am a salesperson for a large corporation. Recently, I
went to a meeting at our headquarters to represent the
field. At the meeting were representatives of two
headquarters committees to discuss two sensitive issues.
I was to lead the discussion.
the meeting, a lower level executive from a third group
attended. This person was obviously uninformed and
proved rather disruptive. One really wonders what goes
on at headquarters sometimes. This person really
sabotaged a lot of hard work done by the two invited
question is, as the meeting chair, what should I have
done or could do to prevent these disruptions? We all
left with a bad feeling and I feel nothing was
To an outsider, internal politics can be baffling and
frustrating. In this case, a political snag may have
caught you unaware. To unravel the mystery, you may have
to do some corporate sleuthing.
Let's examine some clues about what might be going on
and then what you could do to protect your meetings from
further trouble. Consider that the unwanted guest may
actually have been invited - either by one of the
headquarters groups or by someone at a higher level in
the organization. It's unlikely that a lower level
executive would simply show up uninvited, particularly
to discuss a sensitive issue.
this person was invited, you need to know who invited
this guest and why. You can take the direct approach and
ask the guest, or ask the key players in both of the
headquarters groups. Chances are that they have figured
out what is going on.
one of the headquarters’ group leaders invited the
guest, it may be because the guest was needed to say
something the group leader felt hesitant to say. Think
back. Did anyone seem to support what the guest was
saying? Maybe that is the person who did the inviting.
is the guest's vested interest? What group do they
represent? What is the guest's level of credibility in
the company? You need to ask questions about what he or
she had to gain by being there. Were the disruptions
truly out of ignorance or was real sabotage going on?
What was the theme of the disruption? Perhaps the naive
questioning was really an attempt to send a message.
you get this far in the corporate puzzle and know who
did the inviting, it's important to discuss it with him
or her directly. If the person has a hidden concern
about the issues, you need to uncover it, or more
“disruptions” could follow. You can't solve the problem
without knowing all the hidden agendas and trapdoors.
what if you get this far in the maze and find that the
guest really had no ulterior motives? In that case,
consider meeting off site next time, so that drop-in
guests can't find you. Another side benefit is that
meeting on neutral turf cools off sometimes hot issues.
another guest should drop in on future meetings, try to
corner the person before the meeting begins and brief
him or her on what you're trying to accomplish. You may
want to gently suggest that the person sit in the back
of the room as an observer. Assure the person that you
will meet with him or her later to clear up any
questions that develop during the meeting. You can also
suggest this if the person is getting the group off
track during the meeting.
Another tactic is to ask a key headquarters person to
co-chair the session. They will be more tuned in to
corporate agendas and be in a position to help you
manage the meeting and the logistics.
any event, if you're working with corporate
headquarters, you need to understand the whole puzzle
from both sides if you are to solve the mystery - and
all team approaches are good for the team
Nov. 21, 2013
We work in a five-year-old company with about 30
employees. Our firm has always used a hierarchical
management system and the owner has spent most of his
time away from the office developing a client base. Now,
the owner has implemented a “team approach” to
management, which he is personally spearheading.
have several concerns about this new system. First, the
owner has begun ambushing individuals during “team”
meetings by criticizing prior behavior and job
performance. He says this demonstrates none of us are
perfect; we feel this is embarrassing to everyone
present in the meetings.
addition, the owner will meet privately with one
employee and complain about other employees (usually
peers). This leaves the employee in the awkward position
of repeating the conversation to his peers or allowing
his peers to continue offending the owner.
Finally, the owner has appointed himself the leader of
every “team.” After 5 years of working on our own, we
are unhappy with this domineering approach.
Employees are beginning to look for new jobs. What can
we do to hold the firm together while retaining a
satisfactory level of independence and responsibility?
Many companies are abusing the word “team” and yours is
no exception. People don’t work as a “team” until
certain conditions are met. Just because they are all in
a room at the same time, doesn’t mean they are a team.
