September 21, 2017

Workplace Words that Wound

By: Lorie Reichel-Howe, Training Committee Chair 2016-2017

We have all felt the sting of cutting words, the stab of sarcasm and the sickening silence when a coworker is assaulted with a verbal bomb. 
When workplace word wars occur, employees become casualties, relationships are strained and morale plummets. When verbal outbursts occur, organizational culture erodes, productivity is held hostage, and attrition skyrockets.
Whether you are a manager or copy clerk, being told to address a behavior without a strategy for doing so, is as helpful as receiving a disturbing medical diagnosis without care instructions, surgery options, or a recovery plan.
Let’s face it, when conflicts escalate and issues arise, managers and staff run to HR.  While individuals with concerns need to own their issues and release any expectation that HR will magically make their problem go away, they also need strategies for safely dialoguing with their “offender.”  Since relational breakdowns are inevitable in every human group, including the work family, HR, management and all employees need first responder training in effectively addressing harmful zingers, jabs and verbal bombs. Let’s explore some ways to respond to these behaviors.
Let’s imagine a manager approaches HR uncertain how to have a conversation with a frustrated employee named Kendall.   Kendall, after being informed that her support request to Help Desk was received and, due to complications with the new system software installation, should expect a two-day delay in technical support. Upon reading the Help Desk’s response, Kendall blurted out the following….
“The Help Desk department should be renamed the Helpless Department.”
Request clarification
In a calm and firm manner, ask Kendall to please share the words she said about the Help Desk. Also ask her to explain what she meant by these words. In doing this, Kendall is invited to self-reflect and you avoid accusing, lecturing or judging. The desired outcome of this activity is self-reflection and ownership of behaviors.
Acknowledge the person’s concerns and needs
During conflict, our human tendency is to experience frustration, anger, even fear.  When these feelings exist, it’s difficult for us to listen to someone’s perspective, especially a perspective different from our own. Being understood is an anger diffuser.  Even so, it’s not a fix-all solution. Acknowledging concerns and needs doesn’t mean you approve of a harmful behavior, it simply means you understand what motivated the behavior.
Communicate positive wants or desires for those involved
People are more open to working with you when they believe you care about them and desire a positive outcome for them.  It’s assuring to know someone cares about you especially when you’ve acted impulsively and spoken inappropriately. One way to communicate caring is to verbalize that you’d like Kendall to get technical support in a reasonable time in order to complete her work. In addition, share your positive desire for Help Desk, to have a more manageable case load and not be buried under tech glitches from a new system upgrade.  Lastly, include your desire for a positive work environment for everyone in the department where concerns are addressed respectfully.
Bring awareness of the impact of words and actions
Effective communicators help others understand the impact of their words and actions. Share with Kendall that when you hear a comment that the Help Desk Department should be renamed the Helpless Department, it seems like a department has been attacked. Share the impact of this comment identifying that comments like these can create a negative work environment and divide departments instead of unifying departments within the organization. Share your concern that when people hear comments like this, they feel attacked and disrespected and that, once negativity spreads, it’s hard to stop.
Invite brainstorming a different way to respond
Having shared impact, ask Kendall if there are avenues other than Help Desk where she can obtain support. In asking Kendall to brainstorm, you help her move from attacking others to problem solving. This is what you want Kendall to do the next time she is frustrated.
Request agreement that behavior will not occur moving forward and identify next steps
After discussing what happened and the impact, it’s equally important to get an agreement of behavior in the future from Kendall. Ask her to commit to respectfully verbalizing future concerns (without attacking).  Ask Kendall what (or if a) follow-up action needs to occur. This could be phrased as a question asking Kendall if she believes she needs to do something in order to bring peace back to the department. Ask Kendall what does she believes her co-workers need to hear from her.
If you expect an apology for follow-up action from Kendall, clearly communicate this along with any consequences that will result from her behavior and whether documentation will occur.  Avoid surprising someone in the future during a performance review.
Relational response training needed by all
While first aid kits are available for minor physical injuries and 911 calls can be made for medical emergencies, relational first-aid office kits do not exist. All employees, managers and HR staff need first responder training in effectively addressing harmful workplace zingers, jabs and verbal bombs.
About the Author

Lorie Reichel-Howe is founder of Conversations in the Workplace. She leverages over 20 years of expertise in communication and relationship management and equips managers and teams to have “safe conversations” – transformative dialogue that uncovers hidden workplace issues to foster greater innovation, inclusion and collaboration within the organization.

