Now is not the time for radio silence

I don’t know who needs to hear this.

Scratch that. I know EXACTLY who needs to hear this.

  • Managers who are afraid to talk to furloughed or laid-off employees
  • Managers who think they have nothing to say
  • Managers who want their teams to return to work engaged and enthused

I know you are a caring person if you are reading this blog. Tell me if this email I recently received doesn’t break your heart.

“I was furloughed 6 weeks ago. Access to my work email and information was removed. In addition, I have not heard from my boss and or employer during this period of time. In complete honesty, it has been a difficult pill to swallow because I am not in the communication loop. I recognize from a legal perspective why the communication line has been cut off, however I’m not allowed to talk work with anyone; that would include my seasonal staff. So I have a lot of concerns about staff engagement and retention.”

I wish this was the only example. I had a gut-wrenching conversation the day before this popped into my inbox with another friend who was in the same situation. And another just a week before that. C’mon people, we can do better. We have to do better.

If communication is the #1 thing that determines success or failure during the good times, it becomes even MORE important in the difficult times.

Even for furloughed employees, you ask? YES! It’s true you can’t talk to them about work, but that doesn’t mean you can’t talk to them at all!  In one conversation I had, a concerned manager said he was told by corporate that he couldn’t call to check in on his team, one of which had a family member diagnosed with COVID-19. Seriously? Where is your humanity?

I asked a lawyer about this and you know what she said? “You have a right to be human”. There. Make the call.

For those who don’t know what to say or don’t feel they have anything to talk about with your employees, just say something. Your employees are craving connection right now, just like your guests are craving entertainment. You’ve put up weekly youtube videos for your guests about home school resources and what you are doing to keep them safe. Put that same energy into your employees.

If you don’t think this communication/connection thing is important, you may also be under the impression that your best employees will want to sit at home on unemployment because they can make more money that way. If you are worried about that, you likely have not done a good enough job engaging with them, and dare I say, you may have a bigger employee retention problem than just competing with unemployment.

Why? Because people who are truly engaged, bought in, and share a purpose DO NOT want to sit home doing nothing. It might seem attractive in the short term, but that’s because you have not made your case for the long term benefit of coming back to work.

All this communication also gives you the chance to discuss with your employees what you are doing to keep them safe. It’s true that some people will not want to come back to work because they don’t feel safe. Don’t rely on them filling in the blanks about what they think you are or are not doing to protect them. Be explicit. Get their input. Understand their point of view.

While many discussions are turning to reopening at this point, we are by no means out of the woods.  It’s not too late to fire up the communication machine and get cracking. And by the way, I am NOT talking about a text or a blast email. I’m talking about real conversations where you can hear their voice and maybe even see their face.

RELATED: Situational Employee Engagement Webinar

Now is not the time for radio silence. We have to do better.

Thanks for reading.

To see what others are doing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, check out the AttractionPros COVID-19 Video Series.


Diligence, Persistence and Stick-to-it-iv-ness

A recent trip to work with the amazing leaders at Carowinds yields a lesson in diligence.

What do YOU do when employees don’t listen the first time? What is YOUR plan B?

I’d love to hear your success stories, too!  Leave a comment below or email me at

Thanks for watching!

Want to support a great organization AND learn some important leadership concepts at the same time??  Now you can!  I will be donating a portion of the proceeds from all book sales in 2019 to Give Kids The World!

Slow or fast to hire? Fast or slow to fire?

If you are someone who hires people at your facility, you may have heard the following, diametrically opposed philosophies:

Slow to hire, quick to fire – OR – Quick to hire, slow to fire.

If you do a search for either phrase, you will find just as much competing evidence for which one is best and which one is nonsense.  It can be quite confusing.

For those who have hired the wrong person (and who among us hasn’t?), slow to hire – meaning taking your time to REALLY evaluate the candidate for strategic and cultural fit – makes the most sense.  The rational is that a little extra time upfront can save you headaches down the road. In fact, so many of us have made bad hiring decisions that a new industry was created, providing a bevy of tools and resources to evaluate talent – even calculators to tell you how much a bad hire will cost you.  Makes anyone afraid to utter those words, “you’re hired”.

On the other hand, quick to hire gets people in the door but gives them a chance to find their way and fit in.  And lets be honest, it feels like sometimes with our depleted applicant pool, we’ll hire anyone interested and sort ’em out later.

Sometimes, though, they don’t ever fit into your culture, or they create a negative subculture that undermines everything you do. Or, you are so desperate to keep people so you can open the funnel cake stand that you bend rules and lower your standards just to keep them “happy”. (Spoiler alert – that doesn’t work.)  I would argue that this is a function of a weak and unstructured culture, not a bad hiring practice, but we’ll explore that a little more in a minute.

The problem with both of these philosophies or tactics is that they oversimplify the applicant/employee experience.  And this ain’t a simple proposition.

I shared this graphic in my book ALL CLEAR! A Practical Guide for First Time Leaders and The People Who Support Them:

In essence, it shows my findings regarding what truly impacts employee performance and behavior, and the relative importance of the various processes.  It comes largely from discussions I’ve had over the years with operational managers who complain about the “quality of employee” and insist that hiring and training processes be improved.  What they don’t consider is the time these employees have spent out in the field.  Do they really expect that spending a day or two in a training class is MORE influential on their behavior than the three months they have been working in their role?  I don’t think so.

