North American Headquarters - Richmond, Virginia
(804) 323-0467

Hard Learned Management Lesson; Be Mindful of Unintended Signals

Sometimes I think I’m just destined to learn the hard way. For one thing, I’m a pacer. I seldom sit at my desk for very long. Since, as a manager, I generally have to get my work done through other people I just prefer to be out there with the people sharing ideas, making plans and being part of the real day-to-day business of the company. So, the folks that work with and/or for me are used to seeing me strolling (and sometimes trotting) up and down the hallways several times a day. That might seem harmless enough on the surface, but read on.

Apparently in our company it became a common practice to steal a quick glance at the look on my face as I whizzed by your desk and try to determine what kind of mood I was in, thereby facilitating dead reckoning on the financial status of the company, who might be promoted or fired and whether we were likely to be sold to Microsoft. Only God and I realized that a scowl might just as well have meant that I had failed to get the Bruce Springsteen or Jimmy Buffet concert tickets I had coveted and a beaming smile might have meant that I got front row seats at half price. But, as I told you, I learn the hard way. It never occurred to me that anyone was watching that closely or that I wore my emotions so deeply etched on my face.

Luckily, another member of our management team let me in on the secret. While these were not her exact words her message was something like “You might want to do your deep thinking elsewhere!”

Clearly, I was oblivious to the fact that I might be having a negative impact on office productivity by virtue of my very presence. But after giving the matter considerable thought, it was obvious that such was the case with almost every manager, and most certainly those with emotive faces and broad gestures. I thought back to the early days of my career and remembered several instances in which I tried to read the face of one of my supervisors so that I could determine the best time to bring in bad news about project overruns or our failure to meet sales goals. Alas! After all these years I had become one of “them”.

There’s even a bit more to this particular personal story. In case you haven’t been able to tell by now, I’m a born optimist. I wake up (almost) every morning anticipating a great day. I truly believe that most problems are overblown and anything but insurmountable and that opportunities lie around every corner. So, I smile a lot. And laugh a lot. And try to make others smile and laugh and see the upside of a situation. But I’m certain you see this particular downside coming. If ever a colleague or employee were to see me in an off or bad mood it was assumed that a worst-case scenario had blanketed my world like a dense fog. I want to remind you again that it might actually have been a momentary reaction to those damned concert tickets, but that doesn’t matter. Perception is reality. As I walked down the hall, I interrupted real work, darkened everyone’s mood and undermined productivity. I had become a disabler.

Just to bring the story full circle, you have to know that I simply could not break myself of the habit of “management by walking around”. Instead I tried (and continue to try) to keep a smile on my face in the office or at least a neutral expression. It doesn’t always work, but at least I am now aware of the impact of nonverbal communication on productivity.

Note Number One: Yes I know, that’s a picture of a dog up above. Our dog Skippy in fact. Note his impassive expression. He’s quite good at looking as though he couldn’t care less. He also gets his way a lot. I have learned much from him. But the bottom line is everyone loves pet pictures. Bet it got your attention!

Note Number Two: This posting is a excerpt from my new book “Points of Productivity; A Second Edition” due later this year.