Friday, November 28, 2014

Weathering the Negativity Storm

Smiling through the misery on summit of Ben Cruachan
Today I'm pleased to present another guest post by Sarah Simon.

This post marks another installment in Sarah's series on lessons from the high country.

What the Mountain Teaches
The weather on the lower reaches of Ben Cruachan (3,684 ft/1,126 m) seems reasonable enough: cool and overcast, pretty typical for Scottish mountains.  Reaching the Cruachan Dam, the air grows increasingly cooler and damper. Two young Scottish men stop their descent to warn us: we turned around; it’s awful up there (pointing toward the mountain). Convinced no Scottish Highlands mist is a match for three hardened Colorado mountain women, we soldier upward.

Midway up the rocky gully toward the col, the mist condenses to rain and the bogs grow to an intolerable, boot-sucking mush. We don our rain coats only, too lazy to trouble ourselves with our rain pants, too. Grass gives way to rocky alpine talus, and water courses down the mountain in runnels. We push on, undeterred, past two questioning sheep giving us perplexed looks in exchange for our foolishness.  Above the high col, the rough footpath we had followed disappears, and we wander with drenched map and compass across slick rock in pea-soup clouds and steady rain to the obscured summit. Morale, you see, has reached an all-time low. Soaked and shivering, we barely celebrate reaching the top of this Munro with withered high fives and stiff summit photos before (finally) wrestling our way into our full waterproofs and beating a rapid retreat from our new-found North Atlantic hell.

Upward through the bonny Scottish weather
A chilly, damp drive on the strange side of narrow country roads returns us to our rented rural cabin where we bake our sodden clothing and bodies in front of a chock-full wood stove, warmed by homemade dinner and copious pours of red wine.  We weathered some truly miserable north Scotland mountain weather and made it out mostly intact. The next day, on the country highpoint Ben Nevis, believe me when I tell you we changed into our full waterproofs at the first sign of precipitation (and rejoiced on the summit in cold but pleasant conditions with a globally diverse extended family of mountain lovers).

What This Means for VoC and CX
For customer experience practitioners, storms of negativity most often come in the form of little dark clouds known as colleagues.

"What’s the point of this customer experience junk?  Don't you know I've got a day job?"
"We don’t need a survey. If the customer has an issue, they’ll call!"
"I'm late to the party / skipped your meetings / blew off the offer to review your survey draft, but I'm glad to critique all your hard-earned plans now!"
"Ok, but this is how we did it at my old company..."
"My team is the top performing team in our division, and we don’t have time for this nonsense."

Of all the challenges to CX success, colleagues who are bitter, cynical, passive aggressive, or just plain mean can derail your program with frightening, chilling speed. How can you push your program upward to the summit without feeling drenched, tired, and defeated by their negativity?

Proactively Prepare
Have your waterproofs in your pack and put them on before you get wet.  It will save you a lot of misery.

Negative people are going to happen. Like bad weather, they rain on your day despite your best plans and intentions. Expect them, and you won’t be disappointed.  Prepare for them and better weather the storm.

  • Clearly state and communicate your goals, and ensure your efforts and allies are aligned with these goals.
  • Obtain executive sponsorship early in your efforts, and maintain their good tidings.  It’s not cheating to have some firepower in your corner; it’s merely good sense.
  • Clearly outline your program plans, and state the anticipated or target ROI.
  • Generate excitement and energy surrounding your customer experience initiative to help repel and counter negativity because it can just be too much trouble for all but the most obstinate contrarian to swim upstream.
Put your waterproofs on before you get wet! Don’t wait until a member of the pooh-pooh club challenges you to justify your existence.

Keep a Calm, Positive State of Mind
The middle of a cold, driving rain is no place to freak out. When people panic in the mountains, accidents happen. Getting hurt or lost in bad conditions can lead to hyperthermia and grim outcomes.

When the stuff is hitting the proverbial fan, whether in the mountains or in a meeting, I remind myself of the advice of dog trainer Cesar Milan to project "calm assertive energy."  Both panic and aggression come from the same place: fear.  Fear can well up when we are being attacked by our coworkers.  It’s tempting to get angry, bare our teeth, and fight back.  But before biting your coworkers (literally or figuratively), take a deep breath.

Smile. Be pleasant. Take the moral high road. Resist the temptation to escalate. You have worked hard to make your CX program what it is today, investing time, budget, and creativity, and it hurts when someone with much less investment made criticizes your work. It takes strength to stay calm, but don’t squander energy on negativity. Make it clear you will keep your course in a calm and positive fashion.

Invite Your Dark Cloud to Contribute
Bad conditions in the mountains can bring out the worst in people, but involving a scared or angry climber in the solution-building process can refocus their energies to a positive outcome so everyone gets home safely.

It’s easy for a black hat thinker to criticize what others created, but more difficult for that person to state what should be.  Challenge your negative thinker to be creative and propose a solution. At best, you build an enhanced solution in response to their honed, critical eye.  At least, you gently and calmly sooth the complainer’s voice long enough to allow progress to take place. Alleviate fear or feelings of powerlessness by focusing the complainer’s energy on constructive - or at least non-destructive - efforts.

Cautionary Reminder: It may be best to “confront” your negative critic one-on-one in a neutral setting far from the spotlight.

Valid criticism of your customer experience efforts should be welcomed and handled with grace. But chronically negative critics are bullies that can derail your hard work if you let them.  Be prepared to face dark clouds of negativity in a proactive, positive, productive fashion.

Sarah Simon is a career insights professional with 16 years of experience in the feedback industry. Specialties include VoC architecture, journey mapping, developing linkages to business performance, reduction of customer defection, results analysis and communication, with expert survey design skills.  She is the survivor of a botched early-generation "big data mining" operation and is happy to live to tell about it.


4 comments:

  1. Enjoyed the post Sarah, but for me there is a slightly different lesson.

    It is rare in Britain to have truly horrible weather, we don't have hurricanes or ice storms. What we do have, by the bucketful (as you experienced) is miserable weather, fog, wind and rain.

    The point for me is that it doesn't take a disaster for your initiative to go off track. All it takes is consistently miserable people.

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    1. James,

      I get both sad and angry - I admit - for my clients who deal with these "consistently miserable people" as you so aptly described them. I want to pull these naysayers aside and tell them: If you don't have anything constructive to add, then please stop raining on this parade!

      These chronically negative people can be such a challenge to deal with because if you push too hard on them, they will often rebel and the problem gets worse.

      Sarah

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  2. Hi Sarah,

    I think when you say 'Keep a Calm, Positive State of Mind' that's a really important point. Also, people often contend that they are naturally and immovable half glass full or empty people when asked. However, Martin Seligman's work 'Learned Optimism' shows that optimism and a positive state of mind can be learned. Perhaps, this type of training is something we should consider including in our CX and customer service initiatives.

    Adrian

    Ps. I know that mountain and have experienced the same type of conditions as you on that hill.

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    1. Adrian,

      I like your perspective. I am fond of telling people "Happiness is a choice." Often, others do not believe me when I say this or think I've got some "optimism sickness." But it's true - we have the power to be "glass half full" or "glass half empty." I know which I choose - among other things, optimism is a LOT less stressful.

      I suppose if misery loves company, I am "glad" to hear that you enjoyed the same mood as I did on lovely Ben Cruachan. I was not terribly fond of Scotland in my hours on that hill... ;)

      Sarah

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