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"Oh, wad some power the girlie gie us to see oursels as others see us."
Robert Bums, 1786
Building Productive Managerial Relationships
Have you ever wished that you could magically know what other people are really thinking about you when you are interacting with them? There are plenty of reasons why this information could be very valuable to you as a manager. There may also be plenty of reasons why you would rather not know.
"That incompetent SOB. He's trying to get me to do his job again."
"Another phony smile. She doesn't really care about me."
"He makes me feel so stupid and helpless."
"She's treating me like a child. When I get the chance, I'll slip it to her good."
"He asks questions as if doubting everything I say."
"She does all the talking. Obviously, my opinion doesn't count."
"His poker face keeps me guessing whether he understands me or is even listening to me."
"She argues with everything I say. I'm always wrong. She's always right."
Thousands of managers have such things said about them every day. But because they can't get inside the heads of their subordinates, peers, and superiors, they are unaware of why they are having such problems. In fact, many of them are unaware of any problems existing at all. And we're talking about some of the brightest managers with the best technical track records in industry today. In most of these cases the problem is not lack of experience, energy, intelligence, or dedication but neglect of building and maintaining productive relationships with others. In attempting to determine what managers need most to be effective, a countless number of surveys have produced a very consistent answer. More than anything else, a manager needs to be able to get along with other people. You probably aren't too surprised with this answer. Then why is it still such a monumental problem for so many managers?
One reason is that managers typically are not well trained in relating productively with others. Many managers today have advanced degrees in business administration, engineering, or the like, but such technical expertise does not magically confer equivalent expertise in managing relationships. And neither do years of successful experience in a technical area. Consequently, most managers simply are not as well equipped to deal with people problems as they are with technical ones. Even if they were, chances are that most managers would not think in terms applicable to people problems.
In the business world, management is almost always viewed in terms of productivity. Why? Because productivity is the key to the success of the organization and to your future as a manager. You evaluate your subordinates on how much they produce, because you are evaluated on how much they produce. Under this one-dimensional system of evaluation, it is easy to slip into the point of view that people are similar to such other resources as material and money, which are to be exploited as much as possible for the company's good. Today's employees will not tolerate this type of treatment without severe negative consequences for both their own well-being and their contribution to the company's goals. Successful managers realize that for employees to be most productive, they must have opportunities for satisfying their own needs built into the work environment. Consequently, managers need a thorough awareness of employees' values, needs, and reasons for behaving, as well as personal skills in communicating with and motivating employees toward the accomplishment of organizational goals in ways that will be accepted and not resented.
Getting the work out is only one side of the productivity coin. For long-term effectiveness, you must accomplish this work by being sensitive to the needs of those who work for and with you. In fact, management by definition is getting the work done through the efforts of other people. You may be able to get short-term results by exploiting and dominating people, but your effectiveness -- and maybe your career -- will no doubt be jeopardized in the long term. The resulting hostility and resentment that will have built up will eventually be released, either openly or secretly, to cause your failure as a manager.
An analogy often used to illustrate the two sides of the productivity coin is that of a bicycle. Technical knowledge and people knowledge can be thought of as the two wheels. Technical knowledge is the back wheel, which makes the bicycle go. It supplies the drive that you have to have to go anywhere. Obviously, technical management is important. The front wheel is the people knowledge. It steers, directs, and takes the back-wheel power where you want to go. You can have all the back-wheel expertise in the world; but if people won't cooperate or don't know where to go with it, you won't go anywhere. This is what Interactive Management is all about!
No matter how ambitious or capable you are, you cannot be an effective manager without knowing how to establish and maintain productive relationships with others. You must know how to relate so that others want to work with you and accept you rather than reject you.
Does this mean that you become mushy and other-directed, primarily concerned with servicing the needs and desires of others? Or that you should develop a master strategy that will give you the breaks at the expense of others, or enable you to play up to those who can do you the most good while paying little attention to others? The answer to these questions is, of course, a resounding no!
