The Importance of Keeing Your Cool on the Job: A Manager’s Story

by Denny Strigl

This week an experienced manager told me he was critical of one of his employees and said he was “regretting the way it went down.”  I said I would be happy to listen if he would like  to tell me about it.  For the next thirty minutes or so, we talked about what happened.

A week earlier the manager had asked his shop foreman to prepare a report on machine utilization and energy costs.  The manager wanted the report for an important meeting with his boss, the manufacturing VP.  While preparing a few minutes before the meeting with the vice president, the manager realized he had not received the report he had asked the foreman to prepare.  He marched out onto the shop floor and angrily confronted the foreman.  Unfortunately, the confrontation occurred in front of eight of the foreman’s direct reports. To make matters worse he shouted that the foreman was incompetent and stalked back to his office.

I told the manager what he undoubtedly already knew.  As outlined in Managers, Can You Hear Me Now? I said the best managers I have worked with over the years lose their cool from time to time, but they never lose their respect for the people who work for them.  They didn’t yell, scream or pound their fists on their desks,  and they didn’t call their employees names or talk behind their backs.   Rather, they dealt with the situation at hand in a calm, unemotional manner.  They tried to be polite, but firm, and worked to find a fix to the situation they were dealing with rather than to place blame.  Further, they sought assurances that the situation would not happen again.  I have always found that the most successful managers have been demanding, but they’ve also always been respectful.

The manager told me he knows he “blew it” and asked what I would suggest he do now, if anything.  I probed a bit further to find the foreman actually had prepared the report in plenty of time for the meeting with the manufacturing vice president.  The report had been emailed and was unopened in the manager’s email inbox.  I told him I thought he  should consider “publicly” apologizing to the foreman and suggested he arrange a brief meeting on the shop floor with the foreman and the foreman’s eight direct reports.  I further suggested he should simply say he was wrong, apologize to the foreman, and to everyone for losing his cool, tell everyone the foreman has his full support (if , in fact, he does), and thank everyone for their hard work.  I also encouraged him to spend time on the shop floor talking to the foreman and other workers, giving them encouragement and being supportive whenever possible.

I couldn’t help but offer him a final thought:  The entire situation could have been avoided if only he had the facts before he confronted the foreman.  Also, it would have been much less damaging had he spoken to the foreman privately and given him an opportunity to respond – showing him the respect all employees should have for one another.

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