If you are an empathetic and thoughtful manager, chances are that at times your staff will approach you with their personal problems that might be affecting their work, or home life, or both.
Here are some ideas to help you in these sometimes awkward situations;
* Make sure your team member sees that you take such problems seriously. This means you may have to leave the office and go somewhere quiet. Constant interruptions from phone, emails, other employees, etc. show that you aren’t really concerned. If it’s really not a good time for you, say so, and immediately set aside a specific time to discuss it with them
* Encourage your team member to talk by listening actively. Be re-assuring by not judging, and by rephrasing and summarising. Ask questions to clarify, if necessary. Your behaviour is the key to a successful session. Try to be empathetic and supportive
* Note any hidden meanings, like blame or over-sensitivity. Listen to expressions and mannerisms and especially watch body-language
* Isolate the problem. Having got through the web of detail and emotions, identify the core problem and its probable cause. Analyse the true problem, not just the symptoms
* Work towards solutions. Remember that the aim is for your team member to solve the problem for themselves. Ask what options they see. If necessary, make tentative suggestions, like ‘how about this for an idea…’ or ‘one option might be….’. Decide what the pros and cons might be
* Encourage them in whatever decision they make. Naturally, there will be many areas where you simply aren’t able to offer advice, and you may have to suggest they see a professional to sort out some of the deeper problems they may be experiencing
* Finally, never betray a trust. Your team member will appreciate it if the discussions are kept private, unless they agree to having someone else help out. Remember your purpose in all of this…to help the team member through the situation.
Sometimes, all they want is a hearing ear, someone to bounce their problems around with. Resist the temptation to give advice in areas you are unfamiliar with. Just asking the right questions can sometimes help. When you’ve done the best you can, your team mate may be able to solve it themselves, or at least find a way forward. And you might gain yourself a high-performing employee again.
Originally published: 5 November, 2010
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