Category Archives: teens

How to effectively navigate difficult conversations at work

difficult conversation
Photo by Thomas Kinto on Unsplash

What are difficult conversations?

Difficult conversations are those where a real or imagined fear of addressing a serious matter is equal to or supersedes the issue itself. In the workplace, this could be mediating a conflict between colleagues, confronting allegations of misconduct, placing an employee on leave as a result of an investigation, and involuntary termination. Difficult conversations tremendously impact one or more of a person’s basic needs and can result in shame, embarrassment, feelings of incompetence, or anger. Although these immediate outcomes are all possible, they can be alleviated.

Address difficult conversations as soon as possible

Issues at work grow in scope and scale the longer they go unaddressed. They can even take on a life of their own. Coworkers and even customers and clients can feel rising tensions. This was of particular concern in the group home for youth I oversaw where clients were around 24/7. Residents overheard quarrels and took sides, making matters worse. This created a toxic work environment and derailed the program’s purpose. Immediately addressing issues minimizes this risk. It also builds employee trust. A quick and prudent intervention shows that management is both confident and competent in maintaining a harmonious, safe, and ethical workplace. It supports and validates those who live and breath your mission.

Document, document, document

Difficult conversations are usually preceded by one or more notable events worthy of documentation. Hindsight is 20/20. The trick is to have 20/20 foresight. The way to facilitate difficult conversations is to sense potential personnel issues before they reach critical mass. Address and document precursors. Take the warning signs seriously. It is imperative to document supervisions and warnings. Documentation provides evidence to support an impending difficult conversation. All parties should sign all documented conversations. Signatures acknowledge that a conversation took place.

Have a policy on staff conduct

Explicit rules and expectations on employee conduct and how personnel issues are addressed send a clear message that attitude and behavior matter to the organization and are enforced. My management and leadership experience was with unionized staff. Most managers shudder at the mention of a union. HR and the union helped me resolve personnel matters in accordance with a set of rules. Yes, I sometimes could not terminate unfit employees sooner than desired. At the same time, all employees felt safe knowing that there were clear procedures.

Be fair

There is nothing more important than when employees feel that they have been fairly treated. It reached the point where even my union steward felt I was sometimes too lenient. This was to my advantage. I have had the unfortunate task of involuntarily terminating staff and not one resulted in a grievance. On the contrary, most resulted in a parting handshake with no hard feelings. Some even thanked me for the opportunity as they walked out the door. Staff knew that if they were being let go–except in cases of gross misconduct where termination was immediate–that any of the following had previously occurred: supervision, previous warnings, EAP referral, corrective action, and collaboration between the union steward and management. In other words, there were no surprises and therefore little for management to fear.

Bring in a 3rd party

Include a 3rd party or observer when conducting difficult conversations. In my case, it was the union steward and my assistant director. As a manager I was not in the union, however, the union steward protected me as much as the employee. He became a trusted advisor in handling personnel issues. A 3rd party is recommended for several reasons. First, there is a witness in case of future litigation. Second is professionalism. The meeting can be debriefed and reviewed. The third is safety. If one is having difficulty advancing the conversation the other can take the lead role. In the event of a complete communication breakdown, the 3rd party can mediate or stop the meeting. In general, we are more likely to be on good behavior when we know there are witnesses.

It isn’t personal, it’s about the company

Leaders or managers who stand behind a clear purpose or mission have an easier time addressing difficult conversations because it is not personal. It’s about the company’s purpose. Having an overarching focus on something greater than the individual parties involved puts the matter at hand into perspective. It depersonalizes the situation. In my case, the program I led was responsible for the care and welfare of 20 at-risk youth. The program was situated in the middle of a residential area with friendly but wary neighbors. Trust was everything. All staff knew that any safety or security breach or conduct violation warranted a potentially difficult discussion. Employees were dedicated and passionate about helping young people. The program was well respected by the funding source, the company, and competing NGOs. Employees enjoyed working there as was evidenced by a staff retention rate 3 times higher than the national average.

More tips on handling difficult conversations

For additional practical tips on handling difficult conversations check out articles from Psychology Today and Forbes.

