By Tim Hayes
I had been warned about Violet.
A longtime employee of a manufacturing company, Violet carried a pretty sizeable chip on her shoulder. She enjoyed creating havoc. She had a masterful way of pitting her peers against each other one day, then uniting them in vocal opposition to their shared manager the next. She had perfected the art of swatting at a hornet’s nest until it shattered, then getting away cleanly, leaving others to feel the stings.
Violet was an accomplished troublemaker, in other words. Which only promised to make my job tougher.
I had been hired years ago as a consultant to work with this company in an effort to improve teamwork, communication, and the overall esprit de corps among its unionized employees. Small groups cycled through a day-long event at regular intervals until just about everyone had a chance to participate, so I knew it would only be a matter of time and the luck of the draw before I found Violet in the room with the rest of us.
When the fateful day arrived, I made my personal introductions to every participant as usual, thanking them for attending and saying how glad I was that they were there. After a few minutes of coffee, donuts, and small talk, we reached the time to begin the day’s events. I stood up and said, “Well, good morning again, everyone. Welcome to today’s workshop. As you know –“
“Excuse me!” the voice from the back table shouted. Violet, naturally. She was just getting warmed up.
“Why are we here, instead of doing our jobs back at the plant? Who are you? How much is the company paying for this, instead of giving us raises?”
We weren’t 10 seconds into this all-day event, and Violet had unloaded her arsenal, with the intent to blast the whole thing completely off the rails and guarantee a difficult day for everyone – her standard M.O., as it were.
Mentally, I faced a fork in the road. I either could take her on directly, which virtually guaranteed a descent into argument and distraction, or I could go another route. I chose the latter.
“I understand those concerns, but I’m asking you to hang with me, at least until the first break. If you want to go back to work at that point, you can.”
Silence. Curious looks on many faces. Somehow, I had their attention. Maybe even the dawning of respect. My monologue continued.
“I’d like to ask each of you a favor. Stay open to the spirit of the day. I guarantee it will all make sense, and relate to what you do every day on the job. But you gotta hang with me. Can I count on you to do that?”
Then a miracle happened.
“All right,” said Violet. And the rest of the room agreed.
Before the day ended, Violet had volunteered for two games, won one competition, asked to have her picture taken next to a “sculpture” she and her tablemates made during one activity, and contributed a number of tangible action items to be used back at work to help build a stronger sense of teamwork. She had been completely turned around, and I think I know why.
She had been treated with respect, not dismissal. Her opinions were acknowledged, not discounted. She had been asked to do something, not demanded. And she responded in ways that surprised even her peers.
People just want to know they’re valued. Even ones with the toughest reputations, working in traditionally antagonistic environments. It’s what turned Violet around that morning, no doubt.
Copyright 2014 Transverse Park Productions LLC and Tim Hayes Consulting