It does mean, however, that you should sincerely do everything you can to develop strong, friendly, honest, and trusting relationships with all of the people you work with, including your bosses, subordinates, and fellow managers. In your position as a manager, you automatically assume two responsibilities: (1) to do the best technical job you can with the work assigned to you, and (2) to interact with all people to the best of your ability. It is with the second of these responsibilities that this book is designed to help you. The goal is to develop your skills of managing transactions with others in ways that spell success for yourself, others, and the organization as a whole.
THE INTERACTIVE APPROACH TO MANAGING PEOPLE
Research on human personality suggests that healthy individuals need to be treated with respect and to have opportunities to feel competent and independent as they actively pursue goals to which they are committed. Unfortunately, research on technical management indicates that its directive, production-oriented characteristics tend to create situations where employees feel dependent, submissive, and passive and where they use few of their important abilities, let alone developing them. Their activities are aimed at the organization's and manager's needs rather than at their own; and they often end up frustrated, resentful, and underproductive. Under these conditions, employees will tend to adapt by leaving, manifesting defense mechanisms (such as daydreaming, aggression, or ambivalence), or rebelling openly against the manager and the system.
If employees leave or use defense mechanisms to suppress their frustrations, management may not even be aware of the problems being created. In the case of open rebellion, however, the technical manager's responses are usually in the form of "corrective actions" such as increased controls, stiffer penalties, or other actions that tend to compound the employees' frustrations. The result is an increasing distance, mistrust, and resentment on both sides. Nobody wins.
The interactive management philosophy was developed to overcome some of these manager-employee relationship problems. Although the ideas are not radically new, how they are combined in establishing the supervisor-employee relationship makes this approach unique. It is based on the philosophy that it is neither healthy nor profitable to manipulate or exploit other people. This philosophy incorporates the belief that people perform effectively because they understand and feel understood by the supervisor, not because they are forced to comply by a mandate from above. It revolves around helping people understand procedures rather than forcing them to comply. The entire process is built around trust-bond relationships that require openness and honesty. Table 1-1 points out some major differences between interactive and technically oriented management.
Company Oriented versus Employee Oriented. In technical management, the manager is predominantly interested in the task instead of the employee. Getting the job done, regardless of the human costs, is the primary motivator. Verbal and nonverbal behaviors suggest urgency, impatience, and dominance.
On the other hand, the interactive manager fills the role of a counselor, consultant, and problem solver. Helping the subordinate determine the best course of action and how to implement it takes top priority. All verbal and nonverbal behaviors project trust, confidence, patience, empathy, and helpfulness. The result in this new form of management is a close, open, trusting manager-employee relationship -- a win-win relationship.
Table 1-1 Differences between Technical and Interactive Management
Company oriented Employee oriented
Tells Explains and listens
Forces compliance Develops commitment
Task oriented People oriented
Thwarts needs Satisfies needs
Creates fear and tension Establishes trust and understanding
Tells versus Explains and Listens. The technical manager dominates the conversation, asking for little verbal input from subordinates except to indicate compliance at appropriate points. Conversely, in interactive management the emphasis is on problem solving that incorporates two-way discussion and feedback. The manager is knowledgeable, competent, and confident in the verbal communication skills of questioning, listening, and feedback.
Forces Compliance versus Develops Commitment. Power and authority are key buzzwords for the technical manager. "Do it my way or else!" "Managers are the thinkers. Employees are the doers." "Management makes the decisions around here!" These are familiar phrases in technical management. Thus, the manager controls, persuades, and figuratively "browbeats" employees to do as requested now, whether or not they are ready. Although this technique may work in the short run, it generates dissatisfied workers who are apt to rebel subtly or quit when they get the chance.
ardAn effective blending of short-term and long-term objectives is the trademark of interactive managers. They allow employees "breathing room" to solve their own problems in a reasonable period of time. Immediate compliance is not as important today as building an efficient and effective work team. Although this orientation may take a little longer in getting positive results from the employees, it leads to less resentment, more manager-employee trust and goodwill, better long-term morale, and greater team effectiveness.
Task Oriented versus People Oriented. Meeting production deadlines is more important to the technical manager than developing people. This orientation very often leads to frustrated employees who only give the minimum required effort.
Interactive management is people oriented. The employee's problems and/or needs are as important as the task. The interactive manager's ultimate objective is to develop relationships with employees so that they are motivated to accomplish organizational goals of their own volition.
Inflexible versus Adaptable. Technical managers typically approach and interact with different employees in the same way all the time. They are not sensitive to variations in the styles, needs, and problems of their different employees. Technical managers often are insensitive and oblivious to cues that an individual employee has unique and pressing needs at this particular time or under the present circumstances.
Flexibility is a key skill used by interactive managers. They are flexible in communicating with all different styles of employees. Their management style is adapted to each individual employee and situation. They are simultaneously perceptive of the verbal and nonverbal cues that a subordinate sends and are willing and able to change their approach and objective if necessary.
Thwarts Needs versus Satisfies Needs. When you tell someone that you know what the person's problem is and proceed to present the solution to it without getting much feedback, the person tends to become defensive, secretive, and resentful. The interaction becomes more like a battle -- a win-lose situation. An employee will not freely share important information with a manager under these conditions and often will create "smoke screens" (false fronts) to throw the manager off balance. Obviously, this is not a productive relationship.
In interactive management, the supervisor is skilled in information gathering in order to help the employee openly and honestly discover personal needs and problems. With this approach, the employee perceives the relationship as a "helping'' one. Trust, confidence, and openness are free flowing in this "win-win" association. In addition, the employee is totally involved in the solution process with the manager. This allows the employee to be more personally committed to the implementation of the plan.
Creates Fear and Tension versus Establishes Trust and Understanding. The six previously discussed behaviors culminate in a supervisor-subordinate relationship based either on fear and tension or on trust and understanding. In technical management, fear and defense levels are high. Both the manager and the employee play games with each other (for a detailed discussion on games, refer to Chapter 5). Management becomes more of a process of persuasion and control rather than problem solving and facilitation. The supervisor-employee relationship deteriorates as defensiveness and distrust continue to increase.
Conversely, in interactive management, trust, acceptance, and understanding are the norm. The supervisor-employee communication process is open, honest, and straightforward. Information is openly shared, and problems are genuinely resolved. Whether or not a decision is made, both supervisor and employee feel good about each other and about their interaction. Both sides win.
PRINCIPLES OF INTERACTIVE MANAGEMENT
There are four basic principles behind the interactive management philosophy. They are aimed at developing a trusting relationship between two adults. This is in contrast to technical management, which typically develops as a suspicious relationship between a naughty child and a critical parent.
1. The entire management process is built around trust-bond relationships that require openness and honesty on the part of both the supervisor and the employee.
2. Subordinates comply, not because they are made to, but because they feel understood by the manager and understand the problem.
3. People strive for the right to make their own decisions. They resent being manipulated, controlled, or persuaded into making a decision even if that was the decision they would ultimately have made.
4. Do not solve subordinates' problems. They will resent the solution, and if you as the manager inflict the solution, they will resent you also. Point out problems; don't solve them. Let subordinates solve their own problems with your help.
By following these principles, the interactive manager allows employees to obtain optimum personality expression while at work. Employees are permitted to be more active than passive, more independent than dependent, to have more control over their world, to feel accepted and respected, and to exercise many of their more important abilities. As employees experience these things with their supervisor, a trust bond is formed that facilitates the development of an effective team made up of satisfied, productive individuals held together through healthy interpersonal transactions.
INCREASING EMPLOYEES' ON-THE-JOB EFFECTIVENESS
We realize that it will be difficult for managers who are held responsible for results and who have been used to "keeping on top" of what subordinates are doing to drop old habits suddenly and trust that employees will automatically and immediately take the ball. In fact, they probably won't. Their experience has taught them that you are in charge and that their roles are to implement what you direct. So we're talking about a gradual process with initial risks of mistakes and failures. These must be seen as opportunities for learning and not as dangers to be avoided for fear of reprisal.
In communicating this atmosphere of growth and learning to employees, keep in mind that your actions speak louder than words. Don't attempt interactive management unless you are willing to trust your employees and give them the opportunities to adjust to your changed style and expectations.