But this revisits the concept of a weak or unstructured culture.  When managers are blaming HR for bad employee performance, or you are lowering your standards just to keep people around, or you justify poor performance in one area because an employee is really good at something else, your hiring practices are likely not in question. Your culture is.

What if, and I’m just spit-ballin’ here, what if there was such a strong sense of what to do and what not to do among their managers and co-workers that a new hire never had to question the standard or what they could get away with?  You’re supposed to wear white shoes? EVERYONE is wearing white shoes ALL THE TIME! You’re supposed to not use your cell phone at work? No one EVER reaches for their phone “just to check the time”. And why is this? Not solely because the “right” people were hired or that HR said “don’t use your cell phone” during orientation… it’s because those standards were enforced on a regular basis and managers took the opportunity to coach and develop their employees.

So, getting back to hire or fire slow or fast? What about this…

  • Hire smart – don’t regulate to a timeframe, but use your company standards to evaluate cultural fit and make the best decision you can in the moment. Yes, sometimes you have to go with your gut.
  • Coach often – Don’t let them get away with negative or substandard performance, but also don’t let outstanding effort or performance go unnoticed.  Make it a priority (which means building the skill and taking the time) to communicate to your employees how they are doing, what impact they are making and what strides that can take to improve.
  • Fire when people demonstrate they can’t or are unwilling to meet your standards – Give them a chance, coach them to higher performance, but don’t keep people around who regularly demonstrate an inability or unwillingness to meet your standards. They may be a good person, but if they aren’t upholding your standards, they aren’t doing you any favors.

That doesn’t sound as pithy or hip, but it’s what WORKS!

Thanks for reading!

Speaking of ALL CLEAR – check out what some people (who didn’t write the book) have to say about it! 

“I just finished your book “All Clear!” WOW!!! What a great tool! It is so timely and practical. I am going to have my leadership team read it and use it to help us grow our team. I have been stressing to our leaders the importance of relationship building and how that is really the first step in growing the team. Your book is going to be a great reinforcement. I really think this is a must read for anyone in the service industry but absolutely if you are in the entertainment industry.”

Chris Camp – Owner Fun Fore All

“All Clear is a fantastic read for leaders with zero to fifty years of experience! After eight years in management at my current company, this book was a refreshing reminder of what it was like stepping into a leadership role for the first time. It also gave me new ideas and motivation to equip both my leadership and frontline staff with all the tools they need to succeed. This book is easy to stay engaged with and inspired me to completely reevaluate an approach to one of my current projects. My team will be grateful for this project’s otherwise uninteresting results thanks to All Clear! I highly recommend this book to any leader and even those who are looking to evolve into a leader in the future.”

Steven Camacho – Canobie Lake Park




AIMS Communication Review – Part 5

Welcome to the final installment of our AIMS Communication Review series.  In case you missed the first 4, here ya go!

AIMS Communication Review – Part 1

AIMS Communication Review – Part 2

AIMS Communication Review – Part 3

AIMS Communication Review – Part 4

And, we’re off…

Biggest communication struggle: When I need to council or discipline

Nobody likes to hear that they screwed up or could be doing better, right?  Not so fast.

It’s usually not the message that people object to, it’s the way the message is delivered. Ergo, “don’t kill the messenger.”  Since we are the messenger, it’s in our best interest to develop some survival skills.

First and foremost, we must not look at these situations as adversarial.  You know, us vs. them.  It’s our job to help our employees get better, and that means that we sometimes have to correct a behavior or action.  We may also have to document that behavior if a policy has been violated.

When it comes to having the conversation, your opening and the words you choose can set the tone for the entire experience.  Here are some examples:

“Karen, I can’t believe you got another guest complaint.  Your attitude is really slipping.  I had such high hopes for you in the beginning of the season.”


“Karen, thanks for coming in.  I wanted to talk about some of the recent guest complaints that have come in, specifically the ones that mentioned you.  What can you tell me about those situations?”

The first one is very accusatory, and doesn’t give Karen much of a chance to tell her side of the story.  In fact, I could see Karen getting very defensive, which wouldn’t be very productive for the conversation.

What was different about the second one?  We acknowledged Karen’s willingness to participate, stated what we wanted to talk about, then immediately gave Karen an opportunity to share her perspective.  By approaching this as a way to help Karen, we are setting ourselves (and Karen) up for a much more meaningful and effective conversation.

Sometimes, even after the best opening, an employee could still try to deflect the blame on to someone else.  I’ll bet you have all heard things like:

“What about Jeremy?  He’s been getting guest complaints, too!”

“Really?  I wasn’t even trained for that position.  How could I be expected to know what to do?”

“It’s not my fault, we didn’t have the tools needed to do the job. Weren’t you supposed to get those for us?”

…and the list goes on.

The goal, of course, is to steer you away from the topic and place the blame elsewhere.  But you won’t be falling for that because you prepared for this conversation.  You thought of some of the objections or roadblocks the employee might throw at you and were prepared with a response.  For example:

“What about Jeremy?  He’s been getting guest complaints, too!” “We’re not talking about Jeremy, we’re talking about you.”

“Really?  I wasn’t even trained for that position.  How could I be expected to know what to do?”  “I’ve seen you in the position many times, and I know that Grant trained you.  You’ve actually done it very well in the past.”

“It’s not my fault, we didn’t have the tools needed to do the job. Weren’t you supposed to get those for us?” “Actually, yes, and they arrived last week. I saw three of your co-workers using them the very next day.”

