The Management Blog
Tips & advice to help you improve your performance
An interesting conversation on one of recent management courses revolved around the dilemma of a manager favouring one employee over another in their department. The manager on the course was discussing the impact this was having on another department within his company.
He mentioned that, even though it may have seemed a trivial matter to the manager concerned, the rest of his team members were taking it very seriously and much wailing and gnashing of teeth was surrounding the whole department.
The manager was obviously unaware of the perception that he was giving to the rest of the team by his favouring one team member over the others. Learn More
Many psychologists have long argued over the impact of negative thoughts. All agree they have a powerful effect on you. They affect your attitude, your physiology, and your motivation. Your negative thoughts actually control your behavior. They can make you sweat, make a messy presentation or forget to make that important phone call.
According to psychological researchers, up to 80% of our thoughts during the day are negative; things like, I’m always late…this report will never be finished on time…The MD will be disappointed in me…I shouldn’t have said that …. They don’t like me… and so on.
Interestingly, our bodies react to our thoughts. Every cell in your body is affected by every thought you have. If it’s negative, it weakens you, making you more prone to behaviours that can induce physical ailments.
However, positive thoughts affect your body in a positive way, making you more relaxed, centered and alert. And there’s only one person responsible for your thoughts and what you say to yourself. Yes, you’re 100% responsible.
So, when you find yourself being negative, stop and think:
What’s the positive intention behind this? What am I trying to achieve with this negativity? Am I just being negatively focused, or is there a positive meaning I can take from it?
You can actually use your negativity to drive you forward to change things.
For example, if you are thinking “I can’t do this project”, what meaning could you attach to that thought? It could mean you need to ask for more resources. It could mean you have to do more research. Or it could mean you haven’t approached the project in the right state of mind.
Whatever the reason, step back and realise what the message is that this thought is giving you. Albert Einstein said “The significant problems we face cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.” We may need to change our thought patterns to get the answers.
Remember the idea of self-fulfilling prophecy? If you say you can’t do something, your brain will do its utmost to prove you right. A better way of thinking when you are facing negativity is “OK, this is the situation. What has to change for it to look different? What’s not perfect, yet? What can I control that will drive this forward?”
From this improved mindset, you are in a stronger position to face the situation and come up with ideas. Good ideas will not flourish in a negative mind. They have to be nurtured and developed in a soil of possibility.
If you become more emotionally intelligent, you find opportunities where there were obstacles. So create a sign for yourself where, when you are thinking negatively, you recognise the fact, notice the emotion you are feeling, ask whether this is how you really want to feel, and adapt your thinking to look at possibilities rather than reasons why it can’t be done.
How you talk to yourself will have a profound effect on your mood, demeanour and behaviour. Being aware of when you’re negative can be the first step in creating the mind-set that will generate better results.
This is one area that managers are concerned about, mainly because conflict within team members often appears to be very personal and can affect morale very deeply. What causes it and how can you deal with it?
Firstly, why does it happen?
The main reasons for conflict appear to be:
• Disagreements over responsibilities (who should do what)
• Disagreements over policy (how things should be done)
• Conflicts of personality and style
These are some of the ways we typically deal with conflict.
Do you see yourself in any of them?
• Avoid the conflict.
• Deny it exists; wait until it goes away.
• Change the subject.
• React emotionally; become aggressive, abusive, in denial or frightening.
• Find someone to blame.
• Make excuses.
• Delegate the situation to someone else.
Can you imagine the results if this is allowed to continue?
What would happen to trust, morale, teamwork and efficiency?
This is why it’s important to deal with conflict within the team before it blows out of proportion.
Factors That Affect How People Manage Conflict
Some of the factors that affect how we behave in the face of conflict are:
• Status: People in higher-status positions usually feel freer to engage in conflict and are less likely to avoid confrontation.
• Gender differences: Males are generally encouraged to be more confrontational than females.
• Learned behaviours: In some teams, conflict and confrontation are a communication style. In others, conflict always remains hidden.
Conflict Resolution Skills
Conflict resolution is a set of skills that can be learned. Firstly we’ll look at how you can understand the conflict through effective listening skills, then we’ll look at ways to deal with it.
Improve your Listening Skills
By listening actively, you show a level of understanding of the situation without casting judgement. You are also able to identify the emotions that have brought about the situation in the first place.
People in conflict often get emotional, so your role is to see through the emotions by really listening to the real issues, rather than the person’s opinions or judgements.
