1. Be proactive instead of reactive.

One morning when I got out of bed and turned toward the bathroom, I cut a tad too close to the bed. My toe caught the leg of the footboard. !#%*^%$#*!. Once the hollering and jumping around was over, I had a choice to make. I could feel very sorry for ...1. Be proactive instead of reactive.

One morning when I got out of bed and turned toward the bathroom, I cut a tad too close to the bed. My toe caught the leg of the footboard. !#%*^%$#*!. Once the hollering and jumping around was over, I had a choice to make. I could feel very sorry for myself and climb back into bed. (Not a bad choice, but not particularly productive) Instead, I chose to chalk it up as an uncontrollable albeit unfortunate event and hobble on with my day.

Every day, you make decisions. Some like deciding to hobble on to work are minor. Other decisions influence the day significantly or may transform your life. Your daily decisions generally fall into two categories:

A. Reactive – You allow life’s events to control you.
B. Proactive – To the extent possible, you control the outcome.

Let me give you a familiar example of the first choice. Think about the time a rude motorist cut you off on the freeway. Perhaps you blew the horn, uttered a few choice phrases or banged on the steering wheel. Now take a mental step back and remember how your body actually felt. Your blood pressure rose and your muscles tensed. Maybe your stomach lurched. Did the rude person cause your anger? Not really. Did you permit your reactions to the rudeness through your own choice? Sure. Here was an incident you had no control over. You allowed circumstances to dictate your undesired behavior. Yet you did have control over your response to this event. Remember: The person you allow to anger you, controls you.

Now let’s apply the second choice of maintaining control of circumstances you can change to the work environment. Think about managers you know. Some of them spend much of their time putting out fires, running from one dilemma to the next. These managers have little time to spare and always seem to be playing catch up. They are reacting to their world. Other managers handle work’s hiccups with grace and efficiency. These managers get more accomplished and actually have time to plan ahead and mentor employees. They are taking a proactive attitude in their world.

George Bernard Shaw wrote, "The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can't find them, make them." This is great advice for any leader.

How much time do you spend planning your work? When you make a decision do you envision possible obstacles, which could slow down implementation? How much of your budget have you set aside for training your people? Do you think long range? If the answers to these questions are none, never or no, it will be helpful to spend more time preparing and planning.

If you find yourself spending too much time with fire extinguishers, consider becoming more proactive and plan ahead. Make a conscious decision to anticipate problems and their potential solutions. In those situations where you have limited control don’t react and allow yourself to become a rudderless sailboat blown about at the whim of the wind. Instead keep your focus on long-term goals. If you set your mind to the task, you will be more proactive and successful.

2. Be slow to anger—especially over petty issues.

I had difficulty coping with my teenage son. It seemed at times he went out of his way to “push my buttons.” I was raised by a strict disciplinarian and believed a parent needed to clamp down hard to keep things from getting out of hand.

Consequently, I figuratively carried a big stick. I nagged my son about his behavior from early in the morning until bedtime. My continual efforts to keep him in line affected our relationship. A destructive cycle was created. The harder I pushed… the more issues arose that seemed to need pushing.

My wife compared my behavior to a national superpower using nuclear bombs to handle every conflict. She pointed out much of the behavior I blasted was what she called, “kid stuff.” Her point, which seemed elusive to me, was minor misbehavior deserved a measured response. Kid stuff did not warrant nuclear devastation. Old habits are hard to break and it took significant effort on her part to help me drop the big stick and shrug off the petty issues.

The relationship now with my adult son is wonderful. We are friends in no small part to the efforts of my wife and her continuing effort to help me sort out the kid stuff.

This is a lesson every successful manager has learned. People are human. Humans make mistakes. Most mistakes cause minor consequence to the company. If the issue is petty, the response should be a corrective action without undue emotion. Asking the employee in a neutral tone how the mistake happened is one way to explore better approaches. Sometimes instruction is needed or simply a reminder of existing procedures.

