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Turning Violet Around

By Tim Hayes

Everybody knew about Violet.

A longtime employee, Violet carried a pretty sizeable chip on her shoulder.  She enjoyed creating havoc.  She had a masterful way of pitting her peers against each other one day, then uniting them in vocal opposition to their shared manager the next.  She had perfected the art of swatting at a hornet’s nest until it shattered, then getting away cleanly, leaving others to feel the stings.

Violet was a seasoned rabble-rouser, a veteran cage-rattler, an accomplished troublemaker, in other words.

I had been hired by her company quite a few years ago as a consultant to help improve teamwork, communication, and the overall esprit de corps among its employees.  Small groups cycled through a day-long event at regular intervals until just about everyone had a chance to participate, so I knew it would only be a matter of time and the luck of the draw before I found Violet in the room.

When the fateful day arrived, I made my personal introductions to every participant as usual, thanking them for attending and saying how glad I was that they were there.  After a few minutes of coffee, donuts, and small talk, we reached the time to begin the day’s events.  I stood up and said, “Well, good morning again, everyone.  Welcome to today’s workshop.  As you know –“

“Excuse me!” the voice from the back table shouted.  Violet, naturally.  She was just getting warmed up.

“Why are we here, instead of doing our real jobs?  Who are you?  How much is the company paying you for this silliness, instead of giving us raises?”

We weren’t 10 seconds into this all-day event, and Violet had unloaded her arsenal, with the intent of blasting the whole thing completely off the rails and guarantee a difficult day for everyone.

Mentally, I faced a fork in the road.  I either could take her on directly, which virtually guaranteed a descent into argument, distraction, and chaos, or I could go another route.  I took a breath, gulped a bit for courage, and chose the latter.

“I understand those concerns, but I’m asking you to hang with me, at least until the first break.  This will not be a typical day on the job, by any means.  I think it will be a lot more fun, and you’re still going to get paid for a full day’s work!  If we get to the first break and you still want to go back to work at that point, you can.”

Silence.  Curious looks on many faces.  Somehow, I had their attention.  Maybe even the dawning of respect.  My monologue continued.

“I’d like to ask each of you a favor.  Stay open to the spirit of the day.  I guarantee it will all make sense, and relate to what you do every day on the job.  But I need to ask you to give it a chance, and stick with me for an hour or so, at least.  Can I count on all of you to do that?”

Then a miracle happened.

“All right,” said Violet.  And the rest of the room agreed.

Before the day ended, Violet had volunteered for two games, won one competition, asked to have her picture taken next to a “sculpture” she and her tablemates made during one activity, and contributed a number of tangible action items to be used back on the job to help build a stronger sense of teamwork.  She had been completely turned around, and I think I know why.

She had been treated with respect.  Her opinions were acknowledged.  She had been asked to do something, not told.  And she responded in ways that surprised even her peers.

Now, whether all that goodwill spilled over into the next day back at the jobsite, I honestly couldn’t tell you.  But at least for the day she and I spent together with the group, she had fully bought into the spirit of cooperation and participation.

It’s actually pretty simple.  People just want to know they’re respected and valued.  Even ones with the toughest reputations.  Is it a foolproof formula?  Maybe not.

But it’s what turned Violet around that morning, I have absolutely no doubt.

Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes