Every manager has scratched their head at some point thinking “I’m just not connecting with my Directs Jim lately. They’re just not listening or doing what I want.”
What can I do to re-connect?
I’ve found that the best remedy is often to step back and look at the situation from the Direct’s point of view. I admit this is easier said than done but hear me out. It’s worth the effort. I can’t tell you how many times this has worked for me. I’m working along concentrating on my job when along comes some nitwit Direct that is trying to screw everything up. Doesn’t he understand what’s going on here? In reality, it’s usually me that is screwing things up. I am too engrossed in my “job” that I forget to look up in time to see what’s going on around me.
If I step back and pretend to be the Direct for just a minute, I’ll realize that he is not trying to screw up. He’s doing the best that he can with the information that I’ve given him. He’s not actively working against me. He’s aimed at the wrong target and that’s MY fault. I’m the manager and I set the trajectory.
When I take a moment to talk to him about where we are going and why, all of a sudden he’s back on track and we can get back to business.
The second way to re-connect is to spend time with your directs outside of the work environment. This may or may not come naturally for you. But that really doesn’t matter. This isn’t about you. This is about you being an effective manager. This can be as simple as taking the gang out to lunch occasionally or pulling your Direct aside and taking him for a round of golf on Friday afternoon. There are a million other things that you can do, but the point is that you need to have some time with him in which you’re not acting as the “boss” and he’s not acting as the “Direct”. You’re just a couple of guys doing their best to make it in this cruel world. (That was a bit dramatic.)
Looking at each other in this new atmosphere or context will help your brain to remember that this is another person and not some talking head robot that wants to ruin your career. This is important because our interactions with other people are nearly always better than our interactions with the “boss” or the “Direct”. That humanity can really make a difference.
Another way to re-connect with him is to collaborate on a different project or activity. Something other than what you’ve been doing lately. Maybe you can work together to clean out the supply closet or brainstorm for the upcoming staff meeting. The activity should be on the light side–nothing too heavy and difficult at this point. This will allow you both to relax and drop your guard a little bit.
During the conversation, listen for a recurring theme or hints at what may be wrong with your relationship. Don’t jump on these too hard. Continue to assemble the points until a bigger picture begins to emerge. Then spend some time thinking about the bigger issue before you start arguing or making corrections.
Lastly, a self-deprecating joke has a tendency to break the ice if the situation isn’t too serious. This has to be self-deprecating–a joke at your Direct’s expense will go over like a lead balloon and just make the disconnect worse and it will be even harder to get things back on track.
There you go. Four ways to re-connect with a Direct that you can use the next time things start to seem a little bit off before they get completely derailed. What would you do to Simplify Management of a Direct that is disconnected? Comment below.