About the author

Jean-Pierre is a Human Systems Expert, Process Facilitator, Youth Specialist, and Speaker. He optimizes employee engagement and leadership potential by counseling leaders and enhancing group dynamics. He is the creator of the EPIC Model of development and the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.

 

Intergenerational learning ensures viability & innovation

Intergenerational Learning
Intergenerational learning is optimized when all generations are acknowledged and valued for their contributions.

Intergenerational learning is a top priority

Intergenerational learning is needed more now than ever before. Labor markets are struggling to meet rising human resource demands and simultaneously remain innovative. In a blog titled, Leveraging Europe’s Ageing Workforce, the author reports on how a declining pool of potential EU workers in a growing job market is resulting in the frenetic search for qualified and engaged young workers. In the US, the economic situation does not fair better.

A perfect storm is brewing. The combination of a decreasing labor force participation rate, baby boomers retiring, an expanding wage gap between high school and college graduates, and the skyrocketing costs of higher education are well documented. This harsh reality is set against the backdrop of a spiraling national debt that has surpassed $21,000,000,000,000. Let us not forget the ominous and bitter consequences of the 2008 global financial crisis. A corrective course of action is needed to avert a similar or worse fate.

What can we learn from older generations?

Companies need older workers! That is potentially good news for older workers seeking employment, as long as employers see the value in hiring them. By 2024, one in four U.S. workers will be 55 or older, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. How should older workers be regarded in a digital age? How can the labor market incorporate their experience and wisdom? Older employees are typically seen as expensive and replaceable by younger and less expensive counterparts. But is this entirely true? 

Older employees have established networks. They have experience overcoming organizational challenges and achieving lofty goals. Their know-how and connections optimally position them to offer guidance and support. Their trained soft skills can help younger colleagues refine theirs. By sharing their stories and listening to younger generations, senior employees are a source of inspiration. Solely viewing them as a financial burden is not only short-sighted but also detrimental to an organization’s future in today’s market. Regarding them as a vital asset inspires new purpose and fresh meaning in their work-life, boosting their morale and productivity.

What can we learn from younger generations?

“Age shows wisdom, but wisdom shows no age” – Unknown author

As digital natives, young employees today may lack work experience and social competencies, but their ability to navigate in a digital world is unprecedented. In my parenting book What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth, I outline the EPIC Model, a learning framework embodied by those most adept at learning: young people. The Model consists of four components: exploration, play, inspiration, and connection. Using this framework optimizes intergenerational learning.

Regardless of age, we all have the capacity to learn. Young people can help older ones reignite the innate ability to explore, play, inspire, and connect. Subscribing to such a philosophy allows one to remain open to new possibilities. Organizations adopting such a philosophy remain viable and innovative. Creating an open learning culture improves both employee and organizational performance.

Generational labels impede intergenerational learning

Once GenX, GenY, and GenZ are mentioned, a debate ensues to determine the beginning and end years of each. As if a birth year reveals everything you need to know about a person. A heated discussion then follows to agree upon several descriptors applicable to hundreds of millions of people. Anyone who can memorize some random dates and a few adjectives becomes an immediate generation expert. If it were only so simple!

Labeling people usually leads to stereotypes. Stereotypes usually lead to some form of discrimination. Here are some warning signs of age discrimination. How does this domino effect ameliorate an aging and shrinking workforce? It doesn’t. It does the opposite. It perpetuates the current situation. What happens when organizations place more emphasis on reciprocal intergenerational learning?  How would intergenerational learning impact workplace culture, productivity, and creativity in your organization?

Intergenerational learning in action

Intergenerational learning requires commitment and time. Who has time for that? Time taken now to create new possibilities, improve collaboration, and ignite productivity saves time in the long-run. Processes, where information and conversations that matter most can be discussed from all perspectives, are vital. When all stakeholders participate then all members can take ownership and responsibility for the outcome. 

For technical learning, apprenticeship programs and continuous training keep all stakeholders up-to-date with current trends. Mentoring and reverse mentoring also help young employees with onboarding. Storytelling or various circle methods can be extremely helpful in creating space for reciprocal know-how sharing and open feedback.  Excursions and celebrations build social bonds and create a sense of achievement and belonging. A neutral facilitator may also be preferable when starting out or dealing with more serious issues.  There are numerous ways organizations can fully embrace the benefits of intergenerational learning other than simply creating multigenerational teams and hoping for the best.

