A subordinate recently reported me to my manager for being “rude” and I’m not sure how to respond, or if I should.The incident supposedly occured during a telephone call, made to my home, in which the staffer was calling in sick. As is our policy, I asked that this person check in with someone on the management team later in the day so we would know how to scheduled for the next work day. With the exception of the staffer’s rather theatrical explaination of the malady, this request was my total contribution to our conversation.I am told this person immediately called my manager, reporting that I was “rude” and that it was “not appreciated.” I am a to-the-point person. When I have something to say, I say it. I can only assume that because I didn’t break out with “oh, you poor, pitiful thing,” that I am being percieved as rude.It is my understanding that I was hired to manage a department. I was not hired to be a “buddy/friend/parent/shoulder-to-cry-on/ etc..” I am a compassionate person and I can be all of those things, but prefer to remain professional. My manager assures me that I am not to be reprimanded. I am not expected to make an apology (I would not expect to recieve an apology from my manager should I misinterpret something said to me.) but the situation bothers me.Should I have acted differently on the telephone call? Should I sacrifice professionalism to stroke the egos of my staff?Am I now being overly sensitive too?
Paid to Manage, not Parent
Dear Paid to Manage, not Parent:
I doubt this would have unfolded in this way had you and the employee had an effective, friendly and warm relationship prior to this. But, let’s first look just at this situation. My thoughts about this issue may not fit your situation perfectly, but at least they’ll give you another perspective.1. It sounds as though you feel aggrieved, misunderstood–maybe hurt–frustrated and somewhat disgusted, at least with this employee. I don’t think you’re being overly sensitive, but perhaps you are letting your feelings interfere with your response just as the employee may have let her feelings interfere. That’s perfectly human, but it’s good to consider.Also, it may be that you would not have communicated in the same way to other employees. Maybe this employee creates problems for you and others at work, so you find it hard to sound concerned or to be very personal. If you would not have talked in the same way to every other employee, that might indicate that something was lacking in your responsiveness.If you would have talked to every other employee in exactly the same way, then you have to wonder if there have been other employees who felt badly, but who never said anything about it.2. About the manager vs. parent role. Actually, you ARE paid to parent. No, not in a coddling, excusatory way, but in a way that accepts that managers are responsible for the work of employees and also for the activities that go into ensuring that an effective work force is maintained, and that work is done effectively. That involves mentoring, nurturing, coaching, encouraging, supporting, assisting, correcting, counseling, directing and re-directing–very parental roles. So, how can we say as managers that we are responsible for someone’s work, but at the same time deny any responsibility for creating an environment where they want to BE at work and feel positive when they are there?I’m very much a productivity-oriented supervisor and manager, as anyone who knows me can swear! But I also realize that I can’t produce work alone, and that human resources, like all resources, must be developed and preserved. I think it’s better if a good relationship comes from the heart. But even if it doesn’t, it can be accomplished. And I know it’s my job to accomplish that, even if it isn’t my style and even if I don’t much care for the person involved–just as I expect employees to treat their customers in a caring way, rather than a distant, cool and just-the-facts way.3. Think about this from the viewpoint of the overall work environment and the message it sends. Managers are supposed to be examples of work effectiveness in every way. If you heard a conversation between this employee and an internal or external client, who was letting her know about something upsetting or problematic, would you want the employee to stick to the basics of telling the client to call someone else later in the day? Or, would you want the employee to sound sincerely concerned and sympathetic, extending the conversation somewhat to find out if there was anything more she could do and tell the client to check back if she wasn’t able to get the matter handled? I think you’d prefer the latter.One our most important jobs as managers is to be an exemplar of the behavior we want from employees, and the main way we do that is by how we treat them. That’s a parental activity as well.4. Another thing to consider about this is the overall issue of employees calling in sick. A managerial goal is to ensure that employees realize their value to the team and how important it is that they are at work every day and on time. Do you think your comments would make the employee feel that she would be missed personally because she serves a useful function and that you’d make sure anything that happened that she should know about would get to her? It’s important for employees to feel that work is diminished when they are absent and that we want them–not someone else–to handle their specific jobs. That’s not just rah-rah motivation; it’s the way we ensure higher quality work and less sick time.5. Overall, did you present yourself in the way you want to be seen, for future success? Your manager said you weren’t being reprimanded, but if he or she didn’t care or didn’t want you to know, you wouldn’t