Don’t. Take. The. Monkey.

Ever had someone stop by your desk, tell you about a problem, and walk away, leaving the mess in your hands? They just gave you a monkey. And what’s worse is that you let them do it.

monkey-managementIf you’re not familiar, there’s a common phrase this relates to, which is “monkey on your back.” It’s a metaphor for an unwanted burden that it’s difficult to get rid of. When you accept someone else’s problems, you’re taking the monkey off their back and putting it onto yours. Don’t do it. Don’t take the monkey.

How to avoid monkeys

  • Take the time to tactfully, yet directly, ask, “What would you like me to do about this?” Often times, the person will back off. At that point it’s no longer a problem to be solved; it’s just an employee blowing off steam.
  • If the problem turns out to be a real issue but isn’t worth dealing with at the current time, simply let the employee know that the other priorities come before the issue at hand. They walk away with the monkey and nobody gets hurt.
  • Push back on the employee to handle the issue. Take a moment to agree with them that the issue exists, but explain why they are better suited to handling the problem and request that they return a solution to you. Again, they walk away with the monkey, leaving you to complete your work without the added stress.

I’m guilty of creating monkeys and also taking them on, so this post is based on pure experience (a surprising number of my posts are just me telling myself to stop being an idiot). I also found a great resource to go along with this if you want to check it out. Click here for a great one-page tool on “monkey management” and how to avoid taking on unwanted monkeys in the course of your day job.

If you’re interested in learning more about the HR side of project management, check out the HR project managment guide.

Okay, let’s be honest. Who else has created monkeys out there? How did you (or your manager) handle it? Do you accept monkeys from your staff?

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  • 3 thoughts on “Monkey Management-Don’t Take the Monkey

    1. Ben,

      One piece of advice I got once was it’s ok to admire and pet the monkey (ie, listen and provide guidance) but the monkey should always stay with its owner as they know the monkey and can be taught how to tame it!

    2. I love the monkey metaphor. I actually keep a little monkey on my desk as a reminder for all the darling monkeys I have. It’s definitely tough to learn to not always accept monkeys from others. I hate throwing monkeys, but I only have so much room on my back. :)

    3. I hate monkeys! Here’s a link to a book review I did of Todd Whitaker’s Shifting the Monkey: The Art of Protecting Good People From Liars, Criers, and Other Slackers.

      And another to an interview (podcast) interview of the author.

      A great book and quick read that gives practical advice for dealing with all types of monkeys.

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