Tips for dealing with difficult situations

I’ve said before that managing people in uncomfortable situations is not my strength. Firing, reprimanding or even editing a poorly written story can be difficult for me. My inclination is to be kind of an Alligator Mom, but not every situation requires that.

So, here are the top three things I’ve learned about taking the hard stance in management:

Find someone to play bad cop to your good cop (or vice versa).

I know this sounds cheesy and made-for-TV, but if you want to be the good guy, someone occasionally has to be the bad guy. If confrontation is someone else’s strength, that person might be more willing to play “bad cop” — and will probably be better at it. I end up playing good cop in most situations, and either Jessie, the editor in chief, or Ken, the managing editor for online, end up as bad cop. So while I’m saying, “I definitely understand your concerns here,” one of them says, “but you need to improve a, b and c.” So far, it’s worked well, and we can manage problems without destroying morale.

Don’t transfer problems.

I learned this the hard way, multiple times: if someone is a management problem in one role, he or she is likely to be a management problem in another position. It’s all about prevention here. Don’t shuffle people from desk to desk, hoping their attitudes will change. Never delegate all the management issues to a lower-level editor just because you don’t want to deal with the problem individual. If you see a recurring problem, address it. And if the situation doesn’t improve, remove the problem from the newsroom. Because confrontation isn’t my strong point, I often want to give people multiple chances, hoping they’ll work out their own issues. But if someone consistently takes more management time and energy than anyone else, you need to set a deadline and criteria for improvement. Don’t let problem people fester in the newsroom — they bring everyone else down with them.

Be honest.

The best way to deal with uncomfortable situations is often head-on. Confrontation will end faster and with less drama if you cut to the chase. Jessie likes to say she uses the radical honesty approach: not necessarily being brutally honest, but using honesty to build relationships in the newsroom. Lying to save people’s feelings only results in them continuing behaviors that you’ll eventually have to confront. Sometimes you have to say, “That story was really bad. Like, painfully bad. Here’s why.” Feelings might get hurt, but you (hopefully) won’t have to deal with those same issues again.

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