managing people

Elaine Ingham inghame at AVA.BCC.ORST.EDU
Tue Jan 23 18:21:51 EST 1996

I have enjoyed a great deal ALL of the messages about getting heard, 
managing people, etc.  I too am not always able to get to e-mail for long 
periods of time, so if the answers trickle in or if threads take a while 
to develop into something new, I don't mind.  There's always the delete 

Like Carol Auer, in her recent message, I had never had any
management training, and yet, as a post-doc, I was suddenly expected to 
run a lab of two full-time techs, a herd of grad students, and another 
herd of undergraduate work study students.  As a professor, I now have a 
lab with three full time techs, a half-time tech, and somewhere between 
five and ten undergrad hourly and work-study students.  I have had as 
many as six graduate students, and as few as none at any one time.  I 
teach large size classes (180 students), and small size size classes 
(10). I hope that establishes my credentials to talk about the topic.

I find that communication is the key element in everything.  When someone 
seems to be ignoring what I say, I go talk to them and cautiously 
indicate to them that they seemed to have ignored the fact I stated the 
facts first.  This is not easy if you are overpowered by the person, or 
percieve that they won't listen to you.  But your perception could be 
plain wrong and you have to at least give talking to them a try.  If that 
doesn't work, then you have to seek out some higher level help.  Try 
talking to a colleague that you can talk to, but is perhaps "higher up" 
in the hierarchy of the department.  Or, more senior, or whatever.  Ask 
them what to do about the problem.  

In both cases, either talking to the person you thought was performing 
inappropriately, or by talking to someone you trust and was there at the 
incident, you may hear the reason why you were treated the way you were.  
You may discover that you stated your fact as a question, or hesitantly, 
as if you didn't know what you were talking about, or you weren't clear, 
or you rambled.  Those are things you can then work on in regards to 

Don't invoke "that man ignored what I had to say, and 
everyone in the room is a bunch of MCPs" until you've tried 
communicating your perception with others.  Make sure you're seeing the 
situation correctly before you get bent out of shape.  If others agree 
with your perception, then you aren't a lone voice in the wilderness.  If 
others don't agree with you, then you have to check how you are reacting 
to the situation.  But if you KNOW your perception is correct, and you 
are truly being treated unfairly, and you've tried communicating with the 
cause, with your colleagues, with your department head, then it's 
time to head to the Dean, or someone at your institution that is supposed 
to monitor discrimination.  Documentation is important in this case - 
write down dates, what was said, who said it, the steps you've taken to 
deal with the problem.  

With respect to managing a team of people, communication is again the key. 
There is no one style of communication that will work in all situations,
and you have to finally realize that you can't be the best advisor for all
people.  With everyone's busy schedule, you have to maximize the real
communication, and minimize the meaningless words.  How do you do that? 
We have lab meetings once a week where most problems get dealt with for
the lab.  I had to learn to keep my mouth closed and let people talk out
their problems, instead of trying to answer all the problems right away. 
As discussed in the book, "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, some
people just want to air their frustrations, not really have their problems
solved.  I had to learn to let frustration airing occur, and then ask them
what they wanted to see done.  I'mm still not perfect (probably never will
be), at this sort of intraction.  Although I'm female, I'm from Mars, I
guess.  I want to fix problems, not spend time on how that problem affects
every nuance of people's interactions in the lab.....  So, you have to
learn to deal with poeple from Mars and Venus.  And those in-between. 

For me, the biggest problem is getting too busy to deal with problems 
that come up.  With lab personnel, I have a hierarchy to deal with 
problem-shooting.  If there's no satisfaction at one layer, the problem 
jumps to the next layer, and then finally to me.  Thus, I only deal with 
the reasonably important problems at lab meeting every week. 

But I have had graduate students that won't come to lab meetings, and they
then don't have a weekly chance to air frustrations or problems.  In the
cases where I've allowed students not to have some time allotted to
hearing about them, I've had difficulties with that student.  They need to
meet with me on some regular basis, where I have the time to really hear
them and any frustrations they're having.  If I'm too busy, or they're too
busy, if the meetings don't happen, then trouble is heading my way. 
Rumors too easily get expanded beyond belief no matter where you work. 
Academics aren't less prone to rumor-mongering than anyone else, the
topics about which rumors are spread are a bit different, that's all.  So,
when something doesn't make sense, seems wrong, inappropriate, try to
communicate with others about the problem.  I think the basic problem
always comes down to communicating, whether it's a problem you percieve,
or in getting those working with you to do their best. 

Elaine Ingham  

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