In the latest episode of Resources for Humans, Jack sits down with Alison Green from the popular “Ask a Manager” blog. Listen to the episode here:
If you’ve ever Googled for the solution to a workplace or career-related dilemma, then chances are you’ve stumbled upon the “Ask a Manager” blog. It covers everything from how long managers might take to respond to a job application to how to deal with an employee who casts “magical curses” on coworkers (yes, really).
When Alison Green was working as the chief of staff at a nonprofit in 2007, she started a blog. Although there were plenty of career blogs, she didn’t see anyone giving specific advice from a manager’s point of view. At first, she focused on advice about how that manager reads your resume or job or takes interviewing nabbing tricks (hint on the latter: not well). But more and more she began fielding questions on advice in the territory of “My office-mate stinks” or “My top employee constantly texts and surfs the web.”
Little did she know that she’d become one of the most respected voices (and most read blogs) on the messier parts of work outside of just career and ambition -- the kind that people just don’t know how to talk about. It helps that she’s an excellent writer and very good at getting to the core of these problems. That coworker who was casting spells? Underneath the dust, it’s really someone threatening their coworkers, an absolute no in professional relationships.
We spoke to her about what makes a strong and effective manager, navigating tough workplace conversations (from constructive feedback to asking that coworker stop making loud personal phone calls), and how those small conversations help make bigger conversations around compensation and development, a lot easier.
Ultimately, a manager’s job is to “get things done” for the organization, and she says this is done in two ways. One: Building an outstanding staff. Two: Setting ambitious but realistic goals—and monitoring the progress and holding people accountable to them. Good office culture helps facilitate both.
Navigating difficult conversations is another major aspect of work life. Most people aren’t comfortable with things that might involve conflict or awkwardness, says Green. But a key part of being a manager is having “all kinds of potentially uncomfortable conversations.”
Green adds that it’s important to be matter of fact when handling these situations through conversations, and to use the same tone that you would with a less emotionally charged work problem. (One aspect that might help a newbie manager is realizing how the employee is just as, if not more, afraid of having these conversations as you are.) But if it is a little tense or awkward, that’s also okay. Sometimes that’s the only way a conversation can happen and it doesn’t mean you messed up, says Green. “Try to find an opportunity to interact with this person again about something easy pretty quickly afterwards and that would probably make those people feel better.” This transparency should extend to big conversations involving salary raises and other expectations. Be able to listen with an open mind, says Green, and be explicit in explaining where you’re coming from. A sign of a lousy boss is being reluctant to give feedback.
Don’t leave people uncertain.
Through the outpouring of letters she gets through the blog, Green published a book, Ask a Manager: How to Navigate Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work (get the book here). It dives into 200 difficult conversations you may need to have in your career and what to say in them. What do you say if you made a serious mistake? What if you snapped at your coworker? She talks about what works in an array of situations, providing scripts, reasoning, and encouragement all the way.
Listen to the podcast here.