Adversarial

March 2015 · 3 minute read

I was listening to a podcast 10x with Joe Polish and Dan Sullivan and in one snippet they touched briefly on being a good manager.

A few statements stood out to me and they were that a good manager should never be adversarial towards staff and that a good manager should never make the statement “the staff are the problem”.

I found this a powerful statement as for long time I’ve valued being supportive not aggressive even if I’ve strayed too closely to letting people off the hook some times.

I had not thought about the notion of being ‘adversarial’ but I had thought of this from the belief that any time I’m about to get angry with someone I want to think about it from a few different angles first. Why am I angry? What will it gain me to be angry? Will it have lasting positive change?

After those few thoughts, it’s rarely worth continuing that emotion fuelled approach. Being angry and taking it out on someone is a very selfish activity with longer term negative ramifications. Poking at someone for them to admit fault with the tone that you already know the outcome - the passive aggressive approach - is the same thing. You’re still just trying to push someone around. You might get to a good answer eventually but at the expense of a terrible interaction.

Instead I try to think what can I do to help that person improve the situation? What do I need to communicate about my expectations? How do I ask them for what the actual situation is first before I put my assumptions into the mix. Its remarkable how often there is more to it than you perceive so my goal is to give the person the chance to explain that, not as an excuse, but rather demonstrating the respect that I believe they might be taking actions of their own. Respect is a key word here.

Giving people the chance to show their take on a solution hopefully inspires them over time to do better. They know your first question will be “what are your recommendations?”. I’ve seen first hand how the nurturing of confidence and initiative can make life easier. It is also such a better experience to hear how course corrections were developed through taking initiative rather than hearing them used as a defence against a negative and presumptuous tone.

This shouldn’t be confused for being weak. Weakness is knowing a situation and letting people off whilst not doing anything about it. That’s why I see getting angry and walking away as weaker than listening and solving a problem. Taking a situation, getting everyone to acknowledge it, making plans to improve upon it I think is a stronger way to tackle a problem. People should feel motivated to make change in an effort to succeed as a group, not out of guilt, fear or anger.

If a correction doesn’t work that’s an indication for more corrections and possibly personal ones as part of that. Sometimes we need to see that a failing was our attempt at executing a solution, not just the solution itself.

A person that is known to be unapproachable about problems starts to become part of a system that is lied to and people work around. Being approachable you can at least stand a chance of getting the honesty needed to assess risks and make changes.

I would rather be a part of working towards a solution than feel that brief satisfaction that I got to be angry at someone and made them say I was somehow right. Anger is tiring and counterproductive. You can be firm about a situation without it.