Instructor Tip: Getting the Monkeys Off Your Back
As a manager or supervisor, do you find yourself harried, having more work to do than time? It's possible you may be "picking up monkeys" that don’t belong to you.
What is a monkey? Think of it as a task or assignment you choose to take on that really isn’t your responsibility and distracts you from focusing on your own work priorities. In its simplest form, a monkey is when you take responsibility for the next step. When you hear yourself say, “I’ll look into it and get back to you,” you have most likely picked up a monkey.
The first step in getting other people’s monkeys off your back is to identify why you are picking up their monkeys. What’s the lure?
- I enjoy/feel the need to help or rescue others
- I’m afraid/concerned about letting people down
- I want the task done right
- I’d rather say ‘yes’ than ‘no’
- I’m good/or the best person for the task
- I enjoy being involved
- I can do the task faster
Once you have identified the motivator, reframe your thoughts. In order to act differently, you have to think differently. For example, if you enjoy helping others, reframe your thinking from “I’ll do the task because that’s how I demonstrate I’m helpful,” to “I help people by teaching them self-reliance.” If you have a hard time saying ‘no’, reframe by asking yourself, “What will I be saying ‘yes’ to if I don’t pick up this monkey?” (e.g., a shorter workweek, less stress, more time with family, etc.)
Lastly, assertively resist the care and feeding of other people’s monkeys. Here are three communication tools that will help:
1. Partial Agreement
“You’re correct. This task was done in the past by the previous supervisor. I am rearranging work assignments and have every confidence in your ability and experience as a senior member of this team.”
“It hasn’t been part of your day-to-day routine. It has always been part of your job.”
3. Ask a question
“What are your concerns about this assignment?”
4. Contrasting (I don’t want…I do want)
“I don’t want you to think I’m dissatisfied with the quality of work you do. I do want you to be more efficient. I believe this assignment can be completed with the resources you have. Let’s discuss how this can be accomplished.”
5. Emphasize a thought/feeling
“I understand it is more work. We all are taking on additional responsibilities.”
Remember, your primary responsibility as a supervisor or manager is to get work done through others. Coach and develop your employees to regain control of their monkeys. Allow them to act and be accountable for their own work. Teach responsibility by giving responsibility. And finally, give the gift of self-reliance!
- Lynne M. Richards, MBA
Lynne Richards, M.B.A., www.leadinggenerations.com, is a member of the National Speaker's Association, and author and founder of Leading Generations, a training and leadership development firm. Lynne specializes in helping people develop their leadership and presentation skills. With over 20 years of experience in management and training, she brings a wealth of practical experience to the classroom.
Lynne Richards is a lead instructor in USM’s Professional Development Certificate Program in Supervision.
Lynne Richards’ upcoming USM’s Professional Development courses include: