First Rule of Management: Everyone Doesn’t Have to Know Everything

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In an article from Psychology Today titled, Help — My Boss Is Incompetent!, Beverly D. Flaxington writes:

“They [incompetent managers] may not know which information to impart, which to hold back, and which to hold as confidential.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Upon reading Flaxington’s observations, what immediately came to my mind was all the managers from my past without the good sense to keep some nonsense to themselves instead of passing it on as worthwhile news.

These folks had not yet learned an important but oft overlooked function of management — shielding your staff from stupid stuff.

For shame.

Just say “no”

There once was a manager I had who called my co-worker and me into her office to reprimand us for discussing the company’s faltering market position with a member of the sales staff, because the Sales Manager considered the information “distracting” to reps in the field. The reprimand was followed with a “request” that we keep our lips zipped in the future. (For the record, I was not in HR at the time.)

I’d overhead my co-worker’s casual comments to another employee during a break at our recent sales meeting but had thought nothing of it — it was just two co-workers chatting about a matter of concern to both. And, since I hadn’t said a damn thing, I resolved to keep my opinion about this ridiculous edict to myself, highly annoying though I considered it to be.

But then — oh heck! — our manager asked, “Is there anything you’d like to tell me?” and my resolution flew out the window.

WTF? How is this OK? These conversations are being widely held among the staff. How dare that manager tell you to tell us what we can and can’t say! Jerk. (Or words to that effect.)

What I didn’t say

When you, manager, started our meeting with “I feel kind of funny saying this …” that should have been your clue. Perhaps, instead of sitting here with us, you could have told the Sales Manager to stop being an ass and then kept the contents of your stupid conversation to yourself.

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I feel the same way about off-handed and unfounded criticisms, especially from suspicious sources, like those employees known to all as humongous jerks, (“Mark told me you’ve been a little short with him lately, but he wouldn’t provide specifics”) as well as rude and personal questions from people with whom you aren’t at all friendly (“Elizabeth in accounting asked me whether you’re OK, because she thought you looked tired at the XYZ launch meeting”).

Sigh.

A managerial minimum

I’ve written a lot about the importance of autonomy, good managerial boundaries, treating employees respectfully, and so on because I believe these things make for healthier workplaces and — I can hardly believe I’m saying this — happier employees.

But if a manager can’t provide these things, the least he or she can do is act as a buffer against the daily idiocy that crops up in most workplaces. And that means letting some dumb stuff die a lightening-quick death and NOT bringing it back to the employee UNLESS:

  • The information serves as a well-intentioned warning to the employee that someone has it in for him/her, and that he/she better watch his/her back.
  • The manager and employee are friendly enough that it gives both a good laugh.

That’s it. There are no other exceptions to this rule.

Exercising discretion

Like a good friend, a good manager exercises discretion when it comes to information dissemination.

A good friend doesn’t tell you you’re getting fat, and a good manager doesn’t repeat a senseless slight from a clueless co-worker. No good can come of it, and the manager knows that.

Crystal Spraggins, SPHR, is an HR consultant and freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia. She also writes at her blog, HR BlogVOCATE. For the past 15 years, Crystal has focused on building HR departments in small- to mid-sized companies under the philosophy that "HR is not for wimps." She is also the CEO and Founder of Work It Out! and partners with HRCVision, a full-service HR consultant practice specializing in leadership and diversity training. Contact her at crs036@aim.com.

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