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Confrontation or Clarification?

Clarification mug       Hey, business leaders and supervisors, here’s a suggestion borne out by personal experience. If you habitually shy away from confrontation, try clarification!

Ever notice how some workplace leaders and managers seem to afraid of confrontation? I know there were many times when I was. Back in my supervisory past I’m afraid I sometimes tended to shy away from confronting personnel problems, especially conflict between co-workers. I would make excuses, look the other way, or tell myself it wasn’t all that bad. For me, creative avoidance sometimes became a sort of hobby when it came to confrontation!

Maybe this is the way you tend to handle conflict and confrontation.But avoiding workplace confrontation is dangerous! The longer some of these issues persist, the more corrosive and even destructive they can become, especially when your whole team is waiting for you, the boss, to do something about the situation. Best selling business author Patrick Lencioni in his wonderful book Five Dysfunctions of a Team identifies the failure to deal properly with conflict as one of the 5 Big Reasons why some organizations are habitually ineffective.

Why do bosses avoid confrontation? Same reason most people do: we’re conditioned to steer clear of circumstances that are likely to generate unpleasantness. When you as the person in charge wade into a confrontational situation you are almost certain to cause sparks to fly. And here’s the big problem for us pleaser types: we want everybody to be happy and play nice, but confrontation virtually guarantees that somebody is going to get his or her nose out of joint. So when the choice comes down to fighting or flying, we too often choose flight.

So next time you’re faced with the need to confront a situation in the workplace, try this: change your language. Instead of dwelling on the need for confrontation, focus your energies and your intellect on the more important and much more positive need for clarification. It will change the way you think and probably change the language you use. In fact, if my experience is any guide, it will change the entire process.

This is important because the distinction between these two concepts is much more than merely semantic. The definition of “confrontation” includes the clashing of forces or ideas. No matter how you nuance it, “confrontation” implies a battle. But confrontation for its own sake was never the goal, right? The real goal is “clarification” a word whose definition includes eliminating confusion and making things understandable. Isn’t that a big part of the leader’s job description — to clarify the causes of problems as a step toward solving them? Confrontation almost  always sounds negative. Clarification almost always sounds positive. I’d love to be known as the boss who brings clarity and understanding to workplace relationships!

One caution: even when you focus on clarification instead of confrontation, at the end of the day somebody will probably still end up irritated, angry or disappointed. That’s inevitable. But wouldn’t it be nice if that somebody weren’t always you?

 

 

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Posted by on March 20, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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What if Your Critic is Your Boss?

bad-boss-woman   We talked the other day about handling criticism. But what if your harshest critic is your boss?

I was leading a brief discussion in a class the other day about handling criticism, and a friend came up to me afterward to share her story. She said she is constantly dealing with a hyper-critical boss, and it’s really starting to become an issue at work. No matter what my friend does, her supervisor is always critical. To make matters worse, the boss, also a woman, is considerably younger than my friend.

We talked for a few minutes about the best way to handle this situation, and as we talked I got the sense that the age difference may be a big part of the issue. I’ve observed many younger managers (this one is in her early 30’s) who seem to feel that the best way to command workplace respect is to be tough. Be the hard-nosed boss. Don’t cut your people any slack. I’m sure like many of us she was advised by someone early on not to “get too close” to the people you supervise. Keep your distance and let them know you’re in charge, or else your subordinates will run roughshod all over you. I got that exact same advice once, just before I accepted my first gig as a sales manager. (Come to think of it, the person who gave me that advice had followed it to a T — unfortunately.)

Well…that advice may be true in some workplaces, but my experience just doesn’t bear this out. I feel people will work much more willingly and enthusiastically for a boss who likes and trust them — and who they like and trust — than for a boss who rules by fear, or intimidation, or a critical spirit. This is something many of us who have been in management and leadership learn over time, often the hard way. Yes, if you get too close you might get burned from time to time, but the payoff in higher productivity and improved morale is well worth it, I’m convinced. (This is probably a debate for another time.)

So what should my friend with the younger, critical boss do? One possibility is that the younger boss is behaving critically because she is trying to establish her managerial credibility. This may be her first leadership position. Could it be that her critical spirit masks some significant professional insecurity — an insecurity compounded by my friend’s seniority in age and experience? I might suggest that the best course of action could be to get together with the boss one-on-one and let her know you’re rooting for her and that you are committed to her success. Compliment her on things she does well. Ask her advice. I’m not suggesting you behave dishonestly or that you become a subordinate schmoozer — but building up your boss has to be a better strategy than letting the frustration build to the breaking point.

If the boss is truly unreasonable or mean-spirited, that may be different. But by always responding with criticism, a boss could simply be showing his or her need to be right. The more the boss trusts the employee, the less that critical spirit will prevail — hopefully. I’ll ask my friend next week how “Operation Build Up the Boss” is working out.

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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A Belated Thanks (and an Apology) to the Boss

A note to all my past bosses, supervisors and managers: thank you. And, um, sorry about that.

I was reflecting the other day on the string of jobs I’ve had and the remarkable variety of men and women I’ve reported to. It all began with Dick at the Thriftway. Then there was Harry at the gas station. Then the Navy with five commanding officers, three executive officers and a passel of department heads. Then there was Greg, and then Bill, and Dana and Edie and Mac and Susan and Bob and Dick and Paul and Rick and Stan and Joe and Jim and Tim and Bob and Jane and Mark and Dave. Whew! I probably left somebody out, but you get the idea.

Two thoughts occurred to me as I considered this list. First, each one of these men and women really wanted to do a good job. Whether or not I happened (in my vast wisdom) to agree at the time with their approach and their philosphy of leadership doesn’t matter: without exception these were good people who worked hard, took a lot of stress home with them at night, and tried to fight the good fight. Not a bum in the bunch. So consider this a collective “Thank you” to bosses past and present.

The second thought is more convicting. Honest self-appraisal time: how often when I worked for these folks was I part of the problem and not part of the solution? Did I grouse more than I should have, even occasionally? Did I ever fuel the fires of complaint, negativity, or mistrust? Did I leave one job or another prematurely, forcing my then-boss to deal with the frustration of employee turnover? (Edie and Mac and Susan, I’m thinking about you here…) I’m not saying I would go back and change things even if I could — I’m simply wondering if I could have made my boss’s life easier by doing my work better and complaining less. So consider this a collective “My bad” for the times I made the boss’s life more difficult than I might have.

He who pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honor says Proverbs 21:21. Translation: my agenda isn’t Priority One. Behaving in a way that’s honorable, loving and diligent — that’s the goal…whether the boss notices it or not! So if this applies, take it to heart. And next time you get the chance, say thanks to the boss. He/she will appreciate it — I guarantee it.

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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