Donna's blog on coaching, leadership, and life

Archive for August, 2010

Different recollections of the same event does not a liar make.

In my work, I often have the opportunity to interview an individual and gather his or her perspective of a conflict-based interaction or conversation with a colleague. In a separate conversation, I may interview the other individual who participated in the exchange and—very often—I receive a completely different rendition of the interaction. In addition, I often hear inaccurate assumptions about where the other person is most likely coming from. Over time, I am impressed with just how often this dynamic comes into play, and gets in the way of effective communication and collaboration.

I’m sure you’ve experienced similar situations at work—or at home. This is what I’ve found to be the most important thing I’ve learned about this interesting dynamic. Remember that different memories of the same event does not a liar make. Each person may remain genuinely anchored to his or her memory and perspective of the situation. And, someone’s perspective, however different from another’s, is not necessarily intended to be adversarial.

The most powerful component in any conflict resolution between two or more people, however challenging, is a genuine intent—on all parts—to work well together and communicate more effectively. During a challenging conversation, remember to ask clarifying questions and openly offer your perspective. If you find yourself upset, frustrated, or simply confused, after an interaction with another, it’s never too late to approach the person and have an open conversation to clarify each other’s views, and work together towards a mutually beneficial solution.

Dealing with Negative People

If I were to think about a question that is just as common today as it was decades ago, it could be this one: How do you effectively deal with someone who is really negative?

We all realize that we can’t control the behaviors of others, especially if the behavior is an innate tendency. However, we may want to consider how, if at all, we may be contributing to the very dynamics that are frustrating us. As you can imagine, this can be a more complex consideration when we’re leading negative people.

If you were to think about your interactions with the person or people at work who are positive and warm, my guess is that you tend to be positive and communicative with them. —Even if it’s just a simple hello when you pass each other in the hallway, or a question about their weekend when you run into them on a Monday morning.

Interestingly, when you reflect on what kind of energy or interaction (or avoidance) you offer the negative person at work, it’s not unusual to realize that you’ve stopped saying hello (perhaps because they rarely respond) and you’ve stopped asking how they are, or how their weekend was (so as not to have to hear their complaining). As a leader, we must ask ourselves if we’ve provided the same quality of support and coaching to our negative team members as we have to our pleasant and receptive team members.

Although it’s understandable that we begin to distance ourselves from negative or nonresponsive people, we may want to be cautious about mirroring their behaviors. Perhaps we should consider continuing to say goodmorning, or showing a genuine interest in serving them. This offering may help infuse a glimmer of positive energy into the more common negative or indifferent energy that they’ve come to receive each day from others—which only reinforces their negative tendencies.

So back to the question: How do you effectively deal with someone who is really negative? Try offering him or her some positive gestures without the expectation of an immediate return. Over time, your example just might have an influence on the dynamics of your working relationship.

Ask your employees to speak first—then add your perspective.

If you’re discussing something with an individual employee, or as a team, and someone raises an issue, idea, or strategy that you have personal feelings about, or experience with, you may want to consider providing the opportunity for your employees to offer and discuss ideas—before you offer your opinion or perspective.

Regardless of how well you may be regarded as a manager or leader, voicing your opinion too early in the game may impact or even squelch the input of others. It’s sometimes easy to forget the influence you have on others when you’re in a leadership position, and how that influence can shift the direction of a team discussion or decision. If you’re asked for input at the onset of a discussion, or if the situation calls for your input, you might acknowledge that you’d like to hear a few ideas before commenting. And then give the person, or the team, the opportunity to contribute freely.

This approach is beneficial for a number of reasons. Opening up discussion gives you the opportunity to witness or experience more dynamics among your team. You may learn more about an individual employee’s approach or capabilities to strategize and negotiate. Listening before offering your input provides the opportunity for more brainstorming which may launch more creative ideas and approaches, and more ownership among the team.

As leaders we know that we have a significant impact on business outcomes. What we may need to remember is that we also have a significant impact on the day-to-day dynamics, effectiveness, and potential of our teams.