Focus on the Behavior, NOT the Person
How to Handle Every Situation Fairly
As leaders, we’re not supposed to have favorite employees, but we do – we’re human. The important thing, however, is that we don’t play favorites. If you like Bob and hate Tony, you have to treat them the same way for the same offense. Do your best to separate out emotion, favoritism, and past experiences to address only the issue at hand. In fact, be Vulcan about it. Look at the situation and react logically first, then bring in the emotion later. Here’s how:
When you’re analyzing the situation, start with the HOW and WHY – then step in with EMPATHY.
Q: HOW would you treat anyone that did this thing? Separate the person in question from the situation at hand in order to avoid biases. Subconscious biases play into most relationships, and can be especially problematic around issues of diversity and inclusion. If you’re struggling to parse things out, remove the person’s name and discuss the situation with others. This plays out differently at smaller companies than at larger ones, but helps you identify your own biases when done correctly. Most importantly, separate out any personal relationship you have with said team member. Nobody should be an exception to the rule. This is why you should be friendly with your employees, but not friends. Things can get complicated quickly.
Q: WHY are you choosing this particular consequence? The response to the issue needs to be equal and proportional to the offense. Adopt an observer’s viewpoint. Step back and think about how you should react to the situation instead of just reacting. Also, be consistent. How did you handle the same issue with a different employee? Spoiler alert: the repercussions should be the same. Rules are there to be guidelines, so make them as black and white as possible. This shows everyone what the consequence to a particular action is.
Step in with EMPATHY. Be kind and focus on one singular behavior at a time. Assume the best and don’t let an employee’s past offenses color your response (unless it’s a repeated behavior). Everyone is redeemable. This is why there are behavior improvement plans. There’s no need to be cruel – we all make mistakes. Use proactive discussions to address any unwanted behavior as it comes up. If issues are piling up, have a separate meeting. Keep track of all your discussions in a file and record everything.
Don’t forget, there can also be good repercussions. Nobody wants to work for a boss that addresses every mistake and ignores every success. Encourage your team to speak up. Show them you’ll help with problems and follow up with them. They should feel that having you on their side makes things better. If someone turns in good work early, point it out and praise them. Build the culture and leadership vibe you want to be a part of.
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