6 Noteworthy Tricks Every Successful Manager Should Know

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Managing is hard–not only because it requires directing others, but more importantly, because it requires controlling yourself. As I sat down to write this article at a local restaurant, I watched a manager take all the wrong steps in coaching his employee and it irked me, because what should have been an opportunity to educate became a chance to humiliate instead. We’ve all been in situations where frustrations run high because an employee we have been tasked with supervising either doesn’t know how to do something, is doing it wrong, or isn’t doing anything at all. And while the first reaction might be to want to bang fists on the table, shout in exasperation or send people packing, this can all be avoided by following a simple strategy.

1. Ditch the audience. No one likes to feel stupid, and least of all in public. The restaurant manager who decided to take his employee to task over the way she was making smoothies pointed out that she was doing it incorrectly in front of both her colleagues and her customers. This put her on the defensive, and closed off her willingness to learn. Take the employee aside, out of earshot of others so she knows you are trying to coach not crush her.

2. Ask the intent behind the employee’s actions. The restaurant manager immediately killed his employee’s motivation to make a change when he nastily asked “Are you kidding me? Why are you putting all the fruits in the bin like this?”, and accompanied it with an I-can’t-believe-you’re-this-stupid face. Instead, he should have asked neutrally “What are you trying to get done here?” Allowing the employee to open up about her intentions is a powerful way to hit pause on emotions and help both the manager and the employee to get clarity. Her answer helps the manager to understand what she means to do, and asking her about her intention as if it were not clear, helps her to check in with herself to see if she thinks she is going about it in a way that makes sense.

3. Inquire as to whether the employee thinks there might be another way to perform the task (in an honest, non-patronizing way!). The restaurant manager stared at the fruits stacked by type and then said with exasperation, “Why would you ever do it like this” instead of “Do you think there might be a better way to store the fruits so each smoothie is a true blend of all the ingredients?” The employee shut down even further. She had no desire to search for an alternative way of loading the bin of fruits or to understand why it might be better if they weren’t grouped separately. Had he focused the moment on teaching rather than reprimanding, he might have gotten her to reconsider both why it was important to load the fruits so that they were well mixed and also the possible ways of doing something differently on her own.

4. Explain the purpose of the task. The restaurant manager wanted his employee to understand that the key to making delicious smoothies was to get the right mix of fruits–and that loading the bin so they were evenly mixed would insure that each handful was the right blend before it even hit the blender. Had he helped the employee to see how her loading of the bin properly now would result directly in customer satisfaction, he could get her to viscerally buy into the idea that a) her actions/choices are important, and b) asking for her to do it differently was not to flex his managerial powers, but to help her and thus, the company, succeed.

5. Ask if what’s been discussed makes sense. Education is a two way street. The manager had an opportunity to share his knowledge about the quickest and most foolproof way to make a great smoothie every time, but his employee also needed to be able to question the information he was giving her, until she was sure she both understood and agreed with it. Instead of elevating her to a key player in the dialogue, he made her an uninterested party to a monologue that fell on deaf ears.

6. Test what’s been taught. Had the manager approached his employee with patience and a desire to teach, he would have been able to remain by her side while she tested his theory on how the fruits needed to be organized. This would have given his employee the chance to convert their conversation into a personal victory for herself. She would have put the new information she learned into action, and seen that it was advice she could win with, getting her full buy-in to his methods.

Managing is not about proving who is right, pointing out the shortcomings of another, or establishing power. It is about two human beings sharing wisdom and together finding the best way forward. It should be about teaching, not about torturing.