Working Dynamics



August 2006  


Welcome to the quarterly Working Dynamics Newsletter. Our goal is to highlight what each of us can do to have stronger work relationships, communicate more effectively, and manage conflict constructively in our work lives.

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Susan Gunn, Working Dynamics

In this issue...

  • About the Publisher
  • Microinequities: Death by 1000 paper cuts
  • Disrespect is Worth Confronting
  • Building Work Relationships: Small shifts for a big payoff
  • Your Next Move? It's Up to You!

 Microinequities: Death by 1000 paper cuts

What is your reaction if you aren't copied on an important project or policy memo, when your work group goes to lunch and you aren't invited, when your supervisor cuts you off in mid-sentence? Most likely, the effect is minimal if it happens once. If it is not a one-time occurrence, the effect is cumulative and powerful. These slights are called microinequities. They are subtle and often unconscious messages that have the capacity to make an employee feel unvalued and alienated. Microinequities cause obvious damage to the work relationship, and also cause potential risk to the organization in terms of retention and recruitment.

"Because they are often not obvious, microinequities require a conscious effort to ferret out," according to Katherine Spencer Lee of Robert Half Technologies. She says, "As an executive, you must communicate to your direct reports the negative impact microinequities can have in the workplace. Providing a forum for dialogue about the problem can raise everyone's awareness of the issue and help ameliorate it. Using role playing and eliciting personal examples can serve to illustrate how commonplace the problem is and foster discussion about strategies for preventing it. Often, simply taking the time to examine your behavior when interacting with employees and making a concerted effort to avoid sending out negative or exclusionary signals can go a long way toward reducing the frequency of microinequities and ensuring that your organization remains a place where individuals feel satisfied and respected."

Time (March 20, 2006) aptly refers to microinequities as "death by a thousand paper cuts" in its article "Why Your Boss May Be Sweating the Small Stuff."

Full article...


Disrespect is Worth Confronting

conferenceOne source states that 88% of American workers are concerned about respect in their workplace. Although I've never surveyed respect, or the lack of it, in the workplace, the issue surfaces and rises to the top with nearly every one of my clients. Once respect becomes an issue, it fast becomes a preoccupation, regardless of one's level in the organization. Respect not only matters, it matters desperately.

Employees who perceive their workplaces as "negative climates" get less done, do not do their best work, lose commitment, and think about resigning. The effects are quickly felt at an organizational level through decreased quality, production, and bottom-line results.

"Poor results are always a sign of conflict or conversations that aren't being held in an organization," according to Joseph Grenny. Grenny is an expert on business communications and the co-author of Crucial Confrontations (McGraw-Hill, 2005). He also co-authored the book Crucial Conversations in 2002. "It just shows up as continuing to miss schedules or continuing to have quality problems. Other telltale signs are high turnover and low morale. The biggest focus of our research has not been on interpersonal issues, but on performance issues and we've found consistently that performance problems at their root tend to be crucial confrontation problems."

The most influential and successful managers and HR professionals can handle risky conversations to confront causes of disrespect and find ways to reverse the situation. Their efforts return the environment to one that is positive and productive. You can find more on the topic in Crucial Confrontations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler.

Working Dynamics specializes in rebuilding trust, respect, and communication in the workplace. Contact Susan Gunn for a confidential discussion (804-353-9527 or

Warning signs ...


Building Work Relationships: Small shifts for a big payoff

worldNo amount of technical expertise or hard work can eliminate the need for strong work relationships. You may have been "going it alone" for a while and aren't sure how to shift your methods at work to build relationships. Is the effort worth it? Building relationships at work takes purposeful effort, but the payoff makes it worth the effort. Not only are there personal benefits, but the quality and impact of your work usually improves too.

When there is mutual trust and respect, you can expect that co-workers will —

  • Speak highly of you when you aren't around
  • Spring into action when you need help
  • Freely forgive you when you make a mistake
  • Celebrate your successes with you
  • Support you when you misstep
  • Share ideas with you and give honest feedback
  • Expand your horizons with new ideas and new people
  • Give you the benefit of the doubt
  • Excuse you when you have a bad day
  • Make your work life more joyful

How do you start? Making a little more time in your day for others, shifting your priorities a little if you are all about "work" now, and giving your undivided attention when communicating with co-workers can be very effective first steps. Read "Eight Common Mistakes" for more ideas.

Eight common mistakes ...


Your Next Move? It's Up to You!


You may report to someone who regularly prompts your thinking with questions about your career. More likely your boss does not put career conversations at the forefront and you need to request them. Either way, your career is your responsibility. Here are five simple steps that need to be part of your ongoing career management.

Step One: Identify Your Abilities

  • What are your skills, values, and interests?
  • Which assignments have challenged you most? Least challenged you? Why?
  • What part of your education or work experience has been the most valuable to you over the years?

Step Two: Ask for Feedback

  • What direction did you receive in your last performance review?
  • Who are three people in your organization who could give you a realistic self-portrait to help you develop faster and smarter?
  • What do you think these three people would say are your greatest strengths?

Step Three: Consider Workplace Changes

  • What shifts and changes beyond your department have taken place?
  • Is your boss optimistic about the organization's future? Why or why not?
  • Given the direction of your organization, what do you need to get better at? Faster at? Smarter at? What are the implications for your career?

Step Four: Discover Multiply Pathways

  • Can you identify multiple career goals while you grow within your current position? (Don't forget lateral moves, exploratory assignments, and opportunities to grow on the job as well as the traditional vertical moves)
  • Of these potential pathways, which goals seem most in sync with where your organization is going?
  • Which goals will position you best for the future you envision for yourself?

Step Five: Design a Course of Action

  • Collaborate and brainstorm with your boss and develop contingency plans for each.
  • Find a mentor or coach. Choose someone you trust who is interested in giving the type of support you need.
    Have a plan so you'll stay on track.
  • Never stop growing, developing, and adding new skills.

Fast Company's advice for managers...


About the publisher

Susan Gunn is president of Working Dynamics, a conflict management consulting firm that helps leaders and teams become more effective and reduce costs. Quite simply, we improve workplace dynamics so that individuals and teams can get back on track.

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