Certainly your answers will vary based on the situation, but the point is to be prepared by taking the time before the conversation to think through some of these scenarios.

Biggest communication struggle: Don’t always relay the intended message

When hearing this, my first question is: how do you know?

Did someone not do what you asked them to do?  Did they badger you with follow-up questions that they should have known based on what you said?  Did you hear them relaying your message to someone else and they missed the mark?

If you do know that you haven’t relayed the intended message, there are two places to look: at you as the message originator and the other person, as the message receiver.

Here are some questions to ask about YOU:

  • Do I fully understand the message?
  • Have I taken time to explain all aspects of the message?
  • Have I made any assumptions about the message receiver (i.e. word choice, previous knowledge or experience)?
  • Have I emphasized or prioritized the most important parts of the message?

And also some questions about the RECEIVER:

  • Are they ready, willing, and able to receive the message?
  • Do they have any preconceived ideas that would cloud the message?
  • Have you had successful communications with them in the past?  If so, what made it successful?
  • Are there, or will there be, distractions that take away from the delivery of the message?
  • How will you check for understanding with this person?

That last one is pretty powerful… if you THINK there may be a discrepancy, how will you find out before it’s too late?  There are a number of ways to check for understanding or comprehension.  After you have relayed your message, you could ask:

  • Does that make sense?
  • What questions do you have?
  • How would you explain this to someone else?

Each of these offer a different level of feedback regarding their comprehension.  The first may just be a head nod.  Okay, they think they get it.  The second allows them to clarify anything they don’t get, but they may not know what they don’t know.  The last one allows you to hear, in their own words, how they would relay this message to someone else.  This should let you know if you are on the right track with that person or not.

Biggest communication struggle: Accepting change

For the last one of these that we’re going to tackle, this is a doozie.

Change.  Wow.  Okay.

Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that not all change is created equal.  Some change is easy to deal with and accept, some is not.  Let’s start there.

Change that is easy to accept is usually change that we initiate or immediately agree with.  I’m guessing that the person who submitted this was not having trouble accepting changes that they suggested, so…

On to the changes we that we didn’t choose, don’t agree with or don’t understand.

  • Sometimes we resist change because we think the change will harm us.
  • Sometimes we resist change because we think we won’t be able to keep up (although we rarely admit this one)
  • Sometimes we resist change because we can’t see what the true outcome is going to be (so our mind automatically goes for the worst case scenario)
  • Sometimes we resist change solely because of the person who suggested it

That’s a lot of reasons and ways we can resist change. Ultimately these all stem from our comfort zone, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  We create our comfort zones for survival, to put us in a confident position to deal with whatever comes at us.  They really are a way for us to protect ourselves.  The problem is when you get stuck in your comfort zone… you may be safe, but you also can’t grow and improve from there.

For some people change equals pain, or even perceived pain.  Dr. Henry Cloud gives us some perspective on the relationship between pain and change:

“We change our behavior when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing. Consequences give us the pain that motivates us to change.”

Yes, change can bring on pain.  But staying the same can also bring the pain.

Think of a business owner who is losing money.  If they stay the same, they will likely go out of business.  If they do something to change, it could be scary, but it could also save the business.  The pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of changing.

For you to accept change, you have identify and possibly redefine the “pain” so you can make a better decision for you, your team, your family, or your company.  Let’s look at our list again…

  • Sometimes we resist change because we think the change will harm us.  Ask yourself, ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ If it doesn’t involve death or dismemberment, it might be worth a try.
  • Sometimes we resist change because we think we won’t be able to keep up (although we rarely admit this one).  Honestly assess the skill you think you may or may not be able to handle.  Ask for others opinions and advice.  No one expects everyone to be an expert at everything.  A person who embraces a change, learns from it and gets better will be for more well respected (and valuable) than the curmudgeon who stifles the change out of fear or ignorance.
  • Sometimes we resist change because we can’t see what the true outcome is going to be (so our mind automatically goes for the worst case scenario). See step one (what’s the worst that could happen?), but also run through REALISTIC scenarios about possible outcomes.  Seek out the opinions and perspectives of those who DO agree to see why they think this is a good thing.  Listen with an open mind when they tell you!
  • Sometimes we resist change solely because of the person who suggested it.  Learn to identify this when it happens.  You know the people who push your buttons… don’t poo-poo a good idea just because it came from someone you may not get along with.  This could be the idea that takes the business to the next level… get over your differences and be able to admit when a good idea is a good idea.

And that’s it!!  We made it to the end of our AIMS Communication Review Series.  If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below.  If you have additional communication struggles that you would like to address, feel free to contact me directly at

Thanks for reading!

Are gearing up for your summer season?  Are you concerned that your employees won’t stay, or stay motivated throughout the season?  Don’t wait until it’s too late!! Act now and get the tools you need to avoid burnout!!

The Myth of Employee Burnout book and Supervisor Training Program!!

AIMS Communication Review – Part 4

So far we’ve covered 9 major communication struggles submitted during the AIMS Safety Seminar in January.

AIMS Communication Review – Part 1

AIMS Communication Review – Part 2

AIMS Communication Review – Part 3

Here are 3 more:

Biggest communication struggle: Being approachable by others

It’s REALLY hard to communicate if others don’t feel like they can approach you.  The remedy to this is firmly seated in the concept of actions speaking much louder than words.

