Welcome to the grown-up version of the principal’s office.
“Matt, in here now. We need to talk. Immediately,” my supervisor barked.
Sheepishly, I shuffled in. Fearful of my supervisor’s explosive temper, I cowered in his corner office.
“Sit down,” he grunted. I braced for Hurricane Reid. Moodier than your favorite Hollywood starlet, Reid’s face would contort into a blazing fury before unleashing his latest tirade. My only question: Would he drizzle me with spittle this time?
As these deep thoughts penetrated my synapses, Reid’s booming voice echoed throughout the building. Or so it seemed.
Following the latest verbal tirade, Reid would redirect his attention to a stack of papers. The unspoken message: Get out. Now.
Storming out of his office, I was equally enraged and flustered. “Who is this guy?” I seethed. “Here I am busting my ass yet my malfunctioning laptop somehow justifies his middle-aged temper tantrum? What gives?”
Welcome to the working world, Matt. Verbal outbursts between smoldering boss and simmering employee are toxic — and, sadly, all too common. According to a Gallup report, only about 10 percent of managers can “motivate every individual on their team, boldly review performance, build relationships, overcome adversity and make decisions based on productivity.” The result: a percolating stew of resentment.
Criticism stings–even more so when it is hurled in a scathing tone from a demeaning boss. When confronted with workplace criticism, the instinctive reaction is to shoot (your mouth) first, ask questions later. “You are attacking me? Maybe you should review your own half-baked work product?” you contemptuously mutter.
Having been both the supervisor and supervised, I understand the workplace’s delicate dance. Here are recommendations to preserve your and your colleagues’ sanity:
- Who says feedback has to be negative? Imagine if your boss summoned you into his office and then lavished you with praise for that dynamic PowerPoint presentation. The unexpected gesture would change the relationship dynamic. Smiling broadly as your high-step back to Cubicleville, that looming project doesn’t seem so daunting.Bosses — take note. Employees respond better to specific, positive feedback. Put that in your latest quarterly report.
- Make it a conversation. Small talk isn’t always so small. Before launching into a full-throated diatribe, ask your beleaguered employee about his weekend, family, and hobbies.When John Q. Employee knows you that value him, it is amazing how quickly he edits that Excel spreadsheet. Plus, you are spending 40 plus hours in the same office foxhole. It is about time that you remembered his kids’ names.
- Be pragmatic — and understanding. When Reid shrieked “Write faster!” to his exasperated writers, we would exchange resentful glances. More than inspiring us, his bromides rattled us. Those Bobby Knight-like explosions? About as fashionable as his hideous red sweaters. And as motivating.
- Create office hours. For all those longing for their university years, here is your antidote.As a supervisor, you are swamped and, not surprisingly, dismissive when Joe Indecision bursts into your office with yet another question. Sending your dismay, Joe’s confidence plummets. Productivity waning, he grows detached — even disinterested.
The resolution: office hours. Create a standard weekly appointment with meddlesome employees. Here Joe can receive clarification on technical issues — and you can respond to his inquiries in a more thoughtful manner.
- Channel your Anthony Bourdain. Bourdain has proven that food can conquer long-simmering disputes and ethnic tensions. Your stifling work environment? Nothing compared to Bourdain’s latest foray into battered Libya.As Bourdain has proven in his worldwide travels, food brings people together. Sense that your office needs a morale boost? Bring bagels and cream cheese and transform those dreary 7:30 meetings into something more festive. Or at least as festive as a 7:30 AM meeting can be.
Work, like boss, may be a four-letter word. But who said you have to toil in a poisonous environment? Turn work into workable — and those dreaded calls to the principal’s office won’t seem so dreadful.