August 22, 2013 | Volume 43, Number 33

Sessions reveal workers' true colors

Haines Borough Fireman Al Badgley is a blue. Harbormaster Phil Benner is a red. Planning and zoning technician Tracy Cui is a green. Manager Mark Earnest, though, is more of a yellow/green.

At the request of Earnest, Lenise Henderson Fontenot, owner of the Professional Development Company, is providing communications and customer service training to borough employees. Part of the training involves employees doing self-evaluations and receiving evaluations from peers to determine their “color,” which denotes a certain personality type.

The goal of the color-coding, Earnest said, is to make employees more aware of their own personality traits and teach them how to deal with members of the public and other employees who might not be wired the same way.

“You’re able to communicate better in those situations where you recognize, ‘Ah, I’m a green, and I’m dealing with somebody who’s a red, and I understand why this conversation is going the way it is,’” Earnest said.

The training will help employees better communicate with members of the public who respond to situations and stress in ways dissimilar to their own, he said.

“It’s hard to understand when you’re dealing with somebody who’s in your face and speaking very loudly and very emotionally, and that happens here. We do have people that exhibit that tendency of communication, and for somebody who’s a yellow, that’s a scary situation.”

According to chief fiscal officer Jila Stuart, Henderson Fontenot contracted with the borough for $3,575 to provide communication and leadership training for supervisors. She will also conduct an all-staff training meeting and staff communication training, and will provide individual conflict resolution and mediation as needed.

On Monday, 11 borough officials met to receive training from Henderson Fontenot. Assistant to the manager Darsie Culbeck, who learned he was a blue (leaning toward a higher need for control and tending to ask more than listen), said the experience gave him skills to make him a better public servant and team member of the borough staff.

“It’s one of those trainings that sticks with you. You think about it when you’re engaged with other people,” Culbeck said.

Culbeck said in addition to the training being valuable for employees, Henderson Fontenot is providing it for a lower fee than what she usually charges her other clients. “From what I understand, we’re getting this training at quite a discount. When (Henderson Fontenot) works for the borough, she works for a lot less than her normal rates,” he said.

Earnest said he scheduled the training mainly for employees who were either absent or not employed with the borough when Henderson Fontenot conducted similar sessions several years ago.

Fireman Badgley, who missed the previous training, said he sees value in it but has mainly learned communication skills and how to deal with disparate personalities by being on the job for 26 years.

“I’ve had to deal with a variety of different styles and I’ve had to adapt to it,” Badgley said.

Planning and zoning technician Cui, who learned she was more of a responsive listener (green), said she found the training instructive.

“I learned the keys to being an effective listener and speaker, the keys to dealing with disagreements with different types of people, the importance of connecting in communication, and the importance of the body language,” Cui said.

Henderson Fontenot said she has been performing communications and customer service training for various private companies and state entities for the past 20 years. She said the color-coding technique is more for memory-jogging purposes than anything.

“It’s a foundation for conflict resolution, and that’s really helpful for professionals in their jobs, particularly when they’re dealing with a lot of different people,” Henderson Fontenot said.

Earnest said not only is Henderson Fontenot’s training the best he has ever received in his professional career, he thinks the municipality would be unwise to deny employees the chance to capitalize on her services.

“I think it’s tremendously important and I believe it’s absolutely essential. I think we’d be remiss in not providing that opportunity for the employees, because I think it helps them do their jobs better,” Earnest said.

Other employees who participated included pool manager RaeAnn Galasso, public works director Ralph Borders, deputy clerk Michelle Webb, public facilities director Carlos Jimenez, assistant to the public facilities director Krista Kielsmeier, tourism director Tanya Carlson and mechanic Jonathan Sheets.