Daniel Robin &
Making Workplaces Work Better
Closing the Gap between Management and Worker with Coaching
By Daniel Robin
There is an age-old gap between management and those managed. Employees often
suspect managementís motives and resent having authority imposed on them.
Simultaneously, managers are Ö only human. Some try to delegate authority
still pretending to be in charge. Others resist change or get side-tracked by
office politics and unintentionally take prisoners.
Line supervisors and employees can either help close or widen the gap, and
every day brings countless opportunities to practice and see what works. Roughly
90% of the time, a coaching approach Ė asking rather than telling,
collaborative problem-solving, open and direct communication Ė will make a
huge difference. Of course, not every employee wants to be "coached"
Ö some will say, "Just tell me what to do and Iíll do it Ö ."
The 10% of the time coaching wonít fly will require negotiation skills,
with supervisor sometimes playing diplomatic agent. If an employee has a chip on
their shoulder about "evil management," an up-front negotiation will
serve to form an agreement that either
- Directly resolves the underlying issue or complaint ("You want what?"),
- Sets up a development plan to set expectations for future performance, or
- Helps the employee realize the company/position isnít right for them,
setting a reasonable timeframe for moving on.
The vast majority of employees, however, respond with tremendous appreciation
for managers who even try to use some of these tips and techniques:
- Include employee by equalizing power during negotiations to obtain
"willful, voluntary agreements." Such agreements are more likely to
be upheld fully. If the agreement does break down, it wonít be due to lack
- Avoid giving unsolicited advice. When an employee comes to you with a
problem, step back and get some perspective. Say to yourself, "Thereís
probably a dozen ways to look at this Ö letís try another one." Steer
clear of right-wrong thinking. Allow the employee to vent without rushing to a
solution (sometimes venting is the solution). Eventually get at root
cause by asking open-ended questions Ė especially those that start with
"what," and "how". Refrain from giving advice unless
explicitly asked for your opinion.
- Facilitate, donít force a fix. Allow answers to tough problems to
arrive in their own time; help employee hold the focus on finding a solution
by setting an appointment in a day or so to meet and talk about it.
- Get permission. Respect their boundaries and youíll get yours
respected (or have a powerful basis for insisting that they do). Rely on your
gut and use your intuition Ė listen for what isnít said as well as
what is. Check out your interpretations, assumptions, opinions: "I have a
hunch about XYZ Ö can I run it by you?"
- Praise employees generously. Verbally acknowledge key accomplishments.
Donít get caught faking it Ė give specifics, highlight behaviors or
results that you wish to strategically reinforce. Oh, Remember to say
- Give constructive feedback. You can be tough on an issue when your
approach is solution-oriented. If you donít feel like reinforcing the
positive, wait until you can. At all costs, avoid the "blame frame"
(fix problems, not people). Use the sandwich technique: highlight whatís
working then what isnít. Give your vote of confidence that the
employee should have no trouble making the necessary improvements. Agree on
"how you will both know" they are making progress.
These techniques help others feel heard, that you are willing to give and
get, that thereís mutual respect. After all, we spend so much time working
together, wouldnít it be worth it to gain the trust and cooperation of the
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