One of my favorite questions to ask practice managers I meet is “What is the most helpful advice you’ve ever received?” Almost always the answer is, “Don’t take it personally.” From there, a conversation often ensues about how difficult that advice is to follow. And that’s true; I see managers everywhere struggle constantly with this.
Well, whether we want to admit it or not, often conflicts that you run into at work can seem very personal. When things you do and decisions you make as a manager are unpopular with the staff that’s about you. Well, sort of, but it really seems that way. And that’s why so many managers struggle.
I often see this type of thing eat away at managers. I would non-scientifically say that “taking it personally” is the number one cause of management burnout. This is because, frankly, it is our human need to be liked. Here’s the ugly truth – your job as a manager is not to be liked. If that’s your end goal, you will fail. There, I said it. It’s true. You want your staff to respect you; liking you is a totally different deal. Not worrying about whether people like you is the first step to hearing feedback objectively.
Now, one of the misconceptions about “not taking it personally” is that you aren’t allowed to get upset. While yelling is never appropriate, being disappointed or letting your employees know when something doesn’t meet your expectations is important. How else will they know? For example, if you write someone up for being tardy and they tell everyone on the floor what a tyrant you are, it is 100% okay to pull them aside and tell them this does not meet your expectations for professionalism. That behavior spreads negativity and it is not productive. Give them channels for dispute resolution and set a consequence you are willing to stick to. Don’t get defensive, it’s not about you, it’s about the behavior.
*PS. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a glass of wine at home and be mad – but don’t let it eat at you. Put the behavior in perspective. They got in trouble and are not being professional, so set a plan for dealing with it and move on.
Let’s look at another example: You changed the schedule. Everyone hates it – you feel like everyone hates you. First, take a step back. Schedules are very personal as they affect someone’s home life. It’s not about you! Change is also hard. Schedule changes are rarely embraced even if you have meetings and go with the consensus. Consensus does not mean everyone will be happy.
The first thing you need to do is remember that you usually have a more global perspective that plays into that decision that your employees don’t have. Often employees are concerned with how the decision affects them personally, not how it affects your clinic. While I understand you may initially be annoyed at being questioned, this is a good opportunity for you to have a conversation not via email, but actually out loud (in person, like in the old days).
Sit down with your employee and ask them to talk through their concerns and walk them through some of the global issues that played into your decision. Remember, it’s not a game to win or lose. In this conversation, your goal is to offer more perspective. Don’t get defensive and don’t forget to listen. Maybe your employee has a point that you didn’t consider (gasp – I know). The best leaders know to be humble and open to other ideas.
Being able to deal with conflict and not take it personally is an important trait. Managers need to get feedback about things that are working and not working. If your staff perceives that you are reactive to feedback, then they won’t come to you with honest feedback. This means you are making decisions in a rose colored vacuum (where all your ideas are awesome and you are the best manager EVER).
Always remember as a manager you have to make the best decision for the clinic. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t advocate for your staff, but it does mean that you have to make decisions that make the most sense globally. You can’t do that if you are spending all your time festering about feedback someone gave you about a decision made or action taken.
The big take away. It’s not about you Marcia Brady. Take a deep breath, look at the feedback objectively, and move forward. If something is eating at you, address it head-on and let it go. Life’s too short to fester and your staff doesn’t have time to hit you in the nose with a football to give you perspective.