FM Frequency: Lean Budgets = Creative Training…

By Jeff Crane, P.E., LEED® AP

Published in the March 2009 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Professional development is crucial for facility managers (fms) and all professionals expecting to remain viable in a dynamic and demanding international economy. In the November 2008 issue of Today’s Facility Manager,this column suggested continuing education in each of this industry’s three vital areas of competence: customer service, facility technologies, and organizational finance.

Unfortunately, dramatically slashed training and travel budgets might require skipping the seminar in Nassau, postponing the Honolulu trade show, and forgetting about the conference in Las Vegas this year. But lean times aren’t an excuse for horizontal learning curves. In fact, many organizations supplement “less frenzied than usual” business conditions with elevated training expectations.

For the past several years, I’ve had a personal objective of conducting at least one series of professional development sessions with my team. We recently selected a textbook for our 2009 “syllabus” titled Successful Manager’s Handbook, Develop Yourself – Coach Others (7th edition, published by Personnel Decisions International, copyright 2004). Each week, we bring our lunch to a conference room and spend about 90 minutes discussing two chapters, relating the book’s material to real experiences we’ve had or observed as managers. For the price of a few textbooks and about an hour’s worth of reading homework each week, we’re essentially conducting an inexpensive but customized do-it-yourself short course.

I’ve hosted about eight of these book-based training seminars, and each course typically spans 10 to 12 weeks. The participants (and I personally) have found these sessions inspiring and enormously valuable, even when we’ve encountered spirited disagreements with each other and/or the various authors. The meetings offer distinct opportunities for helping one another with constructive suggestions, observations, and techniques for handling a variety of situations with clients, staff, suppliers, other departments, and even each other.

In our second session this year, the discussion included the often under-appreciated value of listening. I won’t divulge any confidential conversations, but please allow me to share a few pointers. The following points clarify what fms (and spouses, parents, children, and friends) should NOT do while “actively listening” in individual and group settings:

  • DON’T avoid eye contact.
  • DON’T look at your watch frequently.
  • DON’T continue typing, surfing the Web, reading the paper, or texting a friend.
  • DON’T invert the biological “mouth to ears” ratio by talking twice as much as you listen.
  • DON’T interrupt people by anticipating and completing the end of their statements.
  • DON’T bring your nose to within five inches of another person’s nose while they’re speaking.
  • DON’T offer random advice that isn’t remotely related to the discussion.
  • DON’T stare curiously at a person’s teeth attempting to guess what they ate for lunch.
  • DON’T roll your eyes often while shaking your head back and forth in disgust or disbelief.
  • DON’T ask if the conversation will be remembered at a funeral, on Facebook, or broadcast on CSPAN.
  • DON’T smirk sarcastically while raising one eyebrow and rotating your right finger around your right ear.
  • DON’T alternate loud sighing and exhaling as if you’re late for a meeting with someone much more important.
  • DON’T close your eyes, raise your eyebrows, and point your chin and right index finger toward the ceiling while interrupting or responding.
  • When asked for a response, DON’T stare at the person pensively, rubbing your chin, shaking your head and say, “Gosh, I don’t know…I’ll have to get back to you.”
  • DON’T bring your fingers together slowly with a devious smile while whispering quietly, “I knew this day would come….and they all said I was crazy….heh, heh, heh….”
  • DON’T listen to your imagination’s footsteps tap, tap, tapping across the floor as your inner self finds the nearest door and forcefully kicks it open saying, “That’s it, I’m outta here.”
  • When confined to an airplane, DON’T imagine removing your glasses and stripping down to your Superman costume before flying through the window. (Note: It’s perfectly acceptable to wear a Superman costume under real clothes UNLESS it prevents effective listening.)
  • DON’T follow your mind’s eye to a distant tropical beach where the speaker’s voice fades into the crashing waves and your notebook becomes a damp coaster under a tall, icy glass of your favorite frosty beverage.
  • DON’T grab your hip abruptly and pretend to receive an emergency call as you walk away holding an imaginary phone to the side of your head while feigning surprise and blurting, “What? You’re kidding?! Oh, that’s terrible! Hold on….I’m in a meeting, let me step out!” (Note: When pretending to receive an emergency call without an actual phone, DON’T simply grab the nearest calculator, wallet, camera, stapler, business card holder, small notebook, or even the outside of your pocket before putting an empty hand to your ear and excusing yourself).

Crane is a mechanical engineer and regional property manager with Childress Klein Properties, a leading real estate developer and property management services provider in the Southeast