Ignoring Issues? That’s Not Management.
I was raised in the South. It’s a part of the country where we were raised to say Yes Ma’am and No Ma’am. When someone was older than us, we used their title — Mr., Mrs. and Miss — along with their last name. We didn’t contradict, disagree or —heaven forfend! — ever correct an adult in public.
This article is not just for women! Although many women have historically struggled with indirect communication, many men also avoid confrontation and conflict.
As a woman, being direct was not a treasured friendship trait — nor an effective dating skill! In order to get our ideas across, we used what some might call passive-aggressive behavior. Confrontation was not our friend.
When we women didn’t like something, we often just outright ignored it. We would just smile and say things like, You don’t say! Ah, interesting… Hmm, let’s talk about that.
My generation of women went into the workforce in greater numbers than our moms before us — and, more of us rose to senior management, or became businesses owners, or served as heads of corporations.
We had to work hard for these positions. We often faced — and had to overcome — misconceptions by our male counterparts. The perception was that women were not capable; that we would break down at the first sign of trouble or conflict.
The Two Sides of a Southern Upbringing
My southern upbringing has influenced how I think and respond in the workforce. Many of my southern skills have, at times, helped me along the way in my career. For example, “You catch more flies with honey!”
However, whenever I have disagreed with someone, or I wanted something to be different, I have struggled to be direct about it. In fact, learning to be more direct is a skill that I continually work on, as someone in charge of both a business and large staff.
So I took a deep dive into the subject and explored two key areas for leaders: (1) handling employee situations that require direct, timely communication, and (2) the need for more timely and direct employee reviews and feedback on performance.
Our All-Too-Common Mistake
As leaders, we often make the mistake in thinking that if we ignore a problem, it will just go away — especially when it’s a personnel issue.
We rationalize. We tell ourselves that it was a “one-time thing.” We make the excuse that the person was under a lot of stress or pressure. We think maybe we should cut them a bit of slack.
In reality, we want to avoid the discomfort of confrontation. Or, we don’t want the other person to be mad at us. Maybe we want them to like us, to think that we are a nice person.
But you know what? Ignoring is not a solution! Avoiding the elephant in the room rarely works out. In most instances, the employee’s negative behavior only gets worse and more frequent.
The fallout includes other members on your team. They begin to resent the individual, and they may even stop checking their own behaviors. Worse, they will begin to doubt your effectiveness as a leader. Morale will quickly suffer.
Power Challenge 1: Quit Ignoring the Elephant in the Room
If ignoring difficult employees is your mode of operation, STOP NOW. You are using a negative management style, and you need to fix it. START NOW.
The next time you have a problem with an employee, you know what you need to do. Ignore the pit of anxiety in your stomach. Put on your big girl (or big boy) pants, and take charge. Provide direct, open and constructive communication to do three things:
- Clearly lay out the problem
- State your expectations for improvement
- Provide a timeline for results
Deliver with tact, brevity and assertiveness. Don’t wait, go now! I promise you’ll feel better, and the problem will improve. Morale will get better too — for you, and for everyone in the office!
The best man for a job is often a woman!
Power Challenge 2: Timing is Everything
Have you ever wished you could re-do the way you handled a work situation? I have. I remember one time in particular. I was leaving the office when an employee stopped me.
She started lashing out, saying that she felt unsupported and overwhelmed. Most of her anger centered on why she thought it was all my fault. I was caught off guard. And… I didn’t handle the situation well. I lashed out in kind. I told her that I was tired of her martyr attitude, that I found her tirades tiring, and so on… I’m sure you get the picture.
We both left feeling not very good about the situation. Nothing was resolved. Not only that, but it took time to repair the relationship. And, she was a good employee!
Here is what I should have done differently:
- Acknowledged her frustration in the moment and let her know that this wasn’t the time to have the discussion.
- Diffused the situation by not participating in her tirade. I should have respectfully disengaged, and then sent her an email or stopped by her office the next morning to request a meeting.
- Discussed her concerns when we were both calm and could behave rationally. Then we could have had an adult discussion about the outburst and what led up to it, in hopes to keep it from repeating.
- Also, I would have made it clear that her behavior was inappropriate and wouldn’t be tolerated in the future — even with her being the good employee that she was.
So, don’t take a bad situation with a frustrated or angry employee and make it worse by engaging in the heat of the moment. Wait until the anger has passed. Timing is everything!
Your effectiveness as a leader is based on how well you manage the bad days, not the good days. It’s easy to be in charge when things are going well.
Power Challenge 3: Change Annual Employee Performance Reviews to Ongoing
I grew up in a work era where you worked all year long and received minimal feedback about your performance.
For one hour, once a year, you sat uncomfortably across a desk from your boss while he or she delivered a monotone review of your work and gave you a numeric rating that determined your salary and job title for the next twelve months.
Today’s workforce wants frequent and constructive performance feedback. According to The Growth Divide Study, conducted by Wakefield Research for Reflektive, more than half of employees surveyed want reviews at least once a month.
And, nearly all (94%) prefer that managers address performance issues and development opportunities in real time. Reflektive said that frequent check-ins allow a manager the agility to coach and change behaviors to address skills gaps and shifting strategies.
Take the advice of these experts. Include more formal and informal feedback with your staff. Make it a part of your routine — daily, weekly, monthly or, at a minimum, quarterly. Meeting once a year doesn’t provide enough time to cover twelve months of performance. Frankly, it just becomes an exercise for checking off an annual managerial duty. How can you possibly address an issue that occurred, say, ten months ago?
Also, encourage your staff to schedule time with you throughout the year when they have an issue or potential idea to discuss. More frequent reviews, formal and informal, will lead to a more satisfied and productive team. A lot happens in one year!
Praise in public and criticize in private.
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Carla inspires leaders and team members — and provides real-world tips to become the best version of themselves that they can be. Contact her today.