Three Ways to Be a Better Manager (and Stop Pissing Off Your Employees)

People don’t leave jobs, they leave managers.

When we take on a job, we generally know the types of things we’ll be tasked with, and accept those as part of our role. However, when we take on a job, we generally don’t know what we’re going to get terms of personalities and management. Even the most annoying coworker or difficult project can likely be tolerated if it feels like your manager has your back. And so often, it DOES NOT feel like your manager has your back.

Whether you manage people as part of your job, or you’re just managing people in your personal life, there are some things that you can do to make it a better experience for yourself, and those you manage.

(Though this post focuses on the employee-manager dynamic, the ideas are all very transferable to other relationships!)

Effectively Communicate Change

It is really activating for people to be caught off guard or feel blind-sided by changes. When changes need to be made, it is important to share some specific types of information. Most people will actually probably be on board with changes if it means things run more smoothly or helps make a better environment. However, presentation can really influence the outcome.

Compare these two examples:

“We’re having a new dress code starting tomorrow. You can’t wear hoodies anymore while you’re working.”

vs.

“There have been a few safety issues recently where long sleeves are getting caught on equipment. It has been scary, and people have almost gotten hurt. As a way to make sure everyone stays safe, we are starting a change where we only have short sleeve shirts on the floor. You can keep your hoodies in your locker, and we’ll adjust the temperature up a degree or two so that we can still stay comfortable.”

Notice the difference?!

When communicating change:

  • Share solid reasoning as to why the change is taking place.
    • Our brains don’t accept a lack of information. They will always fill in the blank, and it is usually with the worst case scenario or harshest judgments.
  • Do not call out or blame anyone in particular, or put anyone on the spot.
    • People will feel defensive of themselves and/or their coworkers.
  • Demonstrate care for people by framing it for them.
    • Notice in the example that I didn’t say that the equipment could also be damaged. While that might be true, we want to demonstrate value for PEOPLE over THINGS.
  • State what CAN be done instead of what CAN’T be done.
    • Change can lead to feelings of loss, even if they are minor changes. In the example, I didn’t say that people CAN’T wear hoodies anymore, I said that we are moving to wearing short sleeves. I also said that they CAN keep their hoodies in their locker. It is small, but makes a big difference in how it is perceived.
  • Acknowledge potential consequences.
    • Things are usually being done in a certain way for a reason. Change means that new problems might arise (or old problems might return). In the example, I acknowledge people were wearing hoodies for a reason, likely to stay comfortable in a colder work space. I also noted that we would account for that by turning up the temperature. Not acknowledging potential consequences breeds distrust, and can lead to employees thinking that you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t have the ability to think ahead, or just don’t care about them, their workload, the work environment, or how the changes will impact them.

Give Positive Feedback Frequently

So often, managers are put in the position of dealing with stuff that is going wrong. On top of that, our brains inherently have a “negativity bias” where are are scanning for and noticing things that aren’t going how we want. That can result in a lot of communication being focused on the crappy aspects of life. People NEED positive feedback. The most driving force for humans is seeking belonging and having a sense of identity within a group. Often times, that feeling of belonging comes from a job or social community. Individuals need to feel valued in order to be motivated. Only getting feedback when we mess up or things don’t go how they’re supposed to often leads to worry, self-doubt, and a sense of, “Why do I even bother?”

Of course, we sometimes need to address concerns with people. When doing so, we want to avoid presenting it as criticism as a way to reduce the other person’s defensive feelings. We can do this in a few ways. The first is the “sandwich technique” where we start and end with specific positives, and sandwich the issue in the middle. An example of that is, “You have been doing such a great job lately. I’ve really noticed how well you’re handling customers, even when they might be upset about the mask policy. One thing on my radar is punctuality, with several days this week clocking in late. I know there have been some transportation issues recently. You work so hard, and I’m so glad to have you as a part of our team.”

When giving feedback about an issue or challenge, avoid using the words, “You,” “But,” “Should,” and “Why.” These are all words that automatically put people on the defensive. When you use them, the receiver is more likely to stop listening to what you are saying, and instead start constructing responses and thinking about ways to explain.

