More on the Professional/Personal Divide
May 5, 2008
I was asked if I had any more advice on how to intellectually separate the professional/personal life and deal with the consequences that decisions in one have on the other. I am trying to avoid a lame, cop-out answer like, it boils down to your personality type, but I may not be able to steer clear from there. I thought about this a lot today and I think that there are several strategies that can be helpful here.
The main issue is when we, as managers, are forced to make uncomfortable decisions or move into an arena outside of our comfort zone. How do we not allow those incidents and feelings to invade our personal lives?
Sometimes we can’t. Sometimes we are forced to deal with a situation that just plain sucks from every angle and there is no graceful, pleasant solution and we end up taking that home with us. Through experience I have learned some ways to make this part of the manager job less painful.
1. Be honest and transparent from day one. Establishing a reputation as an honest, straight shooter who does not talk around a point, nor act evasive when asked a direct question goes a long way when having to deal with an unpleasant personnel situation. People want to hear the truth and know what is going to happen to them, vague or untrue responses will only add fuel to the fire and can make a situation go from bad to worse in a heartbeat.
2. Give constant positive and/or corrective feedback. I am constantly amazed when people are surprised that they are getting a less than stellar evaluation or are reprimanded for repetitive unacceptable behavior. A good manager discusses a behavior, conduct, or performance issue with the staff member the first time it happens and provides corrective or instructive feedback and sets clear expectations for change. On the flip side, positive reinforcement lets staff know that what they are doing is great and is encouraged. It is easier to point out horrible customer service when stellar customer service is praised. If a problem is recurring, it should be dealt with every single time it happens. If a disciplinary process exists, you may need to utilize it, and no one should be surprised that this is where the issue went.
3. Maintain trust. Staff are more apt to discuss issues honestly with you if they know that it won’t end up as Monday morning gossip. This one really speaks for itself. You can not be a successful manager if you can’t keep private information private.
4. Accept that people are the master of their own destiny. One of my favorite sayings is that, “I am not responsible for keeping anyone in a job. I am responsible for coaching, mentoring, providing feedback, setting goals and objectives, and working together with staff to create a positive work environment. After that, it is on you.” You can’t force someone to do what they need to do, nor can you force them to change. All you can do is help provide the tools, incentives, instructions and guidance to help them perform up to expectations. It is not your fault if they choose not to take advantage of what you are offering and then suffer the consequences. This is heavily tied to honest, open communication. You need to make sure that you are communicating expectations and assistance clearly and concisely. Sometimes referring a person to outside resources (i.e. HR or training & development) is a solution. Whatever the course of action, make sure you are clearly laying out the path that needs to be followed. Assist when necessary, but beyond that, you can’t make a person take the path.
5. Have a life outside work. I know this sounds trite and smug, but it is a lot easier to deal with work when you have something to look forward to when you leave at the end of the day. We have all been workaholics at one time or another. We have all put in the 14 hour days, but at some point it needs to end and a healthy balance of work and life needs to happen. Indulge in your favorite hobby, go out with friends and loved ones, go home and talk about something else. It is often said and it really is true, don’t take work home with you.
These are what I consider the important points when dealing with unpleasant work situations. Over the years I have learned the value and importance of each of them and put them into practice every day. There are still days, weeks, situations that leave me feeling quite beat up and bruised, but I get over them relatively quickly.
There was a time in my career when I took these types of interactions seriously to heart and would spend days feeling awful about them. At some point I learned and accepted all of the above and realized that situations at work die down over time. They do not define me as a human being, nor do they make a deep statement about my soul and character. We tend to get caught up in the moment, but in the end, the discomfort does pass.
The good news (sorta) is the more practice you get in dealing with these types of uncomfortable issues, the easier it gets the next time.