can I ask my staff to be nicer, beauty routines during class, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Can I ask my staff to be nicer?

I’m a new director at a medium-sized nonprofit that has gone through a hard year. There have been many staff changes in the past year, and I can tell that many within the organization are still struggling to negotiate these changes. Two supervisors who report to me are very unfriendly to me. They give one-word responses most of the time. They don’t say hi or bye unless I really go out of my way. They never ever ask how I’m doing or anything like that, even though I try to initiate pleasantries with them. I don’t think it’s personal — I think they just are not in the habit of cultivating a positive relationship with a superior. Their lack of warmth rarely offends me, but I do think it sends a bad message to the other people in the department for whom they should be setting an example because they’re supervisors.

Can I ask them to be nicer and more mindful of the way they communicate? I will also continue to lead by example by being very friendly and communicating thoroughly. I have never encountered people at any stage of my career who behave with such a lack of awareness for how they interact with their superiors. I think niceness is really important and it’s not about kissing ass or feeling popular; it’s about laying the foundation for productive conversations and a free exchange of ideas. I don’t mean to imply that I would threaten to give them a negative review, but they really need to be aware of the fact that how they communicate, whether they are open with me, and the example they set for their reports are all things that I could consider in a performance review. Would this come across as petty or needy?

Well, the real issue isn’t about pleasantries; it’s that they’re operating in a way that isn’t consistent with the kind of culture you want, and I bet it goes well beyond basic pleasantries. If they’re this chilly with you, I find it hard to imagine that they’re keeping you in the loop on work, using you as a resource, cultivating a sense of positive sense of energy and mission with their staffs, and I’d focus more on that stuff. (Because really, if they were doing that stuff well, the rest of this wouldn’t be an issue … if it were happening at all, which it probably wouldn’t be.)

One next step might be to take them out to lunch (individually) and try to get to know them better — but I’d also stay alert to the possibility that they’re not operating the way you want managers to operate on a whole RANGE of things, and that you might need people in those roles who are better equipped to work in a partnership with you. (Before you conclude that, I’d have a direct conversation with them about how you want the relationship to work — again, focusing on substance more than the hi/bye stuff — and give them a chance to meet those expectations. But it’s really possible that they’re just not ideal for their roles, or that they’ve been so damaged by the hard year you reference that they might not be able to move on from it in the way you need.)

2. Should you use a headline on your resume?

I am an employment and training case manager, and I end up assisting many clients in writing resumes. I recently attended a “Resume Basics” workshop, in which the presenter stressed creating a Headline Statement at the top of the resume, under contact information. Samples of this would be:
“Cashier”
“Medical Assistant”
“Experienced Nurse”

No more than 5 or 6 words, and then after the statement would be the person’s profile/summary and the rest of the resume.

I don’t not include headlines on the resumes I assist clients with. Should I? Or is this an outdated practice? Normally I highlight whatever experience they have in the summary of qualifications and core skills, if applicable.

There’s no faster way than these headline statements to flag for me that someone used a professional resume writer, since no one else uses them.

No, there’s no need to do this. It’s unnecessary and a little gimmicky, and I wish people would stop trying to muck with the basic resume format, which serves hiring managers’ needs just fine as it is. (I think professional resume writers must feel they need to invent things like this to continue selling their services to clients, but you should ignore it.)

3. How do I politely decline a vendor’s offer?

A few weeks ago, a vendor emailed the director of my department a sales pitch for a software service. The director forwarded the email to me and asked me to evaluate. I did a 20-minute phone meeting and their service was pretty interesting, so I scheduled a follow-up meeting including the director, the head of my team, and two of our technical gurus to get their input. The tech guys listened to the pitch and are confident they can build us the same technology in-house without additional expenditures. Thus, we won’t be signing up with the vendor.

I’m never sure what to say to the vendor in situations like this. Earlier in my career, I’m embarrassed to admit sometimes I just stopped answering their emails or calls (and it often tooks weeks or even months for them to stop calling). Nowadays my professionalism is more important to me and I know I need to be up-front but tactful about declining. What’s the professional norm here? Do I tell him why we’re declining, like, “We’ve decided to build our own version of this tool and so we won’t need your service?” Or do I just say something vague, “We’ve decided to explore other options at this time,” or “We’ve decided not to pursue your service at this time”? Would either offend him? What do other people do when they are saying no to a salesperson who has invested a good chunk of time in pursuing their business?

You can be vague (“We’ve decided it’s not for us at this time”) or specific (“We’ve realized we can create this in-house and prefer that option”). Vague can sometimes be better, because specifics can open the door for the vendor to still try to sell you (for instance, in this example, offering to lower the price or telling you why an in-house system won’t be as robust, or whatever). But the main point is to realize that you’re the one in control here — they don’t have the power to take up any more of your time than you want them to, so there’s no reason not to simply be direct about what you are and aren’t interested in. It’s also fine to firmly say, “Please don’t contact us again about this” if a more polite no is being ignored.

4. Beauty routines during class

I’m a high school teacher who recently stumbled on your blog. Teaching high school juniors is a mess all by itself, but what disturbs me most is some of the habits that I see my students getting into, especially the young ladies. They will repeatedly put on makeup in the middle of the class late in the morning (one and a half hours after the day has started), and one of my female students even brings a curling iron and tries to do her hair during group-time.

It’s my opinion that beauty routines should be done either before school or during our short lunch, and this is because I believe it’s unprofessional (and rude) to do it during class. Even though my students are 16-17, I want them to get into good habits because some of them will be working their way through college. How would doing hair/makeup on company time be treated in the corporate world?

You’re right that it’s unprofessional and would reflect poorly on them in most offices. It’s almost just plain rude, according to basic etiquette. You should have no qualms about telling your students that your class isn’t the place to groom themselves and that you expect their focus to be on classwork while they’re there.

5. My request for time off from six months ago wasn’t approved

I put in a request for time off (not vacation or PTO) in November for 5 days in May. We do not have request off forms in our binder, as our manager never restocks them, so we use binder paper or text messeges. I was not told anything by my manager until a week and a half before my scheduled vacation that I was denied because those days were blacked out due to due a yearly Memorial Day sale. Okay, fine. Why wasn’t I told about this months in advance before I started making my arrangements for flight and hotel rooms? And now that I have complained to her, she has gotten rude (especially after finding out that I was seeking other employment) and scheduled me all closing shifts even though mornings are when more tips can made. Am I being unreasonable or should she have gotten to me sooner about demying me my request off?

Of course she should have responded to you sooner, but you also should have followed up when you hadn’t heard anything back, and especially before making flight arrangements. (Also, for what it’s worth, I wouldn’t use text messages for that kind of thing; it’s too easily overlooked and there’s no record.)

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