Strong Swimmers are the first to Jump Overboard



John Whitaker
07/30/2018

You know there’s a funny fact about mosquitoes…only the female variety of mosquito will bite you, while only the male mosquito makes an audible “buzz” when it flies. So the saying goes, it’s when you hear nothing that you should worry most.

We’re currently going through one of those transitory phases where change & uncertainty abound. Needless to say, the buzzing has begun in earnest and employees attack any vacuum of information by filling in the blanks with whatever information we can – gossip, conjecture, commiseration, some fact, some fiction. On any given day, the narrative may change as bits of information are acquired, interpreted, and factored into the commentary. And, as I’ve written before, the human default mindset during times like these is decidedly negative, so the “buzz” is fueled by fear, anxiety, and pessimism. It’s not a good place to be, emotionally speaking. Buzzzzzzzz…

But the buzzing does have its merits. When people talk, you can listen, respond, and maybe even alleviate their concerns. At the very least you can start to listen for common themes. It’s hearing nothing that should make you worry. Whether the silence is one of resistance, disagreement, disillusionment, or disengagement, you can’t address what you don’t know.

Why the silence? Many are coping in their own silent, invisible manner – including those who know they have the skillset to quickly and seamlessly find a newer, less volatile workplace. And remember, it’s the strongest swimmers who are the first to abandon a sinking ship.

So, as leaders, how do you keep your best hands on deck?

  1. Let Them Know ~ Do your key people know they are key people? Recognition and appreciation are rarely used too much in situations of uncertainty. If I’m someone you truly value, tell me so.
  2. Be Available ~ Closed office doors breed mistrust. While mouths may be shut, eyes are wide open and your employees are taking visual note when too many “private” meetings take place. It can be unavoidable, especially when you’re in Human Resources, but acknowledge the anxiety you may be causing with closed-door conversations and empathize.
  3. Seek Resistance ~ When you’re not hearing angst or concern, you need to actively seek it out. Be a walk-around manager, be visible, be communicative, and be a safe harbor for your people when the opportunity to vent presents itself.
  4. Be The Mirror ~ Realize that eyes of your team are upon you; your role changes from barometer to thermostat during times of uncertainty. Your actions and words will set the tone, especially to those who are wavering in their commitment level. The power of “Mirroring” (Pritchett) cannot be underestimated.
  5. Keep Managing ~ Lack of leadership is kryptonite to a high-performing employee. If you relinquish control or relax expectations, you risk the dreaded double-whammy, i.e. you’ll lose the good people, but you’ll keep those who are happy to be disguised with inactivity.

It’s not easy to rise above your own emotional response when faced with significant change. You can’t avoid or ignore your own coping process, but rise above the personal impact of uncertainty to make a collective impact on those around you. Do your best to keep the buzzing active – the alternative will bite you.

John Whitaker (“Whit”) is Vice President of Talent Acquisition for DentalOne Partners and the founder of HRHardball.com (2008). He specializes in building and developing strong recruiting teams who are unafraid of “kicking the ant pile.” Like most Texans, he loves to tell a story (especially those that include an armadillo or a poker game) and cutting through the chaff…don’t take it personal..

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.

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