Managers: Tips to Keep from Getting Caught in the Middle

Dec. 18, 2003
Managers often find themselves playing the role of middleman because that is what they are: the go-between for higher management and the workers, says Terri Levine, MCC, PCC, MS, CCC-SLP.

Levine, the author of several books and the president of Comprehensive Coaching U, a training program to help managers become coaches, says that managers are often faced with a conflict of interest. "How do you represent the views of upper management and protect the interests of employees who work for you? "It can be done, of course, and is done every day," sayd Levine. "It's part and parcel of being a manager and goes with the territory along with a large dose of stress."

She managers face a dilemma of knowing when to speak up, when to act and when to try something new. "On the one hand," says Levine, "managers are encouraged to speak up, and take risks, if the risks will lead to successful outcomes. But if the risk doesn't have a successful outcome, heads will roll, and we don't have to guess whose head will be rolling.

"Likewise, speaking up is all very well and good, but what if it damages the working relationship?" she wonders.

She says managers often find themselves walking the same line between serving the needs of customers while maintaining company loyalty. "How can a manager look out for the best interests of customers and top management at the same time?" Levine asks. "Finding this balance is just one of the new skills managers need to learn and master to be effective in their roles."

The key to finding this balance, according to Levine, is in learning the art of communication in its truest sense. The harshest truths can be spoken without ruffling feathers when words are chosen carefully, she says. "We know it is possible to soothe an unhappy customer without running our company down this is a skill sales people use every day and we can apply that skill to in-house communications too," Levine says.

She makes these suggestions:

  • Clear the way for open and honest communication by expressing the desire to communicate openly without intended offense and expressing the objective to find agreement or solutions that will keep everyone happy.
  • When communicating about matters of conflict, it is important to be able to truly listen to the other point of view without giving up your own. Simple phrases such as "I understand" and "I can see your point of view and why you'd think that" can go a long way to diffusing heated arguments. "People want their opinions respected and acknowledged," she points out, adding, "when they have gotten what they need to say off their chests, and you have listened respectfully, you will find they are better able to listen to you when it is your turn."
  • Choose your words carefully. Practice speeches and conversations in your head before you have them. The words will flow more easily if you have thought about it beforehand and you are less likely to become emotional or frustrated or offend someone.
  • When representing either your workforce or your management, be careful just to state the facts without sounding like you are taking sides or being judgmental. Be an impartial deliverer of information. Do not become emotionally involved in the message you are delivering. If it helps, think of yourself as a mediator.
  • Always show respect, even if the other person does not, whether it is a member of your staff or your senior management. Retain your dignity. You need to remain on good terms with both employees and upper management.

"Managers may feel torn from time to time, but with effective communication skills under their belt they will be able to walk the thin line with confidence," Levine says.

Levine can be contacted by visiting; by telephone at (215) 699-4949 or by e-mail at [email protected]

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