Trusting others to know what’s best for them.

Managers are required to make decisions that affect the careers of their direct reports. It just goes with the territory. But all too often, with the best of intentions, we default to our assumptions instead of consulting with the individual in question.  It’s scary how often this happens and how many of us are guilty without realizing it.  Even worse, you’d think that gender bias would no longer figure into the formula. But it does.

Case in point: you assume that because a woman is pregnant that this isn’t a good time for her to take on a promotion. In fact, it might not be, but if she’s earned your consideration, hasn’t she earned the right to weigh in on her own career? Likewise, I’ve heard managers assume that, because an employee’s spouse has a thriving career, they’d be reluctant to take on a job that would require a move. Again — why is it so hard to ask?  Maybe they’d like to move closer to relatives. Maybe they’re ready for a change. Or they can arrange to work remotely. The point is — you don’t know, because you didn’t ask.

As managers, we must make daily decisions about how to best deploy, motivate and reward employees. That doesn’t make it our right to presume we know best when it comes to personal decisions in their lives. Engage the employee in the discussion about a future opportunity and see if something can be worked out. Don’t take it off the table until they say “no, thank you.”

Oddly enough, we sometimes do the same thing with clients. We may have a new product or service that we know they’d put to good use, but we don’t make the offer because we assume they can’t afford it. Or that they’ll resent the sales pitch.  Or even that they are too traditional to appreciate the value of the new technology you are reluctant to offer them.

Relationships are built on trust and it begins with us. If we don’t trust people enough to ask them to consider decisions that affect their own lives, how can we expect them to trust us? Rational people make rational decisions. Don’t presume; ask.