Getting it Wrong in conversation with Eleanor James, founder of The Jamesthinkstitute

In this episode, Alex talks with Eleanor James, founder of The Jamesthinkstitute, who trains employees and groups to “say anything to anyone.” The Jamesthinkstitute is a forum that teaches people skillful communication to remove the barriers to workplace and personal conversations, now more important than ever in employee engagement and retention.

Snark Infested Waters

Woe is us! It does seem that all hell has finally broken loose and there’s not much we can do about most of it, except carry on.

It feels like living in a salad, constantly tossing: this pops, then that pops, then another thing, never ending popping. A virus, tremendous loss, maybe war, protests of all kinds (hey, what’s not to protest), all bad for business, etc. I know you know the list.

It makes sense that we are short-tempered, it’s so stressful. Social media set the precedent of behaviour years of ago saying horrible things to people they know, and to complete strangers. It’s mean. What’s to be gained? Only misery from what I can see. But it is easier to be mean than it is to be kind. Kindness takes willingness and some presence of mind. There’s also strength of character needed so you’re not blowing you stack all the time. It’s bad for your health too. I feel bad just writing about it.

Yet in the midst of this we have seen many kindnesses, right along side of the strain. Borrowing from our indigenous citizens, here’s a little story. A child is speaking to an elder about a dilemma, not knowing what to do. The elder says, “We all have two wolves within us, a good wolf and a bad wolf, and sometimes they fight”. The child asks, “which one wins?” The elder answers saying, “The one you feed”.

Our situation is not hopeless if we look at it this way – which wolf do you want to feed?

Customer Experience and Problem Solving

This Week’s Very Short Story


The Customer Experience and Problem Solving

In my experience, these two ideas stopped dating around the year 2000. Until that time, their relationship spawned happy customers willing to thank you for the help offered and the job done – to everyone’s satisfaction. Product went to customer, profit to seller.

Yesterday, a friend with a broken leg and food allergies was looking for some customer service. She had ordered groceries, lots, for delivery to her building. COVID days mean delivery to the lobby only which is fair enough. She explained she had a broken leg and could the groceries be divided into smaller parcels rather than the usual big box, so she could pick them up herself. She was put on hold. The news she got was that her order had been cancelled and her money refunded. It was not the boss or the owner who made this decision. No one’s problem was solved. The seller’s experience was as unrewarding as the purchaser’s, who has also decided to shop somewhere else.

Training in problem solving when dealing with customers, seems to be no where on the list these days. That’s got to affect profits. There’s so much competition in every field, you’d think that customer experience and retention through the simple act of service, would be at the top of the list.

Teach employees tons about the company: what you do, how you do it, the products, the goal. Invite them in to represent you. There’s more to it than taking payment and sending e-mails. And, because so many of the front-line people are young, they need to be taught about the finer points of dealing with others. I had that training and I relied on it. Teach them how to speak to customers. Problem solving is very rewarding and it’s great when it comes with profit too. Underfunding and MORE technology – not the answer.

Yes, there are also difficult customers – which is the focus of the next “This Week’s Very Short Story”.

If I’m falsely accused of sexual harassment at work, do I have any legal recourse?

NIne To Five | Special to The Globe and Mail | January 7, 2018


As a male manager hiring female college students for restaurant patio work in the summer, I am concerned about the recent wave of sexual-harassment allegations. Our interviews are conducted one-on-one in a closed office. If even one candidate accuses me of extending so-called unwanted attention or of making a sexual advance, could I be fired? What can men do to protect themselves in interview situations? Is there a legal recourse when someone makes a false allegation?


George Cottrelle. Partner, Keel Cottrelle LLP, Toronto

There has been a seismic shift in society’s intolerance of workplace sexual harassment, which has resulted in significant changes in employers’ responses to allegations of workplace sexual harassment.

Workplace sexual harassment is prohibited under applicable Canadian human rights codes and workplace safety legislation. Persons applying and interviewing for jobs are entitled to protection from workplace sexual harassment under the applicable human rights codes.

Workplace sexual harassment is serious employee misconduct, in violation of an employee’s duties under their employment relationship, and applicable workplace policies. Depending upon the nature of the misconduct in question, a single incident of workplace sexual harassment can constitute grounds for immediate dismissal.

Employers need to follow their workplace harassment policies, but, in any event, should investigate allegations of workplace sexual harassment. If your employer terminates your employment based on allegations of workplace sexual harassment that are not investigated and substantiated, or that do not constitute cause at law, then you may have recourse against your employer for damages for wrongful dismissal.

The best protection for employees to avoid allegations of workplace sexual harassment is to be vigilant and ensure that their workplace conduct and practices are compliant with their legal duties and workplace policies. The closed-door, one-on-one interviews by you with college students for summer patio positions are potentially problematic, and your practice needs to change. Ideally, you should include another co-worker in the interviews, but at a minimum, the interviews should take place in a more public setting.


