Supervisor-employee relations are so much easier when everyone is doing a good job. If managers could just walk around, congratulating everyone with a big smile on their face and plenty of “Keep up the good work,” offices would run so smoothly. This is the dream world in my head, a cheerful little office where everyone is efficient and pleasant, to-do lists get checked off and money gets made. This is the “Happy place” that I revert to after I’ve had to chastise an employee for failing to do their correctly, or on time, or to the qualifications asked of them.
Most managers don’t enjoy being negative or handing out criticism. Those that do enjoy it normally aren’t very good managers. But unfortunately, a big part of a manager’s job is to fix problems, whether they are structural policy changes or personnel-generated issues. That’s the nicest way I can think of to say that some times employees screw up and it’s a manager’s job to point out that mistake and hopefully help the worker recover and correct the error. Hey, somebody’s gotta do it.
For female managers working with male employees, critiques create a level of tension that I only imagined possible for hostage negotiators. Male egos can be a little like wild animals. For some men, if they sense a threat, their hackles go up and they’re ready to attack the first thing that moves. And why it’s obnoxious to say that we need special rules for dealing with these touchy male employees, or that women need to play into gender stereotypes to navigate office politics, the power dynamic is so volatile that concessions need to be made.
I don’t believe that women should coddle their male employees. I don’t think we need to put ourselves down, so that a guy will feel more comfortable. But I think that women have a delicacy that can come in very handy when chastising an easily-offended male employee. Instead of riding their ass, as a more confrontational manager might, express your displeasure and then leave them room to cope. Once a supervisor has made their point, they don’t need to check in for weeks to come.
Most importantly, females should utilize quantifiable data to the best of their advantage. To keep egos from making the issue emotional, steer the conversation towards the numbers. Set a trackable goal for improvement and set up repercussions ahead of time based on the outcome. After all, evidence is a manager’s best friend when it comes to addressing a problem and the more information you can gather, the easier your job will be.
I’ve watching two grown men scream in each other’s faces over criticism-gone-wrong. Unfortunately, a loud confrontation can severely damage a woman’s managerial reputation. That may be a double-standard, because for men it will simply be “blowing off a little steam,” but it’s still the truth. Whether we like or not, women need to use the tools available to them to make crticisms and reprimands go smoothly. If that means playing up a more restrained and delicate stereotype of women, it might be worth it. After all, the goal of constructive criticism is to fix the problem, and there’s nothing wrong with taking a societal cliche and making it work for you. Really, that’s just effective management.