You Can’t Make a Silk Purse Out of a Sow’s Ear


A vice president presented the following challenge to me, “I have an excellent division manager who knows our product and strategies better than anyone I’ve seen.”

“I anticipate a ‘but’ coming,” I responded.

“Yes, his people skills are among the worst.  Customers love him but he berates and embarrasses staff.  He is very argumentative with me and the president.  His vocabulary is filled with demeaning curse words.  Many have complained and three long-time, high-performers have quit.”

“I assume that you have talked to him.”

“Yes, many times.”

“So you want me to coach him on his people skills?”

“That’s right.”

“His behaviors are so hard-wired, he is very likely incapable of making significant, lasting improvements in his ability to work with people.”

I continued to explain that no matter how good you are at coaching, you will not likely convert a narcissistic-neurotic-whining-argumentative employee into considerate-cooperative-respectful team player.

When dealing with extremely disruptive people, my experience suggests that you have two choices.  One, put up with them the way they are; or two, remove them.

The “silk purse, sow’s ear” proverb—meaning that you are not likely to convert unrefined, dirty and base behavior into refined and desirable—apparently emerged in the mid-1500’s.  Some still don’t get it.

 

Rude Behaviors in the Workplace Cost Money


I observed a vice president leading a contingent of visitors into an early-morning meeting.  As the group approached a conference room, the vice president noticed what appeared to be spilled coffee on the new carpet.  A staff member happened to be walking by.  The frowning, vice president gruffly said, “It looks like you need to teach your friends to be more careful with their coffee.”

Studies suggest that, during a work week, about half of employees engage in rude behaviors.  Further, Dr. Woolum and associates, writing in the Journal of Applied Psychology, report that merely witnessing rude behaviors costs the company money.

Examples of rude behaviors include:  crude language, interrupting others, failure to show appreciation, loud talking, checking your phone during conversations, eye-rolls, gossiping and so on.

Apparently, observation of rudeness sets a frame in the brain.  Later, when employees see what may be ambiguous behaviors—not necessarily rude; they interpret the behavior to be uncivil. Employees who perceive rudeness may avoid interactions with others and dampen their commitment to tasks.

In the interest of civility, not to mention the bottom line, leaders would do well to model respectful, courteous and considerate behaviors, while professionally calling out team members who slip up.