Eleanor James, Senior communications consultant, The James Thinkstitute, Toronto

Be responsible for your own behaviour. There’s a line there, don’t cross it. You’re hiring and interviewing young women for jobs. It’ll be the job they want, not advances from a man they don’t know. I was in this spot myself, age 18. After a 10-minute private interview with the restaurant manager, he asked me to stand and turn around. I said no and left. I told my father who said, “Good for you!” I thank him for that respect, a lot, still.

I recommend talking with your colleagues about interview procedures so everyone is on the same professional page. This question is sadly common. We know from all sorts of stories in the news that making an accusation of sexual misconduct is no walk in the park for the accuser either. Build yourself a reputation as a gentleman. Speak without sexual innuendo, no leering, or touching, know where your eyes are, and stick to business. Don’t shortchange yourself with shabby behaviour.

Did you watch the Mark Twain Prize for American Humour on PBS

Where you there for it?

Did you watch the Mark Twain Prize for American Humour on PBS this past Monday? This time it was given to David Letterman, well-deserved after making zillions laugh and for decades. Last year’s recipient Bill Murray was side-splitingly funny, dressed better than Henry VIII and he delivered his tribute to Dave while eating. He saw that Dave’s family was fed too, way up high in their box seats. It’s not easy to do any of that while you’re eating. Bill is a master.

Then I heard a story I didn’t know. That the late musician Warren Zevon often sat in for Paul Schafer. How I missed that I do not know. When Zevon was told he didn’t have much time here on earth, Dave did a whole hour with him. I didn’t know that either.

Musician Eddie Vedder came out and sang the Zevon song “Keep Me In Your Heart” with Paul Schafer at the piano, some wonderful singers and a strong and gentle band. Every time I think about it I get goosebumps. Why? It was a sublime performance, everyone so talented and perfectly unified in telling that musical story. They did it together. Letterman said, “It doesn’t get any better than that” and he was right. They created something absolutely beautiful together and we could do with a lot more of it these days. They told a great story with music, on top of another great story, a communication of artistry. I hope Warren Zevon is on Cloud Nine.

You can see it online.

November 20, 2017

This isn’t the job I was hired for. What is my exit strategy?



I was hired for a senior-level strategy-based role that seemed like a great fit on paper. Now that I am here, the gap between the role as outlined and the day-to-day reality is night and day. I have been forthright with management that I have very little to do and that the role I was hired for has not really materialized. They are not concerned and keep reassuring me that things will get busier, but I don’t believe this will happen.

I have just passed my probation period and am considering approaching my VP to figure out an exit plan. I’m concerned that I’ve wasted these last months in a role that will now stand out on my resumé due to the short tenure and am wondering if I can ask for a letter or recommendation that basically says that they misrepresented the job description (a director-level role on paper that is co-ordinator/assistant level in reality). Is there any way I can ask for an severance package based on this misrepresentation? Can I leave it off my resumé altogether, and if not, how do I explain this short a tenure to potential employers so it doesn’t look like I was fired?


Kyle Couchm, President and CEO, Spectrum Organizational Development Inc.

Resumés are a funny thing. They are a non-legally binding document and most organizations are more fearful of additions versus omissions. Resumés are intended to be a sales pitch about your qualifications and competence with respect to the prospective job opportunity. Therefore, I fully recommend adding your most recent role at this organization.

With that said, I would use a more progressive resumé approach of listing it as a project accomplishment, as opposed to a career history. While your tenure is brief, you can point to the fact that a) it was a director-level position and b) you were hyper-productive. I suggest you request a letter of recommendation in the event that this most recent post was questioned, but don’t add it to your initial package to the “next” employer.

I am a big fan of “fit” between employee and employer. Your drive to move on is the right one. Use this as a learning opportunity, specifically around asking more pointed questions and being more cautious and forthright in your next interview.


Eleanor James, Consultant, coach and speaker, The James Thinkstitute

This is an oddball situation and from your description, it does seem more disorganized than malicious. Nonetheless, it’s a bridge not to be burned. Do approach your VP to work out an exit plan giving both of you time to find replacements. Though I see your point about misrepresentation, I’m not sure it would hold up to severance, a lawyer can advise you.

Avoid throwing around blame, use all the finesse you’ve got. Be clear with them that the company has a lot to its credit (you applied for the job) but it’s not a fit for you (a.k.a. you passed probation but the company didn’t). With regard to your job history/resumé, ask for a letter from the company (perhaps offer a draft) explaining that the role for which you were hired has not materialized due to uncontrollable circumstances. That way, everybody saves face and you won’t have anything to hide.