About the author

Jean-Pierre is a Process Facilitator, Human Systems Expert, and Youth Specialist. He is the author of “What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth”. Jean-Pierre accompanies organizations in fully integrating their human resource potential by facilitating group processes that foster authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom. All stakeholders benefit in a culture that supports exploration, play, inspiration, and connection.

Youth leadership cannot wait until the future. It is needed today.

“We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.” -Malala Jousafzai

Youth Leadership
Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai attends the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 25, 2018. Photo: Markus Schreiber/AP

The right for youth to speak about injustice

On October 9,  2012, at the age of 15, Malala Jousafzai and two other girls were riding in a bus when a Taliban hitman came on board. After asking Malala to identify herself or everyone would be shot, she did so. Although making a full recovery, with one bullet she was shot through the head, neck, and shoulder. Malala’s assassination attempt was in retaliation for her activism. Her crime. Malala wanted an education.

What had Malala remained fearful and silent?  What had she not told her story? And what had she not advocated for female rights to an education? Who if not Malala would speak up and act? Six years later and halfway across the world, high school students in Florida would be asking themselves the same question.

On February 14, 2018, 17 students and faculty of Parkland High School were maliciously gunned down during school hours. This had not been the first mass school shooting in recent US history, but it was the first time students, young people, like Malala, had had enough of condolences and empty promises. Like with previous school shootings, adults with the authority to take action paid mostly lip service to an, unfortunately, more common phenomenon in American society. Enough was enough.

Youth leadership in action

Similar to Malala’s courage to advocate in the face of harm, the Parkland student-led rally in Washington D.C. is a mind-blowing example of how youth leadership can influence current social and political conditions.  In the past, a young social or political activist had hurdles to climb regarding accessibility to media, funding, and networking. Today, it may very well be advantageous to be young and an activist.  Through the use of social media, the media, a GoFundMe account, and with the help of private donations from well-connected sympathizers, Parkland students raised $5.5 Million, of which $1.7 Million was raised in just three days.

As impressive, on March 24th, 2018, a mere five weeks after the devasting Parkland high school shooting, roughly 1.2 Million people marched world-wide for gun control. It was the biggest youth protest since the Vietnam War. Both times young Americans organized to this extent was to protest the senseless deaths of young people from weapons and from policymakers doing very little to advocate for their safety and lives.

What accounted for the swift actions of young people who before Parkland were neither fundraisers, event organizers, nor political and social activists? Led not by lobbyists and special interests this youth leadership operated on intention, social media savvy, networking, and everything fundamentally meant to be human. The clarity and precision of their actions rivaled anything any political organization or event planner could execute.

The role basic needs play in mobilizing youth leadership

Regardless of the system (family, organization, or community), harmful patterns can repeat themselves until the system collapses or the cycle is broken. Subsequent reoccurrences can increase in intensity until one of two things occurs. Either one accepts the dysfunction as normal or one takes a stand to change it. Malala and students at Parkland High School both chose the later.

All behavior is for the sake of fulfilling at least one of the basic needs (Survival, Belonging, Freedom, Fun, and Power). The more needs being fulfilled through a behavior, the more significant that behavior becomes. One basic need that mobilizes action regardless of age, gender, race, or religion, is the need for survival. Fight or flight. Sadly, the threat to safety and security in schools is a palatable one felt by too many communities across the United States. In addition to survival, the needs for power (feeling worthwhile to self and others), belonging, freedom, and fun were also jeopardized by the shootings. The response from Parkland High School students (see picture below) is a clear example of how the threat to all five basic needs, mobilized young people to take swift and historic action.

Organizers of the March For Our Lives fulfilled the need for power, satiating a strong desire to not remain a victim. They took meaningful action to improve not only their community but the nation as a whole. The need to belong to a group i.e., the school, was triggered by the shootings. Their community came under attack and the need to protect it and those of students across the US  gave clear purpose for the organizers. Like Malala, students everywhere want to have the freedom to an education and have fun in the process without having to worry about losing their lives.

