It’s nauseating to hear – someone soft-shoe dancing around an issue because they’re afraid of hurting someone’s feelings. They do so because they might receive negative feedback in a 360 review that they were abrupt or too direct in delivering feedback on that issue. So rather than going the direct route, they water down their message until it’s a mealy mouthed blathering stream of meaningless suggestions.
Let me ask you this – do you want to follow a “leader” who doesn’t speak his or her mind? Someone who is more concerned with how their actions will be perceived rather than saying what they really think? Do you want to follow a leader who is more interested in doing nothing wrong (and hence not doing much of anything) or would you rather follow someone who takes a stand for what they believe in and suffers the consequences as appropriate?
Me? I’ll choose option B.
Conflict avoidance has invaded teams, and it’s an ugly blight. IMPORTANT: realize, I’m not advocating or approving of hateful, cruel, rude, or offensive behavior and words. Those words and behaviors have no place in any workplace (or our lives for that matter).
What I’m attacking is a belief that we as leaders can’t speak our minds because we might hurt someone’s feelings. It’s that mindset that erodes the core of leadership over time and turns it into gentle corrective actions that end up having no impact whatsoever. Sure, no one felt corrected or had their feelings hurt but they now effectively have no idea what they’re supposed to do or what they did wrong in the first place because the message was diluted. It’s called CANDOR. Jack Welch speaks of this as critical for personal success.So here’s what I propose:
1. Take the But(t) Sandwich off the Menu
Starting and ending feedback sessions with some false flattery just so you can jam a big slice of nasty feedback in the middle is a waste of time. It’s disingenuous. It also destroys your credibility as a leader. Any time after that if you begin praising someone, they’ll simply be waiting for the “but…” even if it’s never coming. This approach to giving feedback is terrible. Stop it. Now. But(t) sandwiches are now off the menu.
2. Everyone Grow Up
Take your binkies out of your mouths and put your blankies away in your Scooby Doo knapsacks. This ain’t kindergarten anymore folks. The feedback isn’t personal. If you screwed up, step up and take it like an adult. I’ve screwed up plenty of times. And yes, when I took my beatings they were VERY unpleasant. But I took them and acted on them.
When you get drilled for doing something wrong then go crying about it to your peers, it makes you look like an idiot. They know you screwed up. They know you’re simply deflecting blame. If we spent as much time and energy focusing on fixing the mistake and building our skills to prevent the next one as we do on complaining to our coworkers about how mean our boss was to us, maybe we would actually perform better. Getting some pointed feedback and being mature about receiving it is in your job description. When you take responsibility, others trust you much more.
3. Take of the Soft Shoes and Put on the Boots When you tiptoe around an issue, we come across as lacking conviction and clarity. More likely than not the recipient of the feedback knows what they did (or didn’t do). They just want you to get it over with. Dancing around the issue is a waste of time. It’s confusing. The recipient might walk away confused or with the wrong impression. None of these are good things.
Whether you’re going to saddle up and be more direct or not, you’ll need to take off the soft shoes and put on the boots. If you’re going to be direct, you’ll need the boots to deliver a swift kick in the behind. If you’re still going to dance around the issue, the boots will at least protect your ankles from the piles of crap that are rising and filling the room.
It’s not always a glamorous job. Whether you are a Director, Executive, Teacher or Parent, you’ve chosen to do it. Go be direct. Don’t deliberately hurt feelings but for crying out loud tell people what you really think.
If you’re avoiding conflict so you can fly under the radar and continue to advance your career, at some point your lack of direct communications will be your undoing. If you simply find being direct difficult and inherently unpleasant you might want to reconsider where you want to take your career. The higher you go, the less tolerance there is for bullcrap.
The best leaders I’ve ever met and worked for were direct. They were respectful of the individual, polite, and when needed, up in your grill with some pointed feedback. I know it made me a better performer. You’ve probably had similar experiences. Don’t you owe that same directness to your team? Shouldn’t they know exactly where they stand?
Being “nice” for the sake of avoiding conflict is dysfunctional. It will destroy your organization and your credibility in the long run. I call on each and every one of us to embrace candor and directness in the spirit of making our teams better. I think I’ve been direct enough in this post with what’s on my mind. Now it’s your turn…
Someone once taught me four words that you should say to jerks.
They are simple, they are easy, and they are not that fancy.
Whenever someone is a jerk to me, I always say, “You might be right.”
This accomplishes a few things:
1. It admits that maybe they are right. I make mistakes. Maybe I did something wrong. Could this person bring it up without being a jerk? Sure, but just because they were a jerk doesn’t mean they were wrong.
2. It ends the conversation.
3. It releases me from carrying it around all day.
It’s over. I’m done. You might be right.
Maybe you’re not, but I didn’t say, “You are right.” I said “You might be right.”
I’m just not going to give you anymore of my life to figure out if you are.
