Communication Saboteurs: Egos

Misti Burmeister
July 16, 2009 — 2,664 views  
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It was a motivational morning. I'd just finished moderating a powerful panel of four talented professionals - each superbly representing his or her generation. They shared their own unique struggles to find their places in the workforce and discussed strategies for strengthening the different generations' relationships in the office.  

Afterwards, I couldn't help but get sucked into a conversation with three women talking about young professionals in a negative, stereotypical way. "They're demanding and have ridiculous expectations." I hear this kind of conversation frequently, but right after such an inspiring discussion about how this line of thinking doesn't serve anyone in the workplace?  

I was most awestruck by who was saying such things - two women under the age of 25 and the third not even 40-years-old.  "Wow," I thought to myself. "They have already forgotten their experiences!" 

The older woman in the group said she had an anecdote that would really stump me. I agreed to listen if she was up for some challenging coaching.  

"You would not believe what this new young sales woman did. During her lunch break a potential customer came in, so I suggested she talk with them. She let me know she was on break and assumed one of us senior sales associates would help the customer. When I was her age, I would have wiped off my mouth, put on a fresh coat of lipstick and gone out there. I couldn't believe she expected one of us to serve this prospective client." 

Careful not to be too blunt, I began, "Are you ready to let go of your ego?" She said she was. "OK, great," I said. "Do you know where this young lady wants to be career-wise in the next three to five years - or what motivates her?" 

"No, I haven't asked her," she replied. 

Even if this young woman had been "wrong" to assume someone else should take over while she was off the clock, the senior professional judged her before asking her motivations - and came off as condescending rather than focused on helping the customer and developing her young co-worker. And, because she had never taken time to get to know her, she had no leverage to offer her career guidance in the first place.  

I encouraged the woman to think about how she could turn communication lapses like this into chances to develop as a leader in her organization. Here are three suggestions offered: 

  1. Determine Your Focus. Where do you want to be in the next three to five years? What skills and experiences would you like to gain? What steps can you take to become a stronger leader? When you have created your own plan, it can be fun to focus on helping others achieve success.

  2. Become a Leader. Share your goals with employees or colleagues you want to lead or mentor. With clear and consistent communication, you build trust, without which people will not share anything or want your guidance. Once you have built relationships, ask where they want to be in the next three to five years. Let them know it's OK to "not know" at that moment, and request they come back to you with some ideas within a particular timeframe. This lets them know you really do care about their futures - and gives you leverage to mentor.

  3. Develop a Vision for Your Team. Decide where would you like to see your team in the future and how, specifically, each team member contributes to that vision. Then you will join the 5 percent of exceptional leaders who have taken the time to set an inspiring vision.

Imagine the difference it would have made if this particular senior sales associate had established a relationship with her young co-worker. People buy from those they know, like and trust - and take advice from people the same people. Leaders who treat their team like customers win every time. That is, if they treat their customers with the utmost respect.  

Rock on! 


Misti Burmeister


Misti Burmeister

Inspirion Inc.

Burmeister brings more than a decade of professional experience to her work with diverse clientele, including organizations like AT&T, UPS, Marriott International, Choice Hotels, U.S. Army and Navy, Wal-Mart and Johnson & Johnson Company. As a result of her hands-on coaching, clients have seen significant improvements in employee retention, ultimately contributing to their bottom lines. One organization saw a 90 percent reduction in its turnover rate! Her timely contributions are catching the attention of the media, businesses and even the government. She's been quoted in the Washington Business Journal, The Washington Post and The Washington Times. Combining humor with hard-hitting information delivered with "an amazing amount of energy," she's earned acclaim for providing real, quantitative and effective steps that empower and bring out the best in multi-generational organizations "“ immediately.