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How to Respond to a Text You Weren’t Supposed to See

Apr. 17th, 2018

The Situation

You are the vice president of a marketing firm. One of your direct reports, Mason, prepares client presentations for you. You’ve worked together for a year in a fairly smooth relationship. Mason is somewhat quiet, but efficient at the job. He has never spoken to you about any problems working together.

However, you received a text from Mason one evening when you were both working late. Once you started reading, it became clear it was sent to you by mistake. It was meant for one of Mason’s friends. It reads:

manager behavior

It’s Your Move

It bothers you to learn that Mason regards your working relationship this way. Could he be right?  The thing is, he has never expressed any frustration about this. What should your reaction be as a Q4 leader?

Your Choices:

To avoid embarrassing him, don’t discuss the text with Mason. But do begin to change how you interact, showing you trust his abilities. He will change his perception over time.
Discuss the text with Mason, with an eye toward listening to what he has to say. That will help build candor and trust.
It’s inevitable for employees to complain about the boss. The text wasn’t meant for you. Ignore it for now and see if he feels strongly enough to say something to you later.

Choice A

To build a Q4 candid relationship, it would not be constructive to ignore the text message. Even though the text gives you insight for working with Mason in the future, it’s still better to discuss what happened in order to work on your relationship. Provide as comfortable a setting as you can for discussion. Follow Answer B, and you should come out of this with a way for Mason to speak honestly about his job and help you work together better in the future.

Choice B

It would be human nature for you to be defensive after reading Mason’s hidden feelings. (You don’t really hover, do you?) But a Q4 leader is approachable about employees’ candid feelings. That’s one of the strongest reasons for meeting about the text. Remember, this is how he perceives reality, whether you agree or not. Give Mason a real platform for airing his feelings. Let him do the talking. Turn it into a positive about your future work relationship. Going forward, what can you both do to communicate better and work more effectively with one another? Let Mason suggest the ways.

Choice C

This is a cynical response that a Q4 leader shouldn’t give in to. It’s also Q2 passive. It sounds like a way simply to avoid dealing with employees and their “pesky” feelings. Your role is to promote communication, not tamp it down until it explodes. Initially, it may be awkward to acknowledge the mis-directed text. But you can use the event to build candor between you. Answer B has details.