Don’t make them cry


If you’ve been in the corporate or business arena for any period of time, chances are that someone has done something to you that was unthinking or insensitive, making you feel like you didn’t matter. This can be particularly upsetting if that someone is your boss. I shed a lot of (silent) tears because of some of the insensitive ways I was treated by some managers:


  • The first day I returned from maternity leave, I walked into my office and found someone else sitting at my desk. My manager had forgotten to let me know that an office had opened up across town where my client base was, and my stuff was packed into boxes and shipped to that spot in my absence.


  • Another manager reorganized his responsibilities while I was on Christmas break. While at a Christmas party, I learned from a friend that I would be reporting to someone new when I got back to work. Similar to the situation above, the manager “forgot” to let me know that I would be coming back to a big change.


  • A new boss made it perfectly clear that he wasn’t interested in the work I was responsible for. When we had meetings it was obvious he wasn’t listening by picking up the phone (and often talking at length to caller while I sat waiting for our meeting to resume) or interrupting our meetings for someone else who came to the office.


I’m sure you get the idea; there are other examples, but I’ll spare you. These incidents were all wake-up calls that it was time to move on, and I did just that. In each case, a sincere and heartfelt apology would have made me feel better but all I heard were excuses.


I never felt that these managers were horrible people; they were just insensitive. They were unaware of the impact of their actions on myself and others.


Stop. Think. You are a leader, and leaders make others feel like they matter by:


Communicating more than you think you need to: You may not communicate things that seem insignificant to you but they might be important to others. Even if those you lead matter to you, your actions can make them believe otherwise. Err on the side of over-communicating to the people who are impacted by your actions.


Listening: Do you remember a time that you felt you weren’t listened to? If so, you know how important it is. Turn and face the person you are listening to, look them in the eyes, and get rid of distractions. Listening to them is one of the most important things you can do.


Appreciating: Make sure that you consistently tell those you lead that you appreciate the work they are doing and you appreciate them too. The next time you do something insensitive, your gratefulness will help to smooth things over.


Pay attention to actions and decisions you make that might matter to others. When you make people feel like they are important by communicating, listening and appreciating them, they become invested in your leadership and your organization. That’s what leaders do.


I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

5 comments on “Don’t make them cry

  1. Real and every valid examples of “insensitive” contributory behavior that leads to feelings of frustration and personal conflict. Every tip mentioned as an out growth of these seemingly innocuous experiences can serve supervisors & managers engender trust & confidence in workplaces. These examples coupled with the frequency of exposure by the employee are what I call “contributing factors or unintentional consequences” of behavior, attitudes, practices and/or policies. They have nothing to do with violence until the “rubber band snaps”. No, supervisors & managers are not babysitters but they ought to act like leaders if, that’s what they think they are. Bravo to your summary! I hope supervisory training departments take notice & consider the longer term value if not from my perspective but from your leader point of view which will please me just the same.

  2. Felix, thanks for your insight. I’m pretty sure that almost everyone who works for or with others (ie, everyone) has similar examples to cite. None of the examples I gave are really big deals, but they all contribute to making someone feel “less than”, when indeed, a leader’s work is help people feel (in a way) “more than”. This takes intentionality, empathy, and a willingness to look at our own behavior; things that aren’t taught, but can be learned.

  3. All I can say Mary Jo is “BRAVO!”. I wish this happened far less than it does. Sometimes it is truly an oversight and, as you noted, can be forgiven if the a long term level of trust and respect has been established. But far too often these are acts of neglect. Sending the message to the person impacted that they just don’t matter. Do this enough and the leader will soon be dealing with a passive aggressive employee or may lose their best people altogether. Paying attention to these details is not that time consuming and is so critical to building strong relationships and a sense of caring and community. Thank you again for these great reminders.

  4. Scott, I think there is so much attention given to “bully bosses” that these less obvious slights go unnoticed. In their own way, as you’ve pointed out, they can be very damaging over time. They require a level of self-observation that many leaders just don’t have the capacity for (but it can be developed!).

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