Consistency is good, but not always the best management technique

Good managers know when to make exceptions

Normally, Grace jumps right in for her car ride to where we walk. Not this time. What do you do when your employee does the unexpected?

Grace and I have lived under the same roof for seven years now. I can anticipate many things that she’ll do or not do. She’s a mooch for treats, anywhere, anytime. She cowers when she’s near kids, and she barks incessantly whenever someone approaches the house. (All those things aren’t that flattering, I guess, but she’s really a sweet companion and I love spending time with her.) I feel like I know her well.

So, just like what can happen in long-standing relationships in the workplace, it makes me feel a bit nutty and frustrated when she throws me a curve ball from what I’m expecting.

For regular readers, you know we’ve had challenges with our walking routine. To counter those issues, in lieu of a nice walk down our street, she and I will hop in the car, drive five minutes to a quiet and lovely trail. I love it there and she’s given me every indication that she does, too. This is our new groove, a consistent pattern of what we’ve been doing together for several months now.

But not this day. I opened the back door, as I normally do, inviting her into the car, ready for our adventure. To my shock and dismay, she hid behind my legs, head down, circling me, moving away from the car, not towards it.

Instead of being excited for our walk together, Grace hid behind my legs. I could have insisted that she get in the car, but what good would that have done?

I could have forced her, but what good would that have done? I suppose there was the chance that whatever demons were bothering her would have gone away once we got to the destination. Or maybe something on the trail had frightened her. Who knows? I sure couldn’t get in her head to understand it. All I knew was that she was taking a very strong stance to say: “Nope, no way, don’t want to go in there, please don’t make me.”

What prompted that reaction, I wondered? I have no idea. Sometimes she really does make me crazy when I can’t figure her out.

And I know employees will create the same frustration with their manager. Rather than respect what’s going on with the other person, it’s quite common for us to push harder, ask the person to do the same thing, even in a more forceful way. In fact, that creates more friction within the person and they often move more to the opposite direction — or give in but carry a heavy weight of feeling defeated and misunderstood.

It was hard to get a picture because she kept circling my legs to avoid the entry into the car, completely different from my experiences with her before. In fact, this picture gives a look of sadness from her; how often are our employees sad — or mad — at us for something we insist they do?

We didn’t go for a car ride and walk that day. Instead we stayed in the yard and meandered around the adjoining wooded lot. She was happier and even though I was disappointed not to enjoy the place I really love to go with her, I felt it was better than forcing her to do something she didn’t want, nor really needed to do.

Some might think my reaction was soft. That I let her call the shots. And who knows, maybe I do at times. I feel it’s a balancing act — with dogs and people. Sometimes you have to take a stand, other times you can go with the flow. It’s important to recognize and honor the difference.

We do our best to anticipate how to manage a particular project or person, but environments are fluid and we have to watch for signs that take us down a different path. Managers need to figure out what is needed to complete the job, and work as best they can within the framework of the other person’s style to accomplish that. If you’re interested to find some tools to help you, let’s talk.

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