Many people want to know how to be a good or a better manager, supervisor or team leader. This is hard to answer sometimes, as it may depend on culture, corporate culture, previous expectations and promises, and company as well as personal values.
The main point to remember is to show respect, calmness, and vision in all your communications. Bullies are not respected, even if they are feared. You must be firm but fair. At the same time ‘softies’ often are not listened to or given respect either. I recently had an email from an old Chinese friend (really nice sweet guy) who was asking for advice on how to manage foreign English teachers in China at his company. Apparently whenever they didn’t agree to some term of employment, they simply ‘played the foreigner card’ and claimed that they don’t have to do that because things are different in their own country. Smells like arrogance to me. The funny thing is, this nice guy who was asking me for help really wanted me to give him advice on understanding Westerner’s employment standards and practices.
That is a good thing to do, since he is managing them. However I reminded him that they are guests in China and are employees of his company, and that the main way to avoid some confusion is to have a clearly written ‘rules and conditions of employment’ contract which everyone must read and sign. That way both sides are clear on what is expected from the beginning. If the teachers find these rules too difficult then he should invite them to seek employment elsewhere! Of course rules can be bent and terms can be negotiated and re-written, but it cannot be done through bullying or ultimatum-giving, and that is what I wanted my friend to understand. He was being a push-over and they were taking advantage of his hospitality, as I understood. As a manager he needed to learn how to deal with facts (i.e. terms of employment as set out by the company) and be firm but fair in his dealings with his teachers.
Similar things happen all over the world. Here in multi-cultural Toronto, I come across stories all the time of people who are either being too strong or too shy. How many Russian immigrants have I told to “soften your language” and to “not be so direct”? Almost as many Chinese immigrants I have told to “be more confident in your speech” and to “not be so indirect”! Funny right? And that is just a small sample from my world of being a professional Communication Coach. Many more stories to tell…
Getting back to tips for managers, and speaking from a 3V communications point of view, here is what I recommend you pay attention to, in order to be respected at work:
1. Verbal Communication (words & phrases):
In most of your daily dealings, you can use soft words and polite expressions as you communicate with people. Use expressions that show respect for all employees and that do not sound aggressive. Here are some examples:
“I think we can have this report done by 6 pm today – what do you think John?”
“Hey Peter could you fax me over the analysis results by 6 pm today please?”
“I wonder if we all pushed ourselves a bit today, we could get that report in by 5?”
These sentences of course sound better (to the employee anyway) than hearing:
“John – get the report done by 6 ok?”
“You need to fax me the analysis results by 6 pm okay Peter?”
“Listen, no one is leaving today until we get this report finished okay? Sorry.”
When you need to make a decision however, listen to people first if you can, then make an informed decision and stick to it. Example:
“I’ve listened to all of your opinions, and I thank you for your valuable input. We are going to go with Blueprint 2 for the next building design. Thank you.”
“As project manager I have chosen to go with Apex Corp. security system. Thank you”
“John, I know you don’t want to be here working overtime. We are all staying and pitching in. That’s a team John, and you are on my team, right? Thank you, and let’s get it done.”
You will notice in these examples that the manager is being firm but fair. The language is not insulting or aggressive, but rather it is clear and firm. Managers must either make decisions or carry them out, and you want people to follow. That is not the time to use soft language that suggests people have a choice or that the issue is open for debate. That is the main point of verbal communications here. You must recognize when to switch from 90% soft non-abrasive language to clear, firm but fair language to indicate a decision has been made and needs to be followed.
Some immigrants have trouble with this switch, depending on their culture, but they should not feel bad because there are many native English speakers who also have this trouble. This is a communication issue, not a language issue, as some people mistakenly believe.
2. Vocal Communication (tempo, volume, stress, pauses etc.):
As you might have surmised from my use of the phrase ‘firm but fair’, I want your voice to reflect that attitude. Speak calmly if you want others to remain calm. Breathe calmly. Use a medium volume voice and speak at a medium pace. Stress key words and main ideas and use pauses to highlight them. As simple as it may sound, the biggest problems come from people speaking too quickly and loudly at people (sounding aggressive) so doing the opposite obviously has an opposite effect! Slow down a bit and lower your voice.
Note: speaking as quiet as a mouse will get you nowhere. Shy people need to be prepared to raise their voice to a commanding but friendly volume for important statements.
3. Visual Communications (body language, gestures, attire):
Dress professionally, smell good, use eye contact often and don’t forget to smile often as well. Walk at a medium pace. Do not stand over people as they sit or work, and do not tower over people as you give them orders. Have great posture, sitting or standing. Control your hands so that they are not fidgeting nor waving about in an alarming fashion. Don’t point at people. See people face-to-face whenever possible, and act ‘heart-to-heart’.
Treat them with respect in a calm, cool way and I know they will appreciate it, even if it is bad news to them (like overtime!). People want to follow a good leader, so give the people what they want. Be a good manager by being a great communicator.