3 Ways Reflection Can Fix It
Marcus and Amber have worked together for years. They’ve learned to put up with each others’ quirks and communication nuances, and have found ways to collaborate effectively. Outside of work, they occasionally hang out with a larger group, and from watching them, most would consider them friends.
But there’s tension brewing.
There’s a leadership role opening up on the team, and both Marcus and Amber have applied for it. No one else on the team has applied, and the organization is known for promoting from within, so it’s likely that one will get the position, and it's almost certain that they won’t both get the position.
The first place that the tension rears its ugly head is in their communications.
Amber has started to notice how frustrating she finds it when Marcus answers in half-phrases or
“yep” or “nope” without any additional context. “Ugh, getting him to share information feels like pulling teeth!” she gripes to a teammate.
Marcus has begun to find himself rolling his eyes at Amber’s long and drawn out explanations. “Doesn’t she know I don’t care about the back story? A simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ would be fine!” he complains to another teammate.
What Marcus and Amber don’t realize is that something as minor, as simple, as innocuous as a difference in communication styles has the potential to erode the entire team’s health. For both of them, whether they earn that leadership role or not, their leadership and influence within the team is at risk.
- Complaining about others' communication styles is a habit that is ineffective as a teammate and destructive as a leader.
- Stewing about something that’s not going well, rather than making the effort to address and resolve it, represents an apathy that is career-limiting in an employee and appalling in a leader.
- Putting your own needs ahead of others represents selfishness as teammate and is the very opposite of leadership.
So what can they do? What should they do?
Let’s start with the simplest one to address. If something about another colleague bothers you, squelch that first desire to go complain to someone else. There are a couple of solid reasons for this.
First, those who spend their conversations complaining rarely attract positive people around them, so by complaining, you’re actually drawing more complainers around, giving you endlessly more things to complain about.
And second, while Amber is complaining to Brynn about Marcus, Brynn can’t help but wonder what Amber says behind Brynn’s back, and to whom. The level of trust between Brynn and Amber erodes.
What to do instead?
Spend a few minutes in genuine reflection.
- What is it about that person’s communication style that I find annoying?
- Why does it annoy me?
- If I assume that the other person doesn’t come to work each day intent on annoying me, why else might that person communicate that way?
- What are the benefits of their communication style?
- What are the things we have in common in our approaches?
If something is genuinely not working, then there may be a more effective way to co-create a great working environment than simply “putting up with it.” By “putting up with” something, we simply bottle feelings up that may emerge as resentment sometime down the road. The minor irritant could become a major sore without even consciously being aware of it. By putting up with a nuisance, we’re missing out on a far better approach. That’s not to say I should just speak up and tell someone else what I think of them or their actions or their behavior.
What to do instead?
Better to spend a few more minutes in thoughtful reflection
- Why does this annoy me?
- What can I fix about my own attitude or response that might help?
- What are the things that are really worth addressing?
- What are some ways I can address them that would be effective?
- What could go wrong when I try to address them?
- What would be the outcome of that conversation going sideways?
- Is that an outcome I want?
- If not, how could I adjust my approach, my words, my message to avoid that outcome?
Both Marcus and Amber are approaching the whole conversation with a me-first mindset. It’s as if they’re thinking “that other person should adjust themselves to meet my needs.” After several decades here in the US of “looking out for number one”, it’s no wonder that we spend more time thinking of ourselves than others, but that’s not what leadership is about, and that’s not a great way to influence others.
In Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek talks about the courage it takes to put others first and to make sure that others have what they need before focusing on ourselves. Courage in a conversation is being willing to tune in to the extra backstory so that Amber feels heard, or being willing to be brief so that Marcus can get back to what he would rather be doing. A me-first approach will demand or assert that the other person should adjust to meet my needs.
What to do instead?
Spend some time in compassionate reflection.
- Who is this person communicating with me?
- What do I value about them?
- What do I know about their communication style and preferences?
- What can I adjust about my tone, words, tempo, message to better align with their preferences?
- What can I do to show them I’m listening to them?
- What can I do to make it easier for them to listen to me?