Helping the Helpless
WHAT does a good manager do when he sees a valuable team member go to pieces? Obviously he goes all out to help the person get it together again.
Easy? Nope, not really, because good team members are good because, most of the time, they are efficient, productive, conscientious and cheerful. In short, they ask no help because they need none! When disaster or depression (I don't know which is worse!) strikes, everything they do or say changes diametrically with the exception of one horribly fatal thing.
They still don't ask for help and resent it when it's offered! Especially if that help is from the manager, who hitherto was seen as the most understanding and gentle, is suddenly viewed as the big bad wolf out to wreak vengeance on the hapless employee!
It is both distressing and frustrating to the manager because though he is willing and happy to take on the load, or at the very least share, it is repulsed every time he tries.
This is due to the fact that affected team members refuse to discuss anything, and deny that a problem exists.
People, valuable, talented and good people are suddenly not sure how much they want to give away about themselves.
Many end up giving the inessentials and then go into a deeper depression because the Manager cannot understand! Its easy for well-meaning managers to give up at this stage, because the majority are by this stage at their wit's end, but that solves nothing, and has nothing but the most adverse effect on the team and its productivity.
First: See if the aberration is confined to the individual or to his workplace behaviour. Managers have necessarily to introspect and see how close he is to the individual.
Also he has to see if he, the superior, is not expecting total compliance from the subordinate.
Two things emerge; does the manager feel there is something wrong because the team member is not thinking the way he wants him to or does the member only want some distance? If the manager and his subordinate used to talk things over, it is possible that something is truly wrong if they don't now.
Has there been a considerable level of social closeness before? If not, it's a good time to back off a little. If there was, then further probing may be advisable.
Secondly: Having established the level of intimacy with the person, examine if his demeanour is really disturbed.
If it is, and the manager's relationship is really close, an initiative can be made to open a channel of communication. In doing so it is essential that the manager not be judgemental, and the questions are not even mildly invasive.
It is important not to allow negativity to creep in, because if it does, a clam-up situation will ensue. Extraction of information too is going to be very difficult and considerable diplomacy needs to be used to do it.
Often though, the team member will not want to talk and in such cases it may be wise to desist from further probing.
It might be wise to conduct such conversations on neutral territory so that the employee feels less threatened.
Thirdly: Sometime though, the person may open up and when he does, it will be like the floodgates of a dam opening.
Try and listen without disturbing and take mental notes of the salient points. Again, do not go by what is said and attempt looking between the lines.
It will be fatal at this stage to say what the person ought to have done or what he should do. Listening sympathetically is all that is needed. The occasional encouraging noise will do a great deal to draw the person out of himself.
Fourthly: Once the person has had his say and finally asks a question, or your opinion, you can try and put things in perspective for him.
Never say that you would have handled the stated problem in a certain way, because that implies criticism of his action or inaction! Managers must remember that they are merely traffic policemen, there only to show their people a new angle of looking at their problems or perhaps a different perspective.
It is common at this point that the affected person will accuse you of not being proactively helpful.
Do not be tempted to fall into that trap because the moment you say something that goes against their thought processes, you'll be back at square one! Point them to a position that they can see more clearly.
Fifthly: If a solution occurs to you, couch it with other less attractive options so that the person sees the wisdom of the one you think will work.
Providing no option smacks of intrusion and dominance, which is one feeling, you want to avoid with this person. No one in this delicate frame of mind will want to be told what to do.
Finally: Discussion of options encourages people to judge for themselves. Many people need to be teased into revealing their true thoughts, which is what makes this bit of a caring manager's role difficult. One thing that should not be done is to recommend professional help. In the west, this might be the best route to take but in the east, even today there is a very negative connotation attached to psychiatry and counselling.
People feel strongly about this, and all good managers must be sensitive to this perception. In any case just talking about this will provide relief.
The closest anyone will agree to counselling is if the process is informal, perhaps even in the house of the manager as a start. Insisting on such intervention will be counter-productive.
Often though, slightly more evolved people might want to go into a retreat, an environment designed to encourage self-realisation. But the problem is not one of realisation.
It is one of not liking what has been realised! Such departures rarely help and are not unlike an escape methodology.
It will not solve the problem and may in fact make it worse by permitting no distraction from the problems of the self.
That is why many such places attempt to divert the mind of the person with religious distractions, much like offering an infant a sweet to distract him from crying when it fell down.
It is important not to drop it there and walk away, after all the person is dear to you and seeing that kind of suffering is not a happy option. Keep a kindly eye on the person.
Be around when you are needed. Be in touch several times a day. Be there with an encouraging word and assurance of continued support. In the event there is no improvement, or worse, if the condition deteriorates involve the family and friends of the person without abusing the confidence of the person.
Tell him that you are doing this because you feel inadequate and assure him that you will respect his confidence.
It's terrible to see a valued person crippled by self-doubt and insecurity.
The helplessness of the feeling that caring managers have will be sorely tried, but the only really valuable thing one can do is be there to listen, to support unconditionally and show even more care to cosset the value you have for that 24 karat member of your team!
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