What can we learn from youth leadership today?

Young people are more informed and engaged than any other previous generation.  When students no longer feel safe in school and adults are seen as doing too little to significantly address the most basic of basic needs, is it really a surprise to see articulate, well-intended, and technologically savvy young people taking matters into their own hands?  As a result, they are shaping public opinion through their response to events. This trend will likely continue.

The deleterious impact of social, corporate, political, and environmental irresponsibility currently transpiring is not a future young people desire. Why wait to do something about it? Young people, with the help of technology and social media, have leveled the playing field in their ability to take action, speak up, organize, and most importantly influence social, political, and environmental change. Young people are more transparent, capturing events in picture or video and broadcasting them globally through social media.

Youth leadership skills are currently needed. Young people are listening, showing empathy, and actively responding to injustices and policies affecting them and their future. Authoritative and dictatorial leadership caters to self-interest and special interest rather than to the common good. Forms of leadership embraced by young people place emphasis on purpose, authenticity, community, and the environment. They are replacing the idiom ‘the end justifies the means’ with ‘the means need to justify the end.’

Youth Leadership
Jacqueline Coren, Emma Gonzalez, Cameron Kasky, David Hogg, and Alex Wind. Photo: YouTube / Face The Nation

About the author

Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Process Facilitator and Human Systems Expert. He accompanies organizations in fully integrating their human resource potential by facilitating group processes that foster authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom. He is also the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.

Why are teens drawn to ISIS?

How the public perceives teens after having joined ISIS gives invaluable clues as to why they may have joined in the first place.

The media and the world are asking why teens of the western world would leave their cozy homes to join the ranks of ISIS and aid them. This phenomenon is occurring in numerous westernized countries: United States, Norway, Australia, France, and Austria. I am examining the case of two female teens from Austria, Samra (left) and Sabina (right), who both left Austria in April 2014 to join ISIS.

Samra and Sabina both left Austria in April 2014 to join ISIS

According to media sources, Samra and Sabina are children of Bosnian immigrants raised in Vienna. Stories of teens fleeing westernized countries to assist ISIS are mainly immigrants or children of immigrant families of Muslim faith. Some also convert to Islam prior to going. Considering the extensive and prolonged war between US-led coalitions and the Middle East, how accepted and integrated are youth and families of Muslim faith living as expats, refugees, and asylees in westernizing countries?

Having worked with teens in conflict with the law for more than a decade, I am naturally drawn to media attention given to teens. Unfortunately, the press teens receive is usually negative, perpetuating harmful teen stereotypes. Here is yet another example of how public criticism on teens choosing to aid ISIS further alienates marginalized youth.

Articles on teens joining ISIS had little insight into my first question. I then became curious about the comments readers were making about teens joining ISIS and particularly about Samra and Sabina. Would the comments be of concern and understanding or hatred and retribution? To my dismay, I was saddened, shocked, and even disturbed by what I read. Some words and expressions are explicit and I apologize, however, I wanted you to read what could be the underlying issue at hand.

Samra and Sabina were described as “weak minded, creatures, dim-witted, unsophisticated, stupid little girls, stupid cows, little Evil/nasty bitches, and dirty little whores”. One female commentator went as far as calling them a “stupid pair of TWATS and brain dead whores.” Another commentator hoped “they returned to Austria in body bags”, while another posted, “kill them and their offspring.” Some blamed the parents and even wanted them prosecuted for aiding terrorists. The hatred in these comments was palpable.

After reading about a hundred or so such comments, I began to feel disenchanted until I saw this post that confirmed my belief about the first question and reconfirmed my sanity and belief in humankind.

“What was happening in their lives before they left their homes? How could they have become so disenchanted with their lives at such a young age, that leaving all and everyone they know was seen as a better life? Questions must be raised at how no one noticed such a change in them. Was there no one talking or taking notice of them. It seems that the only time they felt special to anyone was when fed the ISIS way of thoughts. How very sad for society today. There are probably many young people who are easy meat ready to be converted with empty promises because they have nothing else in their lives to live for.”

