Personal Branding Interview: Peter Handal

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Today, I spoke to Peter Handal, who is the Chairman, President and CEO of Dale Carnegie & Associates.  In this interview, Peter talks about how people can handle workplace relationships, when managers should get involved, if office romances are appropriate and more.  This is a timely interview because of David Letterman’s office relationship and how he confessed on national TV.

What tips can you provide for small business owners, managers, and bosses on how to properly handle the common workplace issue of office romances and affairs?

While it’s not unusual for executives or managers to succumb to “dipping in the company ink” as they say, it’s much more commonplace among coworkers of a similar level of authority. As long as employees are discreet and remain professional during work hours, office relationships can be perfectly appropriate. However, if such individuals work in the same department, it behooves them to let their manager know about the relationship. Dale Carnegie Training offers several workshops pertaining to public speaking and the art of persuasion that teach employees how to build the confidence to get these open conversations going.

When does it become necessary for managers to step in and become involved in the situation?

Managers must step in and become involved if they feel that the quality of work done by the employees in question is compromised by the distractions of the relationship. If professionalism, discretion, and productivity start to slide, it is absolutely appropriate for managers to step in and become involved.

Are office romances ever appropriate?

Sometimes – it depends if the people in question are coworkers on the same level professionally or not. If the two people in question are coworkers on the same level, then getting involved in a relationship can be perfectly appropriate – as long as employees are discreet and remain professional during work hours. However, if the two people in question are an executive or manager and an employee, then a relationship is absolutely inappropriate. If a manger is involved with someone reporting to them, subtle and perhaps subconscious pressure to play favorites is likely. Whether it exists or not, this favoritism is frequently perceived by other workers and almost always leads to tension in the workplace. Because of this (and some may argue with me here) but I believe that such relationships are never 100% consensual, and that if such a relationship develops, one needs to either be transferred or leave the company.

What advice would you give to employees who, despite the risk, have made the decision to foster a romantic relationship with a fellow co-worker?

It’s a good practice for employees to keep their social and business lives separate – in this case, not letting the relationship affect the quality and efficiency of their work. Public displays of affection, personal arguments, etc. should be saved for after work. If the relationship does get serious, one member should consider a new position outside the company.

What effect does the announcement of David Letterman’s affair have on his staff, producers, etc? How will managers have to adjust?

While this story is far from over, we applaud Dave Letterman for admitting to his mistakes. One of the main principles taught in our training workshops (which is also dedicated a chapter in our book, How to Win Friends and Influence People) is that when people are wrong, they should admit to it quickly and emphatically.

Peter Handal is Chairman, President and CEO of Dale Carnegie & Associates, the oldest training company in the world, originally based on Dale Carnegie’s world famous best seller: “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Dale Carnegie has 200 offices, both franchised and company owned, in 70 countries on 6 continents. Mr. Handal joined the Company in 1999 and was elected President and CEO in 2000. Mr. Handal is a widely recognized expert for workplace and executive management issues, and he is regularly quoted in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Financial Times and The International Herald Tribune. In addition, Mr. Handal shares his expertise with regional newspapers such as The Fresno Bee, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Dallas Morning News, among others. Over the last 15 years he has been a Board Member of various public and private companies in the United States and Europe. He is currently on the Board of Wilsons The Leather Experts Inc. (NASDAQ) and Dale Carnegie & Associates.