There is a five-step process we recommend to ease the transition and aid in the establishment of effective relationships for joint problem solving. These five steps, presented in Table 1-2, enable the interactive management philosophy to be translated into action. Can you see the probable differences in employees' reactions to the two management procedures?
Trust Bond. Mutual respect and understanding are prerequisites for joint problem solving. The development of a firm trust-bond relationship with your employee is the foundation of interactive management. Employees prefer a supervisor on whom they can rely, someone who cares about them and will help fulfill their personal needs. Under these conditions, employees can let their guard down and not worry about being exploited. They can dare to experiment and take risks conducive to personal and professional development.
Table 1-2 Technical versus Interactive Management Procedures
Establish power base. Establish trust bond.
What is your problem? Define the problem situation.
Here is my plan for you. Let us make a new action plan.
If you don't do it... Commitment and implementation.
I'll be watching you! Follow-through
The interactive manager must acquire an understanding of the subordinates and the communication skills to facilitate the building of a mutual trust relationship. This provides both an opportunity and a threat for many managers, because it requires them to be more open and complete as people in their own role as managers.
Define the Problem. Once a strong trust bond has been established with subordinates (or even while building the trust bond), the interactive manager deepens the relationship by becoming totally involved in the problem-solving process with the employees. It is mutually determined what exactly the current situation is like for the employees. What are their personal and task goals? What are subordinates currently doing to solve their problems or satisfy their needs? This diagnostic activity relies very heavily on effective information sharing and information-gathering skills, as well as a keen understanding on the part of the manager of the "style" differences among employees.
The interactive manager determines whether the subordinate is fully satisfied with their relationship and working procedures. The employee is urged to crystallize personal goals and objectives and to match them with the company's objectives to determine if the current relationship is the most efficient and effective method of achieving the desired results for both. This situational analysis leads to the conclusive question: Can another plan of action be more productive in helping the employee and the company achieve mutual goals and objectives?
Develop New Action Plans. Together, both the interactive manager and the employee begin planning new courses of action. The major role of the supervisor is to ask the proper questions in order to help the subordinate solve her own problems. The supervisor "actively" listens to the employee and helps direct the process toward the realization of both personal and professional goals and company objectives. Hopefully, the newly derived action plan will be mutually beneficial. However, it is important to remember that the interactive manager acts as a guide and not as a controller, manipulator, or persuader. If the employee is allowed to "discover" the solution for herself, it will have more personal meaning and value. Hence, it is more likely to be implemented -- enthusiastically.
Commitment and Implementation. The commitment process in interactive management centers on "when," not "if." If subordinates are allowed to have a major role in determining goals and objectives and to design a workable plan to optimize those desired results, they become personally committed to the implementation of the plan. The manager's role is to ask the employee to commit to her own plan at some specific point in time.
Follow-Through. In step 4 of interactive management, "Commitment and Implementation," the supervisor asked the subordinate to make a commitment to the new action plan. In step 5, the supervisor makes a commitment to the employee. The supervisor must assume the responsibility and the challenge to maintain the relationship after the agreement has formally been made. The supervisor must constantly seek feedback from the subordinate to monitor the situation and the results. The supervisor must react to situations before they become problems rather than waiting for something to happen that requires "fixing up." In the final analysis, it is follow-through that determines the future relationship with an employee. The interactive manager develops a thorough follow-through strategy for each employee that firmly cements their long-term professional and personal relationship. The follow-through is a sensitive, constructive process as opposed to the traditional suspicious overseer's approach.
These steps of Interactive Management, which are covered in detail in the last part of this book, are transformed into action through the use of specific skills that are covered in the first two parts. Part I, "Understanding People," explores the unique differences in how people learn, interact with others, and make decisions. Part II, "Interactive Communication Skills," covers in detail the verbal, vocal, and observable communication processes. Let's look a little closer at these two crucial parts and how their chapters unfold.