This reader was able—with compassion and care— to see root causes of their decisions and trying to take ownership, versus being a detached judge, angry jury, and at times stone-cold executioner. She was looking for a proactive social answer, not a reactive and punitive one. She raises several pertinent questions and the question I had was:  Were these girls and other teens who joined ISIS already disenchanted beforehand, feeling the same and being treated the same as the comments made about them after they joined ISIS? Before engaging with ISIS who was:

Reaching out to them?

Talking to them?

Noticing them?

Making them feel like they belonged?

Making them feel valued and worthy?

Only others (i.e. family, peers, neighborhoods, communities, schools, agencies, and businesses) can answer these fundamental questions. Was society’s response sufficient enough in addressing these existential needs? That is uncertain, however, ISIS was there to fill this void for them.

Extreme groups take advantage of those who feel extremely unaccepted, unloved, and misunderstood because they are desperately seeking extreme ways to satisfy prolonged unmet basic needs. The basic needs of belonging and power (feeling worthwhile to self and others) are very much present in adolescents. If teens cannot find socially responsible outlets to have their basic needs met, then they are vulnerable to extreme and radical groups. ISIS is not the only radical group out there looking for people who are desperately finding a place and purpose.

This happened regularly with the young men I worked with who were either gang involved or seeking gang involvement. They looked to these groups to belong, to feel loved, and purposeful. Some did it for survival (selling drugs and stealing). Many were minorities, immigrants, or children of immigrants living in less than desirable neighborhoods.

Being a “somebody” regardless of how it manifests, is far more desirable than being a “nobody”. Similarly, negative attention is better than no attention. Being neglected, dehumanized, discriminated against, and degraded is severely damaging to one’s sense of self and can have equally damaging repercussions, which brings us back to the public’s comments about Samra and Sabina.

Presuming both are alive and reasonably well (there are rumors of one being dead), how do these comments help marginalized teens— who only later see the gravity of their decision—feel included, wanted, and purposeful? They don’t.

Social workers and Austrian Muslims have joined together to “dereadicalize” young people who have been to Syria, or having thoughts of fighting with ISIS. The goal is to connect them and their families with community agencies and resources to discourage them from extremism. You can read more at www.thelocal.at.

This is a good first step, however, the real impact in helping teens like Samra and Sabina starts with us. What kind of daily interactions are marginalized youth having with you, neighbors, teachers, law enforcement, passersby, peers, and store clerks? Are we, as a community, adequately addressing the 5 questions above, or are we passively and actively inviting and letting extremists do so?

We blame ISIS or other radical and harmful groups consisting of hundreds and even thousands of brainwashing youth, but when a young person decides to join the ranks of any anti-social group we are quick to punish the individual—even the parents—but no one else. If a community of extremists can be blamed for taking advantage of impressionable and alienated youth, why are the communities from which these young people come also not blamed in part for creating an environment that pushes them to seek out, engage with, and ultimately join radical groups?
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Basic Needs Drive Teen Behavior

Teens satisfying basic needs
Image courtesy of Taliesin / morguefile.com

Teens behave to satisfy their basic needs—just like we all do.

If teens are doing what everyone else does, why are their behaviors judged and scrutinized? Four out of five basic needs are being met with this group of teens rafting (the behavior). The five basic needs are:

Survival: food, clothing, shelter, and overall safety

Belonging: being part of a group and having an identity greater than oneself

Power: having self-worth and feeling worthwhile to others

Freedom: having the liberty to live as you want while respecting common laws and the rights of others

Fun: being able to enjoy the pleasures of life

Look at the picture. Clearly the group is having fun. All other needs, except survival, are being met too. The more an activity satisfies other basic needs, the more significant that activity becomes. The young people feel a sense of freedom as they carelessly and playfully float. Since they are in a group, they belong to the rafting activity. One cannot tell how long they have known each other. They could be long-term friends or could be part of a summer youth camp and have only known each other for several days.. As individuals in a group, having purpose and meaning, the need for power is being fulfilled as well. In sum, 4 of the 5 basic needs are being met, making the activity rather important.

