Capitalist Note: I'm spending the first couple of days of this week at WorkHuman in Austin. Put on by Globoforce, WorkHuman is the most progressive HR Conference available, with past shows focused on emerging trends like mindfulness, meditation and more - the leading edge of people practices and how HR can build them. It's also hard to get a free Diet Coke at WorkHuman, because that stuff is bad for you - but healthy options are available and free. One of the best shows I attend, highly recommended.
Stop me when you've heard this before.
You're a manager of people/leader. You're walking in one day and you get stopped dead in your tracks. Allison wants to talk with you. Allison has been known to get wound up and need some vent time with you on a periodic basis.
You've been trained by the world that you need to be a good listener as a manager. So you invite Allison into your office and let her unload- you let her vent.
45 minutes later, you don't feel like you've really done anything to help. You're concerned about a couple of things that Allison has said, but when you try to talk about some actions you can take, Allison says the following:
"I don't want you to do anything with this - I just needed someone to talk to"
F###. You walked in at 8am - it's now 8:50. Allison feels better - at least for today. You don't.
Did you do the right thing by allowing Allison to vent?
I had the chance to listen to Cy Wakeman talk Monday afternoon at WorkHuman in Austin. For those of you that don't know her, here's the 411 on Cy via her own site:
What if you could diffuse workplace drama and be happier at work and in life? The great news is...now, you can!
Cy's research shows that the average worker spends 2.5 hours per day on drama. Either interacting with others or just being worked up on their own. She feels activities like the one described by me above with "Allison", while well intentioned by you and me, are actually net negative to the workplace.
Cy believes that rather than engaging in that vent sessions to let someone unload, you need to hold them accountable for what they can control. One of the ways she recommends you do that to an individual that wants to b*tch is to diffuse the drama and ask “what does great look like” to get the person in front of you back to action.
"What does great look like?"
The concept is that someone wants to complain to you. Many times they're wanting to complain about things they can't control, or realities they've made up in their own mind. The question "what does great look like?" is designed to get them back to action.
Thus,"What does great look like?" is followed by "what part of that can you control?", then followed by the guidance "go do some of that. Now. You'll feel better"
My description of the technique provided by Cy is from 30,000 feet. Go to her site at the link above and there's books with much more detail, tools and process to cut through the drama, take on fewer vent sessions and just 180 people back into action.
Cy Wakeman is a smart, smart person. The hard part for HR leaders in eliminating ego and drama in the workplace is transferring her techniques to the average manager of people. Possible? Yes. Hard? Yeah....
Allison: "We Need to talk." <starts ranting about something your manager of people knows will take 45 minutes to diffuse>
Your Manager of People (MOP): " I know what you're talking about. What does Great Look Like?"
Allison: <taken aback by the interruption> <Thinking>
Allison: "It would be great if you and the other members of the leadership team would smarten up and fire the two people I'm talking about."
Your MOP: <wishing he had read Cy's book - the one you gave him>
The point? Cy's got some great thoughts and eliminating drama is a great aspirational goal. The devil is in the details - to get the best results, you'll need to arm your managers with not only the question to regain control of the conversation, but the techniques to overcome all the sidetracks they'll encounter.
What does great look like?
That depends on who you ask.