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How to create a positive environment at work
In this edition of LIFEadvice, coach Kim Giles shares ideas for creating a positive corporate culture and encouraging employees to get along. - photo by Kim Giles

Help! I read your article about Not Being a Drama Queen and I have a small business full of women that are driving me crazy with drama and fighting. They are constantly against each other and offending each other. I tried to talk with them but it is getting so out of control. Please help me get them back on track and focused on work. Thank you. I am one stressed-out boss.


As the boss, you need to think about creating a more positive corporate culture at work. Corporate culture is not just for big companies by the way, it exists in every company (of every size) whether you officially have one or not. If you dont define a corporate culture, you will inadvertently create one that is based on you and your employees subconscious tendencies, attitudes and reactions. It sounds like the culture you have now is a negative, critical and angry one.

I recommend that you take some time and define your core values and principles on paper. Decide what kind of positive atmosphere you want to create at work. How do you want people to be treated? How do you want conflicts handled? What kind of behavior do you expect from your employees toward each other?

I believe that if you hire people, buy from people, sell to people or serve people (or deal with any other human beings at any level at all) in your business, you need a defined corporate culture that includes policies about people and how they are to be treated, both customers and co-workers.

The way employees treat each other is an often overlooked aspect of business. Most of our policies tend to focus on the delivery of the goods and services. They are more about processes than relationships and behavior. If you will expand your policies to include attitude, communication and interaction with each other, it will create better working environment and more productivity. Studies have shown that the average employee wastes around 2.5 hours a week dealing with office drama and people problems. If you taught your people better relationships skills and made policies about the human behavior part of your company culture, you could increase productivity and make work better for everyone.

We find companies that encourage (and even provide) opportunities for personal growth and development, improving relationship skills or executive coaching, just do better on every level. They are more successful, make more money and retain employees much longer. Investing in coaching, training, seminars or workshops for your people has a huge return on investment.

In the meantime, work on defining your core values and policies around human behavior. Then, put them up where everyone will see them, talk about them often, and live them by example. You may also need to start hiring people that believe in these values and are committed to living them. Make sure following the companys core values and codes of human behavior are part of each persons job description and that dishonoring the core values may lead to losing their job.

Here are some questions and suggestions to get you started creating a better corporate culture in your small business:

1. What are the principles and core values that are important to you at work? Here are some ideas: do you value honesty, compassion, work ethic, personal responsibility, respect, creativity, optimism, service, integrity or tolerance? Make a list of all the core values that are important to you.

2. Take an honest inventory of your own behavior and attitudes. Are you living the core values yourself? How can you lead by example and walk the walk, not just talk the talk? Make some specific commitments to improve your own behavior.

3. How do you believe people should be treated at work? What policies could you create to encourage that kind of treatment? Many of the companies I work with use policies like the following:

  • It is our corporate policy that all human beings have the same intrinsic value and hence should be treated with the same level of compassion and respect. From the CEO to the mailroom, everyone has the same infinite human worth and deserves to be valued.
  • It is our policy that every human being is a student in the classroom of life. They are each learning unique lessons and battling unique challenges. Understanding this means giving each person permission to be "a work in progress," imperfect, yet still deserving of respect. We all have more to learn.
  • Because everyone gets a unique classroom journey, there is no level where comparing or judging others serves us. There is a difference between gossip and validating feedback from the appropriate source. We have a policy against gossip and backbiting, while we encourage everyone to stay teachable and open to feedback.
  • Each person is the sum of their unique life experiences and knowledge, therefore each will have different ideas and opinions. Each idea deserves to be heard and respected (even if it isnt the one we decide to go with). We are a speak freely, listen and keep an open mind company. We encourage respectful, mutually validating conversations and have a company procedure for how that is to be done.
  • Everyone is scared, broken and in pain at some level. Everyone battles the same two core fears on a daily basis the fear of failure (the fear they arent good enough) and the fear of loss (the fear of being mistreated or taken from). These fears have created broken pieces in most people, which cause them pain. Their fears and pain make them behave badly on occasion. We understand the real reason people behave badly (fear and pain) so we can interact with them more effectively. We understand that everyone needs validation and reassurance to quiet their fears. When we give this to others they become much easier to work with. We see bad behavior accurately and understand that most attacks arent about you. They are about the persons fears.
4. Define a policy about how disagreements should be handled. This should include a procedure that is taught to everyone and followed. As the leader, you must handle people problems and arguments this way every time. Your people will do what you do, not what you say. So, if you handle problems in a mature, calm, respectful way, you will teach your employees to do the same. In my book, "Choosing Clarity," I outline a step-by-step procedure for having mutually validating conversations to resolve conflict that you could use. This includes talking to people in private, asking questions and listening first, making them feel heard and understood, then asking permission to share your perspective, and learning to use the right language so you don't offend. Find a procedure that works for you and teach it to your people.

5. Do you have a policy about honoring commitments and doing what you say youre going to do? What should this policy include so everyone is accountable for their own performance. What is your procedure for handling poor performance? Make sure you have one.

6. Do you listen to others? Will you take the time to hear their opinions and show them they are valued? Is this important to you? We think this is one of the most important things you can do as the boss. If you are willing to listen to your people they will feel valued and respected, and they will work harder.

7. Are you on time and do you respect others? Is being on time or treating people right a company value? You could institute a program where employees can submit names of other employees who are doing a great job or treating them right for a reward. Encourage good behavior by rewarding and recognizing it.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. I encourage you to start defining policies, procedures, and core values for your small company right away and start instituting them by living them yourself. If you struggle trying to figure out what your policies should be or are struggling to live them yourself, you may want to hire an executive coach or consultant to help you. You may also consider bringing in some outside people skills training for your employees, sometimes people respond better to outside expert.

Start there and let me know how it goes.

You can do this.
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