I recently read an article in The Wall Street Journal, "When the Boss Is a Screamer," that got me thinking about leadership styles and their effectiveness. According to the article, the growing trend is toward a "softer, calmer" approach to communicating with employees to get them to do what we want.
Of course, we all have our personal styles based on our experiences and upbringing. (Sometimes I think I treat employees not too differently than I treat my kids.) But here's what I've found works for me to keep my voice down and my employee productivity up:
Set realistic expectations.
The reason you get angry is probably because someone disappointed you, made a mistake, or handled a task flat-out wrong. But before you take it out on him, are you sure the employee is responsible? Did you set clear expectations? Did you communicate them in a way that your employee understood? First, look in the mirror before you let your blood pressure rise. Oftentimes, you can find the mistake was the result of inadequate initial dialogue.
Use your poker face.
I generally communicate my impressions in a calm, consistent way, and try to avoid highs and lows. Believe me, my team still knows when I'm disappointed. My staffers can tell based on my choice of words or body language. But I do my best to share my feelings with trust and an acknowledgement that it's OK to fail. Screaming at someone out of your frustration might get her attention, but it won't get her respect.
All eyes are on you.
Not only is it more effective for you to keep your voice down, but also you should know everyone else is looking to you for your leadership example. If I see two people in a closed room yelling at each other, then I haven't done my job. My job is to teach people to influence each other through respectful debate and dialogue.
Don't kick the can down the road.
The Journal article said that one of the risks of discouraging yelling or arguing at work is that, as a result, people will tend to keep quiet or shove issues under the rug. I don't agree. The moment I see that there is a communication gap or disagreement brewing, I implore the participants to talk live--calmly and politely.
Only communicate verbally.
Have the guts to walk down the hall or pick up the phone. Never get mad on email. I have found that 99% of the time, issues can be resolved when two people simply talk to each other and have an honest conversation. The rest of the time, dialogue is wasted; a lot of times people just love to hear themselves complain. Stop that in its tracks.
There is no reason to raise your voice, especially if you're addressing communication techniques from my other points. It doesn't work for my 10-year-old, so why would it work for employees? I think raising your voice reveals an inability to influence outside of volume. Yelling is for emergencies like when someone's safety is in question. Save it.
I'm glad that The Wall Street Journal is pointing out that screaming is fading out as a management tool. You can be strong, firm and clear about your expectations and your disappointments. But if you do it with respect, you'll not only get more respect in return, your employees will work even harder for you. Guaranteed.