“Gotcha Management” Part 2

I’m sure that all of you can think of at least one “gotcha” manager you’ve worked with or for in the past — you know the kind — the ones who are quick to jump on perceived or real transgressions, but never offer praise.  Perhaps you were able to develop coping mechanisms that allowed you to thrive in this environment, despite the possibility of being blindsided by criticism, or worse yet, a performance appraisal that enumerated your many sins (ones you didn’t even know you committed!), but was very short on forgiveness. If you are a “gotcha” boss, perhaps you have difficulty giving kudos or publicly recognizing outstanding performance and have fallen into the trap of playing the “gotcha” game.  You might find it easier to notice less than stellar performance rather than “meets or exceeds” performance because your area normally hums along like a well oiled machine. It’s only when someone throws a wrench in the machine that upsets the smooth running of your department that the behavior becomes an issue.  Whatever your situation, gotcha management will stifle creativity, kill  morale, and undermine productivity. Inevitably the best and brightest will have their fill and move on, which leaves behind a mediocre and beaten down workforce.

What can you do if you’re the victim of a gotcha manager?

  • Evaluate your options. Chances are Mr. or Ms. Gotcha will not make any major changes in management style, so considering a plan B might give you the emotional boost you need.  Feeling trapped by a toxic boss will inevitably take its toll on you.  If you don’t take care of you, who will?
  • If you have the courage, in private, discuss with Mr. or Ms. Gotcha what best motivates you.  You don’t want to go in with guns blazing; rather approach your boss with humility and ask if they could assist you in becoming a more effective contributor to your department’s success. Ask your boss how he or she identifies star performers and then ask if he or she would be willing to point out to you when you are hitting the mark.  This way, you’re not coming out and saying, “HEY, I NEED SOME FEEDBACK HERE!” but rather appealing to his or her sense of importance.  This is a tactic I have personally tried with some success. However, don’t expect your toxic boss to change overnight.
  • If you find that your health is being affected by Mr. or Ms. Negativity, and you have access to an Employee Assistance Plan, take advantage of this free service.  You’ll be amazed how much talking to a neutral third party can help.  You might also consider a visit to your doctor.  Stress can significantly impact your physical and mental health.
  • If you find that the situation become intolerable, exercise your option to move on. It might be the best thing you ever did.
Part 3 will discuss Gotcha Management from the “Gotcher” point of view.  Change is hard, and we humans tend to stick to behaviors that are comfortble, not necessarily productive.  However, if you recognize yourself as a Gotcha manager, and you want to change, you can.  Habits take at least 3 weeks to overcome, and major behavioral change such as management style will more than likely take longer, but it’s well worth the effort.




Avoiding “Gotcha” Management

From my experience, and from what I hear from many of you, we’ve had to endure “Gotcha” management.  This is the type of management that provides no positive reinforcement; rather it waits for you to screw up and then, and only then, do you get an audience with your supervisor.  This style of management also discourages out of the box thinking, because countering the present status quo brands you with the label “subversive,” “malcontent,” “not a team player,” and the proverbial “squeaky wheel.”  So, you just hunker down, and try not to poke your nose above your cube in order not to be a target.

Burned out employee

I have two words for this type of management (I won’t call it leadership, because it’s not), and that is “it sucks.”

We all need to be recognized and affirmed that we are going a good job.  And, we need to know when we have veered off the path.  However, in order to do the latter and have any impact, you have to do the former.  By recognizing great performance on a consistent basis, you win the right to address the not so great.  But WAIT, you say, I am the boss and I have a right to address poor work performance! You are absolutely right.  But, I would suggest that you also have the responsibility to be sure that your employees know that they are valued.  Keep in mind that the #1 reason employees leave their job is because of the relationship (or lack thereof) with their immediate supervisor.

Lack of feedback can make us all paranoid; worse yet, when you are the one called to the woodshed, you know you have done something to displease Mr. or Ms. Gotcha, so automatically your defenses go up, your ability to think clearly tanks, and the session will serve only to punish.  I believe punishment (e.g., suspensions or terminations) should be reserved for the most vile offenses, and that screw ups can be addressed humanely and with dignity and respect.

Next time we’ll explore options for managers and non-managers.  Stay tuned!


The Pain of Change

We all know that change can be painful – metaphorically – but did you know that our brains sense emotional pain the same as physical pain?  Our brains process physical and emotional pain in the same centers.  That means, stubbed toe or broken heart, our brains don’t know the difference.

Think about a time when you’ve been physically hurt – really hurt — by a migraine, broken bone, an accident, and recall how you tried to cope.  I know when I’m hurting I get very quiet and withdraw.  Others lash out.  One thing for sure, pain does impact our behavior.

Why am I bringing this up in a blog for HR folks?  Because if your organization is going through major change, reorganization, downsizing, layoffs, or even changes in leadership or coworkers, you have people in pain.  Change is unsettling, and can undo us emotionally.  We may look fine, but deep inside our brains are screaming, “Make it stop hurting!” Is it no wonder then, when people are faced with intense stress and uncertainty during times of change, that uncharacteristic behavior can also rear its ugly head.

A person who is hurting can become very unproductive, and may even lapse into depression and burnout.  It’s important to be aware of symptoms, particularly if your company is in the midst of upheaval. Watch for unusual reactions. Is your normally gregarious administrative assistant quiet and sad; is your co-worker unusually snappy or short?  Are you seeing increased absenteeism, more mistakes, whispered conversations behind closed doors? These are all symptoms of a workforce in pain.

What can we do?  First of all, the ostrich never accomplished anything by sticking his head in the sand.  Let people talk, help them to verbalize what they’re feeling.  Don’t be afraid to bring up the 2 ton elephant in the room. And please, please, don’t belittle or chastise.  Perhaps you don’t feel the pain as acutely as your coworkers or staff, but that doesn’t make their pain any less real. You don’t have to feel the pain to acknowledge it in others.  The key is empathy.  You don’t have to fix the pain, you may never be able to do that.  Sometimes even acknowledging that you know people are hurting helps to break the hold of the hurt. If you bring it out in the open, and support your hurting comrades, you might just be the start of the healing process.  It’s worth a try.