The Leading Contact Centre Magazine

Answers: Poor Communication and a Culture of Fear


Question: I’m an advisor working in a contact centre, and I’m getting increasingly concerned about the poor level of staff/manager interaction that exists in my firm as it goes through a considerable revamp.There’s a distinct lack of listening and communication skills from senior management at this time – something that is affecting all of us employees, who are struggling on regardless in fear of being given our marching orders from the director…

Personally, I am a firm believer in managers setting the tone of how they wish the business environment to be – especially during times of change. But the senior managers in our place are at each other’s throats a lot of the time and don’t seem to care about the detrimental effects this is having on the business or on us.When I did approach someone internally to raise my concerns and to request some mediation, I was told they’re “working on it”. Yet nothing has changed.

I don’t think it’s a wise option to approach the director directly as I don’t want to lose my job. But I do want some advice on what I should do next as the situation is not pleasant.

We have asked 5 call centre experts to answer this question sent in by one of our readers.

lindsay terris

Answer 1:

Courtesy of Lindsay Terris, principal consultant at Blue Sky Performance Improvement.

First of all, it’s a shame that you feel so isolated in what seems to be a terrible environment to work in. But well done for having the courage to try to change it.

Your situation demonstrates how poor some managers are at dealing with change. In today’s business, the only constant IS change, and yet all too often the management population demonstrate that they are not good at coping with it. The culture in our workplace, and the ‘way we feel’ about working somewhere has a direct correlation to the performance levels that can be achieved. It is likely, then, that the performance in your business area is also under-achieving, which will add additional pressures to a management team already under stress.

This is a negative spiral that must be addressed by the leaders within your organisation and while I suspect they are aware there are issues, they probably don’t fully appreciate the magnitude of the problem as they are ‘in denial’ and lashing out at their peers, finding it easier to ignore the impact they are having on their people.

At Blue Sky, we often see a different ‘culture’ across different areas of one company purely because, at the front line, the culture is driven by the manager of that department and may not necessarily be aligned to the vision of the organisation.

It is true though that a fish rots from the head down, and any senior manager worth their salt should recognise that the leadership team are having a negative impact on performance and culture in your organisation, and that it needs to change.

During times of change, communication is absolutely key. Regular, clear, reassuring and comprehensive communication is the only way to ensure people understand the current reality and are clear on what this means to them.

You may be familiar with the ‘change curve’ (see below). This model demonstrates the different emotional states we all go through during times of change. Experience shows us that different people travel through the curve at different speeds and that those who cope well with change will move through the levels much more quickly than those who don’t.

You mentioned that you have already spoken to someone in the organisation regarding your concerns but that nothing appears to have been done. This suggests there is someone you feel you can trust so it may be worthwhile talking to them again and, if possible, giving some specific examples of the behaviours you have witnessed.

I know you don’t want to speak to the director as they manage by fear. However, you could send an anonymous letter in which you should state that you felt you couldn’t speak to him/her in person.

Again use specific examples to bring the reality of what is happening to their attention and explain the way you – and others – feel about working in this environment.

Alternatively you could ‘suggest’ and organise a ‘staff forum’, which is held monthly. This enables staff, as a group, to speak to the senior manager within your organisation about the current changes in your business and provides an opportunity to discuss any concerns or fears you may have.

This will give you the strength of your colleagues around you and will demonstrate to the management that you want to change things for the better. To have people who want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem, is a real asset in any team.

Shona Harper

Answer 2:

Courtesy of Shona Harper, director of the consultancy Contact Centre Professional.

It sounds as though you are really having a difficult time of it at the moment and, although the behaviour of the senior managers does not sound productive either for the business as a whole or the individuals involved, what worries me most is the reference you make to losing your job.

I pondered a long while over how I should respond to you in what sounds like not only an unpleasant, but also a political and confrontational, environment. There clearly is no simple answer and you must do what you think is right based on how you feel, your own personal circumstances, and all the facts and figures.