Your responses should be made up of two parts:
(1) naming the feeling that the other person is conveying, and
(2) stating the reason for the feeling.
Here are some examples of active-listening statements:
“It sounds like you’re upset by Jenny’s remarks.”
“So, you’re angry about the mistakes Pat made. Is that correct?”
“I get the feeling you have different expectations on this project to Mike”
Notice that you just state the facts, as you see it, rather than judging the feeling.
Remember, actively listening is not the same as agreement. It is a way of demonstrating that you intend to hear and understand another’s point of view.
• It feels good when another person makes an effort to understand what you are thinking and feeling.
• Restating what you’ve heard, and checking for understanding, promotes better communication and produces fewer misunderstandings.
• Responding with active listening has a calming effect in an emotional situation.
Actions to deal with conflict
I’m sure you’ve seen conflicts escalate and cause even more problems, so what can you do to heighten your chances of dealing with conflict?
• Use “I” and “me” statements; “you” statements sound accusatory and blaming
• Avoid name-calling and put-downs (“Any logical person could see that…”).
• Soften your tone.
• Take a time-out (“Let’s take a break and cool down”).
• Acknowledge the other person’s point of view (agreement is not necessary).
• Avoid defensive or hostile body language (rolling eyes, crossing arms in front of body, tapping foot).
• Be specific and factual; avoid generalities.
Can you avoid conflict?
Is there a way you could avoid conflict in the first place, so you don’t have to go through all this pain? Some ideas may include:
• Handle situations as they are occurring, rather than allowing them time to fester and gain momentum.
• Become aware of what sets off conflict in your area. What touchpoints do you notice that causes people to have minor disagreements that build into exasperation, then full blown conflict?
• Coach everyone in the team on how to deal with conflict if it’s an issue. Prevention is always better than cure
By building conflict-handling skills within yourself and your team, you create better chances of nipping this potential motivation-killer in the bud.
Balancing quality and efficiency isn’t easy these days. Demands from customers and bosses have never been greater and sometimes you feel like throwing your hands in the air and saying “No way!” (or words to that effect!)
What can you do if you know that meeting a specific deadline will result in poor quality or corners being cut?
It might help if you asked the stakeholder “Will you approve the steps needed to meet that delivery date?”
They will probably ask for clarification. This will then allow you to make the point you wanted to make. “Your deadline will not allow me/us/the company to achieve the level of quality you would insist on”.
If they ask what steps you would suggest, tell them that a shorter deadline would force you to deliver reduced quality or quantity, less precision or less formality. Get the stakeholder to recognise these results in advance. Then tell them what will have to happen in order to alleviate these outcomes, like more or better resources or a changed time limit.
If no change can be made, make a note of what happens along the journey, not with a view to casting blame for the poor quality of the job, but to help you reflect on how to handle similar situations in the future.
Also, highlight why this seems to be happening more and more. Is your time management poor, or do you need some project management coaching? Analyse what you can control and what is outside your control before casting blame or criticism in another’s direction.
You may be able to negotiate the deadline in some way. And note that we said ‘negotiate’, not ‘concede’. You have to have something of value that you can offer the other party in order for them to accept the deadline movement. You’re the only person who will be able to answer that in detail, but think about how the change in deadline might affect quality or performance or results.
Commit to achieving those results, and the stakeholder will realise that, if you are supported, the extra time given was worth the wait.
So, learn to determine what can be done, rather than what can’t, and that will help you to ascertain the direction you need to go. Rather than saying “there’s no way”, you may end up saying “there is a way…I just have to find it!”
A study on why people leave their jobs in order to work for another company came up with an interesting observation:
More than two thirds of people leave, not because of better prospects or more pay, but because of their poor relationship with their immediate supervisor or manager.
This allows us to ask a question that might address this issue of poor relationships with the people we work for, namely
“How can we get the best out of our boss and give ourselves the best opportunities to keep the communications loops wide open between us?”
Our take on this is to lead your manager proactively, rather than being in the reactive mode of letting them manage us.
This will lead to effective and efficient project management, based on clear and specific goals that will create better results than if we just depended on our manager for guidance all the time.
Here are some tips to ensure you have the best chance of getting those results:
Make a contract with your manager: Find out what an excellent job looks like, and who will be involved in measuring that performance.