Think about getting the above feedback in this way instead: “You have been late several times this week. You really should figure out why that is happening. You need to show up on time, but if you can’t do that then I’ll have to write you up.”

Yuck! Even if it is all true, the delivery does not promote the response that you want. And that is the point! Shame and negative feedback don’t work. Over time, they just burn you out and make you dread certain situations and people.

The goal is to foster a culture of appreciation, where everyone is sharing freely and frequently when they notice or are grateful for things going well. If you hear that you’re doing well, you want to keep doing well. Within a culture of appreciation, there is less fear and more willingness to take responsibility when there is a f*ck up.

How nice would it be to hear:

  • “Thanks for doing that.”
  • “Wow, you really rocked that project!”
  • “You do so much around here.”
  • “I appreciate that you followed up with me about that.”
  • “You’re doing a great job!”

Lead the way for your team, and make that type of communication the norm. Don’t get caught in the victim cycle of, “Well, no one says those things to me!” The bottom line is, you’re the boss, and you set the tone. It is NOT your employees’ job to give you positive feedback. It IS your job to give them positive feedback (at least if you want to keep them!). And hopefully, by doing so, you will invite them to react to you positively as well. If you want that type of culture and communication with your boss, share that request with them.

Be Trauma-Informed

This is a huge and important concept, and I’ll only be touching on the surface of things here, so I hope you’ll take the ideas and start to learn more. Choosing a trauma-informed approach can radically shift how you perceive and interact with people.

Trauma can be a lot of things, from life-threatening events, to witnessing someone else be afraid, to chronic stress. Any events or interactions that overwhelm or flood our nervous system can start to rewire our brains to potentially over-react and try to protect ourselves in situations where it may not actually be necessary.

Take this example: Shirley was yelled at a lot as a child. It was scary and confusing, and hard to make sense of why her parents raised their voices at her, and said words she didn’t understand. Her nervous system wired to equate yelling with being scared and confused. Being scared and confused made her feel like she did something wrong and was stupid. As she grew up, other people would sometimes raise their voices around her. Even if they weren’t talking to her, her body and brain would start panicking, bringing on the same nervous system flood as when she was a child. She wasn’t actually in danger anymore, but her body was saying “DANGER, DANGER, DANGER” anyway. That led to her crying, retreating, and feeling that same shame response as when she was little.

Consider that example in the context of management. Each person is bringing their own history of experiences and nervous system wiring. You never know what is going to activate someone’s nervous system into a panic response. If someone is upset or displaying big feelings in, what you might perceive as a relatively minor situation, it is likely that they are experiencing that type of activation. When someone is activated, they cannot think clearly, cannot logic or reason, cannot stay connected with people, have difficulty forming long term memories, and will act in a self-protective and self-centered manner. You can see how people in that state might not be able to do their best work!

You’ve probably heard of the “fight or flight” response, and the following chart is meant to provide more insight and expand on our innate survival mechanisms.  It is helpful to know the basics of nervous system responses so that you can work on self-soothing when you are activated, and on being compassionate, empathetic, and available to others when their nervous systems are activated. 

by POW! Psychotherapy

Keeping those concepts in mind, the following things can be helpful when you notice someone is activated:

  • Approach them slowly and non-aggressively. You staying calm will help them calm themselves, and avoid further escalation.
  • If they say things to you, provide “reflection and validation.” That tends to look like the the framework of, “I hear you saying…that makes sense to me because…”. For example, “I hear you. You’re really upset about how Bill raised his voice. That make sense because it was so sudden and sounded very critical and disrespectful.” (Tip: Offering reflection and validation is a good approach ANY time someone shares with you.)
  • Give them a little time to calm down. When our nervous systems are activated, our bodies get flooded with chemicals. It can take a while for those chemicals to metabolize, and for us to get back to “normal.” Give people some space, and avoid bombarding them when questions or tasks for at least 15-30 minutes.

Remember, you are a human, too, and all of this applies to you as well! Get to know your triggers, deal with your underlying hurts and trauma, and learn how to self-soothe.

Taken together, these things will help make you a more effective manager, whom people respect and want to stick with for the long-haul.

If you’re dealing with work stress, or just want to improve communication, reach out to schedule today.

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