But consider this:

You are working in an environment where you are afraid of losing your job just by:

  • Raising your head above the parapet
  • Trying to make your workplace a more pleasant and productive place to work for all, which – let’s not forget – includes many positive benefits for the director
  • Trying to discuss issues in an open and professional manner in order to resolve difficulties and prevent them becoming worse

This worries me more than all the arguing and sniping. If it were me, then I would really question whether it was worth working in this organisation at all. I know this seems like an incredibly negative answer, but ask yourself: are you worth more than this? Could your skills and talents not be used in an environment where they are appreciated and nurtured?

If you really don’t think leaving is the right way forward for you, or you believe that with some adjustments you will enjoy your job once more, then the only option is to persist with raising your concerns.

I am in complete agreement with your conviction that leaders should set the tone or culture of the business environment. Equally, leadership is about setting clear direction when going through change and times of ambiguity. It sounds as though neither of these things are happening within your business.

I’ve been trying to figure out why this would be the case so that I may advise you of an appropriate way forward and honestly I just can’t come up with an answer; maybe they are more worried about their own positions than the welfare of their people. Clearly false logic, because the best leaders are people-focused.

As such, I would suggest trying once again to raise your concerns. However, it is important when approaching a sensitive subject that you:

  • Try to quantify the negative effects you believe to be taking place, both to individuals and the business as whole. This not only takes subjectivity away from the issue, but also means your manager and director are more likely to sit up and take notice and less likely to dismiss you as a whinger
  • Try to suggest possible and realistic solutions or ways to move the issues forward. It sounds as though your managers and director are all facing pressures of their own and, while this is not an excuse for their dismissal of your concerns, a solution-oriented approach will help
  • Try to gain the support of your peers and approach the issue collectively
  • Consider carefully who you should flag these concerns to. Maybe there’s someone in the organisation who can influence the agenda but without line management responsibilities. Who looks after HR or recruitment, for example?

If you follow my suggestions and things still don’t improve, then polish up your CV and set your sights on something better. Good luck and remember: don’t let others’ negativity pull you down. Keep focused on your own journey.

lauren- message pad

Answer 3: Courtesy of Lauren Kirk, HR office at the outsourcer Message Pad.

This doesn’t sound like a very nice position to be in and it does need addressing sooner rather than later; if so many of you are unhappy, the business will end up losing good members of staff through neglect.

My advice to you is that, while you have already been to see one member of senior management and have felt like you achieved nothing, don’t let this make you lose confidence/faith in the rest of the senior management team. There will be someone who is willing to listen and help where possible.

I suggest that you request to have a team meeting/operator discussion with a member of staff either on the same level as the person you spoke with before or higher. Even better would be two members of staff from this level: one from your direct line managers (perhaps a team leader) and then possibly your HR officer.

This time, however, I wouldn’t stand up as an individual from the contact centre trying to be the voice for everyone else. This can often land you in trouble because even though you’re trying to help people who daren’t speak up, the result can be that it looks like you and you alone who has an ‘issue’.

So, you need to get a couple of people together that feel the same and ask if a team meeting can be held. For this meeting you will need to have the points you want to discuss ready along with some ideas of how you feel the problem can be eased or even rectified.

Make sure you and your colleagues don’t try and turn this meeting into a slanging match; keep it as a civil discussion between all attendees as the management are more likely to listen and pay attention this way.

The good thing about going forward as team should be that the senior management will sit up and listen. If just one person makes a noise, they might assume that the problem isn’t that big or even isn’t really a problem at all. The more people moved to become involved, the more likely your managers will actually want to resolve your issues.

It will also be more difficult for them to give you your ‘marching orders’ as they would have to treat your colleagues in the same way. And what company wants to lose three, four or more conscientious, committed staff members?

shazaan message pad

Answer 4:

Courtesy of Shahzaan Rashid, Contact Centre Operations Manager at the outsourcer Message Pad.

In today’s fast changing corporate world, it is imperative that organisations of all sizes implement changes in their company structures and business processes so they stand a chance of keeping up with the competition and meeting fluctuating market demands.

In your company, hopefully this phase of change is also intended to boost the success of the business but, unfortunately, when a restructure takes place there always seems to be an impact on staff, whether operational and managerial.

