Without realizing it, a manager can create conflict. It comes from the way staff’s interruptions, questions, and suggestions get handled. Here are five automatic and all too common bad responses.
1 “I don’t have time for that now”
A staffer comes in with a question, the manager is in the middle of work, and the response is “not now” or “can’t you take care of that yourself?”
That’s a hard put-down. The staffer is hurt, the open-door policy looks like a sham, and when the manager hands out the next compliment, that staffer is going to think “why should I believe you?”
When there’s no time for an interruption, make an appointment to talk: “Can you give me 10 minutes to finish what I’m doing? Then I can talk with you and not be thinking about this.”
Nobody is offended. The delay forces the staffer to think about the problem and possibly realize it’s not so serious after all. And if there’s emotion tied to it, those few minutes are time enough for the staffer to cool down and think logically about what’s going on.
2 “You’re wrong about that”
Don’t debate. Not everybody likes it. What the manager sees as a healthy discussion staff often see as disagreement, rudeness, and confrontation.
Staffer A: “I think I should format this report in X manner.” Well you are wrong. Why do you want to do it that way? That’s the worst way to format the report. Keep it just as it is.
The staffer leaves feeling devalued and motivation is crushed.
Express an opinion with a qualifier: Please don’t take this as confrontational or negative, but why do you think that way is better?
Then listen to what that staffer says. The idea could be a good one, but if it isn’t feasible, say so with diplomacy: I appreciate your suggestion, but let me tell you why we follow this procedure.
3 “Just do it this way”
Don’t solve staff’s problems. Show them how to come up with their own solutions.
Continuously solving problems tells people they aren’t smart enough to do the solving themselves. And worse, they become less and less reliant on their own ability and so come back to the manager with all their other problems.
Teach them with why and what-if questions.
Staffer A: “I don’t think I can get this project finished on time.” Why don’t you think so?
Staffer A: “I don’t have time to make 10 phone calls.” What if you only made seven instead of 10?
Staffer A: “I don’t think that’s enough.” Why not? Those questions force staff to think through their problems. And after a while, they start doing it on their own.
4 “That’s a waste of time”
Acknowledge suggestions, even if they aren’t good ones. If a staffer says “I’ve come up with a great way to do X,” don’t answer with a demoralizing “okay, get to the point” or “I don’t care how you do it. Just get the job done by Wednesday.”
The staffer is proud of having come up with the idea. Talk about it and show a genuine interest with comments such as “tell me more” and “that’s great.”
And if the decision goes against the staffer’s idea, end with a compliment of “I’m proud of you” or “you gave that a lot of thought.”
5 “Too bad for you”
Take the same conversation-encouraging approach when a staffer comes in with a problem.
Staffer A: “I am really frustrated because I can’t come up with a solution to this problem.” I’m sorry to hear that. Is there something I can do to help you?
The problem will get solved no matter what the response. But that little bit of interest makes the staffer feel valued.