It just means they are a group. In your case, it seems
the owner is using a new buzzword to label old-fashioned
you distance yourself from what is happening, you will
quickly see that the owner is trying to get more control
over what is happening. He doesn’t seem happy with the
performance of some people and is trying to change their
behavior through public embarrassment or peer pressure.
Obviously, he’s better at building client relationships
than he is at leadership.
always amazing to me that managers resort to
intimidation and back-door measures to give employees
feedback. Yet when you ask most people if they want
corrective feedback and coaching, they all agree they
want it, need it and would like it delivered adult to
adult - without the games and tip-toeing around.
Managing by mental telepathy and subtle hints just
doesn’t work. It’s time you were all more
straightforward with him. It may cause him to be more
direct with you.
you all agree to “manage the owner” he may change his
behavior but there’s no guarantee. Some entrepreneurs
are great at starting a business but a disaster at
growing it. The skills are quite different. Most have a
very tough time letting go and sharing responsibility
and authority. If he is unable or unwilling to change,
perhaps leaving is best. But first try this:
Every time he complains about one of you, respond by
saying: “I’m a little uncomfortable talking about Jerry
when he isn’t in the room. I know he’d like to hear what
he needs to improve, why don’t you tell him directly?”
Regarding his public criticism, all of you may want to
try an “I statement.” It might sound something like
this: “When you said x in the meeting today, I felt
really embarrassed and humiliated. Others in the group
also said it made them feel uncomfortable. I want you to
tell me if I’m doing something you’d like me to change,
but please let me know in private.” Others may also want
to say, “I think Sally was a little embarrassed today
when you said x in the meeting. Maybe you could talk to
her about it?”
Finally, try approaching the owner and asking him
directly, “Is there anything you would like me to do
differently? Are you concerned about the quality of my
work? I’d really like to know what your expectations
are. You seem to be supervising my work more closely and
that suggests that you aren’t comfortable or confident
in the way I’m doing things.”
Although these are direct measures, they may open up
communications and get the real issues on the table.
They’ll also be a model for him to learn from. If all of
you work together on this, he may realize that you are
responsible, capable adults who want to be his partner
in making the business succeed.
Take advantage of holiday time to step up your job
Nov. 18, 2013
am very fed up with my current employment situation and
I’m ready to make a move. The problem is that everyone I
talk to suggests that with the holidays coming up I’d be
better off if I waited until the New Year to begin my
job search. Are they right? Is there anything I can do
in the meantime that would prepare me for launching my
Contrary to popular belief, I think the holidays can be
one of the best times to look for a job. It’s
understandable that people would reason that it’s a busy
time of year and companies probably wouldn’t be filling
positions, but quite the opposite can be true.
many companies the budgeting process is finished by
November and decisions have been made about the
positions to fill in the New Year. Because the money
isn’t available until January, managers who are eager to
get a head start on finding good job candidates are busy
networking to find out who’s available. If you step up
your networking efforts you may be pleasantly surprised
to find a number of jobs that haven’t even been
Another advantage of networking now is that people have
more downtime to meet with you. Although our personal
lives are hectic, our work lives tend to slow down in
many businesses. There are fewer meetings scheduled
because some people take vacations or personal time off
and consequently, calendars are often free. This is
especially true during Thanksgiving week, Christmas week
and the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Many
people take vacations at other times and choose to use
this quiet time to get caught up.
holiday spirit also works to your advantage. People are
in a giving mood and they are more willing to lend a
hand and give advice to someone who asks for their help
and that’s what networking is all about.
The holiday party scene is a great time to rub shoulders
with people who may be able to give you contacts and
information. Attend holiday parties with a mission in
mind. Bring lots of business cards and bring up your job
hunt in conversation. Stand near the bar or buffet so
you’re in position to meet the most people and able to
gracefully break away from a conversation to meet new
people. If you’re serious about using this forum to make
contacts, don’t drink - every conversation is a
potential interview. And consider attending alone. If
you bring a date or spouse you won’t be able to move
around purposefully to talk to people.