Learning How to Learn. Successful managers today can be distinguished, not so much by their particular knowledge or skills, but by their ability to adapt and master changing job and career demands. All of us have unique ways of learning with both strong and weak points. It is important for managers to be aware of their own and subordinates' learning styles and the alternatives made available. Personal and team development can then proceed in the most efficient and effective manner.
Doing Unto Others. People with different behavioral styles inherently create tension between themselves simply by being near each other. As this tension increases, the probability of their establishing a trust bond decreases. In order to increase the chances of establishing trust with others, you must be able to keep tension at a minimum level. This requires knowing how to identify the different behavioral styles and how to relate to each style effectively and productively. In order to relate effectively and differentially, the interactive manager must (1) learn about the behavioral characteristics of each behavioral style, (2) be able to identify the behavioral style of the person with whom he or she is dealing, and (3) acquire skills in behavioral flexibility in order to treat people the way they want to be treated.
Deciding How to Decide. Different people perceive and process information in different ways. The interactive manager must be able to perceive these differences and adapt to them in order to utilize employees' abilities most effectively. It is important to have methods for assessing your own and others' decision styles and to know how to apply this knowledge in fruitful information exchange for effective goal setting, decision making, and implementation.
Analyzing Transactional Styles. In transactional analysis (TA), the emphasis is on examining manager-subordinate styles of relating. Our focus on TA is to introduce supervisors to a simple and effective technique for improving their understanding of how and why people relate to others as they do. This should lead to an increased effectiveness in interpersonal communications, which will aid the supervisor in securing genuine cooperation and respect from subordinates.
INTERACTIVE COMMUNICATION SKILLS
The Art of Questioning. This chapter covers the various types of questions, when to use them, how to use them, and with whom to use them; the art of getting the other person to "open up"; and how to ask the proper questions to allow subordinates to discover things for themselves.
The Power of Listening. This type of listening involves hearing your employee's words, processing that information in your mind, and using that information to help structure your relationship. It also involves verbally and nonverbally projecting to your subordinate that you are really listening. There are numerous learnable skills for "actively" listening to other people. This is one of the best ways to establish trust relationships with others.
Projecting the Appropriate Image. How you "come across" to others very often determines how they will treat you. If you project a good image -- professional, authoritative, knowledgeable, successful, enthusiastic, and so on -- your employees are much more likely to trust you, believe you, and accept your leadership and guidance. If your image is inappropriate, the opposite is likely to happen. This chapter explores various ways for you to project appropriate images of yourself to others.
Communicating through Voice Tones. When it comes to choosing between the meaning of what is said versus how it is said, people most often choose the latter. The same exact words said with a different vocal emphasis can have significantly different meanings. Effective communication requires an awareness not only of the way you say things but also of the vocal intonations of your employees in order to gather more information, meaning, and feeling from the words spoken.
Using Body Language Effectively. This is regarded by many experts as the most important element of nonverbal communication, if not the most important factor of communication in general. You not only receive positive and negative vibrations from others in the form of body language; you also send them. Therefore, an important communication aspect of interactive management is an awareness of the silent messages you send to your subordinates and of the body language they project to you.
Spatial Arrangements Say Things. The way we use time, space, and things "says" things to other people. When people are kept waiting or you don't have enough time to spend with them, negative feelings are created. When you intrude too closely on your subordinates' personal space or territory, you'll notice that they become uncomfortable and uneasy. Space violations of this nature can block the trust-building and communication processes without your ever knowing why. The nature of your relationship may also be affected by your use of things to communicate, consciously or unconsciously, relative status and images.
Making Sure with Feedback. Feedback is necessary to verify that you understand exactly what others are communicating to you. More subtly, feedback is a way of showing sensitivity to the nonverbal messages that your employees are communicating to you.
