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Foster Competition, Give the Right Gifts, Find a Mentor and Other Answers to Burning Questions

Here are the answers to these questions.

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What is proper etiquette for gift-giving in the workplace?

Your three watchwords should be considerate, fair and inclusive. Aim for gifts that can be shared and enjoyed by everyone, such as food. Keep staff dietary restrictions in mind when choosing the edible gifts. If you do decide to give individual gifts to every staff member, steer clear of knick-knacks. Most people have enough clutter in their lives. Keep it clean. Do not consider gag gifts that rely on sexual innuendo or ethnic stereotypes to be funny. Do not give anything that could remotely be considered intimate. And be generous down the chain. Give the lowest rung on your company ladder as nice a gift as the one you give your manager.

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How can I promote competition among staff without it turning my store into the setting for Lord of the Flies?

The key to fostering healthy competition, according to research done by a team at Harvard Business School, lies in how you communicate the competition. When employees feel excited, they’re more likely to come up with creative solutions and new ways to better serve customers. When they feel anxious or worried they might lose their jobs or be publicly humiliated in some way, they’re more likely to cut corners or sabotage one another. Leaders can generate excitement by highlighting the potential positive consequences of competition (such as the recognition and rewards that await outstanding performers), rather than creating anxiety by singling out and highlighting low performers (think of the steak knives scene in Glengarry Glen Ross).

What should you look for in a mentor?

The most important thing is that you and your mentor click on a personal level. Such a relationship should be undertaken with a long-term view, and you need to want to spend time together. As for more specific things to look for, Daniel Coyle’s excellent book The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills, suggests the following:

  • Avoid someone who reminds you of a courteous waiter; you want someone who is pushing you to take risks.
  • Seek someone who scares you a little.
  • Seek someone who gives short, clear directions.
  • Seek someone who loves teaching fundamentals.
  • Other things being equal, pick the older person.

And when it comes to asking for help, don’t be reticent. Advice-seeking is a powerful way to make a connection with someone. Most people love to help and to know they’ve made a difference in someone else’s life.

Every time we introduce a new project or way of doing things, or even when we propose a solution to a problem, there are members of staff who will find a reason to reject it. How do I deal with such people?

Amy Gallo, author of the “HBR Guide to Dealing with Conflict,” suggests these phrases to help you deal with such situations:

  • “You’ve made a good point, but if we x, then y.”
  • “When you keep pointing out the negative, we lose the enthusiasm we need to be really creative and productive. But you’ve shown me x, and I believe that you can y.”
  • “May I explain why I disagree with you?”
  • “Can you rephrase that in a positive way?”
  • “Perhaps so, but here’s the good/alternative I see.”
  • “You’ve identified a valid problem. Let’s brainstorm on how to fix it.”
  • “I’d appreciate it if you could give me some alternatives.”
  • “Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Now let’s …”
  • “Can we get a second opinion on that from …?”
  •  “What would you do instead?”
  • “What do you need to fix it/move forward?”
  • “I can see why you’d think that/feel that way. What’s your next step?”
  • “You sound upset/pessimistic. Is that what you were trying to convey?”
  • “Can we approach this from a different angle?”

Gallo says it’s important to remember that a pessimist usually isn’t out to hurt you on purpose. “They might not even realize how much they come across as a downer,” she says. “Aim to truly listen and empathize rather than passing judgment, and over time, they’ll trust you and learn not to stay in the pits.”

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How do I tease out a prospective hire’s innate strengths during the interview process?

Marcus Buckingham, a leader of the strengths-based school of business management, suggests asking this question: What was the best day at work you’ve had in the past three months? “Find out what the person was doing and why he or she enjoyed it so much,” he says, adding that it’s key to keep in mind that a strength is not merely something someone is good at. “It might be something they aren’t good at yet. It might be just a predilection, something they find so intrinsically satisfying that they look forward to doing it again and again and getting better at it over time.” The theory is that the best businesses are those that fully leverage the strengths (unbridled upside) of their employees as opposed to trying to fix up their weaknesses (never more than incremental gains).

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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