This is partly because we “listen” with our eyes, as well as our ears.  Since seeing is believing, we tend to believe the things we see over the things we hear.  And here’s why…

Most of our communication from another person comes from body language.  There are many studies out there about this, but the one I am most familiar with puts body language, or non-verbals, at about 55% of the communication.  55%.  That’s over half, sports fans.

That means that over half of what we BELIEVE about what someone is telling us is communicated not through words, but through their actions.  So… when you tell someone that you are “listening”, but you are also checking your phone or finishing an email on your computer, you are sending a mixed message at best.  As worst, and I hate to be a pessimist here, you are stating that you are actually NOT listening and that you have better things to do.

Ergo… unapproachable.

Be conscience of your approach when others are trying to approach you… you are likely somehow putting off a vibe that you really don’t want to be bothered, otherwise people would believe you when you say your door is always open.

Watch your actions (distractions), facial expressions, body posture and tone in your reply.  You can smile, lean in, and make eye contact while someone is talking to you, but if your reply is snarky, or filled with  “that was the dumbest thing I have ever heard” words, tone and expressions, you will erase all of your approachable goodwill.

Biggest communication struggle: Clarity when communicating with certain people

THOSE PEOPLE!  Everyone has certain people that just rub you the wrong way, or that you have trouble getting through to.  They likely aren’t going to change, so you have to find a way to adapt to be successful.

And chances are, you are already doing this to some extent.  You already know that there are some people you can joke with, some you can’t.  Some people crave the facts, others shoot from the hip.  There is no right or wrong, they are just different.

To me, this is where understanding behavioral and communication tendencies is most helpful (like using the DiSC profile to determine communication styles).  Knowing that a different style isn’t a personal attack goes a long way in encouraging patience and understanding.  We are all “wired” a certain way, and sometimes those “ways” are at odds with each other.

When that happens, it’s important to know what the other person wants and needs in terms of communication.  If they need facts and data, give them that.  If they need time to process, give them that.  If they need direct and efficient answers… do you see where this is going?  Being clear with another person is about their clarity, not yours.

When I hear leaders say things like, “they should know better!”  I challenge them and say, “why?  Why should they know better?”  “Well, they just should!”  Have you taken the time to show them, have you taken the time to answer their questions, have you observed them to know if they do know better or not?  Maybe you weren’t as clear as you needed to be for them.  It was clear in your mind, but clearly not theirs.

If you pay attention, people will tell you what they need.

When someone interrupts: (they could just be rude!) but it could also be because your message is jumbled and lacking focus.  They don’t get it, and need to understand the first part before moving on to the second part.

When someone doesn’t initially respond: They likely need time to process everything you just said. They take it all in and THEN formulate their response.  If you keep talking, they will keep processing.  You need stop periodically to give them time to respond.

When someone responds with something from left field: Chances are they are distracted by other things going on or they completely misinterpreted what you said.  You can try your message again in a different way, or find a better time when other distractions are minimized.

When it comes to communication, what works for you does not always work for others. Your job as a leader is to adapt to give them what they need, so you can get what you need.

Biggest communication struggle: Handling insulting, violent people who exaggerate

In my experience, people who hurl insults, get violent and exaggerate for effect are doing so because of some unmet emotional need, or some issue that has not been resolved.

That means that we have to deal with the emotion first, before any other logical conversation can take place.  This is also about what you tolerate as a leader.

And I’d like to start there first, with what you tolerate.  There are things that we encourage as leaders, and there are things we tolerate.  If we tolerate insulting, violent, exaggerating behavior, then we have no one else to blame but ourselves when it continues to happen. You have to know where your, and your companies standards of behavior are, and I would imagine that most employee handbooks contain a section that specifically denounces these behaviors, and even outlines steps for disciplinary action.  If that’s the case and it’s still happening, you have an enforcement problem.  That’s on you.

What if it’s a guest?  I was once dealing with an upset guest who stated, in front of my staff and any other guest within earshot, that “If this company was run by Jewish people, it would be run much differently”.  And while her comment was actually intended to say that Jewish people knew how to run a business, it was completely inappropriate in that setting.  My next statement was, “this conversation is over, I am going to ask you to leave the park now.”

She then did a 180… apologizing for her comment and becoming much easier to talk to because she knew her shenanigans were not going to be tolerated.

Getting back to the emotional issues, I find that the L.A.S.T. model is extremely effective in diffusing these situations.

Listen – listen to what they have to say, let them vent (to a point if they are getting insulting, violent and loud).

Apologize/Acknowledge – If an apology is needed, even if you were not at fault, say so.  A sincere “I’m sorry” will diffuse a lot of anger. Sometimes, an acknowledgement of the situation is more appropriate. “I understand you are upset, and I want to help.  I can’t do that if you are being inappropriate.  This behavior is unacceptable and cannot continue if you want me to help you.”

Solve – Now, once you talked the person off the ledge or acknowledged the situation, you can work toward a resolution.

Thank – This is another acknowledgement… “thank you for allowing me to help”, “thank you for being calm and working through the issue”… whatever is appropriate.  It’s a nice way to close it out.

Specifically for the exaggerators, once you have them calmed down, you can ask if the situation was really as bad as they said, or present some counter data that would allow them to save face and see the true story.  Last thing you want to do once you have someone calm enough to discuss things logically is to stir the pot and rile them up again.

