I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine. She described a meeting she had with a manager she’s been having difficulty with and the person both of them reported to. She said that the conversation wasn’t going well, but at least she was being heard.


by Markus Spiske
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Then from left field this manager threw out some personal stuff that my friend had told her earlier in the year during a down moment, and suddenly the entire meeting changed. Instead of looking like a competent employee on her game, suddenly she felt she looked like someone barely hanging on, just doing enough to get things done. She was mortified by the disclosure because the way it came out made her seem like she was on the verge of incompetence; her words, not mine.

I wrote an article titled Work Friends Aren’t Often Friends At all, and it was situations like this that I was alluding to. Any time you open yourself up to someone you really don’t know all that well you’re basically saying “use this against me if you need to”. I’ve seen this type of behavior over and over throughout the years, and I don’t like it one bit, but it happens and it’s what I try to caution people against.

It’s bad enough when it’s a co-worker pulls something like this, but what about managers who do it? It’s reprehensible, but is it something that they need to keep in the back of their minds when one of their employees confided something personal to them?

This is a tough one and not so easily answered. If you have an employee who tells you that a spouse has been stalking them and they’re scared for their safety, is it your responsibility to put security on alert because it’s a situation that could affect other people who may or may not work in the organization, or are you sworn to secrecy no matter what?

Lines can easily become blurred when potentially dangerous situations are a part of what’s going on. However, most of the time information an employee gives you is straight up personal and has no bearing on the job at hand.

Someone might tell you something as a shared story that might give you some kind of insight into the type of person they really are. Using that information back at them, whether sharing it with someone else or pulling it up when you’re having business discussions with them, is inherently unfair. Saying something like “well, seeing the way you raise your kids, I can see why you have problems getting things right” is totally unacceptable; what would one thing have to do with the other?

Managers and leaders need to show morality when deciding what’s relevant to the workplace and what’s not. From my perspective, I taught myself to forget a lot of things I heard, but to keep alert for things that could cause disruption at the office.

In one scenario I had to deal with because the information presented a situation that was potentially dangerous, I informed security to keep an extra lookout; I wasn’t taking any chances with the safety and lives of the rest of my employees. In today’s violent environment, security should always come first. Had it been anything else… I’d have kept it to myself until I could eliminate it completely from my mind.

Overall I believe using personal information against an employee is unfair, but I recognize there might be instances where it’s necessary. If you need to promote someone and you have someone who’s talented but whose personal behavior is suspect, you have a tough decision to make. You can ignore the person outright, or have a discussion with the employee about the importance of presenting themselves in a more professional manner. There’s enough bad leaders in the world without contributing to the pool.

Is this something you’ve had to deal with in your business or career? If so, how did you handle it?
 

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