Overcoming that ‘stupid’ feeling: a lesson for managers

I came across this excellent blog post by Christopher VanLang this afternoon, which talks about how to overcome the ‘stupid’ feeling that many PhD students get at various points during their studies brought on by the nature of the learning experience, and various hurdles we have to overcome to reach that glorious end goal.

As an Organisational Psychologist and HR Manager, I immediately started thinking about the truth in this, not just in my role as a PhD student but also as an employee and manager in a work organisation.

Of course, as adults, we have a responsibility to make sure we are equipt to do our jobs but managers have a really important part to play here too. I have, numerous times, had conversations with members of my team about difficulties they were having when it was abundantly clear that they were struggling with lack of confidence. I knew that they could do the job, but they didn’t…they felt ‘stupid’.

These are my thoughts on the ways that managers (or colleagues for that matter) to help avoid that ‘stupid’ feeling:

  • Give continuous, honest feedback. If someone does something well, let them know why so that they can learn from it
  • Let people make mistakes. Only by letting people the freedom to make mistakes will they learn. Of course, this doesn’t mean allowing serious issues to go unmanaged. It does, however, mean not micro-managing every detail and…
  • Focus on solutions not problems. Nothing is achieved by dwelling on issues. Discuss it, then move on to the solution.
  • Help them find their own solution. No good comes from the attitude, “it’ll be quicker if I do it myself” – we all do it, I know I do when I’m busy, but this doesn’t achieve anything. Ask “talk me through what you are planning to do” and give feedback

I feel incredibly lucky that I have not only a great PhD supervisor but also a great manager at my ‘paid’ job who help me through the ‘stupid’ times and I hope I do the same for my team and colleagues.


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