Thanks for reading.  Stay tuned for Part 5, our last installment of the series!


Did you know… 44% of new leaders feel unprepared for their role? 

The Myth of Employee Burnout Supervisor Training program has everything you need to arm your seasonal supervisory staff with the skills and knowledge needed to be successful.  Click here for more information!


AIMS Communication Review – Part 3

Aloha! This is post 3 of the series, and just this morning I determined that there will be 2 more after this. So buckle up, and get ready to tackle YOUR communication struggles!

Biggest communication struggle: Tact

For this one, I thought it would be a good idea to look at the definition:

Tact: a keen sense of what to say or do to avoid giving offense; skill in dealing with difficult or delicate situations. –

I think another way to put this is… “how to not make things worse.”  Which is something we have all done in the past.

Unfortunately, tact is something you learn by actually making things worse… at first. Certainly this is not your intent, but you don’t develop “a keen sense of what to say or do to avoid giving offense” without at some point doing or saying something that DID give offense.  The more you interact with people, the more you develop that sense.

That is not to say that you can’t apply what you have learned about one person to the interactions you have with another. You absolutely can use those experiences as a guide – but remember that everyone is different, and you also need to take into account what you know about that individual to determine what is going to make things worse, or give offense.

Spider-man has his spidey-sense that helps alert him to imminent danger.  You need to develop a similar sense in yourself that alerts you to when you are about to make things worse.

The definition also mentions “skill in dealing with difficult or delicate situations”.  What makes the situation difficult or delicate?  Generally, it’s the people you are interacting with (their personality or behavioral trends) or the subject matter.  To me, the ultimate use of ‘tact’ is when you have to tell someone something that they really don’t want to hear.

Let’s say an employee did not get the promotion they were going for.  One approach would be to say, “You didn’t get it.  Too bad, so sad”.  Pretty easy to see that those last 4 words were not only inappropriate, but most likely will make a difficult, potentially awkward situation, worse.

Using a little more tact, you would take into consideration what kind of employee they are, how far away from being qualified were they, and how much of the relationship do you want to preserve?  This is where your powers of observation and perception come in, to guide your keen sense of what to do and how to approach the individual.  You probably want to communicate WHY they didn’t get the promotion, and offer up any insight you have about what they could have done to increase their chances of consideration in the future.  If you want this employee to continue to be a productive member of the staff, you have to approach this with their thoughts, feelings, impressions and desires in mind.

Most likely when you take all of those things into consideration, you will be acting with the appropriate amount of tact.

Biggest communication struggle: Not listening

Huh?  What’d you say?

Whoever wrote this is not alone.  Listening is a HUGE issue for many of us.  We unfortunately now live in a society that, in public arenas, does not value true listening, but stating your case at all costs.  There is no better example of ineffective communication than two people screaming at, and over, each other.

You said what you wanted to say, good for you.  No one was listening.  It’s like that question about the tree falling in the woods… it does make a sound, but no one is there to hear it, so it doesn’t matter.

If you know that listening is an issue for you, there are two major questions to ask yourself (and be honest with the answer, ‘cuz it doesn’t work any other way).

  • Are there particular situations that I find it more difficult to truly listen?
  • Are there specific people I tend not to listen to?

Notice I said nothing about the physical ability to hear. That’s because hearing and listening are two different things.  It takes ears and the mechanisms in the ear canal to “hear” it takes an open mind to “listen”.

If you identified certain situations where it’s more difficult to listen, what are the common factors?  Do you not like or understand the subject matter, does it not interest you, do you have opposing view points, is it due to distractions, either physical or mental…?  The list goes on… Whatever you have identified, is there a way for you to get over that roadblock so you CAN listen?  Even if you don’t like the subject matter, if you find that it’s important information you can use for your job, it can be easier to digest and willingly listen to.

If it’s a person, examine the level of trust and respect you have for them. We tend not to actively listen to those we don’t trust.  It’s survival thing. Work on the trust and you’ll increase your ability to listen to them.

Listening takes focus, and it’s a skill you can develop. The distractions you create for yourself, the inner story you tell yourself that may or may not be true, clouds your ability to take in information more than any external factors ever could.  The next time you feel yourself not listening, no matter the situation, try this:

  • Clear your mind of assumptions and preconceived notions from the past
  • Avoid the temptation to judge what you are hearing as its being said
  • Allow the other person to speak without interruption
  • Ask unassuming, non-threatening questions to clarify meaning and intent
  • THINK before you respond (see post 1 for a piece on being patient)

This works for ‘tact’, too!


Biggest communication struggle: Hot headed/emotions clouding communication

I’m not sure if these folks meant that other peoples’ hot headedness was clouding the communication or if it was their own. If others are getting hot headed, please refer to exhibit A & B (the previous topics in this post).  If YOU are the hot head, read on.

We are emotional creatures, and that’s not something that will change. Emotions often drive our thoughts, which drive our behaviors.  Sometimes when we think about things too much, and our multiplied thoughts actually drive our emotions, which drive our behaviors.  Either way, our emotions are in the drivers seat, or are at least riding shotgun.

That means we need to be acutely aware of the things that DO boil our blood, and how to remain tactful (again, see exhibit A) in those situations. If you already know what kinds of things get under your skin, you can brace yourself when you sense them coming and CHOOSE to take a different path.

