The Torn Manager: It's tough being the middleman

The Torn Manager
It's tough being the middleman
By Terri Levine

Managers often find themselves playing the role of middleman because that is what they are . . . in the middle - the go-between for higher management and the workers. You can see how this can present a conflict of interests. How do you represent the views of the upper echelon and protect the interests of those who work under you at the same time? It can be done, of course, and is done every day. It's part and parcel of being a manager and goes with the territory along with a large dose of stress.

The same thin line is being walked between customer and company loyalty. How can a manager look out for the best interests of customers and top management at the same time?

Then there is the fear factor involved in knowing when to act, when to speak up, or to follow the desire to try something new. On the one hand, managers are encouraged to speak up, and take risks - if the risks will lead to successful outcomes! But if the risk doesn't have a successful outcome, heads will roll, and we don't have to guess whose head will be rolling! Likewise, speaking up is all very well and good, but what if it damages the working relationship?

Finding the perfect balance
The problem with walking these fine lines is finding the perfect balance. Finding this balance is just one of the new skills managers need to master to be effective in their roles.

The key to finding this balance is in learning the art of communication in its truest sense. We can speak the harshest truths without ruffling feathers when we choose our words carefully. We know it is possible to soothe an unhappy customer without running our company down - this is a skill salespeople use every day - and we can apply that skill to in-house communications too. Here are a few ways we can do this and walk the thin line without falling off:

We can clear the way for open and honest communication by expressing our desire to communicate openly without intended offense and expressing our objective to find agreement or solutions that will keep everyone happy.

When communicating about matters of conflict, it is important to be able to truly listen to the other point of view without giving up your own. Simple phrases such as "I understand" and "I can see your point of view and why you'd think that" can go a long way to diffusing heated arguments. People want their opinions respected and acknowledged, and when they have gotten what they need to say off their chest, and you have listened respectfully, you will find they are better able to listen to you when it is your turn.

Choose your words carefully. Practice speeches and conversations in your head before you have them. The words will flow more easily if you have thought about it beforehand and you are less likely to become emotional or frustrated or offend someone.

When representing either your workforce or your management, be careful to just state the facts without sounding like you are taking sides - or being judgmental! Be an impartial deliverer of information. Do not become emotionally involved in the "message" you are delivering. If it helps, think of yourself as a mediator.

Always show respect, even if the other person does not - whether it is a member of your staff or your senior management. Retain your dignity. Yours is a special position to maintain. In a sense, you work for your own workforce as well as upper management, and you need to remain on good terms with both.

Managers may feel torn from time to time, but with effective communication skills under their belt they will be able to walk the thin line with confidence.

Terri Levine is the president of Comprehensive Coaching U - The Professional's Coach Training Program. She can be contacted via phone (215) 699-4949 or by email at