Are You Too Nice?

Feeling  UncertainPeople are regularly promoted from within the team into a supervisory position not just for their knowledge of the job but also for their ability to get on with others. But trying to be nice all the time can lead to failure when managing people.

Research has shown that two-thirds of UK managers have difficulty being assertive. As a result too many supervisors act in a way that is passive for fear of upsetting members of their team. Such supervisors try to be nice to people all the time and so often struggle to make difficult decisions or feel inhibited or guilty about giving direct orders to their team. At worst they fail to challenge team members on unacceptable behaviours which negatively affects the productivity of the group.

Some everyday issues that supervisors who are "too nice" to people typically avoid tackling because they don’t know how to be assertive include poor time keeping and unjustified absences from work, bad behaviour and poor performance. Repeated avoidance of such issues by supervisors leads to the problems becoming ingrained and/or widespread. Eventually the HR manager or the senior management team have to step in to rectify the situation - which takes considerable time and effort.

Some supervisors equate being assertive as an open invitation to become mini-dictators. But if supervisors are too hard with people then this aggressiveness also has a negative effect which leads to less cooperation and more conflict.

Finding the right balance between being too soft or too hard with people can be difficult. It depends, partly, on the culture of the people you are supervising. In some cultures, leaders are expected by their workforce to give clear unequivocal orders, whereas in others (including the UK) there is a stronger preference for consultation.

The situation also plays a role. In a crisis, a supervisor may need to give a quick straightforward order, so being “harder”. However, in another situation the supervisor may work collaboratively with the team in order to empower and motivate them (a softer approach).

One difficulty supervisors have in getting the balance between “softness” and “firmness” right is that we each have our own personality. Some supervisors are naturally more dominant and controlling; others are more emotionally sensitive. Whatever our natural default style is, all supervisors need to learn how to use assertive behaviours in the right way and at the right time.

The following assertive tips will help you get the balance right:

  1. Be clear in communicating your expectations, the company’s goals and its values to your team.
  2. Be consistent in your behaviour. Ensure your team understands the rules and that these rules apply to everyone all of the time.
  3. Be persistent. If a problem persists then keep tackling it. Some people do not readily change but you should not use this as an excuse to be soft and give up.
  4. Be calm. It is hard to be assertive if you cannot control your own negative emotions. Expressing unhelpful anger and blame is unlikely to be productive so if necessary wait until your initial frustration subsides before tackling your “problem” person.
  5. Be considerate and ask open questions to understand the other person’s feelings and their point of view.
  6. Be prepared to compromise. Assertiveness is about looking for a win-win situation, so provided the compromise does not negatively impact on the attainment of the company goals, be prepared to compromise. There are times when you need to accommodate the needs of others in order to develop trust and loyalty.
  7. Be collaborative by asking the other person for their solution to the problem.
  8. Be caring. Providing the right tools and training shows that however challenging the work is you are on the same side and will provide your team members with the right support to help them succeed.

Being assertive can be difficult, but once assertiveness skills are mastered they will improve your ability to effectively supervise others.