Since everything we do is a choice, choosing how you react to a situation is up to you – even if it angers you to the point of a vein popping out of your forehead.  The key is to be ready for it… remember that a pot of water on a stove doesn’t boil (or boil over) immediately.  It takes time to reach the right temperature.  You generally have a “warming period” that you can use to examine the situation and choose a different path.  Take a deep breath.  Consider your options. Consider what blowing a gasket will do and how it probably is not the best scenario in the long run.  Take another deep breath.  Count to ten. Don’t you feel better already?

And you are probably thinking clearer, too, which can only help in the long run.

But what about those situations where you seem to go from 0 to 700 MPH in a split second?  Well, you either don’t know your triggers, or other things have been building up that you have not addressed. When we don’t address things (i.e. closure), our emotions don’t get a sense of resolve; they still feel uneasy or unsettled.  That’s like a bomb just waiting to go off… and you may never see who lit the fuse or just how short the fuse was.

The next time that happens, take a minute afterwords to replay the incident in your mind.  Was there a trigger this time, or was this a little thing that is equivalent to the straw breaking the camel’s back?  If so, what are the unresolved issues that have been ignored and that need to be dealt with?

One last thing that helps control or reduce our hot headed outbursts is trying to understand the other point of view.  It’s not always easy, but if you have an appreciation of where they are coming from, you will see that they probably have some validity, even some things in common with what you are saying.  If you are too busy trying to yell over them and make YOUR case, you’ll never hear that.  And they won’t actually listen to you, either, no matter how loud you yell.

Thanks for reading!


Okay, so that was a long one.  How about no more reading for now?  Instead, here are two nerds on a roller coaster.  Can anyone tell what coaster this is?



Infographic “How To” Post 6: Appreciated

This is part 6 of a 10 part “how to” series covering the points in the infographic below.

Employees Stay6

This is supposed to be a post on “how to” appreciate your employees, as this is part of the equation that encourages them to stay with you.  However, appreciation is kind of a funny thing.

You see, we can (and will) talk about how to show your appreciation, but to have appreciation for something or someone, you have to genuinely be appreciative of that person or thing.

Here’s what I mean… the definition of appreciated is: to be grateful or thankful for.

I don’t believe you can fake those. You know the things you are grateful or thankful for in your life – in most cases you are naturally compelled to express how you feel about them.  If you don’t appreciate it, you don’t express the gratitude.  

So if you don’t truly appreciate your employees, you can’t genuinely appreciate them.

This makes me think we can take this in two different directions:

  • If you don’t appreciate your employees, how can you develop an appreciation for them?
  • If you do appreciate your employees but don’t know how to show it, how can you show it?

Let’s take the first (and more difficult one) first. You don’t appreciate your employees, meaning you are not genuinely grateful or thankful for them.  My question would be, why?

These are the folks who are literally running your business.  They have contact with your guests, they are your brand messengers, and they represent you to the masses.  Sure they can also be a bit of a pain… coming in late, goofing off and basically not taking you or the job you are providing them very seriously.  It can be hard to be thankful for those folks.

But maybe we’ve got this backwards.  Maybe we’ve got to make the first investment, rather than waiting for them to show us a reason to be thankful. For some who are caught up in the “entitlement of millenials” mindset, you might be digging in, refusing to give in to their demands.  “They think the world owes them everything, well I’m gonna teach them a lesson!”

Really?  The only lesson here (that you probably won’t learn) is that you screwed up in how you lead your employees.  Without genuine appreciation, you will continue to think that the entitled generation just jump ship when they don’t get what they want… like taking their ball and going home.

But, could it be that your lack of genuine gratefulness for their contributions to your company have created a negative environment for your employees? After all, our thoughts drive our behaviors, so whether you think so or not, your attitude is more likely what is driving people away than their flaky disposition.

We’ll let that sink in…

So now let’s look at the other side of the coin… you DO appreciate your employees, but may not know the best way to show it.

Fair enough.

I would start with what you find valuable regarding appreciation.  Of course everyone is different, but understanding what means something to you is a good start.

Do you like it when your Supervisor asks your opinion?  How about when he/she shares important company information that helps you understand where you stand and where the company is going?  How about when they just come up to you ask a little bit about how your life outside of work is going?

Or what about when they remember something you told them weeks or months before?  When I was at Universal, our dog passed away.  I told my boss and he said, “I’m so sorry, how old was Lucy?”

He and I hadn’t talked about Lucy for at least 2 or 3 months, in fact I only remember mentioning her name once or twice before. But he remembered her name, which means he was listening. I felt appreciated.

If some of those hit a chord with you, they’ll likely hit a chord with your employees. Especially being listened to.

More formally, providing meaningful feedback and recognition of accomplishments go a long way to show people how grateful you are that they are at work, doing the things that help your business succeed.

Below is an example of something that happened to me when I was 15 years old, and it has stuck with me ever since.  If you have been in any of my leadership classes, the example may sound familiar, but it’s a great example of how to show appreciation in a meaningful way.

This situation happened between myself and Dave Smalley, who was the GM of the grocery store I was working at during high school:

Dave:  Matt, I just wanted to let you know how you make my job easier.  Whenever you are here, you are so good at getting all of the carriages out of the parking lot, and that really helps us in a couple of ways.  First, we’ve had to repaint some cars that got scratched by carriages left in the parking lot, but because you clear the lot so well, we haven’t had to do that recently. Plus, when there are more carriages in the store, customers have more room for more groceries, so they tend to buy a little more.  Those two things really help us out. Thanks!

