<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> <b>Common Managerial and Supervisory Discussions</b> <p> <p> Mediating disputes among subordinates, responding appropriately to requests for confidential information, and providing advice before a holiday party are all part and parcel of being a leader and manager. These oh-so-common conversations, however, can trip up well-meaning supervisors who may not be thinking through some of the possible ramifications of the advice they dole out. <p> Consider this chapter a crash course on Management 101. The tips and strategies here will help you to navigate common but potentially dangerous pitfalls that await you as a manager. Not only will these discussions help you lead more effectively, but they'll also help your subordinates learn how to manage more effectively when they themselves are placed into leadership roles further along in their careers. <p> <p> * <b>Scenario 1: Mediating Disputes Among Subordinates</b> <p> Every line manager in corporate America has felt frustrated over employee tensions and unresolved conflict. And let's face it: There's typically more than enough work that needs to be done without involving hurt feelings, resentment, and that walking-on-eggshells sensation that makes you feel more like a referee than a supervisor. <p> With the critical need for retention of key talent, however, managers have to find ways to get their people "plugged in" again or else face premature turnover. The reality, though, is that your staff members will almost always take the path of least resistance with each other—which is avoidance—rather than address problem issues head on. As the manager, you must intervene in a mediating role to ensure that a lack of communication doesn't lead to performance problems or turnover. <p> Pretending that a problem doesn't exist or allowing staff members to work out problems on their own may be a safe strategy when a new interpersonal conflict first arises; however, once that initial frustration has festered over time, it becomes time to step in. <p> <p> <b>The Solution</b> <p> When two of your staff members are at war, meet with each individual separately and explain how you intend to resolve the problem: <p> * Sam, I'm meeting with you one-on-one and will do the same with Christina once you and I are done. I want you to understand how together we're going to resolve the underlying tension that's become fairly obvious between the two of you. <p> First, I'll want to hear your side of the story, and then I'll share that with Christina when we meet. I'll then want to hear Christina's side of the story, and I'll share her feedback with you before the three of us come together as a group. This way everyone will know everyone else's issues, or the <i>what</i> of it all, and we could come together and focus on <i>how</i> to resolve it. <p> In short, we'll solve this in three meetings: Our meeting right now, Sam, is the first one. My meeting with Christina right after we're done will be the second one. I'll follow up with you after that and give you her feedback. Finally, we'll have a third meeting this afternoon where we can talk this out together. Again, everyone will know the issues, so there won't be any surprises, and we'll solve this like adults, maintaining each other's respect and dignity. Are you clear on how I'm planning on handling this? <p> <p> Privately find out Sam's side of the story at that point. In your meeting with Sam, ask him why Christina may be feeling the way she does. Ask Sam what he'd like to see happen ideally in terms of his relationship with Christina, and then ask him what he'd be willing to change about his own behavior to elicit a different response from her in the future. Afterward hold the same meeting with Christina, learn her side of the story, and then share her perceptions with Sam. <p> The third meeting where you all come together is where the proverbial rubber meets the road. Understanding that employees may be nervous or anxious that a serious escalation may occur, set the ground rules as follows: <p> * Okay, Sam and Christina, I've got two key ground rules that we all have to follow before we begin. <p> First, you shouldn't hold anything back. This is your chance to get it all out in the open, and if you withhold anything, then you'll have missed a golden opportunity to share your side of the story. You're not going to get another chance to readdress these pent-up issues and frustrations in the future. After our meeting today, I'm re-welcoming you both to the company as if it were your first day of employment. I'm also holding you both accountable for reinventing your working relationship from that point forward. Understood? [<i>Yes.</i>] <p> Second, everything that you share has to be said with the other person's best interests in mind and in a spirit of constructive criticism. There is no attacking and no need for defending in this meeting; this is really more a sensitivity session where you both get to walk a mile in the other's moccasins and hear firsthand how the other is feeling. Do I have your agreement on both of these ground rules? [<i>Yes.