By Eileen L. Berman, Ed.D.
I received e-mail recently from one of my readers with regard to my February 2011 blog, “The Courage Factor.” This reader – let’s call her Mary – has a supervisory job that entails making process changes on a continual basis in order to promote greater productivity. Mary is having difficulty implementing her role as a change agent as she fears the reactions of her colleagues. To say that Mary has a confrontational problem would be an understatement. She has the type of job which tests her courage on a daily basis as it challenges her ability to withstand pushback which is usually inherent in any type of requested change.
If you have the type of personality that needs constant approval in order to prove your worth, then this is not the job for you. If you have a low stress level, then this type of position is going to give you tremendous anxiety as the interpersonal and confrontational nature of this job can be very trying. So what can be done to enhance Mary’s effectiveness and ensure that she meets the requirements of her job?
First, Mary has to learn the difference between confronting the person and confronting the issue. She must be certain that the way she phrases her evaluation in order to influence someone to change a procedure, is couched in words that describe the issue only and that the person performing the task doesn’t interpret her comments in a personal way. In other words, it is extremely important to avoid sounding as if she is launching a personal attack.
That being said, there will be times when Mary will say everything correctly … focusing on the job at hand and how to improve the process with no intent to personalize the request … when the person on the receiving end will personalize it. That is the time when Mary has to have a thick skin and confront that issue … again, not the person! By assuring the employee that this was not meant to be a personal indictment but rather an effort to change the process, Mary will begin to suffer less anxiety. This is part of the “courage factor” which is so necessary to the implementation of her job.
This type of confrontation requires practice in order to be skillful at it. Employing the pronoun “I” rather than “you” will enhance this process but it does take time and effort to be able to employ this type of interaction on a regular basis. Also, she has to develop a feeling of trust and respect within the team.
How does she go about this? By communicating in a team meeting some of her frustrations and asking for suggestions as to how they can become more productive. This intervention requires a lot of listening with very little talking on Mary’s part. The message must be clear, however, that everyone is responsible for the outcome as that is what teams are all about.
Mary cannot run away from what is preventing her from being an effective supervisor as, unfortunately, that is the nature of her job! And, yes, this is the Courage Factor in full bloom.
Dr. Berman is a psychologist/consultant in Rhode Island and a regular contributor to “Personnel Perspectives.”