Features Managerial Competence

The Battle for Employee Engagement

I have always believed in the primacy of discourse over argument. Discourse is often defined as “communication of thought by words; talk; conversation” while an argument is “an oral disagreement; verbal opposition; contention; altercation.”

In times of passion we are all susceptible to letting wild gesticulation and screaming beat the crap out of respectful and rational discussion. Of late, our public world has begun to resemble less a pleasant and respectful chat about our differences over a nice cup of coffee and more a bad weekend at Michael Vick’s house.

In fact recently New York’s disconcertingly roguish Republican candidate for Governor, Carl Paladino, publically threatened that he would “take…out” the New York Post’s Fredric Dicker. Was it justified? Perhaps. But guess what? No one remembers the reason (Dicker allegedly harassed Paladino’s 10 year old daughter) they just remember the actions (angry old man threatening to rubout another angry old man).

Anger is something that seems so damned right at the moment but it seldom gets the substance of your point across (unless your point is being a bully or a jackass). Right now I’m guessing some of you might be foaming at the mouth and screaming “what’s your point Mr. High Brow?” Before you punch me in the face for using words like “primacy” and “gesticulation” here’s my point: If you want to learn how to effectively engage people whether it be in the workplace or in your life you are just going to have to check your inner-Paladino at the door.

The traditional and stereotypical boss from movies and TV is a hardnosed, take-no-prisoners, win-at all-costs, unfair, anger machine. In reality, leading isn’t about yelling–it’s about communicating with your subordinates so everyone can get things done. Do you sometimes have to turn up the heat and let those you lead know they are disappointing you? Sure. But in the end, you will get nothing done (i.e. fail) unless you rely heavily on discourse over argument.

Employee engagement centers on using thoughtful and empathetic skills to not only engage those you lead but to enhance them as well. It’s kind of hard to enhance someone’s skills by threatening to “take them out.” Sure, your anger will no doubt get their attention, but odds are their actual abilities won’t improve one iota.

No one is telling you to start acting like Mr. Rogers. Yes, it would be nice if every boss would slip on a cardigan and boat shoes right before telling you that the 3rd Quarter sales reports are a mess, but that’s not what I am talking about here. You can be tough, you can be stern but in this day and age you need to learn how to engage and enhance those around you to have any real shot at success.