Avoidaholics: The Uncomfortable Communication between Managers and Employees

A recent survey by Harris Poll indicated 69% of managers were uncomfortable communicating with their employees. A Gallup poll of US Employee Engagement shows 32.5% of employees felt they were engaged at their job; so that would infer 67.5% of employees felt they were NOT engaged. In another poll by Gallup, employees were asked if they felt they could approach their manager with any question and 63% fell somewhere in the mix from strongly disagreeing to weakly agreeing. Lastly one more, a Gallup poll of “Millennials” indicated they want more feedback from their employer.

Engagement with management is a major factor in job satisfaction and job performance. The employee must feel they are given appropriate feedback, have the ability to ask questions and put forth ideas. These surveys show that basically two thirds (2/3s) of management and employees are not syncing in communication. This would have a significant effect on productivity, output and outcomes.

In my review of recent articles discussing these particular surveys and polls, authors and experts offered insight and solutions as to how managers could improve their feedback and communications skills. Suggestions ranged from “Being Kind”, “Listen”, “Don’t Make It Personal”, “Be Present”, and “Inspire Greatness”. Other suggestions were “Build Rapport”, “Have One on Ones” and “Lead by Example”.

These are great traditional management credos, but are they are pretty much innocuous platitudes. Because the real issue here is everyone is AFRAID. Management is afraid to communicate and interact. Employees are scared to ask for guidance and assert what they need to be successful. So it’s a two way non-communication street with everyone going nowhere. But I believe the heart of the issue is that all parties are in the state of what I will term, “Avoidaholic”.

I mean avoidaholic as in not wanting to encounter pain, hurt or dissension. Avoidance of not having to encounter emotions they don’t want to deal with. Avoiding rejection and having their self-esteem doused. Avoidance of having their perspectives and viewpoints challenged, weakened or crushed. What has happened is people have been promoted with low levels of emotional intelligence quotients. Emotional IQ. They don’t have the ability to work past their paralysis of negative emotions and limiting beliefs.

The platitudes of instructing or teaching a manager to just simply be kind, inspire or lead by example will not work long term on even the most superficial level because it does not address the root problem. People don’t know how to handle their pain. Those platitudes will not override a human running a software program or “app” in their mind where they are deeply afraid and fearful of the pain of dealing with what they feel will happen.

Upper level management can bring in an outside training team for a long weekend at a resort to instruct and pump up managers to communicate better, lead and finish off with a walk on hot coals. But when they get back Monday morning and try to implement the weekend’s newest fix, if it goes against what the unconscious mind will allow that individual to do, then it’s a no go. The gatekeeper receives the manager’s conscious mind command to do more “one on ones”, “develop rapport”, and “listen more” and passes it off to the unconscious mind and it rejects it as unsafe. It has proof and a program or application that says, “I’m Sorry. No Way, Not Safe, not going there”.

The same goes for the employee wanting to approach his manager to ask a question or put forth some idea that would benefit the company. Management teams may bring in someone “neutral” with creative exercises to get the employees to open up more, find their voice, to speak out and be more engaging. But it will be in vain and nothing of value will be seen from it in the light of day. Because when the conscious mind passes it to the gatekeeper to get approval from the unconscious, if there are unconscious programs running that prove it could be emotionally harmful, it’s a no go as well. The unconscious mind has a program, a proof from a past event, trauma or something passed on through family or cultural upbringing that will override that individual’s effort to do or be any different.

An example, 4 year old little Emily watches mom in her craft room and Emily goes in and picks up some sharp scissors and mother screams. “Put that down!!! It’s dangerous!!!”, swats Emily telling her to get out and slams the door. Emily is startled, crying and hurt as she doesn’t quite comprehend why she can’t play with pretty shiny sharp scissors. Then Emily comes in again months later playing and mixing up the craft supply boxes and mother screams at her and tells her to get out. Emily is hurt again as she is curious. But one day Emily is age 7, mother decides it’s time to ask Emily to join her in the craft room, but then Emily is thinking, “This is not safe, I will not go in there”, and is resistant now even with mother’s encouragement. Right or Wrong, Good or Bad. It’s not safe to be curious.

Little Ben was in 3rd grade and on a crowded school bus one morning and a younger 1st grade girl got on the bus and he gave up his seat to her. But as he got up to give her his seat, the bus moved forward he lost his balance and crashed with his books onto another little girl who screamed out that Ben had pushed her.  She cried and cried and the bus driver turned Ben into the principal’s office when they arrive at school. A tearful Ben who had sweet intentions is trying to explain to the principal that it was an honest accident. Ben gets punished anyway and he is now emotionally wounded. Right or Wrong, Good or Bad. It’s not safe to do the right thing.

Bill is 12 years old and his dad sits at the dinner table every night telling stories about how management has been screwing him over and what jerks they are. Then one day Bill comes home from school and dad is home early and drunk. Bill’s dad tells him he was let go because “those assholes” didn’t appreciate him and took advantage of him. Now the family has no income and now Bill fears how will they pay bills and eat. His father is deeply wounded and therefore Bill will be too, because he loves his dad. Right or Wrong, Good or Bad, Bill now has a new program. It’s not safe to trust management as they will eventually screw you.

There are countless overlays and depths and levels why employees and managers have their mind sets and perspectives as to how they see the world. Their self-esteem and self-worth is on the line. If it’s emotionally painful, the unconscious says, “I will protect you and will not let that happen ever again”. Anytime in the future when similar situation arises, no matter how reasonable, it will be shut down to protect the individual from pain. They are now an “avoidaholic”, avoiding anything that will put them anywhere near a compromising situation.

Upper level management who recognize they have managers who are not comfortable giving feedback or an employee not comfortable being proactive, they need to realize that a pep talk or weekend master mind are nothing more than a weak Band-Aid and will not remedy the issue. The lack of emotional IQ has to be addressed.

This is not a simple issue and it takes someone highly skilled and gifted enough to know how to ferret these patterns out. These patterns not only exist in the individual, but they can also permeate across a company and its corporate culture. I know from personal experience these patterns can be successfully negated and replaced with better serving, truly empowering mental states. Once you have addressed the root issue as to what is causing the individual or organization to be in pain and in the state of “avoidaholic”, then communication will begin to flow back and forth. And then at that point, being present, kind, a good listener and an inspiring leader will come forth as natural extension of an improved emotional intelligence. And it will Flourish.

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