Magazine article Management Today

First-Class Coach

Magazine article Management Today

First-Class Coach

Article excerpt

Q: I regard myself as a good manager. I'm friendly to colleagues, even those who are hostile. I avoid conflict, usually by talking to people individually to soften the blow of bad news. But recently I've had feedback that some people think I'm not being straight with them, and I am being criticised for failing to make some difficult decisions. How can I 'toughen up' without betraying my caring nature?

A: It's a good thing that you have a caring nature - to become a more effective manager you're going to need to use it to adjust some of your usual behaviours. The maxim 'treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself' seems entirely benign but has an inherent flaw: not every person wants to be treated in the same way.

While you would prefer to sugar the pill of bad news, some of your colleagues would much prefer the facts, clarity and decisiveness. They will see your softer approach as beating about the bush or as 'wilful obscurantism', as a forthright former boss of mine described it.

And while your habit of speaking about an issue with each person individually has its benefits, it can also create a suspicion that you are telling different people different things and not being entirely honest. As a leader, and all managers are to some extent also leaders, there will be times when you will need to stand before the people who work for you and state your opinions openly, and own your decisions unequivocally.

By avoiding conflict you may be storing up resentment from those with strong views who are disallowed from expressing them. You are also missing the opportunity to gain multiple perspectives on an issue, thereby arriving at the highest common factor rather than the lowest common denominator.

Some of my clients avoid conflict, as you do, because they fear it will spark aggressive behaviour. Sometimes they have emotional scar tissue and need to keep everything friendly. But there are real benefits in open discussions and debate, and there are ways that you can head off aggression should it arise.

Managing conflict constructively will require some changes in approach. First, you will need a little courage to see you through the learning process. Second, you will need to set out some rules of engagement for meetings that are likely to be contentious. …

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