Why the work-around doesn’t work
I once had a senior manager tell me that the reason she wouldn’t confront one of her direct reports about an issue was that she wanted to “preserve his dignity.”
Instead, she worked around him, hoping he’d figure it out.
Of course, he didn’t.
We have probably all seen (or done!) this at work. It’s understandable. Most of us spend more time at work than any place else and it can seem easier to avoid, dodge, or preserve than to address a situation head-on. Especially if it’s a situation we’ve allowed to fester. The problem is this quick work-around is obvious to everyone – often even to the person who’s being avoided – and it undermines morale of entire groups. The person at the center of the problem doesn’t get a direct opportunity to address whatever’s going wrong, which is certainly not a way to preserve their dignity, and avoidance breeds cynicism and distrust.
The telltale sign of a work-around is if you’re having a conversation about a problem with someone other than who the problem is about.
When you avoid saying what needs to be said to the person who needs to hear it, you’re working around the problem.
This can go from small things (not assigning a project) to organization-wide structures put in place to avoid one person’s behavior. The cost over time is much higher to work around the problem than to address it.
Next time you catch yourself having a parking-lot conversation consider these alternate approaches:
Say the unsaid.
If the manager had taken the direct report aside and told him clearly what the problem was, she could have communicated in a dignity-preserving manner what he needed to do to improve instead of leaving him wondering why people didn’t respect him or want to work with him. Nobody wants to be the kid other kids don’t like but we can’t figure out why. Say what others are afraid to say.
Say the unsaid to the person who needs to hear it.
Respect your colleagues enough to tell them what they need to hear. Feedback isn’t easy sometimes, but it’s the only way we grow. Delivered with compassion and good intent, it’s the essence of professional respect.
Hear their side of things with an open mind. They may give you fresh insights or tell you something you didn’t know. Be open, so you can design the solution with them. If they’re “the problem” they need to be part of “the solution.”
Tell others what you’re doing
If you change your behavior, people notice. In the absence of an explanation, they will make up a reason and we are a creative bunch! So tell them what’s going on. The more direct you can be about why you’re trying something different, the more likely they are to understand and, when it works, emulate your behaviors.
If you’d like a straight forward read on how to work with others around you, The Power of the Other by Dr. Henry Cloud has specific examples you can apply to many situations.