How could you NOT feel appreciated after that? It was specific to me and the situation and delivered sincerely. And of course, that drove me to head back out into the lot because I didn’t want to be thanked for something I wasn’t doing.

And as great as the words were, what you don’t get from reading the transcript was that Dave came down to my area to thank me, he didn’t call me up to the office. He also shook my hand, looked me in the eye, and smiled while he said it. It was genuine.

And I think that’s the most important part of the appreciation topic – being genuine.  Like I said above, I don’t think you can fake this.  If you don’t get it quite right the first time, if you really mean it, people will notice.  They won’t get caught up in the mechanics of what you say, but rather the emotion and sincerity of how you say it.

If there was ever a time for a quote from Maya Angelou to wrap up a topic, this is it.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

And that’s the thing about appreciation. We FEEL appreciated or we don’t. Hopefully your employees do.

Next up: Valued

Thanks for reading!


About the author – After 20+ years in hospitality leadership and human resources, Matt  Heller founded Performance Optimist Consulting in 2011 with one simple goal: Help Leaders Lead. Matt now works with attractions large and small and leaders at all levels to help them improve leadership competencies, customer service, employee motivation and teamwork. His book, “The Myth of Employee Burnout” was released in 2013 has become a go-to resource among industry leaders.

Befriend the curmudgeon

I love the conversations that occurulate at the IAAPA Attractions Expo! This one in particular was with a client who was having trouble communicating with another employee.

A little background…

The client (we’ll call her Lisa) was having trouble getting through to an employee (we’ll call him Al) who was tasked with fixing things around the facility as they broke or became unusable or unsafe.

According to Lisa, Al has been at the facility for 40 years, and has gotten a little curmudgeony.

In one particular case, Lisa had been asking Al for a printout of all of the work he had completed. Lisa is not Al’s boss, but she wanted that information because these tasks had been called in by her staff, and she wanted to be able to show that management was listening and taking care of their concerns.

Unfortunately, Al was less than forthcoming about providing that information.  He had all sorts of excuses why he couldn’t, or why Lisa wouldn’t actually want it.  In the end, it became a source of contention between the two, and now Lisa admits to not even talking to Al unless something needs to be fixed, and it’s usually an urgent (and tense) situation.

In fact, this all came about because Lisa was wondering what to tell her employees about the work being done. She was really at a loss.

But that’s not the real issue.  The issue is the relationship between Al and Lisa.

I asked if there were any situations where they actually did get along or that Al was cooperative.  “Yes”, Lisa said. “When talking about the safety and security of the facility, Al is all on board.”

Ah ha! So, he does CARE!  That’s important.

We then went on to talk about the fact that Al had been there for a while, probably had his share of “baggage”, and (as anyone would) was possibly burned out on ONLY being spoken to or approached when things were broken, or he was being asked to jump through hoops to fix something right away that didn’t line up with his priorities.

Lisa concurred this was likely.

So, since we can’t MAKE Al just be more productive and cooperative, we have to change the story around this situation.  That challenge falls squarely on Lisa’s shoulders.  Here is what I challenged Lisa to do to “befriend the curmudgeon”:

  • Talk to Al when there wasn’t an emergency.  It might be tough at first, but just starting a conversation with someone about non-work stuff, or complimenting something they’ve done can open them up to being more cooperative.  Al is protecting his turf that gets bombarded on a daily and hourly basis.  Conversing outside of those situations shows you also care about Al – not just his ability to fix things.
  • Find the “crack”.  Through conversations, you can find the way “in”, behind their natural defenses so you can actually be productive when the time comes.  Al seems to be all about safety and security, but what else is going on there? What other common bonds can you find to help carry on conversations that show Al he is valued as a person, as much as an employee?
  • Act on something Al suggests.  In a show of good faith, is there something that YOU (Lisa) can do to implement one of Al’s ideas so that he sees that you are listening to him, as much as you want him to listen to you?

If you have a curmudgeon, or someone you avoid, or one of those “well, that’s just the way they are” employees, you may… no you WILL need to take the first step to fix the relationship so that you can both move forward.

For Al and Lisa, this is a work in progress and I am very excited to hear how things go when Lisa gets back to her facility.  This will not be a quick fix, and Lisa knows that it will take some patience and persistence to make this work. Hopefully I can share a positive progress report with all of you in the near future.

Thanks for reading!!


Available at the IAAPA bookstore (or Amazon if you want the Kindle version)!!

Book cover with amazon


No one told me

“No one told me”

At a recent event that my wife organized, an employee from the host hotel repeated this phrase a few times, and it got me thinking about where it came from.

First, a little context.

At the hotel where the event was held, there was a mix up with when the ballroom was supposed to be unlocked on the second day. (It was unlocked too early). We went to the front desk to ask that it be relocked, and the desk agent called over the radio to someone to take care of it.

In a frustrated tone, we heard, “No one told me that” coming from the radio speaker.

Barring the obvious frustration, the doors were relocked as requested, and we went about our business. When it was time to unlock them for the day, the person who apparently answered the radio call showed up and unlocked them. “No one told me” again was uttered to us as the doors were unlocked.

That was pleasant.

