How to Raise Issues Appropriately

Employees often won’t discuss problems with managers for fear of being labeled as “negative” or “not a team player.” Yet it’s in the manager’s best interest to be informed. Here are ways to facilitate communication rather than discouraging it.

Regardless of whether the audience is in Germany or in St. Louis MO, employees and managers have the same frustration…

They ask, how do you share a valid concern or problem (otherwise known as an ‘opportunity’) with the boss without being labeled as ‘negative’ or worse yet (here’s the corporate kiss of death), ‘not a team player’?

According to an IBM study, managers only get about 12% of the information needed to do their jobs. It’s in our best interests to be informed, yet despite our good intentions we may be discouraging communication rather than facilitating it!

1. We establish ‘open door policies’ to solicit employee input, but then dismiss their issue as unimportant (overtly or subtly through non-verbals), tell them that management has it under control, or ask them to ‘be more positive’ or ‘get on board’ with new initiatives. How many of us test the ‘open door policy’ to learn very quickly it exists in name only and decide it’s safer not to speak up in the future?

2. We say, ‘Don’t come to me with a problem unless you also come with a solution.’ That’s a tremendous amount of pressure to place on someone who hasn’t been taught how to access resources or who hasn’t been given the authority.

On the flip side, there are those people who complain often about the most trivial of issues (‘She left her stapler on my side of the desk again!’) and this may be a good way to encourage people to work these things out for themselves.

But, how do we strike a balance between those who complain at the drop of a hat and those who have valid concerns?  Teach them how to raise an issue with a structured de-brief process by asking:

  • Step 1: What circumstances did you face?
  • Step 2: What actions did you take?
  • Step 3: What results did you get?
  • Step 4: What lesson did you learn (if any)?

You can also use this model to facilitate problem-solving for the future:

  • Step 1: What circumstances could you face in the future?
  • Step 2: What actions would you take?
  • Step 3: What results would you get?
  • Step 4: What lesson would you learn (if any)?

The Benefits?

  • You, as manager, get more information so you can do your job better
  • You develop your employees to learn how to think through problems, analyze their actions, propose solutions, and learn from mistakes
  • You encourage communication

Bonus Tip: Ask employees to rate their concern on a scale of 1 to 10, so you have a better idea how important their concern is…to them! After you walk them through the debrief process (above), ask them to rank their concern again on a scale from 1 to 10. It’ll be interesting to see if they change their perspective!

(C) Laura Benjamin International 2002

Laura Benjamin works with managers, leaders, and business owners who want new ways to develop and retain top talent. She is a Meeting Professionals International (MPI) “Platinum Speaker” for 2003/2004, member of the National Speakers Association, Past-President of the Colorado Springs Society for Human Resource Management, and she is listed in “Who’s Who” in America.  Laura presents for business, government, and trade associations throughout North America and Europe. 

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