Sunday, July 08, 2007

You don’t need to shout.

‘None are more unjust in their judgments of others than those who have a high opinion of themselves’ - C.H. Spurgeon, 1834 – 1892

One evening many years ago I was manager on call for my hospital and at around 7 pm the phone rang. It was the switchboard to tell me the fire alarm was going off. I drove to the hospital thinking that as usual this would be another false alarm.

I arrived and was met by a less common situation in that there was a genuine problem. One of the evening cleaners had unfortunately forgotten she had left a pot of water boiling on a hot plate and the water had boiled dry causing the pan to become extremely hot and eventually smoke had begun to emerge thus activating the smoke detectors and setting off the fire alarm. The local fire brigade complete with two engines blue lights flashing and sirens screaming had arrived on the scene to quickly confirm there was no serious damage and all was returning to calm. The poor cleaner was very upset that her oversight had caused such a commotion and I could not help feeling sorry for her. As calm was restored the catering manager who had been called out from home too arrived on the scene. She was a stern woman who, upon surveying the scene and hearing what had happened, proceeded to launch into what I can only describe as a tirade of abuse aimed at the cleaner. The manager accused her of gross inefficiency and stupidity for allowing this incident to happen. Let’s be honest this was not what the cleaner wanted to hear. She was already clearly upset and feeling guilty and then to have this telling off sent her over the edge and she burst into tears. Now we had a situation that was distressing for the few people gathered in the immediate area and caused much embarrassment. The memory of that incident is still vivid in my head and it taught me many things about managing people.

When people have made a mistake the last thing they need to be reminded of in an aggressive way is that they have made that mistake and thereby made to feel like some immature cretin with no intelligence.

Of course there is clearly a time and a place for a ticking off when merited. As adults, and particularly as managers, with responsibility for managing people, we should surely understand and indeed have empathy with people who make genuine mistakes that do not amount to gross negligence.

I believe that when people have made a mistake they will invariably ‘punish’ themselves enough without the need for some arrogant and uncaring manager to rub salt in the wounds by balling them out in public.


Ruth said...

Slightly off topic but I wish it were easier for parents to apply 'no shouting' as a response to their youngsters when truly unintentional accidents happen... and even if not accidents, that enough space were given for the reasons to be apparent.

Makes me wonder how it would be possible to slow down life enough to take away some of the complexity that surronds us all.

As completely inappropriate as this managers response was .. what repercussions could she herself of been so afraid of that would of made her act in such a publically humiliating way for both herself and the staff member?

Is it as black & white as simply not being acceptable?

Of course tyranny is a different matter !!

Trevor Gay said...

One of the worst advertisements for parenthood is shouting at the children in the high street or the supermarket but most of us have seen that. I’m happy to say I’ve never done it! Although my own kids certainly pushed me to the limit – I suspect I speak for many parents who feel that way too.

In the case of the manager I suspect she felt bad the following day once she sat and thought about her behaviour – I hope she apologised to the cleaner but I never found out.

I can’t help but feel if someone has reached a position as a fairly senior manager it really is a case of ‘black and white’ and ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ public behaviour. We are all fragile of course and who knows why she acted that way – there may have been numerous reasons but the impact on me and I assume other watching bystanders was pretty powerful in a negative way about what we thought of her as person because of her behaviour and that is probably most unfair on my part. But the memory is still vivid.

David Wike said...

If we are allowed to go off topic a bit more, remember when tennis players used to shout and scream at the umpire and anyone else within range? How wonderful to watch Jelena Jankovic smile her way to victory with Jamie Murray. She is the same in singles, smiling even when things go against her.

Trevor, I think I’ve told you before about my mate Nigel, who never stops smiling. Even when receiving an almighty rocketing he just smiled and said thank you - which completely cracked up the guy giving him grief.

Jelena and Nigel are both exponents of the ‘smile, it confuses people’ philosophy.

Trevor Gay said...

The tennis is a good example - I used to love Nastase because he was more often than not tongue in cheek with his misbehaviour. Can you remember when he wanted to go off because of the rain and so he borrowed a small umbrella as he waited to receive the service? - Wonderful

I always say it is not compulsory to be miserable at work.

I once had a boss who smiled when I told him about a pretty serious mistake I had made and I had been really worried about for days. He immediately put me at ease and made me feel 100% better. A smile costs nothing.

I read a while ago of a company where everyone wears a badge that says ‘If you see someone without a smile in this place lend them one of yours’

Simplicity again!