</i>] <p> <p> Setting up a meeting with these qualifiers automatically de-escalates feelings of angst or anger in the participants. It also gives you the chance to take a gentle approach to interpersonal issues that, like scars, sometimes run long and deep. <p> <p> <b>Special Note</b> <p> During the group meeting, you'll sometimes notice that each employee will first address his or her concerns directly to you—the mediator. It will be as if the other person weren't even there. Third-person "he-she" discussions need to be changed into an "I-you" dialogue. To accomplish this shift in audience, simply stop the conversation as soon as one of the participants begins speaking about the other in the third person. Ask the individual to speak directly to the other person as if <i>you</i> weren't there. That may appear a little challenging for the participants at first, especially if emotions are running high, but direct communication works best. After all, you're helping them fix <i>their</i> problem. <p> In addition, you should encourage your two staff members to use the phrases "this is how I feel" and "can you understand why I would feel that way?" Feelings aren't right or wrong—they just are. Since perception is reality until proven otherwise, it's each individual's responsibility to sensitize the other regarding the existence of perceptions that have developed over time. <p> Knowing that guilt will allow for the assumption of partial responsibility for an imperfect situation, that element of accountability will serve as the seed of goodwill that helps heal old wounds. For example, if Christina feels bad about her relationship with Sam, shares with him why she feels the way she does, and admits that it takes two to tango and that she's part of the problem, then Sam will likely respond positively to the olive branch that Christina's extending. <p> Once you've pierced the heart of the combatants, so to speak, then the battle is won. You'll know you're there when they're talking to each other, agreeing that they've got a problem on their hands, and demonstrating a willingness to fix it. These kinds of management interventions aren't normally investigations of fact-finding. Instead, they're sensitivity training sessions where goodwill and openness naturally heal the wounds associated with ego and principal. <p> Conclude the meeting this way: <p> * Christina and Sam, you've both heard the other side of the story now. I'm not asking you to become best friends, but I'm insisting that you both demonstrate respect and open communication toward each other at work from this point forward. <p> I'll end this meeting with two questions. First, do I have your commitment that you'll view the other with goodwill and assume good intentions from this point forward? Second, do you both understand that if the situation doesn't improve and the work flow is negatively impacted in any way, my response next time may result in formal progressive discipline rather than a goodwill sit-down like this? <p> <p> And voil—you'll have given both employees their day in court, so to speak, where each vents and shares perceptions of the problem. You'll end the meeting on a constructive note where both agree to change their behavior. And you'll also create a healthy sense of paranoia where both realize that if the problem surfaces again, there may be a more formal management response—most likely in the form of a written warning. Congratulations! You've treated your warring parties as adults and held them accountable for fixing the perception problem on their hands. <p> Remember, no matter how much you care, you can't manage <i>their</i> differences. Only they can do that. Still, you can provide a forum for solving employee disputes that brings out the best in people. Establishing a culture of openness means confronting people problems in an environment that's safe and that maintains the individual's dignity. It enhances your position as a leader and establishes your reputation as a fair arbiter of disagreements. There's no better formula for employee retention than treating people with respect, dignity, and a caring ear. <p> * <b>Scenario 2: Appropriate Responses to Requests to Speak "Off the Record"</b> <p> Have you ever had an employee come up to you and ask to speak with you off the record? Many well-intentioned managers have been happy to grant their employees full access, without qualifying the nature of the issue up front, much to their later chagrin. In fact, you've got to be very careful about promising confidentiality before you know what the employee is about to divulge for one important reason: Certain issues, by their very nature, require immediate disclosure. You simply won't have the discretion to maintain confidentiality under any circumstances by the very nature of the topic, and your promise to do so may indeed place you in a precarious position in terms of breaching a subordinate's trust. <p> Here are some real-life scenarios that innocent managers have inadvertently stepped into without realizing that they would have to disclose the information to the company's HR or legal department: <p> * John, I'm really concerned about Marlene. It looks to me like she's being harassed by her supervisor, and she's just not the type to make waves or formally complain. I feel so bad for her, but she'd die if she knew that I was telling anyone about this. Poor thing! She knows I've overheard his rants and shouting sessions, but I'm sure she thinks I'll keep it confidential. I certainly wouldn't want her to know that I mentioned this to you. <p> Vic, I'm having a really bad day today. In fact, if anyone bothers me, I may be upset enough to really ruin someone's day (pulling a bullet out of his pocket and tapping it on his desk). <p> Millie, not