If you try to motivate people through insults and intimidation (and I know a few of you do), you may want to think about the ripple effects of your actions.
As has been widely reported in the media, a second contestant from the TV show Hell’s Kitchen has committed suicide.
It’s a gray area to correlate these suicides with the belittling comments and intimidation from the TV show’s host, Gordon Ramsey, but it’s not a gray area to realize that our actions have ripple effects.
For example, I recall a time when a manager came to me quite distraught. Her senior manager had insulted and belittled her in front of her co-workers and subordinates. The senior manager thought it would motivate her to strive for higher levels of performance, but it didn’t work. She told me, “I can hardly face my team. I don’t even feel like showing up to work any more.”
Anyone who supervises others should adhere to a long-standing and excellent management principle: Praise in public, criticize in private.
Sadly, many managers aren’t taught this – they’re only praised for the results they achieve, no matter how they achieve them. When this happens for any length of time, the idea of “the end justifies the means” gets reinforced. And what’s the ripple effect of that? It’s easy for managers to morph into bullies.
Do they intend to become bullies? Not usually. According to executive coach and author Laura Crawshaw, in her book Taming the Abrasive Manager, bullies don’t see the impact of their behaviors on their co-workers. According to Crawshaw, “they are blind or ignorant or both. When it comes to emotions, abrasive bosses are blinder than bats.”
Crawshaw goes on to point out that bullies truly believe they are not causing damage, but rather striving to achieve results – and don’t understand why others aren’t striving as hard.
As a case in point, I recently received an e-mail from a senior manager who took a DISC Assessment for an upcoming teambuilding workshop. The person had issues with how she was described in her profile, saying the verbiage put her in a bad light.
After looking at this manager’s profile (I should clarify that I am certified in DISC and have been conducting DISC workshops for 15 years), I noted she scored very high in Dominance (get it done now) and very low in Steadiness (steady pace). In other words, she has little patience for slower moving people and isn’t afraid to tell them so.
In her e-mail, she was in utter disbelief that others might view her the way the DISC report described. It’s not that she disagreed with how the report described her behaviors (she actually agreed with the report’s findings), but rather how others might view those behaviors. She was further offended at the suggestion that she should exhibit more patience and ask questions of others to ensure they understand their assignments.
I’ll be more diplomatic in a workshop, but my initial thought after receiving her e-mail was “the truth hurts, doesn’t it? You don’t see yourself as being a bully, but many others do.”
The core issue here is how we try to motivate others. Bullies don’t see themselves as bullying, but trying to out-bully a bully is not an effective approach (you can’t out-bully a bully). People who are harsh on others must be shown that their negative words and actions have long-term negative consequences. They must be led – not pushed – into seeing a bigger picture. It’s really an education process that must occur.
Is that process easy? Hardly. Driver-type personalities are usually more focused on winning than anything else. Therefore, they often ask “why take time to learn another (longer) way to get results when my ‘in your face’ intimidation is working fine?”
Take Gordon Ramsey, for instance. He knows that confrontation creates controversy, that controversy creates ratings, and with higher ratings he can charge more for advertising and make more money. Still, it’s high time someone showed him the true cost of his quest for results.
No, I won’t draw a direct correlation between his obnoxious behavior and the suicide of two of his contestants. But I WILL state that I believe his comments were a contributing factor in both of those deaths. And now, this week a wife has lost her husband and three children have lost their dad.
Bottom line: Being in a position of authority over someone is a great responsibility. Think about the ripple effects of your words before you use them. To you they might be “just words” … but they can leave scars that never heal, even though those scars cannot be seen.
If you don’t care that your negative words might affect people negatively, then I suggest you shouldn’t be a manager.
Dan Bobinski is a certified behavior analyst, best-selling author and director at the Center for Workplace Excellence. He makes his home in Boise. Reach Dan at (208) 375-7606 or firstname.lastname@example.org.