Leaders: Are You Taking the High Road?

BY Kathy Crosett
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Michelle Obama famously coined the phrase, “when others go low, we go high.” She was talking politics, of course. As a manager, you can put this advice to good use during times of departmental and organizational conflict. In her post on smartbrief​.com, Marlene Chism explains how to watch out for conversational pitfalls and improve culture by taking your verbal connections with others in a positive direction.

We are all human, which partly explains why it's so easy to fall into gossipy chit-​chat about what someone else in the company is getting away with. As a manager, you might acknowledge that it appears staff members in other departments are consistently coming in late or taking long lunches. You might also say you don’t know the whole story, and leave it there. Move on to another topic before your emotions get fueled, and you find yourself saying things you’ll regret and that will be repeated.

When you meet with a gossipy team member, it’s your job to set the tone of the meeting or conversation. Steer the direction of the discussion to the job-​related topic you want to focus on. Keep the discussion centered on what you want to accomplish, whether it’s the various ways to complete a project on time or find the bug that keeps causing the website to crash. As Chism suggests, know your intention before you begin talking and keep that intention top of mind.

Some managers do everything they can to avoid uncomfortable conversations. They might know they need to talk with an employee who’s not making their numbers. Or, it might even be well past the time to have a face-​to-​face encounter with the receptionist who’s exceptionally rude to others, but always nice to you. You can stay professional by making comments based on your observations. Start with an, “I’ve noticed…” statement. Then wait for a response, says Chism, who calls this attitude a form of curiosity. After your employee gives an explanation, acknowledge it. At that point, you must ask for the performance or behavior change you want. Do so in a calm and clear statement, and ask if there is any confusion. This type of interaction allows you to remain completely professional, instead of devolving into an emotional turmoil that might result in yelling or snarky retorts.

As a manager, it’s your job to carry out the mission and objectives of the organization. Keeping your attention and interactions focused on those details will make it easier to “go high” and set the example for acceptable workplace behavior.