Manipulation is a nasty word to most of us; yet if it is looked at in a constructive way, it is an integral part of interactive management. Actually, we all try to control the attitudes and behavior of others, and they are working just as hard to manipulate us. We start trying to manipulate others in infancy and continue until death. Those of us who are managers, supervisors, or teachers are paid to be manipulators. Rather than try to deny reality, let's take a closer look at the process. If we substitute the word lead, motivate, manage, or some other polite name, it may make the idea more palatable. Better yet, look at manipulation with respect to its outcome. If the outcome is destructive, manipulation will cause resentment, anger, and defensive reactions. On the other hand, if the outcome is constructive and helps others to obtain their objectives, it produces mutual respect and trust. For example, threatening someone is a manipulative technique that does not work. But positive reinforcement, another manipulative technique, does work, because it builds the other person's self-esteem. It's not necessarily what you do that counts; it's how you do it!
Parenting, teaching, counseling, and managing are all manipulative roles in which we try to get others to do what they "ought" to do. Constructive manipulation is often essential to helping people overcome self-defeating behaviors that interfere with effective performance or their own personal growth. Some of us are better at constructive manipulation than others. Some ground rules that may help follow.
1. Modeling. -- Perhaps the most powerful method of manipulating is your personal example. If you obey rules and set high standards for yourself, your employees will take the lead from you.
2. Give feedback. -- Keep your door open. Encourage employees to talk to you about their problems. Listen. Then give employees as much information as you can. Also provide information about competition, productivity, costs, and other factors that affect their jobs. Most importantly, give feedback on good job performance. This can be as simple as a comment of "Good work" or a notice on the bulletin board.
3. Confront. -- Explain to employees why mistakes or poor performance are important and costly to the company. This kind of feedback, given in a understanding way, is essential if problems are to be solved and avoided in the future.
4. Value others. -- Although employees may have hang-ups and problems you don't have, remember that they do have the same human needs you do -- to be accepted and to feel valued and worthwhile, to themselves and others. Providing satisfaction of these needs for recognition is the cornerstone of building productive relationships.
5. Set high expectations. -- People do better with praise, encouragement, and expressed confidence than they do with humiliation, impatience, and indifference. A long list of studies have demonstrated that if we communicate our expectations that a person will do well, the outcome will probably be high performance, and vice versa. This concept of self-fulfilling prophecies is a powerful management tool. If employees are perceived as potentials rather than problems, possessing strengths rather than weaknesses, they will be more productive and grow to their capabilities.
6. Positive stroking. -- This is perhaps the most direct way of acknowledging the value of others. Positive strokes are compliments relating to the other person's behavior in a particular situation. Examples are: "You sure are a pleasure to work with" or "I really appreciate the tact you used in handling that angry customer."
WHAT TO EXPECT
The finest stroke you can give anyone is your active attention and listening without judging or criticizing what that person has to say. Also, people are willing to listen and take action on suggestions only when they trust the person who gives those suggestions. Consequently, the primary theme of this book is creating trust bonds leading to constructive positive relationships with others as a means to personal, professional, and organizational effectiveness. To do this, it is essential to understand ourselves and others, to be effective in communicating this understanding, and to be able to facilitate the achievement by others of mutually acceptable goals.
A major portion of this book focuses on helping you learn ways to build the trust bond. It explains tension-reducing communication techniques to foster mutual understanding and respect. Frameworks for diagnosing and understanding different personality styles are presented, so that you will know how to relate to different types of employees in the most effective ways. Finally, the interactive management process is explained as it applies to helping you achieve greater personal and organizational productivity through the effective management of others.
To sum up the philosophy of this book: We can be more effective managers by increasing both our understanding of others and our skills for communicating effectively in order to build more productive interpersonal relationships with employees. By becoming more interpersonally effective, we can make our employees and the organization more effective. Everybody can win!
Copyright © 1980 by L. Hunsaker and Anthony J. Alessandra
Dr. Phillip L. Hunsaker is a Professor of Management and Director of Management Programs in the School of Business Administration at the University of San Diego. He is an internationally recognized consultant, seminar leader and speaker in the areas of personal, management, and organizational development.
Dr. Hunsaker has authored over 100 publications, including numerous articles in academic and professional journals and the best-selling books You Can Make It Happen: A Guide to Personal and Organizational Change (Addison-Wesley, 1977); Managing Organizational Behavior (Addison-Wesley, 1986); and Strategies and Skills for Managerial Women (Southwestern, 1986).