Dear HR Executive:
It's not fun being stupid. Are you stupid? Of course not... however, in the heat of the moment when talking with employees, you can say some pretty stupid things. Or you might say smart things in a stupid way. Same difference [at least to your employees it's the same].
The bottom line is that your communication skills - and specifically your conversation skills - can make or break your effectiveness as a manager.
After all, how do you get your point across, obtain the information you need, or get an employee to improve their performance? Naturally - you TALK to them. But that conversation is much easier in theory than in practice. It all comes down to what you say and how you say it. Let me give you a specific example of a Stupid Manager Question...
Here's the situation in a nutshell. You have an otherwise bright employee who has been with you for 6 months and is performing really well - except in one important area of her job. You and another manager have been coaching her, working with her 1-on-1, and giving her time to improve, master the concepts behind the task, and come to you for plenty of feedback and input. She's still not delivering what you need.
And you're getting frustrated [and perhaps afraid that this part of her job will land back on YOU if she doesn't 'get' it soon...] So you call her into your office for a private meeting. Here's the Stupid Manager Question: "Sally, do you think you will EVER learn to do this task?"
Now, let me explain why I think this is the stupidest manager question ever. It's a no-win question. If Sally says "Yes" - and it turns out that her work in this area will never meet your standards, then you've made your employee into both an incompetent AND a liar. If Sally says "No" then you've made her into someone who is untrainable, unteachable, and unpromotable.
Let's turn the tables on this one - now you're Sally. Even before answering, how does this question make you feel? Does it make you feel like a top contributor? A valued asset? Does it make you eager to learn and improve this important skill set? Or does it make you feel insulted, small, and stupid?
Are you a parent? If so, how good of an idea do you think it might be to ask an 18-month old, "Do you think you will EVER learn to use the potty?" Are you motivating the child or de-motivating the child? The answer is obvious, isn't it?
Do you know why they say management is hard work? Because it IS oh-so-tempting to blurt out things like "Sally, do you think you will EVER learn to do this task?" rather than a hundred other ways you could talk to this employee about improving her performance.
How would you ask the question? What would your alternate conversation sound like? Please share your thoughts, feedback, and Smart Manager Questions in the comments area below.
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