Make sure you’re clear on your manager’s expectations: What seems really exquisite work to you may only appear average to them You could ask, “Can we be clear on what standard you are looking for on this project?” Or, “If this went exactly like you wanted it to go and it turned out perfect, what would have to happen between now and that time?” Be aware of all aspects of what the manager wants in the project; sometimes managers don’t tell you everything, and you have to dig deep to get the the details you require.
Be assertive in asking questions that give you clarity of expectations, and don’t assume anything you’re not clear about.
Be clear on what would make your manager happy regarding quality, follow-up and timing: Your manager may have lots of other things on their mind and might forget to tell you such things as a firm deadline or a required step.
And since everyone operates from their own set of realities, the possibility of miscommunication is high. That’s why you need to take the initiative to set expectations for every project your boss assigns you.
You need to find out: “What is the deadline? What are my resources? What checkpoints or milestones do we want to establish, if any? What step or contact person is absolutely critical to this project?”
Just as you set expectations when dealing with clients and co-workers, you need to manage the relationship and set expectations with your boss every time.
Know what your manager’s style is and adapt to that style: Some managers want the whole story, bit by bit, in detail and with commas and full-stops in the right place.
Others just want the big picture, like an executive summary, just to convince them that you’re on the right track. Others want a mixture of both.
Be aware of how your manager wants you to communicate with them. It will be worth your time invested in this important area.
Practice emotional intelligence with your manager when it comes to conflicting interests: A person high in EQ will assess the situation with their manager and identify ways they can communicate effectively to resolve conflict.
One of the best ways to do this is to accept responsibility for the communication. Use “I” rather than “You” to clarify meaning. For instance “I am not clear on this aspect” rather than “You need to explain that clearer”. By taking personal responsibility for any misunderstandings, you clarify in your own mind what standards are being expected, and create better long-term relationships with your manager
If other managers are involved in the project, be aware of their interests and styles:
Keeping up with the expectations and styles of many managers involved in the project may be tricky. Keep in mind the one thing that matters most to each of the stakeholders you have to please. Either ask each person what is most important to them, or work out what you have observed in each person’s behavior that you can work with.
This way, you keep the communication lines open and allow each manager to see things from your perspective.
Lead them, rather than the other way round: You can reassess the relationship with your manager on each new project you work on. If you are able to lead them and show them how to get the best out of you, and if you are able to build great communication skills with them and help them lead you better, it results in a fine working relationship that enhances every aspect of the projects you work on together
Chances are, whether you have direct client contact or not, you and your team members are providing some sort of customer service. You may not be dealing with outside clients, but in almost every situation you have some sort of internal client (another team, accounting, human resources, etc). Regardless of who your client may be, you need to have the customer service skills necessary to make your customers happy.
But how do you offer great customer service, from a management standpoint?
The happier your team members, the more their attitudes will rub off on their customer interactions – guaranteed.
I’ve learned a new word. Hyperopia is, simply put, the fancy medical term used to refer to farsightedness.
What does farsightedness have to do with your career as a manager?
It all has to do with work/life balance.
From an economic standpoint, hyeropia is the failure of an individual to make a long-term estimate about the benefits of the work he is doing. In most cases, we believe that the future benefit will be greater than it actually is, and, as a result, we opt to work during times we should be relaxing or spending time witho ur families.
There was an article in Harvard Magazine, in the September-October 2009 issue. In the article, researchers surveyed a group of individuals about the choices they had made in business, and they found something incredibly interesting. If they asked someone if work was more important than leisure time right after a person had to make a decision about that time, they’d choose work. The longer it had been since a pivotal decision making point, the more people felt as though they should have taken some time for themselves.
Hindsight is 20/20, right?
My point is that you, as a manager, need to find great work/life balance. You need to really think about whether or not working overtime is going to have a huge impact on your future – or whether or not you’d rather spend time watching your kids grow up – or preventing illness from overwork.
The choice is up to you.
Too often I see people earn the title of manager and then lose themselves in their new identity. Some will thrive and grow in their new positions while others will become stagnant after a period of time.
Most, when asked, will say they are “a manager” and my next question is always this:
What type of manager are you?
Truth be told, there are plenty of differences. We have general managers, senior managers, managers, supervisors, and – well – you get it… you could place a wide variety of different terms on the different levels or types of management. I know of one company that assigned the title of “Assistant Vice President” to every mid-level manager in the organization. Sounds nice, right? The problem is that many people don’t understand exactly what their titles mean.
Let’s take a look at a couple of those titles and their definitions:
Where do you fall on the management mall map? Are you where you want to be, or are you aching to move up the corporate ladder?