Did this phrase become a cliché in your life? It did in mine. Growing up with two second-generation Italian parents* whose discussions often became “spirited,” I would often hear one of them exclaim, “What do you want from me?”
This rhetorical question signaled two things. The first I learned as a kid: the argument was close to over. The second I continue to learn as an adult: the problem was deeper than whatever issue they were working through. Their spats were rooted in unmet expectations and dysfunctional communication.
Because of the long hours, hospitality professionals spend more awake time with their hospitality families than with their families of origin or nuclear families. Chefs and cooks, managers and servers, convention services and banquet staff, front desk crews – you become little work families. Familiarity can breed contempt.
My parents’ arguments were almost always about an issue with no long-term significance – a dent in the fender, an unbalanced checkbook, a social faux pas – that they just couldn’t let go. Usually the disappointment festered until touched off by another insignificant situation – a tough pork chop, for instance. No, really. It was like The Honeymooners.
Isn’t work life just like that sometimes? Big mistakes are transparent so they are always addressed, and all involved parties have to own their faults in real time. The root of most problems lies in the small stuff: “He never closes down properly.” “Side-work isn’t done on days when she opens.” “Why doesn’t he do it just like me?” These feelings simmer until touched off by, say, a customer complaining of a tough pork chop.
Seriously, the issue is that one or both parties have unmet expectations. You expect something that your coworker is not delivering, and/or vice versa. If your company does not have explicit written standards, you are inviting this tension into your business. Training, retraining, and upholding performance expectations will functionally eradicate this problem and build a stronger, successful culture.
You face extraordinary challenges because you work in the hospitality pressure cooker. To assess how well you’re doing in this area, to how many of the following six communication points can you honestly agree?
- My coworkers do not have to sugar-coat or beat around the bush when bringing a criticism or suggestion to me.
- I look everyone in the eye when I speak to them, and “listen with my eyes” (another of my father’s favorites) when being spoken to.
- I do not have anger fits, even for just a few seconds, and I never make mean-spirited comments.
- My team speaks openly in meetings, and has no fear to share ideas, intimations, and opinions.
- Every individual on my team has an updated written job description, set of performance expectations, and period goals; formal reviews occur at least annually; and the company’s values, procedures and policies are reinforced through consistent training.
- My coworkers trust me enough to always tell me the truth.
The truth is that all of us have to work on at least one of these areas, many of us on two or more. The first step to growth is identifying the problem. Contact us for a list of resources to help you overcome communication issues, all of which my team at Strategic Hospitality Search has used to improve our relationships.
Set a goal to get noticeably better at two of the communication points by June. You know which ones they are. Do your homework, pinpoint what triggers the problem, and fight the temptation to repeat the cycle. Don’t tell your staff that you’re working on these issues. Show them. Continue to show them even when they’re not responding. They will respond after they see that your change is lasting longer than a couple months. And then they’ll follow your lead.
* My parents, Joe and Roxy, were faithful to their vows until their passing. They taught my sister, brothers and me the values of family, loyalty, hard work, and hard knocks. Memories of the Sunday dinner table, enjoying Mom’s Milanese while enduring my father’s object lessons and repeated “you gotta do what you gotta do before you do what you wanna do” bring a smile to my face as I work to instill those values in their grandchildren.