I don't usually have a new blog post on Saturdays but today is an anniversary. It's the 16th anniversary of my officially filing for a business license.

I like milestone posts because it gives me a chance to look back over the past year to see how things have gone, and also to reflect on the past years. I started recording my anniversaries on this blog when I hit year 10, and I've been doing it almost every year since (in 2012, it came around the same time as my 1,000th post on this blog so I highlighted that instead). This year is going to be a little bit different because I'm going to include links to the previous posts below, and I'm going to talk about communications rather than leadership, business, or diversity.

The reason I'm talking about communications is because the last year has been pretty horrible in America as it relates to how we interact with each other. If you read last week's post, you'll see where I mentioned that people are yelling and demanding things of each other when they have a disagreement, and nothing ever gets done when that's the only thing that happens. Some people are even getting death threats from expressing their opinion... although sometimes expressing one's opinion in a certain way can generate that kind of heat.

I've found over my years as a consultant that when I don't get along with someone, or there's disagreement or disinterest in what I've been tasked to do for their organization, that there's no use in my raising my voice (which I've never done anyway) because it means nothing to anyone. Instead, I have to use the authority that I've been given in certain situations to either get what I want or force them to go to the powers that be to explain why they're not cooperating with me.

I don't relish the times I've had to do that, and I've always gotten my way in the end (almost lol), but since I'm not an employee and I'm brought in for a specific purpose, which is to bring major benefit to my clients, I don't have time to mommycoddle every person I meet or try to work with, no matter how respectful I try to treat everybody.

Luckily, I don't have to do that often, mainly because I let everyone know up front that I'm not interested in their job, and I'm not interested in making anyone look bad. Most of the time I work with people who understand their specific job without understanding the big picture and their place in it. That's pretty common in most businesses, which is why my job is to help everyone get on their same page in their little pond to contribute as much as they can to the lake; how's that for a metaphor?

Back in 2010, I wrote about a horrible experience I had while consulting at a hospital in New York City and how the top finance guy there was talking bad about me to everyone he could find once I left. I decided he wasn't worth my time trying to fight for my reputation because he already had a very bad reputation, so most people weren't listening to what he had to say anyway. No one is going to get everyone to like them. 🙂

What I've never written about was how my last couple of weeks went after I decided I'd had enough of him. This became an interesting lesson in communications because it wasn't all his fault that I was having difficulties.

I was brought into a business office situation where management, employees and the union were fighting. I was also selected as an interim director because I was black, almost all the employees were black and the union representative was black. It was assumed that would help me have success with the department, which was failing miserably because of bad processes and dissension. Had I known that was the reason before I took the gig I might never have accepted it; it's a horrible assumption that rarely proves to be true.

Over the course of 2 1/2 months I couldn't get the employees to agree with anything I tried to do. I had a face to face meeting with the union representative, who said she understood my problems but they were bigger than trying to help the hospital achieve financial balance (stupid statement in my opinion but she wasn't an employee). The head finance guy also fired the supervisor, who was very popular and someone I tried to get him to keep (without success, something he held over me in his complaints).

After I gave notice that I would be leaving in two weeks, suddenly the employees wanted to talk to me. The last two weeks went wonderfully, as I got to explain to them what I was trying to do and why. They accepted the challenge I put to them, which was to have the biggest cash week they'd ever had even before I got there. in the middle of my last week we achieved that goal (it was an inner-city hospital so they had some different monetary circumstances), and it was so significant at the finance guy came over to the office to ask how we did it.

On the drive home on my last day there, I was thinking about the reality that it took my getting ready to leave for the employees to come around to the way I was thinking. It was as if it took that little bit of defiance for them to see me in a different light, as if I was one of them... even though I was leaving them. I learned a few valuable lessons from that contract as it pertained to communicating with others that, luckily, I've never had to deal with again because of that experience.

The first is that if you don't have any real leverage, the best way to get people to work with you is to figure out how to get them to empathize with you. In this case, it took my unintentionally showing them that I was against the same person they were for them to come around to my side. Being black had nothing to do with it, which I knew wouldn't happen; it's a lesson for others to learn.

The second is that you can't give up trying to communicate with people who don't want to communicate with you in work situations. The book Crucial Conversations talks about finding ways to turn conversations into action and results by answering four question:

* who cares

* who knows

* who must agree

* how many people is it worth involving

I actually had two people on my side who understood that the facility was in financial trouble and wanted to try to fix things but one of them was scared to go against the rest and the other person wanted some drastic adjustments that I went along with... which no one else wanted to do and wouldn't do. Later on I realized the timing was bad because it was the same week the supervisor had been let go and a day after I'd met with the union rep. At that point for the most part I stopped trying and had started thinking more about my exit strategy when it's possible that I might have been able to get through to a couple more of them eventually.

Unfortunately, no one can win them all. I left on a good note but the hospital ended up closing a year later. No one was talking to each other at the end (based on a communication I received from someone who worked in a different department) and other outside vendors stopped working with the hospital, which wasn't paying it's bills (which included the people who recruited me).

In 16 years I've found that I've been successful at talking to the overwhelming majority of people as it pertains to health care, leadership and diversity issues. Years ago I said that if I could attain a 90% approval rating that I could live with it; I've done way better than that. If there's one lesson I can impart on this 16th anniversary, it's that if you can figure out a common place in the minds of others that align with you, you'll have a chance to be very successful in business and probably in life.

I'm closing with links to previous posts on previous anniversaries; thanks for reading this one:

My 10 Year Business Anniversary

12 Years Of T T Mitchell Consulting & Some Leadership Lessons As Well

13 Leadership Lessons From 13 Years In Business

My 14th Year In Business; 14 Thoughts…

15 Years Of Self Employment; 3 Things You Need To Know

While I'm at it, let me share last year's video on my anniversary: