Be a Good Manager, Not a Bad Novelist

Sometimes I talk to well-meaning folk, even friends, who will say something to me like: “I’m going to host a morale-building session with my team tomorrow night.”  Or maybe you’ve been in a situation where a manager comes up to you and says something like: “I’d like to give you some positive feedback.” Every time I hear phrases like that, they make me twitch. My eyelid clutches.

I know there’s something not quite right when managers say those sorts of things, but what is it exactly? Now I think I know. They’re not actually DOING the action they’re talking about. They’re just TALKING ABOUT the action they should just be doing.

Perhaps that is not crystal clear.

The best example I can think of is the advice I have often heard concerning writing fiction or plays. Let the Action and the Characters convey the meaning. Under no condition should the writer devote several paragraphs to explaining to the reader what the morale of the story is. (Perhaps the only writer who can get away with this is Proust, and that’s debatable.) The morale of the story is revealed implicitly through character and plot and also through the interaction of both with the reader. (I’ve been trying to find good links to people talking about this issue. Haven’t found the perfect one, but this Guardian series on famous writers’ best practices for writing is golden!)

So the next time you want to give someone positive (or negative) feedback, just do it. Don’t “rococo” it with a self-referential prologue. By the way, that’s another reason why self-narration is a bad habit for managers to acquire. As soon as you say something like you’re hosting a morale-building session, you’re shifting the focus away from the team and on to Wonderful You, thank you very much.

So if you’re a manager, pay attention to what you’re saying. Listen to yourself. And if you say silly things that are better left unsaid, Stop Saying Them. Like a very good novel, let your actions and your character speak for themselves.

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