Lynne Curry: Prince Charmless doesn't want to be 'nice'

ManagementSeptember 16, 2012 

Q. Based on front office staff complaints, I got sent to a day of Charm School training, followed by an hour of counseling from our company's human resources officer. Both were a total waste.

I was given hundreds of nonsensical suggestions. These included saying "please" and "thank you" when asking employees to do tasks they're paid to do. I was also told to listen to "all others" without interruption, even when idiots talk and I've got things I need to do.

I told my boss he could choose between me being "nice" and me getting my work done. He told me to call you.

A. Allow me to shorten the list of suggestions to just one: Stop being a jerk.

When you get called on your behavior, swallow your rationalizations and listen to what the critic says.

If you get handed a well-done task by a staff person on whose administrative support you count, say thanks.

When someone disagrees with you, listen before you argue.

If a peer makes a comment in a meeting you disagree with it -- and it's not necessary that you respond -- zip your lips.

When others talk, listen. Not listening equals disrespect.

Finally, "please" takes no time. Your boss doesn't need to choose -- you do. You can do nice and get your work done, or you can spend more time in coaching sessions, or maybe looking for work. You might be surprised at how productive you can be if your co-workers actually want to help you.

Q. A woman in my company wanted to make trouble for me and accused me of coming on to her. I didn't. She came on to me and I turned her down.

Luckily I got to know a lawyer when my son had a traffic accident. I called him right away and he told me how to handle it. I taped the investigator's interview, including all her questions and my answers. I denied everything; they can't prove a thing.

By investigating me, my company made me the whipping boy for this woman's false accusations. I've been here for 10 years and my performance should speak for itself; these charges are bogus. What more do I need to do to protect my rights?

A. Although you don't realize it, by seriously investigating the allegations, your employer is protecting you, if you're innocent. If management instead had said, "We know this man; this couldn't be true," they would actually place you at risk. Should the woman who claimed harassment not have her complaint investigated and then receive discipline, miss out on a promotion or bonus or be fired, she could sue you as well as your company. If that didn't happen, she could sue you and the company. Which would you prefer: a few weeks of being investigated and cleared, or years of expense fighting the allegations in court?

If your attorney advised you to "deny everything" and you denied something that actually happened, you followed bad advice. When under investigation, answer questions truthfully or say, "I'm not comfortable answering that question." The moment you deny something that's true, you damage your credibility and undercut everything else you might say.

Never put your truthful defense at risk. For example, you could have told the investigator that "this is exactly what happened and why this woman decided to get back at me." The investigator would then have checked out her story as well as yours.

One man did exactly this when I investigated allegations against him. He said, "I sold this woman a used truck two years ago. Two days later, it stopped running. She tried to get me to buy it back but I'd sold it 'as is.' She's been after me ever since."

I investigated both the man accused of harassment and the woman making the accusation. In my investigator's report, I concluded, "This is the story of a used truck sale gone bad. I do not find merit in the allegations."

Finally, your attorney may have based his advice on the standard used in criminal court, that proof beyond a reasonable doubt is required. In harassment and discrimination investigations, the standard is "probable." When an investigator interviews someone who denies everything, his guilt may actually seem more "probable."


Dr. Lynne Curry is a management/employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Company Inc. Send your questions to her at thegrowthcompany.com.

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