This is a question I am often asked during training sessions. Many people find it difficult to talk to their managers about things they are unhappy about, feel are not going well, or do not like about the manager’s style. Often, the situation has been going on for many months, with resentment building. Partly this seems to be related to the way many people feel their managers “should” behave. Comments include:
“But she’s my manager; she should know that.”
“My manager just doles out work without any discussion and we don’t like it, but we don’t know what to do.”
“I’m worried if I say something it will ruin my relationship with my manager.” In this case the relationship didn’t seem to be great anyway!
To some people, the manager represents an authority figure and they believe that authority figures should know the “right” way to do things and shouldn’t need to be challenged. I think this comes from a subconscious alignment of people in management roles with the way we are often taught to think about parents or teachers as children.
This situation is difficult for the member of staff. It is also a real disadvantage to the manager, who needs staff to be able to discuss problems and issues so that they can feel engaged and motivated at work, work well in the team, and contribute to the smooth working of the department.
Partly it is related to a lack of practice in speaking up for oneself and taking responsibility for oneself at work. One of the solutions is to provide staff with an opportunity to learn and practise how to raise and discuss difficult issues with managers by:
• Being respectful but honest
• Describing the issue with examples and how it affects them personally
• Saying what they would like to be different
For example, the employee whose manager “doles out work without any discussion” could learn to say:
“I would like to be able to have some choice of tasks. At the moment, you decide what we will each do. What I’d prefer is if we could discuss the options and decide together who does what. What do you think?”
Contrary to the belief that the manager “should” know how do things “right”, many managers would benefit from a bit of upward coaching of this kind from staff. This manager, who may not have had any training, may see the role of manager as “doling out” the tasks. Whatever the actual situation, the dialogue may clear the air and provide an opportunity to explain boundaries and show some flexibility which suits the tasks involved.
These are the sort of skills which are still often called “Soft” as if they are not as important as others. However, I hear of departments and teams reduced to a silent, simmering paralysis by this kind of inability to talk it through – a real threat to their productivity. For information on how I can help with these sorts of situations in organisations go to my website page on Communication.