Another holiday tradition that can help you is sending
Christmas cards. In addition to friends, send them to
colleagues with a note about your job search. Tell them
you’ll follow up with a call to see if they can give you
any contacts. Another approach is to suggest a meeting
to share some holiday cheer and do some networking while
you’re at it. In fact, I know some friends who get
together every year at Christmas to assess their careers
and talk about their plans for the new year.
Taking personal time off to network and interview is
easier during the holidays. Your boss isn’t likely to
question your motives if you ask to leave early and
won’t be suspicious about what you’re doing with your
Finally, you’ll have the edge because there won’t be as
much competition. Many people abandon their job hunting
during the holidays because they believe it’s a waste of
time. If you step up your efforts, you may find yourself
in a new job before the ink is dry on your New Year’s
avoid being a whack a mole manager
Nov. 8, 2013
It was a case of “Whack a Mole Management.” You know the
carnival game - where the mole’s head pops out of holes
and you have to whack it with a hammer. The managers
were so busy whacking issues as they popped up, they
never took the time to proactively fix what the
underlying problems were.
where I sit (which is often at the table with a team in
crisis mode), the solution is to stop whacking and start
afresh. The old argument can be made, “I don’t have time
to be proactive,” but in truth, without some proactive
problem-solving, the whacking game gets pretty old and
firefighting is wearing you down, here are some ideas
that may help you solve some underlying causes.
weekly problem-solving sessions.
noticed that most teams that are reactive don’t meet
together regularly. Or, if they do meet regularly, the
meetings are once a month or only for delivering one-way
information, like updates.
Healthy, proactive teams usually meet weekly - even if
it’s only for 20 minutes or so. The problem with monthly
meetings is that by the time the meeting occurs, there
are too many operational changes and other things to
cram into the hour. The meeting either goes on for
several hours, or the smaller problems never get on the
addition, one-way meetings might be good for conveying
policy changes or showcasing what each department is
doing, but it never allows for the open dialogue about
the nagging issues that end up burrowing underground and
pop up as a mole, later.
I ask people for agenda items and no one gives me any,”
one manager complained to me recently. Often, the
manager only allows time at the end of the meeting to
bring up “any problems or concerns.” Unfortunately, no
one wants to bring up a problem with only five minutes
left to discuss it.
this is the case, the leader should be observant about
what some of the problems are and choose one to put on
the agenda to be discussed first. Then the discussion
process might look like this:
1. Share complaints about how work is being scheduled
What might be causing this problem? (Brainstorm a list)
What solution could we test? (List group ideas, or if no
one talks, subgroup into smaller groups for 15 minutes,
to generate solution ideas)
Action plan (Who, when, what). It seems so simple and
straightforward, yet many managers don’t invite the
group to work on the problem together. The manager
either tries to dictate a solution or talks one-on-one
with individuals, so people lobby for their own ideas.
Stop being the hero.
Many managers earned their promotion because they had a
reputation as a problem-solver. Unfortunately, if a
manager still clings to that role, he cheats the rest of
the team out of learning how to solve problems. In
addition, the team never feels the ownership and
satisfaction that comes from tackling a problem together
and fixing it.
These managers end up being a bottleneck. Every action
has to be approved by the manager. Even when the team
comes up with a solution that is worth trying, the
manager has to tweak it to have his hand in it. These
managers mean well but are more focused on themselves
than on the team they are leading. They are
over-controlling the process of problem-solving and
eventually they will be the only mole whacker.
Great leaders understand that employees don’t want to be
rescued - they want to be led. And that means providing
the forum for letting them understand the issues and
work together to solve them.
Corner the problem
Sometimes the heart of the problem is a problem
performer. Perhaps the problem person bends the rules,
so two other mole heads pop up to complain. Or, maybe
they don’t show up or don’t carry their own weight,
which causes more rumbling underground.
the manager doesn’t isolate the problem person, and hold
him or her accountable for meeting the standards, there
will be a lot more energy spent on whacking than on
working. If the standards aren’t clear, it’s time to put
them on the agenda and spend time clarifying and
agreeing on what they are.
you give everyone the opportunity to work together to
remove the underground problems, less time is spent
reacting and the team will have a lot more fun working
for managers about Communications Triangles
Nov. 2, 2013
There is a Communications Triangle in most
organizations. Once a relationship sails into this
danger zone, there’s no guarantee it will ever come
back. Ironically, many managers enter the Triangle
because they think it’s the right thing to do and they
have no idea that the relationship could capsize.
