ALC English Journal Article June 2014

Playing Favorites

QUESTION: Some of my subordinates complain that I “play favorites” with people on my team. Even though I’ve been trying to treat my people equally, they say I seem to spend more time with the talkative people who sit near me, making the others feel ignored. What should I do?

ANSWER: It doesn’t matter whether you are actually playing favorites or not, what matters is what your people believe about you. Beliefs should be of great concern to any manager because: Experience ->Beliefs -> Action ->Results

Results are what a team needs to succeed. This model is from the book “Change the Culture, Change the Game”.

Experience can change beliefs. Start by clarifying what beliefs you’d like your people to have about you. You’d probably like each of them to feel that they are important to you, that you value each of them for their unique gifts, and that each one makes a significant contribution to the team that you recognize and appreciate. Let’s explore some ways to build these kinds of beliefs in your people.

Ask your people for advice. Solicit their ideas for what you could do differently. Just say something like “I don’t want to play favorites. What could I start doing, stop doing, or do differently?” Then follow their advice and see how it works.

Make sure they know that they’re important to you. Schedule a weekly one-on-one meeting with each of your people. Make the focus of these meetings listening to them. Find out what’s going on in their work, and what support they need from you. Ask them about their goals and dreams and offer your support. Take breaks throughout the day and invite one of your people to join you on each one. Go get a cup of tea, visit a nearby convenience store, or go to lunch together.

Show them that you value their unique gifts. Treating people fairly doesn’t mean treating them exactly the same. Find opportunities for each person to do what they do best. They will feel that you understand them better if you create ways to match the work they do to their strengths. One key insight from Marcus Buckingham’s book “The One Thing You Need to Know” is that great managers discover what is unique about each person and then capitalize on it.

Demonstrate that their contribution to the team is significant. People want to know that the work they do makes a difference. Make sure they know how the work they have done has contributed to the team’s results and increased business success.

Recognize and appreciate their contributions. Although it takes very little time, and requires no budget, receiving appreciation at work is relatively rare. Sincere positive comments will build your people’s confidence. Another insight from Buckingham’s book is that great managers build the self-assurance of their people to the point that they are unrealistically optimistic. Take time to recognize your people’s contributions and express your sincere appreciation frequently.

Human beings suffer from dozens of biases and distortions in how we perceive reality. Many of these biases affect our beliefs. Even if you do treat everyone fairly, you may still be perceived as playing favorites. Tell your people that you are committed to treating them fairly and avoiding playing favorites. Do some experiments such as those described above, and then ask for feedback from your people. Nobody’s perfect. You’ll never be able to please 100% of your people 100% of the time, but showing them that you care will make them more forgiving of your lapses.

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