First Step: Remember that people can’t drive you crazy if you don’t give them the keys. There is no business quite like the emergency response business. When you go to work, your life, the lives of your fellow citizens and your fellow workers are literally at stake hour by hour. In such a life-and-death work environment like that, conflicts will happen.
You will find at some point in your career that there is a co-worker whose goal in life, or so it seems, is to ruin yours. Dr. Mike Bechtle authored “People Can’t Drive You Crazy If You Don’t Give Them The Keys (Revell Books).” In the world of emergency response, there is rarely a workplace of more than 10 people that won’t have at least one “crazy,” “annoying” and/or “negative” person that tends to drive you (and perhaps others) absolutely bonkers. In the ever-tense world of the emergency response workplace, a “crazy” person or, perhaps better put, a completely annoying, boorish, self-centered louse, can really be a trigger for some mental or verbal explosions.
But YOU can stop it. At least you can avoid letting that person cause an explosion in your own brain. In his book, Dr. Bechtle points out there is a simple, to-the-point strategy you can and should employ: Do not give this annoying person rent-free space in your head, and that is the solution. You CAN NOT fix an annoying, “crazy” person. You might try to talk calmly, logically to such a person at your emergency response workplace. (Go into such a conversation with no expectations.) But it bears repeating: You can NOT control this person. However, you CAN control your reaction to this pest.
And, again, choose this reaction: NOT to give this annoying person rent-free space in your head. If you make this choice, you will enjoy your workplace more and you — by this action and this action alone — will have improved your emergency response workplace. Second Step: Be the Peacemaker When you choose to earn a living in the emergency response business, you have chosen to live in a pressure-cooker type of environment. It’s just the way it is. Some good-old-fashioned, and calm, discussions on how best to handle tasks at the workplace are essential. Debates, if they’re at a low-decibel pitch, can prove helpful. But the high-decibel arguments which get out of hand, turn personal, ugly, and involve personal insults are toxic. It’s poison released into the air of your emergency response workplace environment.What should you do if you are witnessing this poison entering your emergency response workplace? If you are the supervisor, the boss of the two involved in the argument, you no doubt have workplace guidelines already in place on how to handle it. But what if you aren’t the supervisor? What if these two people arguing are your peers? What then can you do to help the environment at your emergency response workplace? Amy Gallo, author of several books on work environment, including “Dealing With Conflict” (Harvard Business Review Press), offers some solid ideas.
Allow Venting. It might seem like a crazy idea to let two peers inside your workplace verbally spar. But, suggests Gallo, “that’s exactly what they might need.” On the hopeful side of things, cool heads prevail and the conflict dissolves. If things don’t calm down, then intervening could prove the best choice. Intervene carefully of course. Keep your own civility. And then, suggests Gallo, “make an effort to get both sides of the story.” Empathize. The idea is to hear out BOTH sides, and do so with empathy. Gallo: “While listening to your colleagues, show that you understand how hard the situation is.” Don’t Take Sides. Since you have two peers that are arguing — and you are in the emergency response business which fully relies on cooperation among workers — you don’t need to make an enemy here. Taking a side would mean, unfairly or not, you are involved in the fight, and then you have a co-worker who might forever be looking at you through sore eyes. Gallo makes it clear: “Stay neutral.” Explain the Impact of their Fighting. The longer this conflict is brewing, the worse things are getting and some old fashioned logic must prevail. Make it clear that there is no winner here. The loser is your emergency response workplace. Yes, Gallo explains, “Make clear how the fighting is affecting the team … Help both parties see how the skirmish is hurting others so they are motivated to do something productive about it.” Bill Horn, who served as a Chicagoland fireman for 25 years, which included serving as Lieutenant, said when two peers are involved in a heated argument, “It makes perfect sense to step in and remind them both, ‘Hey, we’re all on the clock here, we’re all working here and this is not helping things out. Let’s all take a few deep breaths and cool off.’”
Horn now works in management at HazChem Environmental Corporation (Addison, IL; Hazchem.com). HazChem responds to 1,000 emergency Haz-Mat spills each year. “In the emergency response arena,” said Horn, “it’s especially important that cool heads prevail quickly as possible. At any moment, we can all be called for an emergency response, and handling emergencies are tense and difficult enough without lingering bad feelings in co-workers’ heads.”
