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Managers: Beware Becoming Part of the Drama

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Let’s face it, some people thrive on bringing their personal challenges into the workplace and baring them all for the world to see. These drama kings and queens seem to revel in sharing their own misery with us in a seemingly never-ending series of scenes from the worst tragic Broadway or faux-Shakesperian play ever.

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Comments (2)
I'm curious if you had any data to back up "The outcome in this situation is almost always a bad one". Not that I disagree but as an organizational scientist I cringe at offering strong advice if I don't have the data to back it up. However, editors have before stripped references from my articles unless the article is about a reference.

With regards to "3. Resist the urge to play counselor" I would add that even if you are qualified to counsel, which I am for instance, unless you were hired to do that beyond the one-on-one, your role is not to provide counselling services at all.

My one-on-one meetings are what I tell my reports, a bubble of sanctuary. Barring explicit aggression or sharing something illegal or what would invoke duty to protect, whatever is shared will never be used against them. And I mean it. I use the one-on-one to establish rapport, trust and open communication.

However, in the case you cite, your #1 goal in listening to them is to determine whether the problem is yours or theirs - and I'm not talking about their personal problems. I'm referring to why you are talking to them - whatever problem they are having on your team.

In some small companies the productivity of the team can be on the line where everyone in effect has a line job. One individual detracting from team productivity can delay a product or service release and the company can miss a market window, impacting everything from customer base to investor confidence.

If despite correction attempts, the individual is still detracting from team productivity, you may have to put them on a PIP and consider terminating their employment if they fail to meet the PIP's requirements.

One last thing... If you're set on counseling this individual, you should never focus on solving their problems. You would do well to have a few contacts ready that could help them. But your focus for them, if you insist on counseling them, should never go beyond twofold: 1) resilience - not letting their personal problems detract from their productivity or the team's, and 2) where to find help.

Resilience is not about you taking on the role of counselor but rather as a manager to require they have enough of it so you don't have to have these discussions again. You might offer how you exhibit resilience, but otherwise it is mostly to explain that they need to find a way to not let their personal life interfere too much (and we wouldn't be discussing this unless it hasn't yet).

Now this doesn't mean that they cannot have personal problems or take personal time. As a manager for one company, a young mother with a chronically sick baby was my highest performer. Where it was feasible, I allowed her to work from home when she would otherwise have to take PTO. Her productivity never suffered and she was the star of the entire engineering department noted across the enterprise.

I agree with "cross the limit at your own peril". You don't want to be fired because you failed to prevent someone's personal problems from detracting from your team's productivity and missing a deadline that is important to the business.

If you struggle with the decision whether to protect the individual's job or yours, perhaps you may need counselling.

Posted by Mark G | Wednesday, June 11 2014 at 10:41AM ET
Sorry, I erred. "(and we wouldn't be discussing this unless it hasn't yet)" should be "(and we wouldn't be discussing this if it hasn't yet)"

Guess I still haven't learned to avoid last minute editing in the web page posting edit box.

Posted by Mark G | Wednesday, June 11 2014 at 10:46AM ET
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