear words or phrases that are despicable to us and we withhold our best effort. We may even become stressed enough to allow it to affect our health and relationships.  

We waste countless hours on the job sacrificing productivity because we are disrespected and exposed to offensive terminology. Employees may not be as engaged on the job if they are constantly in the crosshairs of inappropriate language. When sensitivity blunts our effectiveness we should look for a way to strengthen ourselves. I won’t say to “Man Up” as is stated in the commercials, but we must protect ourselves from the behavior and from allowing it to reduce our effectiveness.

Copyright © 2012 Orlando Ceaser