Third Step: When Possible, Inject the Best Medicine Yes, laughter has a place in the emergency response business. During downtime, if you can bring a little laughter to the workplace, you are most definitely improving the overall morale of the environment. A funny, self-deprecating story may bring on some good-natured and perhaps much-needed laughter. If you know a clean joke (and, yes, be very, very careful here not to offend), go ahead and tell it. But if you weren’t blessed with the comedic abilities of Chris Rock or Jerry Seinfeld, that’s fine. Share some good news you’ve had at your home. Ask others to talk about what’s new in their life. Most people like to talk about positive things going on in their life. In fun conversations, laughter inevitably breaks out. In his book, “Humor That Works: The Missing Skill for Success and Happiness at Work (Page Two Books), ” Drew Tarvin points out, “83 percent of Americans are stressed out at work, 55 percent are unsatisfied with their jobs, and 47 percent struggle to stay happy.” In his book, Tarvin suggests that injecting humor in the workplace can help reduce stress, increase your satisfaction with your job and make you, overall, a happier person. There are many, many ways you can inject humor into your emergency response workplace.
Here’s a good starting point. At your workplace, is there a company blackboard around? Or perhaps some place in the kitchen where something can be posted? YOU can take the reins with all of this by starting a “Quote of the Day.” OK, make it a “Quote of the Week.” But look up quotes from, say, Yogi Berra, Groucho Marx, Will Rogers and others. Use one of their funny quotes, write it where all can see and, ultimately, you will have improved morale at your emergency response workplace. As Berra once said, “When you see a fork in the road, take it.” And when asked about a famous restaurant, Berra replied, “Nobody goes there anymore — it’s always too crowded.”
Fourth Step: Exercise. According to the US National Library of Medicine, almost one in five Americans work in “Shift Industries” and shift work, “generally decreases opportunities for physical activity.” We who work in the emergency response profession are most aware of this opportunity loss. But it is precisely us, those who work in the emergency-response profession, with our highly stressed jobs, that perhaps need physical activity the most. Doug Halverson has been a fire fighter for three decades and serves as Fire Battalion Chief in Franklin Park, IL. That’s his fulltime job. His second job is Manager of Haz-Mat emergency-response spills for HazChem Environmental Corp. As many hours as he works during a week (80-plus), Halverson makes sure he is engaged in vigorous exercise (a combination of weight-lifting and cardiovascular work) six times a week. “I feel working out benefits the individual and it benefits the company you work for,” Halverson said. “It makes you more limber, your joints will be stronger and that helps eliminates injuries — which helps eliminate lost work time. “Exercising means you are adding more worth to your workplace. You are relieving pressure, you’re decreasing stress and that makes you less prone towards causing unnecessary problems.” But, before you start running, literally, towards improved health, consult a physician. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Regular exercise can help you control your weight, reduce your risk of heart disease, and strengthen your bones and muscles. But if it’s been awhile since you’ve exercised and you have health issues or concerns, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.” So, in summary, making sure you have time to exercise is for YOUR benefit first. Less stress, better mood, being more fit are just a few of those benefits. If you are engaged in physical activity on a regular basis, you are helping your workplace environment. You are less likely to engage in toxic arguments. You will be less prone towards having a lousy contagious attitude. It’s a win-win scenario.
Step Five: Pool is cool
Pool and/or Bumper Pool provide co-workers an opportunity for some good-old-fashioned fun competition, along with the chance to socialize while playing.
Obviously a pool table or bumper-pool table must be kept in a break area at your emergency response workplace. (Many firehouses and other emergency-response entities already have a pool table.). “A game of pool … is enough to put a smile on our faces,” writes Mark Panay, co-founder of Contactzilla, which provides contact management systems for organizations and businesses. “Not only does it make us happy but we often end up chatting about projects over the pool table, giving us a fresh new perspective to take back to our desks.”
And even if there isn’t a lick of business being discussed at the pool table, that’s fine, too. According to Chief Health, among the benefits derived from playing pool are improvement in critical thinking and cognitive skills, better hand-eye coordination, slowing down the aging process and, believe it or not those steps playing pool all add up, burning of calories. Without a doubt, playing pool brings upon conversation and conversation builds camaraderie. Cost? If the entity you work for will pop for a bumper pool or full-sized billiards table, great. The cost should be between $500 and $2,500 depending on how fancy one wants to get.
You may want to consider being the ringleader for this. Smart entities usually will make that purchase if the employees, in unison, simply ask for it (of course that also depends if there is a room for the table, which really aren’t terribly large, especially if it’s a bumper pool table.). The bottom line is you’ve chosen an honorable profession, to work as an emergency responder. You’re entitled to work in workplace environment that enhances the job. And YOU have the power to help make a difference in that happening. HazChem Environmental Corporation (Addison, IL) handles over 1,000 emergency spills per year, mostly in Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin and Indiana. The company employs over 60 people.