You hear from an employee that another department with which your employees must work is causing problems that result in delays and work having to be redone. Employees try to convince you that some equipment that has been installed is not doing the job. You receive rumors that a certain Supervisor has been tippling on the job. You hear, roundabout, that if you promote a certain employee to the supervisory level, there will be a protest from a large group of other employees. It isn’t merely a question of whether your information sources are correct. It might be that certain employees and groups are working to influence you, possibly even with misleading information. The conclusion: your employees may be manipulating you. In some departments, employees are very effective in using misinformation, distorted feedback, and innuendos to get certain results that run counter to the boss’s best interests.
Every manager is vulnerable to this threat. There are ways to discourage manipulation—or at least to make sure you are not encouraging it by your management style.
Don’t get isolated
Asking subordinates questions about problems, chatting with them, holding gripe sessions, giving courteous attention to problems that are brought to you are all ways of letting people know you can and expect to be approached directly. And that you are on top of developments and facts.
Insist on constructive criticism
A subordinate might seem loaded for bear when it comes to shooting down a colleague’s ideas. Your response to such an attitude should be, “I’m much more interested to find what strengths there are in the proposal.” You thereby show that you expect criticism to be fair and constructive.
Explain the rationale for your decisions
It’s possible that an individual or a group will frequently come up with ideas that you praise and accept. Others may begin to feel that you show favoritism and that there is no honest or open way to win your favor. If you can give logical reasons to explain why you have chosen to accept an idea or a proposal, you may accomplish two things:
(1) You discourage people from believing that you are a creature of bias, and
(2) You show others how to present winning ideas to you.
Avoid predictable patterns
If you always base your decisions on, say, the “bottom line,” you lay yourself wide open to manipulation. For people will then start slanting their recommendations and couching their language in ways they know will please you. Vary your patterns. Don’t give some employees a chance to play on your predictability.
Spread your attentions
Do you frequently seek out one particular supervisor because of his or her ability to quickly grasp or analyze problems? Do you like to talk with another supervisor because he or she thinks as you do? That’s understandable. But consult with others, too.
Emphasize—and reward—openness and honesty
To begin, with, check out the controls you use. For example, are you possibly overburdening subordinates with paperwork requirements? Instead of discussing the excessive load with you, they could start fudging or distorting their reporting figures just to ease the burden. As a result, they may learn that the appearance of activity is more important than the real thing when it comes to scoring points. Make it clear that you reward only honest effort. Then they’ll realize that stature in your eyes comes from doing well in their jobs— not by manipulating you.