I am a
manager in a service business and I have ten employees
who report to me. For the most part I enjoy my job but
one thing about it really drives me nuts. Some of my
employees are big tattlers. They come in to my office
constantly and fill me in on their coworkers’
activities. Sometimes I wonder how they can get any of
their own work done with all the time they spend
watching everyone else.
person in particular really is becoming a problem for
me. She tells me all about one of her coworkers who she
feels isn’t pulling her weight. She complains that this
employee is making too many errors and she is late with
one part of a project they have been working on. These
two people work closely together and depend on one
another to finish some projects.
insists that I talk with this other employee and correct
this behavior. I haven’t been working that closely with
either one of them so I really don’t have any firsthand
knowledge about this. When I told the complaining
employee that I would go talk to her coworker, I
informed her that I would have to mention that she had
complained. (How else would I be able to explain that I
knew anything about this?)
employee became very upset and said she didn’t want me
to use her name. She works closely with the person and
doesn’t want to cause any friction. So, what am I to do?
If I say nothing, the problem continues and if I say
something the friction will get worse.
past, I have stepped in when there were problems and I’m
not afraid to confront issues. In this case, I know it
could become worse if I don’t handle it correctly. Any
you hear the wind kicking up? This manager is about to
get sucked into the Communication Triangle. Fortunately,
he is smart enough to know he is heading for dangerous
managers know that their employees are independent
adults who know how to raise a family, pay their
mortgage and live their life without their managers’
help. They treat their employees like adults and their
employees live up to that expectation. Of course, these
managers have to step in occasionally and resolve an
issue but, for the most part, they help their employees
solve their own problems.
how they do it. When an employee comes to them with an
issue, they start asking:
you describe exactly what she is doing that is the
“Exactly how is her behavior hurting you?”
have you done about it so far?”
you talked to her and told her about how her behavior is
affecting you and how you feel?"
exactly did you say to her?”
did she say or do then?”
do you think you should do now?”
the manager understands the situation, he or she can
coach the employee to talk with the coworker. However,
in some situations, the manager will be alerted to a
problem he or she will need to observe more closely. For
example, if an employee is taking long lunch hours or
comes in late and leaves early, it’s the manager’s job
to monitor this and step in.
it is a peer-to-peer problem that is best resolved by
the two of them, the manager should explain that the
other employee is more likely to get upset if the
manager gets involved. To overcome an employee’s
reluctance, it will help to role-play the dialogue with
the employee until he or she feels comfortable going
back and having the conversation.
manager needs to follow up, so should build in a
feedback loop: “I want to know how it goes, so once you
have the conversation, come back and we’ll discuss it.”
This lets the employee know that she isn’t in this alone
and that the manager isn’t just blowing her off. It also
holds the employee accountable for having the
Finally, if one or two peer-to-peer conversations don’t
do the trick, the manager may have to get involved. But
for the smoothest sailing, work with your employees to
talk to one another like adults first.
General reprimand and peer pressure are not effective
Oct. 17, 2013
My fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Sadist, was a master of
peer pressure. The problem was, it never had the desired
effect. When one student was misbehaving, she made the
rest of the class stay in for recess. Instead of blaming
him for our misfortune, we hardened our dislike for her.
When she embarrassed a fellow classmate by catching him
talking to another student, we didn’t laugh to shame him
into silence, we resolved to join forces with him,
passing notes of support and rebellion.
Unfortunately, some managers must have had teachers with
a similar style but they actually thought their tactics
were effective. For example, when one of the employees
develops a pattern for showing up late for work, or
making too many personal phone calls, the manager uses a
staff meeting to set the person straight. “I’ve been
noticing some bending of the rules lately. Just a
reminder to all of you that personal calls are to be
kept to a minimum and work starts at 8 a.m., not 8:15.”
non-offenders - though they might be relieved that the
manager is finally stepping in to correct the behavior -
tend to think, “Excuse me? Why are you grouping all of
us into the same category? Why don’t you get up the guts
to confront the person directly, instead of subjecting
the rest of us to this general reprimand?”