have been told. IF your manager said you did exactly the right thing and that you should never be more personal with an employee, that’s one thing. But if you were told in a “thought you ought to know what the employee said” mode, you were told for a reason, even if only to hint you toward something different next time. Managers are valued both for the work product and for their ability to maintain a positive work environment. In this case, your manager was required to listen to the complaint of an employee, then whether formally or not, talk to you about it. Do you think he or she would have preferred to not have any of that happen?I’m not implying you were completely wrong or that you look badly now, or that the employee isn’t a problem person whether ill or not. All I’m saying is that on the outside looking in, it sounds as though you do not feel good about this employee (maybe all employees!) and it resulted in you being seen as abrupt and rude. It also appears that you think because it’s YOUR style and preference to say little beyond what is necessary about a situation; it’s the way you should communicate. But we communicate so OTHERS understand and respond effectively, and to do that we must communicate in a style that works best for THEM. The most effective parents talk to their children in the way that their children can understand for their age, interests and personality. Which is another way managers are like parents! 6. I read recently that a study of doctors showed a majority of those studied thought they showed concern and compassion for patients, when in fact hidden recordings revealed almost a complete absence of any conversation that sounded caring, concerned or compassionate. The doctors, when asked about it said they were focused on being professional. But to someone who is sick or dying, more is needed to help the heart and mind than hearing even very high-level knowledge. As a result, medical schools are now teaching much more about what we used to call “a bedside manner.”Truthfully, some of the meanest things I’ve ever heard or seen were later explained as only being professional and factual. But that didn’t prevent bitter feelings that never went away. You would not knowingly be cruel, but you may find that you also are not purposely kind in situations where that would be beneficial.7. This final thought has to do with your last question about “should I sacrifice professionalism to stroke the egos of my staff?” If you re-read that you’ll see how biased that sounds, and the either/or way in which you present it! And as I said at the beginning, it’s probably a result of hurt feelings and anger at the injustice of it all–that’s YOUR ego. We all hav’em!You do not have to sacrifice professionalism for anything, if by professionalism you mean concern for your job and your organization, and a commitment to doing work at a high level. But you do need to stroke the egos of your staff! You really do, if by that you mean, appealing to their sense of self-worth and value. Because when it comes right down to it, our egos are what keep all of us going. Even those of us who are productivity oriented feel personal pride when things go well–that’s ego. We resent implications that we’ve done less than well–that’s ego too. But a great role of a manager is to help employee see outside that ego to also caring for others and the affect we have on others through our actions. Dr. Gorden refers to that as WEGO.We don’t want employees to become so self-absorbed and so focused on what THEY are and have, that they become, as J.B. Priestly described it, “a solid little lump of ego.” But how can we do that, if we, as manager/examples don’t show that we are outside ourselves mentally and emotionally a good part of the time?Believe me, I have had employees who would have tried the kindness of any saint you could name, and who loved to find the flaws in me or anyone else but didn’t look for their own, and who took and took but rarely gave. So, my challenge was to find a way in my mind and heart to still treat that person as a valued person who was my responsibility in every way at work–and to make sure I didn’t do the same things I disliked in that employee!May I suggest that you look for a way to reach out to this employee and rebuild, and then let your manager know what you have done? I think the best way to repair the issue is simply to move forward in a positive way. That’s far better than apologizing but doing nothing differently afterwards.Make a list of the names of each employee, and sometime during the middle of a work shift ask yourself what you have done that day to prove to them that you have noticed their work, that you value them, are interested in them as people, and want them to be part of the whole team. If you go more than a day or two without something specific you have said to that person you know you have work to do. That isn’t coddling, that’s just good supervision and management, in order to get work done with and through others.And when you communicate, double check to ensure that you look at them, smile at them, respond to them and talk about things that significant to them and to the organization, not just small talk.Whether it’s at work or over the phone in a call-in situation, treat each employee like the most important customer any salesperson ever had, and sell them on the idea that their work is important, they are important, and you have an important role in their work. By doing that, the other tasks you have, of correcting, commending, directing, training and so forth, all fall into place.I would surmise that you are an extremely capable person, so you certainly are able to meet any challenge, even this one! Best wishes as you continue in your career.
Tina Lewis Rowe