When Your Employees Are Right, Tell ‘Em They’re Right

Feb 20, 2014

Back in the day when I used to watch a lot of the Dr. Phil show, I heard the good counselor question his guests more than once, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?

Oh man, I used to hate it when he’d ask that.

Why do we have to choose Dr. Phil? That was my response. Who doesn’t want to be right when she’s right? I sure do.

“Say my name, say my name …” (and then tell me I’m right)

In 1999, the girl group Destiny’s Child released “Say My Name,” which garnered two Grammy awards in 2001. It’s a catchy enough tune, but I think the song did so well because we humans like hearing our names and/or singing about someone saying our names.

Another thing we like hearing? “You’re right.

Which brings me back to Dr. Phil and his signature question. He had to ask it so often because, by and large, people really, really like to be right.

But here’s the thing. When you’re a manager, needing to be right all the time is a hugely lousy trait.

When a manager has to be right all the time, by design, no one else can ever be permitted that honor.

Now let’s think about that. Imagine being an employee who never (or very, very rarely) receives any validation for knowing his job. Whatever good thing he thinks to do, his manager has to better him. Ick.

What’s going on here?

Competition of the unhealthy variety is what’s going on here.

The world is full of competitive people, and there’s nothing wrong with a little rivalry, even at work. But don’t compete with your subordinates (unless you’re on opposite sides of the company’s annual toy drive or something).

Needing to “one up” your staff is a sure, quick way to a stinky relationship and low departmental morale.

Permit someone else to be right now and then

I’m not suggesting a manager lie and let someone believe something that isn’t true. But for heaven’s sake, when your subordinate is right, even only partly right, tell them.

Doing so is especially important during the training/orientation phase of employment, when “You’re right about XYZ, but keep in mind that …” or “Your instincts about XYZ are right on, just don’t forget …” is so much more encouraging than a unidirectional “conversation” about what needs doing and when that showcases your desire to prove how much you know more than a genuine desire for someone else to learn.

And then later, if your subordinate gets a little competitive with you, by all means encourage him or her to give it her best shot. Just don’t neglect to be gracious while demonstrating how well you’ve earned your stripes, OK?

That’s what I do, and you know I’m never wrong.


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