Webinar presenter Dr. Ed Sherman answered a number of your questions after his presentation, The Leader’s Dilemma: How to Balance Two Important Needs. Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: Do you see the open-door policy being used by employees to subvert the established chain of command? And if yes, what do you recommend?
Ed Sherman, Psy.D.: That’s a great question. Yes, certainly, it could be used in the wrong way, meaning someone wants a platform in which to have their perspective heard without letting those in the chain of command know. And I do see where it could be used in that manner, but I believe that it has more positivity than negativity to be in the policies and procedures, meaning that if the person that is contacted and who is told about an issue learns that there is a problem afoot, that those in the chain of command below them, or between them and the employee, is not aware of. Then, that leader hopefully will convene those people in the chain of command and address this and try to find out what’s going on. Now, this brings up a great and important point and that is I have been advocating for listening to people. And that is so important. But listening to people does not in any way, shape, or form minimize or reduce the leader’s authority to make the ultimate decision. In other words, we want, and seek input from employees on different kinds of situations. But in no way, does listening to the input obligate leaders to have to follow what is being asked for or suggested by that employee. But we want to have that input available to make the best decisions. So yes, it could be used to somehow subvert the system or go around one supervisor, but hopefully whatever leader is the recipient of that information will convene all of the stakeholders and discuss the situation to try to determine the best outcome.
Audience Question: What would you recommend when you try to connect with an employee, but it’s clear that they’re just not opening up? Are there any conversation starters you can suggest or recommend? How do you kind of overcome those barriers?
Ed Sherman, Psy.D.: Yeah, another great question, and I will say it’s a process. It is a process of building trust. And ideally, the way to do that is to, on a daily basis, demonstrate that culture of open communication. Because again, we want the employee not only to hear the words but to see that modeling, to see the behavior, to see what we are doing. And know that it is sincere and genuine, not just simply checking a box and saying, you know, I connect with my employees. But, if it is a specific employee, the truth is even in a difficult situation, where you know something’s going on, you can only create an environment and a situation where you invite them to share with you and communicate with you. But you cannot, in essence, make them tell you anything. They will only tell you when they are ready, but hopefully, once you have that situation, environment, and culture, where they know it is safe to be able to talk with you, they’ll take advantage of that.
Audience Question: How do you lead a team which you were part of until you were promoted without risking your position and your friendships?
Ed Sherman, Psy.D.: Fabulous. And that was actually one of the situations I had in my first job as a supervisor is, one of the challenges is, when you go from being a peer to being a boss with the same workgroup, that is a very difficult thing to navigate. And the reason is you’re used to socializing with these people. You’re used to talking honestly, you’re used to maybe even gossiping about the leaders and saying, “Gee, I wish it was different or whatever.” And so now, you are the leader, and the leader knows all the inside stories. So that’s a really tricky thing to do, but I would suggest you have to be neutral and remain objective. And one of the things that happen is that there’s a human tendency to either favor our friends or not favor so much the people we don’t care for as much. So, the more that we can evidence that we are fair and neutral and balanced I think that we can navigate that situation a little easier.
Audience Question: How does a leader, boss, or supervisor deal with gossip about them that is both damaging and scary? Like you’re going to be fired or the program’s being dismantled. How does one deal with this when it’s the employees who is supposed to back up the boss with tasks and reputation?
Ed Sherman, Psy.D.: Yeah, so I think the best approach to that is to deal with it head-on. Whenever a boss hears of a rumor of some sort, that means that there’s probably if they’re hearing about it, there’s a lot of other people who know about it. And are concerned about it and may not be speaking about it. So, the best way to deal with that is head-on. And sometimes that concern that’s being expressed might be genuine. Meaning something is there’s going to be some downsizing, or some movement in the organization, or whatever the case may be. And sometimes it is completely inaccurate. And sometimes the leader may not be at liberty to disclose those things at the moment. But the most important thing is to connect with that person or those people in whatever environment will have a safe place to talk privately or comfortably and say, “Hey, I know this is going on, I heard about this. Please, number one, share with me your thoughts and feelings and concerns,” and listen, listen, listen to what’s going on. And then try to offer what you can to inform the person of accurate information and to dispel any incorrect rumors that may be circulating. And, if the rumor is accurate, it may be necessary to say if it’s okay to disclose this at that moment, “Yeah, there are some changes that will be happening, and we will keep you posted. But we don’t want to keep you in the dark. We want to make sure that you are aware of what’s going on,” and I believe that will cause the employee’s anxiety level to decrease significantly.