that it's my business, but it looks to me like Doris is moonlighting for our competition on the weekends. Don't say anything! I wouldn't want her to get in trouble or lose that extra income stream, but I wonder if she's feeding any of our proprietary information to our competitors. <p> <p> <b>The Solution</b> <p> These scenarios point to the real-life danger—both to the company and to your own physical well-being—of promising confidentiality before you know the nature of the issue. That's because subordinates often don't realize what they're asking you to do when they request that you keep matters confidential before knowing what those matters are about. When someone asks you to speak off the record, respond this way: <p> * Laura, I'd be happy to speak with you confidentially, but it depends on the nature of the issue. I <i>can't</i> speak off the record if the subject has anything to do with one of three things: (1) harassment and discrimination, (2) potential violence in the workplace, or (3) a conflict of interest with the company. If what you're about to say has anything to do with those three things, then I've got an <i>obligation to disclose</i> the information and can't keep it confidential. So before you say anything to me, keep in mind those parameters and understand my obligation as a manager and officer of the company. That being said, do you still want to have a confidential discussion? <p> <p> Yes, this may sound a little formal, especially if you know the employee well. Keep in mind, though, that you don't have the discretion to keep matters confidential that could negatively impact the organization. In addition, remember the low threshold used over and over again in harassment and discrimination cases: Once a supervisor or other member of the management team is made aware of a problem, then in the eyes of the law, <i>the entire company is placed on notice</i>. That's an awfully large burden for you to bear if a lawsuit ignites based on the fact that you were the sole supervisor informed about a serious problem. It smarts all the more when the plaintiff's counsel then alleges that your being put on notice was the same as your company's CEO being put on notice. <p> Remember, you don't have the option of responding, "Well, I didn't say anything because the employee asked me to keep it confidential." That's the death knell for your case, and any experienced defense attorney (representing your company) will roll her eyes once she hears that and recommend that your company simply settle out of court. In short, you'll have no defense and will have provided just about the weakest excuse imaginable because "my employee asked me to keep it confidential" is an outright breach of your fiduciary responsibility to your company, and everyone but the most unseasoned and untested supervisor knows that. It's a sucker punch of the highest degree, and it's one that you'll want to avoid at all costs. <p> Likewise, after you've promised confidentiality to an employee, you don't really want to be the one who goes back to HR and divulges that the individual made a veiled threat of violence by tapping a bullet on his desk. Of course, you have to disclose that information for fear of workplace violence and in light of this threat to others' safety; however, the employee will know that you're the only person who knew of his "comment" (aka threat), and that could bode poorly for you in terms of protecting your own health and safety. Add this red flag to your management toolbox so that any time you're asked to talk off the record, you'll know how to respond up front. <p> <p> * <b>Scenario 3: Promoting a Neophyte into a First-Time Supervisory Role</b> <p> At first glance, this topic may seem a little out of place in this book. After all, what's so tough about promoting someone into a first-time supervisory role? Shouldn't that be a topic of joy and jubilation rather than potential confrontation? Well, it depends how you look at it. Of course, it's always wonderful to promote people into roles of leadership, but the truth is that most newly minted managers require "the talk" before you go ahead and officially bless their promotion. <p> Why? Because if they assume that they're simply getting promoted and earning more money to do more of the same, they're mistaken. Promotions into supervisory roles require a whole new set of skills and strategies, and if your company is willing to invest in them and promote them, then you have every right to establish your expectations on a go-forward basis. As a result, this can be a challenging discussion for you to give and for your employee to receive, but more often than not, you'll find that establishing this new mind-set will go a long way in helping newly promoted supervisors to excel and thrive in their new roles. <p> However, don't be too surprised if you get some initial resistance and even a challenge or two. After all, goes the logic of the newly promoted supervisor, why would you consider promoting me if I wasn't doing an outstanding job, and why are you killing all the fun and taking away from the moment by telling me about all my weaknesses? <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <p> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>101 Tough Conversations to Have with Employees</b> by <b>Paul Falcone</b> Copyright © 2009 by Paul Falcone. Excerpted by permission of AMACOM. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.