What is typically bothersome to adults is not that teenagers are trying to satisfy their basic needs. Rather, what adults have issues with is how teens go about satisfying those needs by scrutinizing the details. Is there anything worth complaining about in the picture? No. Imagine four highly excited young people now coming out of the water. Maybe they are laughing loudly, joking,  swearing, kicking up sand as they walk by, and dripping water on blankets as the rafts pass over sunbathers.

Here are some possible thoughts or responses.
“Teenagers are inconsiderate.”

“Teenagers are rude.”

Teenagers are obnoxious.”

Everything they had been doing to satisfy their basic needs is now forgotten and reduced to a five-second interaction and judgment. Could the teens have been quieter, respected the personal space of others, or apologized had sand or water fallen on blankets? Yes. Maybe then their complete behavior would have been more appreciated and less scrutinized.

Teens, like adults, behave to satisfy their basic needs. Keep that in mind when you are momentarily bothered by what a teen does.

Adults don’t always do it right from start to finish either. Parents behave in ways that bother teens too! Teens have the courage to go all the way and push their limits, whereas adults may hold back, shortchanging the experience and the benefits they could have reaped had they tested their boundaries a bit more.

If the teens had bothered some sunbathers, it most likely wasn’t their intent. They were most likely so wrapped up in what they were doing that they were unaware of anything or anyone else outside the scope of their activity. Don’t be so quick to judge. Adults and parents could benefit by copying how teenagers satisfy their basic needs with passion and intent.

For information on my parenting and self help book “What You Can Learn From Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth” please visit: http://www.whatyoucanlearn.com

Conflict Resolution — A fresh look

Approach conflict resolution like you would crossing a river
Image courtesy of Yodod / flickr.com

Why do you encounter the same conflict over and over? Probably because you are using the same strategy you have been using many times before. Conflict resolution is not achieved because for you it is. Conflict resolution works best when those involved can identify the particulars that make this situation different from the last.

Successful problem solving requires you to look at all situations with a fresh perspective no matter how similar they look. The hiker above may have crossed the stream from the same point a hundred times, but he has never crossed it the same way twice. Why?

Water flow and levels are in constant flux due to rainfall. Water temperature varies with the weather. The stones on which the hiker steps on are weathered or not in the same place. These are but a few of the changes that exist each time the hiker crosses the stream even if it is at the same point.

It is futile to imagine crossing the river in exactly the same manner. Similarly, there is no point in looking at the same student, child, or employee sitting before you in the same regard as the last time you were in a conflict resolution situation with them. No matter how familiar a conflict feels, there is always something different about it.

What is different this time? How can this difference play a key role in resolving the issue? How can you get those involved in the conflict — possibly you — to see how these key nuances could get you to a resolution, just like the hiker has to roll up his pant leg higher because the water level is a bit higher than the last time he crossed due to the excessive rainfall the day before.

For more tips check out Conflict Resolution Strategies

Changing Your Focus Creates New Possibilities

Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 12.01.36 PMIt is not what we look at that bothers us, rather it is what we choose to focus on. The young woman has an object of interest in her sights and is now focusing more closely on a particular aspect of the subject. What she focuses on will determine the outcome of the impression she makes. Another photographer may focus on another part of the subject giving it a new perspective and new meaning.

The Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus stated that people are not disturbed by things but by the view they have of them. So is the case when leaders are confronted with organizational issues with subordinates or when a parent is working out a problem with a child. Contention arises when we neither make an attempt to focus on mutual interests nor seek to understand other perspectives.

When this occurs with organizations that service young people or in the parent/child case, the young people feel the brunt of the stalemate or battle. In the former, a worker’s strike or contemptuous attitude to spite administration or workers could adversely impact services causing quality to diminish. An organization’s mission could be compromised. In the latter case, a parent may use punishment or restrictions until the child concedes or the child may become defiant and obstinate if needs are not heard or met.

Those effective at problem-solving have a knack for looking at something from all perspectives, broadening his or her level of understanding, therefore allowing greater possibilities to find a resolution where all parties are satisfied. My upcoming book, What You Can Learn From Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth, offers parents the possibility to minimize these setbacks and negative impact on the parent/child relationship by changing how they look at their teenager. The book gives parents an opportunity to focus on all aspects of their adolescent, resulting in a more balanced and healthy relationship. And as a bonus, the parent may even learn something about themselves in the process.