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Ask PETS+: How Do I Get My Staff to Talk Less and Listen More?

Plus dealing with embarrassing failures.

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After years away, I returned home and took over our family’s pet business. Along with the store, I inherited two difficult long-term workers. They resist any changes I try to make and don’t seem interested in stretching themselves. Yet I don’t know if I could run the store without them and don’t think I could replace them at the same pay.

There are a bunch of issues here, but they all seem to stem from your reluctance to act. If you don’t trust your pet business knowledge, bring in an outside consultant to set up structures so the business can operate properly without these recalcitrants. At the same time, have in place incentives to motivate and upgrade the skills of workers. If they can’t be “retooled,” get rid of them. Take advantage of the downturn to hire genuine staff assets. It sounds like these “indispensable” employees are making your life miserable. Bad businesspeople are masters at coping, and living with, bad situations. Change it up.

I know we’re supposed to celebrate failure these days as a path to growth, but how do you stop ruminating on things that go wrong, especially when they are embarrassing?

The old-school psychoanalyst in us would say we need to look at this in punishing detail — These thoughts of perfection, where do they come from? — but it doesn’t sound like you want to go there. In place of that approach, we recommend substitution (meaning come up with a funny version of the story) or distraction. The latter gets a bad rap, but recent studies have shown it’s actually pretty effective. Want to forget that screwup at work? Go scrub your DIY bathing areas for an hour. Or start plotting a complex dinner for the weekend. Your brain has trouble focusing on more than one thing at a time, so a new action interferes nicely with recollection. And running the same movie reel over and over in your head really helps no one.

Since launching in 2017, PETS+ has won 16 major international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact PETS+'s editors at editor@petsplusmag.com.

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