All we ever needed to learn about group behavior can be
learned in the fourth grade.
number one: Single out the offender, don’t reprimand the
you might ask, how do you convey to the whole group that
you have taken action to correct the problem, if you
don’t say something in a meeting? After all, you’ve
probably had people coming to you to complain, so you
want to reassure them that the problem has been dealt
with. A preferred approach is to speak to the person
privately and any co-worker who brings the subject up is
simply told, “It’s being handled.” Another benefit is
that it demonstrates to other co-workers that their
issues will be kept private, too.
number two: If you embarrass someone in front of a
group, the group will turn on you.
example, consider a manager or committee chair, who is
speaking to a group. Two people are whispering to each
other and the leader says, “So, do you two want to tell
the rest of the group what’s so interesting?” Didn’t
this person learn anything in the fourth grade? The
group is going to turn on the leader like a pack of
wolves. Their eyes will narrow, their arms will cross
and the only thing you will hear from them for the rest
of the meeting is a low growl. Even if the group agrees
with your intentions, they will not respect your
are some alternative techniques that get the desired
response, without the hostility.
Side conversations: If two people are talking in a
meeting, and it’s becoming a distraction, you need to
respectfully bring them back into the group. One way to
do this is to pause and smile kindly. Often the silence
will be enough to catch their attention. If they miss
your hint, call on someone (who is attentive) sitting
close to them, to provide his or her opinion. This
usually gets their attention without embarrassing them.
When they hear someone talking nearby, they usually
break up their conversation.
that fails, call a break or speak to them after the
meeting. A gentle, “Hey, guys what was I missing during
the meeting? You two were really engaged in a
conversation ... . I was hoping you would give your
input on our topic.” You never know if the conversation
was relevant or not, so jumping on them too harshly
could be counterproductive.
members: Quiet members tend to be ignored and the leader
ends up making eye contact with the most vocal members,
so it’s very important to keep bringing all the
participants into the conversation.
people hate speaking up in a group. Others try, but are
mowed down by more aggressive participants. A good way
to bring in a quiet person is to acknowledge their
experience on a topic and then ask their opinion. “John,
you’ve been here the longest. What do you anticipate the
problems will be with the implementation?” By setting up
the topic - not catching them daydreaming - you will
provide a safe way for them to participate.
members: If a person steals all the air time, you need
to give others a chance to speak without offending the
talker. Wait for the person to take a breath and then
say, “That’s interesting ... what do the rest of you
think?” Another approach is to summarize their
long-winded opinion, thank the person and then change
Hostile or negative participant: This can kill the
conversation unless you are ready to diffuse the
situation. Don’t attack or scold. A better approach is
to restate the negative comment in neutral words and
then throw it to the group. Take the example, “This new
policy sounds like typical BS from senior management!”
Restate it in neutral words: “It doesn’t sound like you
think the new policy will be effective. Do the rest of
you feel this way?” Usually the group will diffuse the
situation by offering other opinions. Taking the comment
seriously instead of defensively demonstrates an open
attitude and tends to squelch the heckler.
Getting the most from your performance review
Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know,
when it comes to having a performance review. It’s the
perennial discussion that is too important to miss, even
though it may be uncomfortable. Silence doesn’t
necessarily translate into, “You’re doing fine.” It
could just as easily mean, “I don’t want to tell you
that you aren’t doing well.” Either way, you need to
managers avoid giving performance reviews. They fear
hurting feelings or worry about an angry reaction. Some
managers are so busy, they let performance reviews fall
to the bottom of their priority list.
one of the most important things a manager can do for
his or her employees is to let them know how they are
doing. Even if the manager and employees work closely on
a day-to-day basis, employees want to know where they
stand. In fact, the desire for meaningful feedback is so
important to many employees, it is a leading cause of
dissatisfaction and turnover when they don’t get it.
