Good Managers Don’t Have the Luxury of Unprofessionalism

May 3, 2010

I am often asked what’s the hardest part of being a manager and my response is always, “having to have ‘the talks.'”  I’m referring to those difficult conversations that no one likes having, but are necessary in order to improve performance, service, morale, attitude or any other host of issues that need to be brought to someone’s attention.  It is a lousy thing to have to give someone negative feedback, but with practice and time it gets easier.

The problem is though, as managers we are entrusted with the contents of these discussions.  We are expected to not speak about the details with other people who are not directly involved.  We are expected to maintain our staff’s privacy.  In my opinion it is one of the basic tenets of good management and professionalism.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work both ways.

We have all worked in places and/or with colleagues who talk about everything. They spread their own business and sometimes the business of others around.  This is their choice and if they want people to know what is happening, then it is on them.  The problem that arises is the very same one that happens in schoolyards everywhere: the story never stays the same and becomes something very different and sometimes much worse than what it actually was.

Managers do not have the luxury of stepping in and correcting inaccurate details when they overhear them.  We can not make announcements “setting the record straight.”  We can not and should not participate in conversations about discussion we’ve had with our staff.  Consequently, a lot of misinformation gets passed along as fact.  We may seem like we are ignoring problems.  We may be described as “disinterested.”  But that is far from the truth.  Actually we are treating you professionally and maintaining your privacy.

If you’re like me, someone who has a difficult time allowing misrepresentations of what I’ve said persist in my non-work life, knowing that this may be happening and recognizing that you can’t do anything about it is one of the most difficult pills to swallow.  But you do because it is the right thing to do and because you recognize how destructive this can be and you don’t want to add to the problem.

Good managers maintain professionalism even when it’s the last thing they want to do.  Ideally this would work both ways, but in reality it doesn’t.  Good managers keep working to get to that ideal place.

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