At first glance, this seems like an annoyed employee shirking their responsibility and protecting their turf. But the more I thought about this, the more I realized what a quagmire it really is. Is this a communication issue, an employee issue, a culture issue or a leadership issue? Hmmm…

Of course you could argue that it’s all of these, or at least a combination.

Let’s explore a little deeper:

Communication issue: it seems at a minimum that the request of the client was not relayed to the person who could carry out the request. Why? Was it not understood by the event manager? Was it communicated to another person in the door unlocking department, but not to the person on duty that day? Is there no process for communicating these requests (beyond word of mouth) to the right people? If there is a system, is everyone using it (or are they proficient in using it?) Was it not communicated from the client? (In this case, I can confidently say this is not the care, because I was there. Still, it’s an option that should be explored.) Ultimately, where did the communication break down?

Employee issue: Hearing something like this we probably think that this employee doesn’t care, they are burned out, frustrated, overwhelmed, not accepting responsibility, etc. All of those may be true, but I heard something else, too. I heard a desire to help. “No one told me” could be saying “don’t blame me, it’s not my fault”, but behind that could be “I want to help, I’d love to help, I want to make this right for you, I want you to have a GREAT experience, but that’s really tough if I don’t have the information to do my job.” Which leads back to our communication issue, but also nods to a culture issue.

Culture issue: Like ANY action or behavior, there is more to it than what we see on the surface. This employee could be reacting to an unsettling trend of being repeatedly blindsided with these types of requests. Have the employees’ requests for additional information or clearer direction gone unheard? Are they tired of getting the brunt of aggravation from guests when things don’t go right? Are they the one that gets blamed by management when these shortfalls in service occur? THAT can be frustrating.

Of course all of these issues point to one thing…

Leadership issue: who has the greatest impact on communication? Who defines the culture of a company through their words and actions? Who is responsible for making sure that employees are heard and supported?

If you are a leader, that would be you.

Also as a leader, you often can’t take things a face value. This post contains more questions than specific answers, and that’s the point. When you see something go wrong, it’s important to ask enough questions to get you to the true root cause of the problem so you can find the right solution.

Yes, that is your responsibility as a leader. There, now you can’t say “no one told me.”

Thanks for reading.




About the author: Matt wants to help open doors to your leadership potential. He’s been educating and entertaining audiences for years, offering customized leadership and team training courses, one-on-one coaching and development, and recently co-created Lessons in Fun – a totally new kind of learning adventure!  Contact Matt today to find out how to maximize your leadership potential!!

Are you like an encyclopedia?

You may think I am asking if you have a lot of knowledge.


I’m asking if the information you have (or delivery of information) is like an encyclopedia?

Why?  Because while encyclopedias were once the bees knees, they are now information dinosaurs.  And if you are like an encyclopedia, you could be a dinosaur, too.

Having not thought about encyclopedias for years and years, I thought about them the other day when looking for a store that had recently opened near my house.  I pulled up the trusty-dusty Google Maps, and there is was.  The store had only been open a few months, and my go-to map was already updated with the information.

And honestly, this is what I expected.  With the frequency that software, computers, and phones update, there is no reason for it not to be there.

Would I find this sort of updated information in an encyclopedia? Again, nope.

For the information that we used to have to gather, encyclopedias were the “technology” of the day.  They contained as accurate of information as they could about things that happened in the past, but were not very good for doing research about more recent events. And, the only way to “digest” the information was to read it.

So I’ll ask you again… are you like an encyclopedia?  Is your information out-of-date and do you rely on only when method to deliver it?

Before you answer, think about these few questions:

  • Do you frequently use one of these phrases – “When I was young”, or “Back in my day”?  (By the way, these phrases are not reserved for old fuddy-duddies. I recently overheard a pair of 20-somethings lamenting the fact that their late teens counterparts didn’t possess the life experience that they did.)
  • Have you changed the way you communicate information in the last year, or ever?
  • Are you having a hard time getting through to your employees?

The last question is really a bi-product of the first two.  Getting stuck in the past and refusing to alter our communication methods with the changing times and technology, you will be viewed as a dinosaur.  And unfortunately, unless you are a 6 year-old having a birthday party or paleontologist, dinosaurs just aren’t as relevant as they used to be.

And here’s the kicker… when asked what employees need and want from their supervisor in order to do their jobs, one of the most common answers is information.

And not just any ol’ information.  Timely, accurate and relevant are pretty important pieces of that puzzle.  They WANT that information to feel part of the team, and they NEED that information to do the job you’ve hired them to do!

I can’t tell you how many companies I’ve worked for where the marketing team put out a great promotion, but the operations team didn’t know anything about it, or it wasn’t communicated to the people on the front lines.  Then, when a guest shows up wanting to take advantage of that promotion, the employee looks clueless.  That look of cluelessness turns into a hassle for the guest and frustration for the employee.  We all know what that frustration can lead to… #noburnout

If only they would have had the information…

As a leader, you probably have the information (if you aren’t a dinosaur) and you likely have the ability to disseminate it to the people who really need it (again, barring the dinosaur designation).  There could be a legitimate concern of information overload, if it’s the wrong information.  I would be much more concerned with information UNDERLOAD with the right information.

And for a little information inspiration… Newman.

Thanks for reading!


About the author:  One of the first pieces of feedback Matt got on his book, The Myth of Employee Burnout was, “there is too much information”.  After rewriting it, the second bit of feedback was that there was “something missing”.  After a third crack at it, it seems to be just right. Just like that third bowl of porridge.