Audience Question: John shared: I have a staff member that is technically excellent. But brings in negative energy and brings down unit morale. I’ve addressed this with the employee, but how do I move forward with someone who’s doing their job that has a problem with trust and being negative?
Ed Sherman, Psy.D.: Yeah, again, great question. Because one person can really cause the environment to be very negative and that casts a sort of a dark cloud over the whole workgroup. So, again, I will say, it’s very important to deal with that person directly. Reach out to them, if you’ve had conversations and those haven’t been effective in changing it. Here’s the truth – the truth is, most people will be receptive to assistance and resources, but there’s going to be a certain percentage who are not. And, again, I will say, in any helping profession, we cannot help everybody. And at some level, the employee has responsibility for their participation and their role in it, and all we can do is offer resources. And so, if you find that is impairing productivity in the workgroup. Then what I suggest is bring in an expert of some sort, that can help you work on this and offer solutions. But again, solutions are not guaranteed, because the variable is all always, the people who are involved, and some people, most people, are willing to accept help, but there are some people who are not because of what’s going on, and in their own lives, and who they are.
Audience Question: Some supervisors use the check-in as a way to check for updates or information on assigned tasks and projects. Can you share your thoughts on this? And do you have recommendations for employees that are experienced?
Ed Sherman, Psy.D.: Yeah. So, I think that’s valuable, to check in to see the status of projects, to see what’s going on. Especially valuable if the leader is saying, “Do you have everything you need? Do you have all the resources? Is there something that we miss? Do you have all the tools that you need?” That’s terrific. If it’s being done in a way that they’re trying to, I’ll say catch somebody doing something that they shouldn’t be, that’s not necessarily positive. And, again, that might need to be discussed in order to bring that to the force so that the communication is open and transparent, and clear. But, hopefully, check-ins are being used in a positive way. Now, there’s one thing that I didn’t mention earlier, which I should have mentioned and there is a caveat about the check-ins. And that is, if a person talks about something that is protected information, such as a health situation protected by HIPAA or other rules or policies. Be very careful, even though you may be trying to be compassionate, be very careful about probing, or asking about those things. And seek legal advice if you feel like you’re not sure what you can and can’t ask or discuss.
Audience Question: When having to discuss a disciplinary action with an employee who is defensive, what suggestions or recommendations do you have to minimize their defensiveness since their actions continue after previous discussions?
Ed Sherman, Psy.D.: Absolutely. The first thing I would do, although you may have done this already, is to listen first and speak second. Now, again, certain people are, we’ll use the term tough customers. There are some people who are tough customers who are going to tell you all the reasons why they’re right, and you’re incorrect in your perceptions or in your actions. It’s still really important to allow them that airtime, so to speak, to speak about it. But, again, don’t go into the situation, expecting that you can please everyone, or that you’re going to make everyone happy, or when you come away from this transaction, it will be resolved, and it will be comfortable because there are some instances where that’s not possible. And there are some instances where, if that is a continuing problem and impairs the workgroup, meaning it spills over onto other people, you may need to seek some assistance in how to deal with that. If that person is going to remain in the workgroup because it could have a negative consequence to have them sharing with other people their experience. But to build the rapport, to draw them in may not just be that one transaction. This is over time in knowing that, you walk the talk. And you will be able to live those principles that you say, which is, you know, I’m going to be fair and just, and I’m going to listen, but you are still held accountable, and you have to be responsible for fulfilling your duties.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of The Leader’s Dilemma: How to Balance Two Important Needs.