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Making Things Right?

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3973247231_74ecf13184_mAs managers, can we go too far too fast in “making things right?” This issue has surfaced in several recent coaching sessions – entirely understandable because managers often have a strong desire to fix things. Perhaps it’s in their nature, maybe it’s just a misguided byproduct of responsibility, but when managers see something wrong, they tend to want to make it right. Unfortunately this particular urge can be over-developed into triggering an automatic response or even a routine, called reflexive management style. See if this sounds familiar:

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Anna, a Floor Manager whose duties range from office supplies to Human Resources, is greeting Mark, a relatively newer employee in Customer Service, in the Break Room.

 

Anna: Hi Mark. How are things going in Customer Service today?

Mark: Okay, I guess – a little frustrated with incomplete phone messages.

Anna: Oh, are you having problems with Steve?

Mark: I don’t know if it’s a real problem, I’ve just had some difficulties getting a clear picture of things. I get a name and a number but no details. So when I call people back I’m generally unprepared to offer my help. I still get the job done, but it would be nice to know what I was working on before I call.

Anna: Here is what I would do: pull Steve aside and tell him how important it is that you get clear notes on who the caller is and what they want – remind him of the company’s customer service mission – and how important he is in helping you do your job. Tell him you’re making a note of your conversation and if it doesn’t get any better then you’re going to have to pass it on to management.

[/fusion_text][fusion_text]While Anna’s specific advice (probably not that great) isn’t the focus here, did you notice that Mark didn’t actually ask Anna “what should I do?”

Anna just jumped in thinking she was helping. Mark may feel a little overwhelmed by the instruction; he may feel foolish for saying anything to Anna in the fist place; and it may affect his mentioning interpersonal challenges with coworkers in the future. And what about Anna? She can’t help but to manage things, even in the break room. Does she follow-up to make sure things are “fixed” or check to see if Mark takes her advice?

This style of “fixing” is so prevalent that management and leadership researchers have named it The Righting Reflex  – that instinctive feeling to offer advice in the form of an answer, solution, or instruction to correct what is “wrong” or to “help” by relating what you would do. And while it is likely that this type of helping originates with good intention, the result is often far from it.

First, there is structure to consider. When the Righting Reflex kicks in, you stop listening and interject your own ideas into the conversation, often interrupting the other person in the process (this is called a “disconfirming response”) and it can suggest that you don’t care about what the other person has to say and, by extension, that you don’t care for the other person. Like the example above, it is difficult for the other person not to hear the underlying “Just listen to me because I know better than you” in the manager’s response.

Next, there is some basic human nature in the exchange. Even though most of us want to ask for help when confronting difficulties, we also have a natural tendency to resist being told what to do. More importantly, interpersonal issues are best resolved when people are helped to help themselves. People are simply more committed to a process that they are involved in and are more likely to capitalize on what they learn from the conversation – and let’s not overlook that this is an essential (and very powerful) leadership skill.

Facilitating conversations for self-directed change and problem solving rather than giving our own solutions leads to better results and lasting change. Here are some tips for self-guidance:

Don’t Prescribe

Next time you find yourself resisting the Righting Reflex, try to keep the conversation focused on what the person wants and listen. As you do, try to frame you own thoughts around helping them gain insight, challenging their current thinking, and/or urging them to take some action – basically everything short of you directing a solution or trying to solve the problem yourself. Offer advice or provide additional information only if it helps them proceed on their own. This doesn’t mean being passive or unresponsive – quite the opposite. Remember that the bigger goal is not to fix things; it is to increase their capabilities while holding them responsible for changing their situation.

Resist Busyness

Even great leaders find the listening process challenging. It’s often easier to over-manage the discussion and it may be difficult to resist blurting out instructions in the face of a busy schedule and competing demands on your attention. Yes, there are always many items that require attention. And although it may feel passive to be still and listen, it is more likely to be one of the most difficult tasks to accomplish because it requires that you stop doing everything else.

As managers, we have to do more than fix or our relevance will be limited. As leaders, we must be able to build collegial relationships based on respect or our influence will be limited. And while none of us wants to be contributing to our own limitations, these things aren’t easy. It takes awareness and practice to be able to lead with solutions and insight without simply listening and then prescribing a solution. Take time this week to practice listening and resist the Righting Reflex.[/fusion_text][/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_2″ last=”yes” spacing=”yes” center_content=”no” hide_on_mobile=”no” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_position=”all” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”” padding=”” margin_top=”” margin_bottom=”” animation_type=”” animation_direction=”” animation_speed=”0.1″ class=”” id=””][fusion_code]photo credit: Office Rescue via photopin (license)[/fusion_code][/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

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