Can't We Just Get Along?

OK. Get a pencil.

Columns From: 4/1/2000 Modern Machine Shop,

OK. Get a pencil. Assign a number (1-5) to each of the following causes of managerial failure. One (1) is the primary cause and five (5) is the least likely cause.

  • Inability to get along with others.
  • Unable or unwilling to adapt one’s managerial style.
  • The “spurn and scorn” syndrome (alienating others).
  • Fear of action.
  • Inability to recover and rebound.

The causes are in the order in which they appear. Surprisingly, this has been the consistent finding and conclusion of every management poll, study, review and survey over the past 30 years.

Notice: the top three causes of management failure are all behaviorally and interpersonally based. And, not so surprisingly, the inability to get along with others is the most fatal managerial shortcoming and the most difficult to change.

I have always contended that when we better understand ourselves, we are in a better position to understand our relationships with others. From this reflective vantage point, we can see “motive-indicators” for other people’s behavior, rather than arbitrarily assigning blame for their actions. Being a smart manager requires an awareness of why people act the way they do in different situations, and the ability to predict how they’ll act in future situations. Today’s managers need practical approaches that allow them to manage others in any situation, with an emphasis on future success.

Here are five basic areas of behavior that represent the general range of behaviors we encounter at work:

  1. Assertiveness: the measure of a person’s willingness to firmly state a position.
  2. Sociability: the extent to which a person initiates interpersonal and social contact.
  3. Consistency: the preference of a person for routine and regularity or for change, diversity and variety.
  4. Detail Orientation: the degree to which a person is attentive to details.
  5. Self-confidence: the approximate measure of self-esteem, self-assurance, social maturity and consideration for others.

This is what is interesting about these five behaviors: Poor performance is not necessarily a “know-how,” education or motivation problem. It may be a behavioral imbalance between the person and the job. But where do most managers immediately invest their time and energy when confronted by a performance problem? They blame, provide unnecessary training or apply motivational techniques to manage others.

You can’t force someone to be more assertive, sociable, consistent or self-confident, or less attentive to detail.

Rarely do job and person form a perfect behavioral equivalent. Usually the job can be modified to increase desired performance. Behavior change is possible for all of us, but the extent of the change required, the necessary duration of the change, and the capacity of the person to support that extent and duration determine it.

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