Cooperative Communication and Managing Monkeys

Effective Communication is essential at work because it is cooperative and collaborative and leads to positive relationships with others. The dynamics of positive relationships have strong links with personal power – what makes each of us a powerful person.

The word power can have many connotations, not all of them positive. So, let’s put things into context. Personal power is about having the ability to change our lives, shape our perceptions and make things work for us and not against us.

Importantly, real power is shared, not imposed. Using your power positively is where you define your needs and the needs of others – and are able to meet those needs.

Relationships work on different power bases. As Managers, relationships are based on your position within the company and how you relate to others in their positions. That puts you in a position to use your role fairly or unfairly to achieve the results you want through either influence or manipulation. Influence is a part of effective Communication because cooperation and gaining consensus involve one side influencing the other.

However, if the other person feels tricked, used or stood over, they will likely feel manipulated rather than influenced.

From Rescuer to Coach

In all areas of life, we operate from different relationships (i.e. parent-child, employee-boss, Manager-Team Member). Each of these different relationships is effective until we feel powerless or powerful at the expense of others. This dynamic is unhealthy in any relationship. As a Manager, it will affect your ability to manage effectively.

An example is when a Manager takes on the role of being a rescuer.

Rescuers need to be needed, to feel in charge or control, and assume “other people need my help”. They give a lot of support and are a good listener. This type of Manager may help by doing another person’s work, giving time off or making decisions/choices for the other person.

There are many challenges in this type of relationship, especially for Managers. While the rescuers – the Managers – often end up doing too much and feeling used, the person being rescued usually learns nothing to develop their skills or to stop themselves from wanting to be rescued again in the future. Rescuing can lead to unhealthy patterns that are hard to break, as well as creating an unhealthy dynamic between those involved.

Plus, if you’ve ever talked about having monkeys on your back and wondered where they come from, this is a great way to create them! We’ll come back to the monkeys in a moment…

As a busy Manager, it can be so easy to fall into the trap of doing something yourself – doing someone else’s job – to save time rather than showing the other person what to do. If you’ve ever done this and then felt frustrated because your Team Member isn’t learning, you have probably fallen into the trap of being a rescuer rather than a coach.

To turn this around and be a good coach, you need to allocate time to train your Team Members. A practical approach is to go right back to basics with the standard four-stage process:

  1. Show or explain what needs to be done.
  2. Let your Team Member complete the task.
  3. Review and reward or acknowledge progress.
  4. Coach and train further as necessary.

Not only will your Team Members develop their skills, they will have a higher level of competence for next time, and you will be doing your job – not theirs. Everyone wins.

Monkey Management

So, back to the monkeys.

My favourite reference about managing Monkeys is The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey by Kenneth Blanchard, William Oncken and Hal Burrows.

Monkeys are where we take responsibility for the next move in a situation, whether it’s our responsibility or not. For example, when we say we’ll make a call on someone’s behalf, we can cripple others by not letting them develop skill and confidence in making the call – and, with a full job load already, we create more pressure for ourselves. What started as helpfulness has turned into people chasing us to get things done before they can proceed further.

The best thing to do here is teach other people to look after their monkeys by empowering them to do so. Once again, this means investing time and energy to coach or train the other person, with the reward being that all parties can perform their role to the best of their ability.

We can sum it up by saying that helpfulness and support are essential qualities to be an effective Manager, as long as they’re not confused with rescuing and taking on monkeys.

What do you do if you tend to be a rescuer or take on other people’s monkeys? Start by being aware of situations where this happens and why. Then, follow the four steps mentioned earlier to manage and coach your team. You’ll be glad you did – and so will your team!


  1.           Everyone Can Win – by Helena Cornelius and Shoshana Faire
  2.           The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey – by Kenneth Blanchard, William Oncken and Hal Burrows

This article was provided by –

Anne Whatley-Dale

Communication Coach | work-health-life Wellness Coach & Strategist


P: + 61 1300 318 692

E:  [email protected]