my employees don’t like the way I coach them

A reader writes:

I’m a fairly new manager of a small team and recently received some feedback from an employee that I don’t know what to do about. A previous employee had also given me the same feedback so I’m starting to see a pattern.

When team members come to me with questions, I tend not to give the answer right away, but ask them questions back to stimulate their thinking. Most often they do know the answers but are just not making the connections or fully analyzing the situation. Sometimes they are quite far off and we end up spending 15-30 minutes fleshing it out. I thought I was “coaching” and helping to improve their critical thinking skills, but they don’t see it this way.

I have overheard grumblings about my “Socratic” method and would I just tell them the answer already so they can get back to their work! Our workloads are high and we are quite busy, so I can empathize there. They also find it stressful because they are having to think on their feet and remember facts and details. Plus, they are uncomfortable with me knowing what they don’t know, or being wrong in front of me. That was some feedback I received directly.

Another manager sometimes works directly with my team and they love her because she always tells them exactly what to do and they don’t have to think about anything or make any judgement calls. They’ve definitely hinted at this in a not-so-subtle way — okay, I get it.

I know exactly why I’m like this and it’s from university and years of grad school. This Socratic method was the norm with my professors and grad school supervisor. They were focused on training us on how to think. I guess I have carried this into the workplace. None of my team members have post-grad schooling, just bachelors degrees.

I don’t know what to do. The team really needs to improve their critical thinking skills and problem-solving ability. I don’t feel I’m helping them by spoon feeding everything, but I don’t want them hating me either. Maybe I should have just become a professor!

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

my employees don’t like the way I coach them was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.


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