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Mar 31, 2016
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

It’s 8 pm on a Wednesday and Mike Royer, one of the managing principals of Berry Talbot Royer, an accounting firm, receives a text from an employee, who we will call Tiffany.

She wants to know if she can take Friday off.

He’s a bit surprised to receive the request at this time of day, especially since they were meeting the following morning.

The next morning at their meeting, Royer waits for Tiffany to bring up her request.

How a good manager gets into an employee issue

Describing the incident later, Royer explains why:

I did this intentionally because I thought it was her responsibility to address this type of request to me in person, not via text, and I wanted to see if she would do it. I thought she used text to avoid the issue and somewhat set me up for an “easy yes.” So I decided that if she wanted it she would have to ask me in person.”

Tiffany does bring it up.

Mike says she may take the time off, but then comments that she seems to take off a lot of Fridays. He says this because recently another employee had commented to him that Tiffany was frequently off or working from home on Friday afternoons.

The meeting moves on to other topics.

Tiffany leaves the meeting and does some research into how many days off she has taken. She emails Mike that evening saying that she had only taken off three Friday afternoons in the last three months. She also shares that she doesn’t appreciate his questioning her commitment, which was how she interpreted his “…it does seem like you take a lot of Fridays off” comment.

Concerned about Tiffany’s feelings and not wanting her to get the wrong message, Mike sends her the email below.

I asked Mike if I could include it in this article because it is such a stellar example of how a manager can:

  1. Show concern for an employee, and how they were affected by their interaction.
  2. Respond to an employee’s inaccurate interpretation of their behavior without defensiveness.
  3. Show they value the relationship and a desire for it to be positive.

One manager’s approach: Spelling things out via email

Here is the email he sent Tiffany:

Hi Tiffany,

Thank you very much for this email. I appreciate that you have taken the time to talk to me about this, instead of letting it go unspoken. I also appreciate the fact that you work hard and are dedicated. You do a very good job. So I know you not only work hard, but you are effective as well. I know that I say that to you frequently, the last time being your excellent handing of the conference call. But I will say it again here.

I am glad we are having this conversation, and I don’t want you to be disappointed or upset. My intent was to make an inquiry and have a discussion about your schedule. I recognize that I do not know your whole schedule and I don’t have the capacity to remember the details of your time. At breakfast I was operating from a text you sent me a 8 pm the prior night…..referencing your need to be off so you could get your car registered. I was at the Cheverus event and then went home to unwind and the go to bed. Then back up first thing in the morning to meet with you. (And the meeting I thought went very well.) I guess what I’m saying is you didn’t give me much time or context to process the information, and I am also learning how to work with you and keep track of a schedule that is diverse.

So let me make a couple of points or suggestions for both of us.

1. I did grant your request, just mentioned my question about your time off.

2. I think you are doing a great job and I appreciate what you do for BTR and your growth and capabilities.

3. We can talk more about your schedule when we meet, and also clarify the expectations. I don’t’ want or need to micro manage you….you don’t need it first of all and you don’t want it I’m sure.

4. If I ask you a question it may seem to you like I’m questioning your commitment. I am asking a question because it’s my job. It’s my job to understand. I try to know as much as possible, but I can’t know everyone’s schedule, and I make mistakes. I can see that you think this was one of them.

5. I feel that I am fortunate to have you as a partner in this company. I want you to be happy and I want you to feel comfortable to talk to me, and even push back like this if necessary. I can assure you that whatever I do I do it with good intentions….but I am human and I make mistakes. You have too, and when that happened I was understanding and we talked about it. So communication is key. If you think I am wrong tell me. Just as you have here. I know it’s hard not to take it personal when a question is asked about one’s performance, but if you could learn to do that, and consider it  just one more thing Mike needs help with I believe you will manage the situation very well.  So again thank you for writing to me.

6. I think I should have made an inquiry of your schedule instead of questioning you or implying excessive Fridays off. My mistake. I apologize.

I hope you can still have a good day off today. I hope you will know that I respect you and appreciate you.

And finally I hope that this letter addresses your concerns and that we will not have a lingering feeling that I have been unfair towards you.


Making the most of this story

First, I hope you take the overall message of mindfulness and thoughtfulness into all your conversations and interactions, and the huge impact being mindful and thoughtful can have, as well as the negative consequence of not being mindful or thoughtful.

Second, I encourage you to use this story to reflect on the huge benefit of being a person who is safe for others to speak candidly with — especially those with less power.

By communicating in ways that communicate “it’s safe to speak candidly with me,” you will find it much easier managing and leading others because you will have honest conversations that get to the heart of issues and enable them to be resolved and put to rest.

Third, I hope you reread and review the email for verbiage that you can adapt and use to foster honest conversations about difficult issues.

Fourth, I encourage you to share this with your colleagues as a way to contribute to the creation of a candid, collaborative culture where people work well together.

Fifth, if you would like to read the “extended play” (3,000 word) version of this article that includes my commentary and analysis of Mike Royer’s email, paragraph by paragraph, you can read that here.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.