I recently had the privilege of talking with – not a well-known management guru but, Graham (not his real name), a young-ish manager who had been appointed to his first management position a little under a year ago.
His first performance review was excellent and I was curious to find out how he got such good results from his team in such a short time.
Graham explained that he’d been promoted because he was good at his job – editing video for large video producers – and because the current job-holder had been offered another job elsewhere.
He was given no training so he thought it was just a question of sink or swim.
Seeing that this was also his first editing job I wondered how he’d become so competent.
“Mostly learning from my mistakes”, he told me. “I used to ask lots of questions in the early days. I remember there were two managers I could go to for answers.
“One of them would always heave this deep sigh that left you feeling like you were wasting his time. It was that sigh that kept me and others from going to him. Nobody likes to be made to feel stupid.
“The manager I liked better would ask in a no-nonsense tone of voice, “What’s up?”, listen to whatever you were saying, answer your question and that was that. You went back and got on with it.
“I found it slowly built my own confidence and that’s the kind of manager I want to be.”
I knew that he worked in a highly pressured environment so there was a lot of tension and people would become very stressed.
Graham is a very calm individual which came in handy when people were getting really stressed up and, sometimes, barging into his office, frazzled and ready to dump all over him.
I have to confess, I find angry and potentially aggressive people a bit daunting to deal with so I asked Graham if he had a particular approach that worked for him.
I was really struck by his response.
“I discovered that, when emotions run high, people tend to speak very fast. This makes it not only difficult for them to explain what is really going on for them or see a way out but also for me to understand what the problem is so one way I deal with it is by slowing them down.
“Ideally, I’d like to suggest they take a couple of deep, calming breaths but I don’t think that wouldn’t go down very well so, instead, I slow down my own speech and literally give them – and me – a little breathing time.
“I have found that, when I do that, they naturally slow down, especially when I don’t get tense myself in the face of what I might interpret as a potential confrontation. You might say I’m able to create a calming environment.
“When I do that they are then better able to explain the problem more clearly. Sometimes, they can even come up with their own solutions.”
I thought that was a very empowering way of dealing with anxious people who usually know their job but can become a bit overwhelmed by the pressure.
“Are you saying all you have to do is listen?”, I asked him.
“Yes, that too but I also have to ask the right questions. And it helps that I have a small team which means I have a good idea of how to deal with them individually.”
Remembering some of my own past managers – some of which were less than supportive, I wondered what his own manager was like.
“Colin (not his real name) is really good. The main thing is that he trusts me”, he commented. “Most of the time I can get on with my job but the thing is he’s been a manager for a long time and he’s quite happy to let me pick his brains. I’m learning a lot from him”, he added.
But I still had a question that he was, at first, a little reluctant to answer. Fortunately, he did.
“The thing is, Graham, most managers don’t have a naturally calm disposition, do they? So how do you keep yourself calm in a stressful environment?”, I enquired.
Just as I started to think he wasn’t going to answer he said, “I found that meditating has helped me a lot. I’ve been doing it for a couple of years now and it’s made a big difference.”
In going over this article I realised there were quite a few useful tips so here’s a summary of our conversation.
1. Ask yourself how you would like to be managed – then manage your people the same way.
2. I don’t think the sink or swim approach is particularly productive so book yourself on a course that focuses mainly on managing relationships.
3. Not everybody has the time or patience to answer lots of questions, especially if they have more than one person on their team.
Consider putting them under the wing of your most experienced team member and make it part of their job to bring this colleague up to standard and build their confidence.
This is an important role so make sure you choose well.
4. Learn from your mistakes – not just technical mistakes but also when you notice you haven’t handled a particular situation as well as you might have done, and make amends.
5. Become the kind of manager your people trust. This means, listen without judging them, keep your promises, walk the talk, check up on them so they feel you’re interested in their progress.
6. Consider taking up meditation. I suggest that the best way to learn is with others so look into what courses are available locally.
Learning to calm the incessant chatter in your head that keeps you anxious and on edge is really valuable not only at work but in your personal relationships as well.
Blog by Sue Plumtree