When talking really matters...

I met up with a friend in the pub the other evening. She wanted to talk to me about my experiences being a governor at a local school. She was interested in becoming a governor herself, as she felt it was a way in which she could get involved and be a part of something. Apparently it was something she’d considered in the past but shelved due to family and work commitments.

By the end of the evening she’d crystalised a realisation that her wish to become a governor, whilst genuine, also reflected a crisis of identity and sense of diminishing confidence in her current job. For some months she has been working in an environment in which her future is uncertain and in which no-one is talking to her about what might happen. She has little sense of where or how she now adds value to the business and absolutely no feeling of being appreciated. Recently, in response to her situation, she has started to engage in behaviours which she recognises as both atypical and destructive. These only serve to add to her unhappiness, feelings of self-doubt and flagging self-confidence.

I have little doubt my friend is very good at what she does but was struck by how she had been affected by what was happening around her. I wondered whether her manager had the slightest appreciation of the impact upon her, or even, it has to be said, any interest. My feeling was that their attention had probably been entirely devoted to looking after their own needs and interests.

The outcome for my friend will be that she will look for another job and leave as soon as she can. As a result her old company will lose her considerable talent, loyalty and experience. Maybe that won’t matter, after all people move around all the time. But maybe, if her manager had engaged in a few honest conversations with her, it could have been avoided. It’s no secret people don’t tend to like change. We know it threatens the status quo and causes fear and uncertainty. But we also know that it can be managed. Those in a management position have a responsibility to lead the way forward. Sometimes what the future holds will be unclear, unpopular or not what’s wanted. Sometimes it means difficult conversations need to be had. But sometimes that’s what being an effective manager is all about.

It sounds as though my friend will never get to hear what her future with her present company might have been for she will take control of her own future and move on. It’s entirely possible she will do so quickly and easily – I certainly hope so. It’s equally possible though that she will take some time to recover from her current situation. Her self-confidence is severely dented and at the moment, by her own admission, her ability to think clearly and manage a way forward is somewhat limited. She feels unable to get into the right mindset to start looking for a new role. She doesn’t have a sense of being good at what she does or of having anything much to offer. For someone who works hard, is dedicated, experienced and talented, this simply doesn’t seem right.

Of course she could have played it differently over the last few months to avoid ending up as she has. She could, perhaps, have been more assertive and insisted on answers to some of her questions or played a different political game. It’s impossible for me (or indeed her) to know what difference this might have made or whether it would have been the right thing to do. What I do know is that she appears to have been short-changed by her manager.

Jane x.

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