Astonishing advice

Oh, dear. Oh, dear.

Sunday afternoon, as I was getting ready to fly out to visit a client, I cast about for some airplane reading. I found a thin little book called Managing Your Boss, by Sandi Mann.

In the section titled “Emotional Management,” the author advises that we learn to recognize which emotions will impress our boss, and systematically display them. She adds that we shouldn’t reserve these displays only for our boss, because that might make one appear false, rather than truly impressive.

Next she advises that we need to learn to “fake and hide.” Some emotional situations — a personal worry or concern, a health problem, feeling ill, being passed over for promotion — she asserts, make it “difficult to display the required emotions while simultaneously hiding your real ones.” Her advice is to try to arrange your physical features to reflect the necessary impressive emotion, or if that fails, try method acting.

You know, I believe “managing up” can be helpful. And I find Ms. Mann’s advice disturbing.

Consider this scenario:

Years ago, when I was a manager, one of the guys in my group, Jon, came into my office and closed the door. He looked awful. He told me that his wife had left him for the guy who lived down the street. He was devastated. And he was worried about needing to take chunks of time off to work for divorce and custody proceedings. He was concerned that the stress would effect his job performance.

We had a long talk about options. We looked at how he could flex his schedule, use vacation, or take some family leave if he needed to. I was able to hook Jon up with the corporate employee assistance program, where he arranged for short-term counseling to help support him through the divorce.

I was willing to accept the short-term dip, knowing that when he was through the worst of the divorce mess, he’d be back. Jon’s work wasn’t up to his usual standards for a couple of months, but it wasn’t shabby, either. He was still a solid contributor. And he did come back.

I didn’t take care of Jon,and I didn’t pretend to be his therapist. I made him aware of what was possible through the company benefits program and made the initial connections to HR so he could access what was available. That was my job as his manager.

If Jon had been on the “fake and hide” program, what would have happened? His stress probably would have been worse. His work would have suffered, and I would have noticed. Then I’d have asked him what was going on, and if he was still trying to impress his boss, he would have hidden the divorce, his distress, and faked enthusiasm . And the story would have a different ending.

Sure, we all need to manage our emotions and consider the context in how much we “let go” at work. That’s different from suppressing emotions, hiding emotions, or faking emotions.

Faking and hiding, showing the emotions that calculated to impress the boss, may accomplish something, but I can’t imagine that it’s something useful.