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Labor Matters: Never Forget What It Was Like

02:36AM Jun 03, 2013
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Shaun Duvall, SJD Language & Culture Services LLC.

The best piece of advice I ever received about teaching was to never forget what it was like to be a student.

When I was a first-year teacher, I shared a classroom with Mrs. Wilson. She told me that if I wanted to be a really good teacher, I should never forget what it felt like to be a teenager.
Another of her gems was to ask, when a child
misbehaved or goofed up, "What did you learn from this?"
I think this applies to being a good employer, as well. Can you remember how it felt to have your first job? And if you never worked off the farm, can you remember how it felt to work on the farm?

If you had a good employer, he or she took an interest in you. He or she tried to help you do your best as an employee by coaching you, training you and correcting you, when necessary. He or she accepted that you would probably make a few mistakes along the way, and then helped you learn from them afterwards.

We are moving toward being better people and your employees are no different.

If you didn’t have a good employer, you worked often in fear of being fired. How did it feel to make a mistake? And then to have to admit it? Or to inform your employer of it? Scary, wasn’t it?
Now, what if we used these mistakes not as a way to make people feel bad but rather as a learning experience?

Here are a few suggestions on how to talk with your employees when something has gone wrong:

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Don’t ask why they did that. It only offers an opportunity for employees to make a lame excuse.
2. Ask: What was happening when the mistake took place? Were you feeling in a hurry, distracted, in charge, careless? What was going on in your mind at the time?
3. How do you think the mistake has affected the entire farm? Has it cost us money or time? How has it inconven­ienced others and you?
4. What can and will you do next time to prevent this problem from happening again?
5. Try not to ask questions that have a yes or no answer. You are looking for thought and input from the employee, and it is too easy to answer yes or no questions.

People will probably be surprised with this approach at first. They will feel good that they weren’t yelled at. While it may feel odd at first, in the long run the employee will do a better job at correcting his or her actions. In this approach, the responsibility has been placed on them in answering the questions, and they are in charge of changing their behavior.

Think back to a time when you made a mistake. If it was met with understanding, compassion and a chance to be responsible and make it right, how did that feel? If it was met with punishment, blame or scolding, how did that feel?

These are good life lessons to put into practice. Think in the long term of your business. We are all moving toward being better people and your employees are no different.

Shaun Duvall, SJD Language & Culture Services LLC. Puentes/Bridges Inc. is a nonprofit organization that, under Duvall’s direction, promotes cultural understanding, particularly in the dairy industry. Contact her at