My Way Or The Highway?

Ever wonder why all the oddballs show up on your doorstep? Could it be that you are a "loser magnet"? Think about it. You have been managing and supervising employees for years, and for some puzzling and mystifying reason, many different workers have found innovative ways to replicate their inflexible and uncompromising patterns of negative behavior with you.

Columns From: 3/1/2002 Modern Machine Shop,

Ever wonder why all the oddballs show up on your doorstep? Could it be that you are a "loser magnet"? Think about it. You have been managing and supervising employees for years, and for some puzzling and mystifying reason, many different workers have found innovative ways to replicate their inflexible and uncompromising patterns of negative behavior with you. They have done it before with other authority figures. You are just their next unsuspecting victim—lucky you! Unintentionally, you may be triggering and augmenting their negative cycle of behavior, all the while thinking that you are the best coach they ever had.

The source of many of the problems managers have with inflexible workers can be isolated to differing outlooks on how work should be done. There are basically only two ways of getting work done: by yourself or with others.

Some tenacious workers are inclined to work alone; others feel vulnerable when they are denied the chance to work as part of a group. If you reflect on your own work routines, you'll probably realize that you have predispositions in this area, and these predispositions can impact how you relate to your workers. If your first gut reaction is to get work done on your own, you may have little tolerance for someone who prefers to take advantage of group input at every crossroad. Conversely, if you place your faith in the opinions and experiences of others, you may feel awkward and debilitated working with someone who prefers to "fly solo."

So, what's a manager to do? Sometimes managers have little or no wiggle room in the way a job function is planned and controlled. Nevertheless, the attitude and expectations that surround one's work can be far more important at the end of the day than the actual steps that have to be performed. When a manager typically demands "acting on your own" and a worker prefers to "check with the group first," discontent and disgruntlement may result.

Brooding over whether or not a worker "ought to" be able to work in exactly the same way you do is likely to lead to further troubles in the relationship. You can take steps to thwart quarrels over "who's right" by helping the determined worker who prefers to work alone find some aspect of the task that entails independent action or assessment. You may even want to consider assigning a project (even a less significant one) for which the worker will be personally responsible. Even simple changes in working arrangements and schedules can make a difference in attitude.

Likewise, uncovering ways to allow the employee who prefers to work with others to make suggestions as a member of a group may help you to diminish or eradicate many workplace conflicts. You may want to encourage work on a team-related project­ and remember not to pressure the person for on-the-spot decisions if you can possibly avoid it.

Workers respond best when managers let them work in ways that support and reinforce their preferences.

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