When their manager doesn’t take the time to review their
performance they feel it is a slap in the face -
complete disinterest in their contribution.
manager is not skilled at giving feedback, there are
some things you can do:
First, take an honest look at yourself. Are you
approachable? If you get defensive at the slightest
mention of an area requiring improvement, don’t expect
your manager to eagerly share corrective feedback. You
will be perceived as a problem, if you fight your boss’s
attempts to be honest. You will succeed at quieting the
feedback but the longer you stay in the dark, the more
at risk your career will be.
Prove that you are coachable. The next time you get
feedback, ask for advice and specific ways that you can
improve. Then thank the person for their honesty and
look introspectively at your own behavior to understand
the feedback and act on it.
Take responsibility for your own actions. People who
point fingers or who defend their actions are not seen
as people who are promotable. Come back with an action
plan and execute the plan, including giving your manager
regular updates on your progress.
you have taken these steps but still see your manager
struggle to deliver honest feedback, here are some
the reviewer is reluctant, say:
“If you’re afraid of hurting my feelings, don’t be. I
really need to hear it.”
can’t get ahead if I don’t hear feedback about what
might be holding me back. Please tell me what I need to
know, even if it’s a small thing.”
reviewer is only telling you what you did wrong:
“What part of my performance do you think I did well?”
feedback you are giving me is all negative. Are you
telling me my job is in jeopardy?”
understand that I need to improve in these areas. If you
step back and look at my total performance, what
percentage would you say these problem areas represent?”
reviewer is focusing on one incident:
you saying this incident is an example of a pattern? If
not, I’d like to talk about other areas of my
performance, as well.”
You’re surprised by the information:
“This is the first time I’ve heard this. Of course I
want to work on improving in this area but I wish you
had told me right away, when you first noticed it. If I
had known, I could have corrected it by now.”
manager is rushing through the discussion:
you’re pressed for time, I’d rather wait until we can
have a more thorough discussion.”
there are very few written comments.) “I’d really like
to know how I’m doing. Can you give me some examples in
this area, so I understand why I was rated ‘above
The art of effective meetings
You wouldn’t ask your staff - or any group of people for
that matter - to get on a bus without a destination in
mind and directions for getting there. Yet, every day,
in companies all across America, people do just that.
They gather people in a room, close the door and drive
around in circles. They call it a meeting.
How many hours a day do you spend in meetings? If you’re
like many managers, a good portion of every week is
devoted to bringing people together to plan, solve
problems and create new ideas. So, if we spend so much
time in meetings, why are so many of them so hopelessly
Consider the “round robin” meeting, where everyone goes
around and shares what they are working on. For the most
part, the members are politely nodding their heads,
while each of them is thinking only about what they are
going to say when it is their turn.
how about the “staff meeting” where the boss does all
the talking? Then there’s the meeting where only a few
people weigh in with their opinions, while the rest stay
silent. The real meeting happens in the halls and
cubicles after the meeting is adjourned.
well-run meeting is such a rarity; you can probably
count on one hand the people who know how to do it well.
Here are some tips to improve your meeting skills that
will help you whether you are running the meeting or
just sitting on the bus.
* Spend the first
few minutes reviewing or building the agenda. Even if
there are only two of you, creating an agenda makes sure
that everyone wants to go to the same places you do.
Create some rules of the road. Dysfunctional meetings
usually occur because the group didn’t spend enough time
upfront talking about how they want their meetings to
run. Ground rules are critical for large groups or
diverse groups with multiple perspectives.
For example, here are some ground rules that make sense:
Everyone participates; treat each other with respect and
dignity; focus on problems, not personalities; every
idea is considered; no blame - search for solutions.
Stop along the road and check your map occasionally to
make sure you’re still on course. Many meetings start
out in the right direction but after a few wrong turns
they lose their way. Pay attention to the process with
statements such as, “We only have a half-hour left. I
suggest that we move on and tackle item number 4, since
we have to make a decision on that today.”
