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A manager’s influence: Do your actions support or undermine engagement?

Imagine you’re walking down a path in the woods. Up ahead, you see something in the middle of the trail. Is it a snake? Maybe it’s just a stick. Your brain sends you signals to beware. Your attention is focused on the potential threat of a snake and your body prepares to flee if necessary.

Now imagine you’re walking down the hallway in your workplace. Up ahead, you see your boss quickly walking toward you with a furrowed brow and a deep frown. Your brain sends you signals to beware. Your attention is focused on a potential threat… not a physical threat, but a psychological or “social” threat. Is my boss angry at me? Did I do something wrong? Am I about to be yelled at? Embarrassed? Humiliated? Your body prepares to flee if necessary.

As I mentioned in my last blog, our brain responds to social threats the same way it does to physical threats. Employees are particularly in-tune with their manager’s behaviors, either consciously or subconsciously, to assess the mood and tone of their work environment. They constantly observe and interpret the social meaning of their manager’s words, tone of voice, and especially body language. Sometimes employees magnify and amplify their interpretation of these behaviors in ways the manager never intended! Seeing a manager roll his eyes at a comment, or pass in the hallway without greeting or acknowledging the employee, can be interpreted as devaluing behaviors.

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