How to Stop Manipulating Your Employees

The world would be simpler if everyone who manipulated were a scoundrel, but otherwise good people can slip into the habit.

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Michael Wade
One sign of a healthy work environment is that supervisors, coworkers, and employees are able to sit down with one another and respectfully, but frankly, discuss problems. Conflict is not underground, nor are there warring factions.

[See 15 ways good bosses keep their best employees.]

Unfortunately, supervisors are often tempted to avoid confrontation. With the hope of indirectly achieving a solution, they send out memos, make general announcements at staff meetings, and talk to almost anyone but the person they should be addressing.

In doing so, they violate several rules of good management:

  1. If you have a problem with someone’s performance, tell the person in clear and direct language about your concerns and get that person’s perspective.
  2. Don’t use a group solution for what is an individual problem.
  3. Don’t procrastinate and let a problem drag on for weeks or months.
  4. Take action that can be reasonably expected to produce desirable results.
  5. Don’t take ineffective action solely for the purpose of being able to say that you took action.
  6. [See if you're a Preventative or a Remedial.]

    Some practices are driven less by cowardice than by a desire to manipulate. (Granted, manipulation may be fueled by cowardice.) Classic manipulative actions include inappropriately withholding needed information or resources; intentionally blurring lines of authority; pitting one employee against another; engaging in gossip; failing to give credit; revealing confidential information about one employee to another; giving assignments that are rigged to fail; and playing favorites.

    [See more advice at U.S.News Careers.]

    The world would be simpler if everyone who engaged in manipulation were a scoundrel, but many otherwise good people can slip into the habit. It can help if supervisors ask themselves:

    “If everyone in the workplace and the community knew what I was doing, would most people regard that as a fair, professional, and reasonable action?”

    “How would I feel if I were among those who bear the greatest burden as a result of my actions?”

    “Am I sincerely serving the best interests of my team and the organization or am I only acting on my own behalf?”

    Hesitation or embarrassment in any of those areas should trigger further analysis.

    Michael Wade writes, an eclectic combination of management advice, observations, and links. A partner with the Phoenix firm of Sanders Wade Rodarte Consulting Inc., he has advised private and public-sector organizations for more than 30 years.