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Understand the Difference Between Control and Authority


by Glenn Shepard
October 27,  2015
Category:  Management


Dear Glenn,

I liked your advice about allowing the data entry clerk who doesn’t interact with customers to wear ear buds and listen to music while she works. My husband and I own a small business and have a 23 year old receptionist who wants to do the same. We do have walk in traffic, but it’s not real heavy. What do you think?

-Susan in Big Bear Lake, CA

Dear Susan,

She’s more than your receptionist; she’s your “Director of First Impressions”. No matter what kind of business you’re in, you never get a second chance to make a first impression with customers. If this matters to you, the answer is a big NO on the ear buds.

Thanks for your question.

- Glenn in Nashville, TN

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Click the red Ask Glenn button to submit a question. You may remain anonymous if your prefer.

It’s important to understand your limitations when you’re in management. Having authority over an employee doesn’t mean you have control over a situation.

For example, cell phones presented a major challenge in my business when they first became common in the 1990’s.

Registrars at my seminars would tell people to turn their phones off before entering the room. People would disregard this, figuring it was okay to use them until the seminar started.

They thought they could end their calls when the seminar started. What they didn’t realize was that they didn’t have control over the situation.

They couldn’t just hang up on the other person the second I started speaking. This was especially true when the other person was their boss, or a customer. As soon as I’d begin speaking, you’d hear “I gotta’ go because he’s starting the seminar” over and over.

The other problem was that one person using his cell phone sent a message to others that was okay to use theirs.

I’d ask people to turn off their phones when the seminar started. There might be 100 people in the room, and 95 would comply. But there’d be five who’d still be on their phones. That meant 95 people were ready to choke the living daylights out of five rude individuals who thought it was more important for one person to hear them than for 100 people to hear me.

I had authority, but only had limited control of the situation.

As cell phone etiquette evolved, everyone in my business began telling people to turn their phones to silent instead of off, and to step out of the room if they needed to take a call.

Similarly, managers must know their limits. You can’t change someone’s character. You can’t make an unpleasant person pleasant. You can’t make a person care. You can only set boundaries, reward the good behavior, and punish the bad.

When people refuse to play along, they should be “ejected from the game”.

To Your Success,

P.S. These days, 99% of seminar attendees know to step out of the room to take a call. But there’s occasionally “that guy” who thinks he can talk on his phone and not disturb the people around him. I call these folks “The One Percenters”, immediately pause the seminar and ask them to step out of the room, and don’t resume until they do. Some people never learn.

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