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Playing Well With Others

Being the boss is tough. Do your employees wish you'd get an attitude adjustment?

When we went searching for an entrepreneur who was, shall we say, challenging to get along with, James W. Caruso's employees rushed to nominate their boss for an attitude makeover. According to them, Caruso, 47, is a brilliant guy who can be condescending at times to his four employees at MediaFirst PR-Atlanta, his PR company. "I'm probably not as verbally reinforcing [as I could be] when someone is doing a good job," admits Caruso. "I'm a very self-confident person. I don't need to be told I'm doing a good job-but there are people who do." Other sources of conflict included his not meeting deadlines for his employees (i.e., when they need him to OK a press release), sometimes not communicating with clients (leaving his employees in a difficult spot) and sometimes not listening fully to employee ideas before dismissing them.

Gloria Dunn, an organizational behavior expert and president of Wiser Ways to Work in San Rafael, California, spoke with Caruso and a few of his employees and suggested a multipronged solution. First, she suggested he meet individually with employees to discuss how they wanted to be communicated with. He should ask each person: "What can I do to improve our work relationship? What's important to you about your job?" He should take notes about what each employee asks and either tell them what he's willing to change, or arrange another meeting to discuss it later. And he should schedule time in his calendar to compliment them on specific things they did well. "It doesn't cost anything," says Dunn. "Say 'Hey, great job!' or 'I know you worked really hard on that.' Just a little of that once in a while, and morale goes sky high."

Second, she urged him to be careful of his word choice and tone of voice. Caruso should project a sense of confidence in employees' abilities and make a focused effort to be more receptive to people's ideas. Third, he had to improve communications about deadlines, having weekly meetings to discuss what's on everybody's plate and making realistic promises about when he can get things done.

Dunn's advice also included Caruso showing his staff that he appreciates how their skills complement his. Says Dunn, "When an [employee] doesn't feel he can make a contribution or that his ideas are discounted, he becomes less enthusiastic and more frustrated about a project."

Caruso took Dunn's advice. "The first day back, I started using a calendar program for better time- and task-tracking," he says. "I hope now I'm more thoughtful in offering both praise and criticism."

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This article was originally published in the February 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Playing Well With Others.

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