You must try and understand that your managers are just as concerned about their future and prospects with the company as you are during this time of apparent upheaval. This may go some way to explaining the lack of individual time and attention being given to you and your fellow operational staff members, as well as your manager’s inability/unwillingness to communicate effectively with all levels of your company’s hierarchy.

But this does not mean that you need to suffer in silence and the first step you could make is to communicate, in writing, to your line manager.

You should express all your concerns in detail and request a meeting to try and resolve the issues that are affecting you or, if not resolve them in one meeting, to at least gain an understanding of when and how they can be resolved.

Your HR/personnel department should also receive a copy of your letter for their records so that, in the event your manager does not reply or fails to meet you for the requested meeting, you can request the matter be escalated to a senior manager/director for their intervention.

Following this procedure in the workplace is deemed to be both professional and civil. It cannot affect your position and security in the company as it is within your legal rights to follow such a mechanism to redress any reasonable grievance you may have.

If you reach the stage of direct intervention by a senior member of staff, such as a director, then you may wish to explain further that you are speaking out now because of your concern for the welfare of the staff and the continued success of the organisation; make it very clear that you are not trying to be malicious but, rather, want to help in bettering the culture within your workplace.

They will surely understand this and, one would hope, praise your courage in bringing your concerns to their attention, leaving the way open to work out methods that foster effective team working and communication among all employees.

Paul Weald

Answer 5:

Courtesy of Paul Weald, director at the consultancy RXPerience.

To start things off, I looked up the dictionary definition of ‘communication’ and, put simply, it is the ‘giving or exchanging of information’. If only your work situation could be described in such a straightforward way.

Can I also just check that behind this question there is no trait of more serious employer issues. I am thinking here of bullying, harassment, discrimination and the like? These should be acted upon immediately with your HR department and not just ignored.

But concerning your question, one of the traits of good advisors in the job that you do is that you will be naturally communicative – that is, you will be talkative and give information readily.

It seems that your managers and the director do not reflect and support this ‘open’ approach. Frustrations will arise as a result, as you perceive that you are being ignored.

But before we lay all the blame totally at the door of the management team, it is important for you to put yourself in the shoes of those managers and try to appreciate that there may be reasons for their non-communicative manner. It sounds as if your company may be going through difficulties and that the management might perceive that it is better to say nothing other than solid facts.

While their intentions may be to avoid speculation and rumour, perhaps their (in)action is just having the opposite effect.

There is a very good book that can help you understand your work situation better. Written by Jill Walker, the title – Is Your Boss Mad? – is rather apt.

The ethos of the book is that if you can start to understand why your workplace is a difficult, stressful or unhappy work situation, you will start to cope with it much better. Jill describes a number of profiles of bosses and how you can develop your own coping strategies to overcome the issues that each characterisation presents.

It may help to shed some light on why and how these miscommunications arise between employer and employee.

You also comment that you are in fear of the impact of approaching your director with your concerns. While this is a natural reaction, the director is, quite possibly, unconscious of the issues that advisors face. If the first he or she gets to hear about these issues is when staff start to leave the organisation, then it is potentially too late for the right actions to be taken.

So I think you and your colleagues do need to have a discussion with a member of the management team. That could be a team leader, operations manager or a member of the HR department – whoever you feel most comfortable approaching. I suggest that you make some notes before the meeting that detail the points that you want to raise. That way, you will ensure that you cover all the issues that are relevant.

Also, do be prepared with an answer to the question: “What would you like me to do about it?” In that way you will be thinking, in advance, about potential solutions that will help the meeting to achieve a constructive outcome.

One other factor to recognise is the impact of stress. When things are going badly, it is a natural reaction to spot the negative things as ‘evidence’ of how things are. But really you are just seeing the things that your mindset wants you to react to. This is how the perception of ‘things are not good’ becomes a reality.

So, if you are having a difficult day, then force yourself to stop and step outside of that mood. You sound like a positive, expressive person and it is exactly those personality traits that can see you through. So if you are in need of a stress reliever, I did find, via Google, a blog that allows you to just let off steam – anonymously.

When it is all getting just too much, then you can always post an entry at www.mystupidboss.com

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Published On: 6th Feb 2008 - Last modified: 27th Oct 2017
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