September 02, 2017

Girls for Change

By: Noelle Santamaria

August 10 was an inspiring finale for the Junior League of Palo AltoMid Peninsula’s (JLPAMP’s) two-year partnership with Technovation. League members gathered at Google’s campus to cheer on 12 finalist teams from around the globe at the 2017 Technovation Challenge World Pitch Awards.  The theme of the event, “Girls for a Change”, focused on diversity and inclusion, and empowering girls to be innovators and leaders - initiatives that strongly resonate with JLPAMP’s mission and community focus.  Google CEO Sundai Pichai jumpstarted the event by addressing the teams of girls.  "To the girls who dream of being an engineer or an entrepreneur, and who dream of creating amazing things - I want you to know that there's a place for you in this industry. There’s a place for you at Google. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.” It was a relevant tone and message to begin the evening where we would hear about the amazing accomplishments of these girls.     

Every year, the Technovation program invites girls from around the world, between the ages of 10 to 18, to learn and apply skills to solve real-world problems in their communities by creating mobile app solutions.  In a science fair format preceding the evening’s awards ceremony, guests chatted with the teams and learned about mobile app solutions that enabled individuals to fulfill the wishes (needs) of underprivileged children in India, helped people to visually recognize different types of waste and how to recycle according to the laws in Canada, provided basic information and resources to help new refugees in the U.S., and gave a platform to report cases and support victims of Female Genital Mutilation in Kenya.   All 12 of the finalist teams were awarded seed money to continue growing and developing their business plans and mobile apps.  The Senior Division grand prize was awarded to a team from Kazakhstan who created a safety-tracking app for women called QamCare and the Junior Division grand prize was awarded to a team from Hong Kong who developed a Dementia-Care Companion app for patients and families.

As the evening drew to a close, League members voiced sentiments about the positive impact of the JLPAMP/Technovation partnership in our Silicon Valley communities. The two-year partnership with Technovation not only resulted in the increased engagement of local girls in the mobile app challenge, but also developed new partnerships with youth organizations and female mentors in the tech and business community.  To learn more, the JLPAMP’s 2017 Annual Report highlights the impact of our Technovation partnership as well as our other strategic partnerships and projects committed to empowering girls to be STEAM leaders of tomorrow.

For more information, visit



Technovation is a San Francisco nonprofit which offers girls around the world the opportunity to learn the skills they need to emerge as tech entrepreneurs and leaders. Every year, they invite girls to identify a problem in their community, and then challenge them to solve it. Girls work in teams to build both a mobile app and a business plan to launch that app, supported by mentors and guided by Technovation’s curriculum.


The JLPA•MP served as a Technovation Regional Ambassador from 2015 to 2017. Regional Ambassadors are volunteer program managers who help bring Technovation to a new region and build a solid community in their area by organizing events and managing the program locally.

The JLPAMP collaborated with two chapters of the Boys and Girls Club and the San Carlos Smart-E afterschool program. Over the course of three months, League volunteers had the opportunity to work with teams of enthusiastic girls who saw real problems in their communities that they wanted to address with their apps. Ideas included helping pet owners find the healthiest food and local-pet friendly parks for their pets, helping people find local quality groceries at low-cost, and helping students manage depressive symptoms. The program allowed the girls to bond and participate with their friends while learning about themselves, discover their strengths and increase their confidence with technology skills. Somewhat of a surprise to those who had never thought about participating in a technology challenge was how much they loved working with code and design concepts.


The JLPA•MP / Technovation partnership resulted in positive impact by engaging and motivating local girls to pursue STEAM programs and education. This community project was sunset at the conclusion of the 2016-2017 League year.