Five tips to help manage people when they are not at their best

Get off the Ladder

Five easy tips to help manage performance at work.

Although leaders are often faced with uncertainty and change, they still need to manage performance – setting clear expectations and holding people accountable (with empathy).  In these uncertain times it's good to know that there are tools, ideas and tips that can help leaders adapt. 

If you know someone who deeply cares about getting the best out of their team, they may enjoy the following tips for managing people when they are not at their best.  If you have people working remotely a lot, the physical distance can make managing people even harder.

1. Get off the ladder

You may be familiar with the concept of 'Leaping up the ladder'; this refers to the mental model 'The Ladder of Inference'. We are all primed to take select pieces of information from the data in front of us (at the bottom of the ladder), apply our assumptions and beliefs (climbing the rungs of the ladder), and reached a biased conclusion (the top of the ladder). Before reacting, climb back down the ladder and ask yourself 'What might I have missed or overlooked?', 'What lens am I using?' ,'What are my biases?'. For example, if a team member is unusually reserved during a meeting, especially if you are naturally gregarious and talkative, you might selectively recall the issues they didn’t comment on, assume a lack of interest, and conclude they are disengaged or unmotivated by your project. Instead of writing them off, consider what else might be going on that you have missed. For example: Can they hear the conversation clearly? Are others talking over them? Did they have time to prepare? Was the meeting intent clear?

2. Assume positive intent

When we feel disappointed or frustrated by another’s actions, we usually hold some sort of negative assumption about their intent. Seek to understand what they are trying to achieve, and reflect on the ways in which you, their colleagues, or the system, might be getting in their way. For example, someone who copes with pressure by becoming more detail oriented and less flexible may be holding up a project or piece of work with insistence that it is done to a particular standard or in a particular way. In this instance it could be helpful to ask, for example, 'I'm curious about how you reached your decision to rewrite the proposal?'

3.  Identify your triggers

When someone is not at their best it is very likely that their behaviour will trigger some sort of reaction from you…meaning you are then also not at your best. Knowing your own triggers, how you react to them and how to manage your behaviour when not at your best, allows you to minimise the collateral damage and de-escalate the situation (with practice!). Often it is not until after the fact that you realise that you were being triggered too; look for small moments where you can 'rewind' or reconnect, and over time your awareness, and ability to self-correct in the moment, will grow.

4.  Send belonging cues

We all want to belong. Often our coping strategies, designed to 'keep us safe' involve withdrawing or intimidating and therefore have the opposite effect. As a leader it is important to repeatedly send the message to your team members that 'you are valued and you have a place here'. In person these cues include eye contact, a touch on the arm, or a handshake, and generally working in greater proximity to solve problems. It is easy to see why working virtually sometimes challenges us!


5.  Give real feedback

Without your feedback the individual is likely oblivious to the impact of their behaviour. As soon as possible after the concerning behaviour, arrange to speak one-on-one. Talk specifically (when, where), about what concerns you (observed actions), and why (the impact this has on you). For example, “On the 1pm call I noticed that you talked over Bryan several times. I worry that we missed out on hearing his perspective on the issue. I’m curious as to whether you noticed this too?”. Ask them to let you know what they have heard you say, so you can be sure they have understood. Treat it as a learning opportunity – 'What can I learn about their perspective?' rather than as a disciplining event, to avoid entering an energy draining power struggle.    


Need more information? Contact the Winsborough Team:
winsborough.co.nz | 0800 222 061 | support@winsborough.co.nz