Keep order on the bus. No one will want to travel with
you if they are getting poked or hit with spitballs. If
someone is quiet, ask him or her, “Sam, you’ve had
experience with this situation. What do you think?”
If two people are whispering in back and distracting the
others, use a little humor: “Hey you two, it looks like
you’re cooking up some good stuff back there. Let us in
on it.” If someone gets socked in the stomach with a
sarcastic remark, be quick to step in. People will only
share their true feelings if they feel safe.
* Keep a
journal of the trip. Without it, everyone will have
their own interpretation and understanding about where
you went and what you saw. The quality of a meeting is
almost instantly improved when someone stands up and
starts writing ideas on a flip chart and outlines what
the decisions are. Like magic, the group gets more
focused and task oriented. They work together faster and
communication is clearer. People can see instantly when
they make a wrong turn or disagree with the route. When
the meeting is over, each of them will receive a copy of
what was agreed to and will have a shared understanding
of who, what, why, where, when and how.
the end of each trip, ask how to improve the next one.
Leaders who ask each member at the end of each meeting,
“What worked well today and what could be improved for
the next meeting?” will continue to see the quality of
their meetings improve. Instead of dreading meetings,
people will show up on time and ready to roll.
Tips for handling employee complaints
Oct. 4, 2013
“Some of my employees are enablers,” a client told me
recently. “They gripe among themselves about things they
don’t like, or about something I’ve done, and then when
they’re in a meeting and I ask for input on the topic
they are silent. Rather than speaking up to tell me what
they’re unhappy about, or telling the griper to go and
talk to me about it, they just enable the person to keep
on complaining without taking responsibility to fix it.”
kind of culture do you create around the issue of
complaints? Are people being open with you? And on the
other side of the coin, are you enabling your colleagues
to create a dysfunctional, negative environment? In
short: are you an enabler?
you shutting down communication?
employees aren’t communicating the way they should, I
always start with the manager and work my way down my
mental checklist of causes. Fair or not, the leader
usually contributes to the problem in some way, since
the manager is in the power seat and usually influences
employees’ behaviors by his or her reaction to them.
for example, the employee has come to the manager in the
past, but the manager didn’t listen to the complaint, or
didn’t do anything about the employee’s concern. It’s a
safe bet that the employee won’t be returning with many
more issues, but will turn to his or her peers to
of the biggest mistakes managers make is to justify
their behavior instead of drawing out the employee’s
concerns. For example, some managers are quick to
explain why they made the decision they did and why
their approach is right. The manager would be much
better off drawing out the employee’s thoughts and
perceptions, asking questions and probing to get it all
out on the table. Once the manager has fully heard and
understood the employee’s perspective, he or she can
address the concerns straight on, rather than deflecting
them with a defensive sounding rebuttal.
thing these managers miss is that employees form their
perceptions from what they believe to be good reasons,
and if the manager doesn’t listen closely to why the
employee has that perception or concern, the manager
will miss valuable information and will shut down
redirect complainers to go talk to the person in
do you do when someone gripes to you about a co-worker?
Do you secretly enjoy the juicy gossip? Do you fan the
flames because it makes you feel closer to the
Often, I see camps form in the workplace: Team members
sub-group in little cliques and bad-mouth each other, or
employees gather against their boss. Sometimes these
camps grow into full-scale factions that cannot be
simple solution, but one that is often skipped, is to
redirect the complainer to go talk to the right person.
Instead of, “Yeah, she really is an egomaniac!” why not
say, “You know, I can see why you’re upset. It won’t do
you any good to tell me, though. Why don’t you go talk
to her about it. If you don’t talk to her, it can’t get
facilitate solutions rather than collude with the
Which direction do you tend to lean? When someone is
upset about someone else’s behavior, do you soothe their
ruffled feelings, or do you really help the person find
solutions to the problem? Which comment do you think is
1. “Wow, that would make me angry, too! I can’t believe
she would do that to you!”
Or, questions like these: “I can see why you’re upset.
Have you talked with her about it?” “What do you think
caused her to do that?” “What do you think you could
Re-examine your reaction to a complaint about someone or
something at work. Are you an enabler?