There is a trailer for Will Smith’s new movie, After Earth, which contains the following lines:
“Fear is not real. It is a product of thoughts you create. Do not misunderstand me. Danger is very real. But fear is a choice.”
There’s some truth to that. But each time I watch the trailer, the same question occurs for me: Is fear really a choice?
One of the most interesting things about fear is that it always seems to either come from something outside of us (an environmental stimulus) or from something inside our heads but separate from us – like aMind Monster.
Yet when you look closely, you’ll find that every fear you experience is actually made of thought. It’s not “false evidence appearing real”, as the acronym suggests – it’s thought appearing real. We react to the thought of a raccoon biting or dentist drilling or person shouting as if it was actually happening to us right here, right now, and then attribute our fear to the raccoon, dentist, or person shouting.
Here’s an analogy: Think of a person drawing a picture of a monster on a piece of paper and then running out of the room in terror. The exact moment the person sees that the monster is just a drawing and can’t hurt it, the fear is gone and there’s nothing left to be done.
Likewise, imagine waking up from a nightmare. One moment you’re totally engrossed in fighting off vampire zombies and the next your eyes are open and the vampire zombies are gone. You may still have a little bit of adrenaline coursing through your veins, but there are no lasting after-effects. No healing is necessary. You just get up and get on with your day.
We notice a scary thought in our mind, and because we do not recognize thought as the creator of the feeling, we are run ragged by it. We do all sorts of things to avoid an imaginary consequence that has been constructed in our own mind. But the moment we recognize that only thought can create feeling, the very same thing that was so frightening becomes fascinating.
And the same possibility for freedom exists at the heart of all fear. The moment we see that our own deepest, darkest fears are 100% made of thought, we open up the space in our minds for peace, wisdom, and well-being to come through.
There may well still be things to do in the world to create the outcomes we desire – but we will do them based on what is actually wanted and needed in each situation, not as a knee-jerk fight or flight response to our own unrecognized thinking. And in the very moment we recognize that thought is the only creator of our experience, the same world that once seemed so frightening becomes an endlessly, wonderfully fascinating place to be.
Since I can at least recognize that the source of all fear is thought, I don’t have to make a big deal out of being afraid. I neither need to hide from seemingly scary things nor “feel the fear and do it anyways”.
I can simply move forward in the face of all my ever changing thoughts, including the scary ones. And because I’m not scared of fear, I am left with something even more powerful than choice – true and absolute freedom.
No one likes a Jerk. And truthfully, I’ve had to spend significant amounts of energy increasing my emotional intelligence so I wouldn’t be one of “them.” But what if you work with one? What if you live next to one? Whether it is at our place of employment or in our family circle, we all have to learn how to deal with difficult people. Each of us can name names of difficult people that we have to interact with on a regular basis.
While there is much advice out on there among relationship experts, I am just going to share with you some leadership tips that I have learned over the years.
(And no, I am not writing this post because I am currently dealing with a difficult relationship. I just thought it would be a helpful topic after my previous post.)
How to Deal with Difficult People
Assume the best in others. This can be hard to do at times, but I think it is an important life skill to master. We do not always know what is going on in the lives of other people. Sometimes people behave badly because of deep personal struggles that are going on in their lives. We ought to instead choose to see the best in others. A good question to ask is “What do I admire about ________?”
Make room for other people’s faults. This concept piggy backs off the first point. If you want to learn how to deal with difficult people, then you must learn the art of making room for other’s faults. Just like it is discussed in the Bible, we as humans are so quick to judge others when we have glaring weaknesses of our own. We need to make room for other people’s faults and be more critical of our own shortcomings instead of just making excuses for our own behaviors.
Let them face the consequences of their own decisions. This may sound harsh but it is not intended to be. Some of us feel the need to always fix other people. That does not always work. Sometimes allowing them to face the consequences of their decisions is the best route to take. They will learn more through their own failures.
Be determined to find common ground. I just believe down deep that there has to be something that we can agree on. When you are dealing with a difficult person ask the question, “Where is the common ground among us?” Then you can start from there.
Create a distance if necessary. There is nothing wrong with creating a healthy distance between toxic people. You must do this with the right motives and intentions. It is not because you are better than they. You do this because you choose to not let their attitudes and actions impact yours.
Surround yourself with positive people. You need to counter-balance the negativity by surrounding yourself with people who are spirit-filled and display positive thinking. This will help you from falling into the same downward spiral as others.
Those are some of the ways of how to deal with difficult people. Use them all or just take a few. Start applying them today to the difficult relationships that you maybe currently facing.
I follow Tim Elmore’s writings and have used his content in trainings recently. He serves as a writer on leadership and parenting, and is offering this ebook as a FREE Kindle Resource for Parents and Leaders. It’s a great read. Get it complimentary until April 29th.