Occasionally a mistake creates serious problems for the business. You may be angry because the difficulty could have been avoided. It is very important your anger at the situation does not become an out of proportion personal attack on the employee responsible. People tend to respond in kind to us. If we begin to express our anger personally, the person we are communicating with will probably begin to get angry as well.

It is appropriate to express your anger or frustration at a situation, but not at the individual. It is much more effective to make the employee your ally in seeking to resolve and prevent a recurrence.

However, despite our best intentions, sometimes people will react to our frustration by becoming angry with us. If we remain calm and focused, one of two things will happen. They may storm off, frustrated, because we didn’t fight back. Or they will realize how foolish they appear and feel contrite. Either way, we have avoided the detrimental consequences of an emotionally negative exchange.

To foster effective working relationships, be slow to anger. Treat minor incidents with the lack of emotional content they deserve. If a major mistake causes you frustration, do not vent your anger at the individual employee. And when an employee reacts with anger to a managerial intervention, do not respond in kind.

3. Instead of telling people they are wrong, point out mistakes indirectly.

Ben Franklin wrote in his autobiography how, in his younger years, he frequently corrected people publicly when they were wrong. What he found was although he was very logical and had facts on his side, he rarely persuaded anyone they were wrong. To make things worse, he noticed many of these men held grudges against him for years. While trying to help, he was making enemies.

When my granddaughter reaches out to touch a hot stovetop, I quickly and directly tell her, “No! That will hurt and give you a boo-boo!” However, in the business environment, managers who treat their employees like children will quickly learn Ben Franklin’s lesson. It is not effective to simply point out employee errors. Adults have choices (even if they are employees!). Employees who make mistakes are acting willfully. They may not appreciate the effect of their behavior, but in the vast majority of cases they are acting in good faith. It is the cause and effect connection that has not been made.

Your role as manager is to help employees see how their behaviors have created problems without treating them like children. Your end objective is to have employees make correct choices the next time. This is best accomplished by approaching the discussion indirectly. A good technique is to ask in a non-judgmental manner, “What happened?” Allow employees to discover how their actions contributed to the mistakes.
This approach proves highly effective in developing a “cause and effect” thinking pattern. Employees who are corrected through exploration of how a problem developed are more likely to think about the outcome of their actions in the future. An excellent side benefit is the reinforcement of self-esteem.

I taught a Presentations Skills class in Atlanta recently. One participant had a supervisor who ordered her to begin giving oral reports to a problem-solving group of about twenty people. After every presentation the supervisor would berate her about all the mistakes she had made. By the time she arrived at the class, she felt she was the worst public speaker to ever face an audience. The class provided her with a safe environment to develop her skills and her improvement was exceptional.

Ben Franklin learned from his mistakes and developed a number of skills from which we can learn. For instance, when someone stated an opinion that was in error, Mr. Franklin began responding with phrases such as, “In many cases, I would probably feel the same as you about this. However, if the facts of the situation were different…” He found people were more open to discussion and more receptive to his input when he applied this indirect approach.

Mr. Franklin also came up with what salespeople now call the “Ben Franklin Close.” He drew a line down the middle of a piece of paper and would ask people who differed with him to cite all the pros of their idea. He wrote them on one side of the line and then asked for all the cons, which he wrote on the other side. The other person usually came to Mr. Franklin’s conclusion by seeing the specifics presented objectively.

You will find yourself a much more effective manager if you take a page from Ben Franklin’s autobiography and never tell someone, “You’re wrong!” Instead, treat them like adults and help them focus on the facts.

Author's Bio: 

Richard Highsmith, rick@qualityteambuilding.com, is President of Quality Team Building. He has twenty-five years experience training and coaching. He has built and sold two successful businesses. To learn more about becoming a team leader visit our website at http://www.qualityteambuilding.com or call Rick toll-free at 1-888-484-8326 X101.