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Can You Hear Me Now?
June 9, 2017
Our family spent two years pining about how the miserable quality of our internet. Video calls would invariably freeze and then lose the connection. Websites would take an interminable amount of time to load. We found ourselves moving from room to room to find the best signal. We raged at our provider and called multiple times to check our connection. Technicians came out, examined and rewired connections.
Then I happened to read an article in the NY Times about improving Wi-Fi .The article spoke of the value of a “mesh” network for Wi-Fi and I immediate bought such a system.
The difference has been remarkable. There are strong Wi-Fi signals throughout the house. Websites load quickly and video calls work flawlessly.
What is the lesson here? When challenges arise in your organization, with personnel, relationships with key stakeholders, or with partnering organizations, avoid the temptation to respond reflexively and take the time to identify the core issue or issues at hand.
A wonderful book “Crucial Confrontations” by Patterson, Grenny, McMillian and Switzler, has been valuable to me in thinking through the dynamics of personnel and organizational conflicts. Some take-aways for me have been:
The authors speak of the “hazardous half-minute” the moments following some form of conflict or confrontation. Responding viscerally or not responding at all represents opposite but equally dangerous options: (1) When you respond viscerally and angrily you feed in to an individual’s worst fears; “I’m worthless”, “I’m going to be fired. Such a response advances stress and burnout, feeds into individuals’ anxieties and, ultimately, impacts productivity. (2) You choose not to respond, which has the potential effect of reinforcing bad-behavior and transitioning a single event into a pattern. An alternative might be to recognize the behavior and set a time to address it in the near future. Often, we choose not to respond vocally but with angry body language that, because it doesn’t provide a clear explanation of our feelings, sends a confusing and demoralizing message. Setting a time to discuss the matter later set a time limit on the other individual’s anxiety, allows you to frame your thinking, and enables you to do some background study: Is this a behavior that has existed in the past”? Are there documents in the employee’s file that you need to review?
When someone acts in a certain way or does something that is upsetting, we tend to create a “story” in our own heads to seek to explain the action. In fact, the story that we create in our own minds may not at all reflect the reality of the situation. Whenever possible, assume good will and take the time to identify the true source of the problem. This is where being a good listener will make all the difference.
Among the most important elements of confronting individuals is knowing what to address. The authors speak of “CPR”:
Content: The specific event.
Pattern: Is the event part of a larger pattern?
Relationship: Has the behavior or the pattern of behavior impacted your relationship or the relationship with others within the organization. What will be the impact on the relationship going forward?
Finally, I would like to repeat two of my favorite quotes in this regard:
Arnie Weiner, my first supervisor at BBYO in Michigan, used to say: “Don’t get angry, use your anger”. When a confrontation occurs, be strategic regarding the nature of the affective element of your response. Use your anger as well as other emotions as tools toward advancing identified outcome goals.
Rahm Emanuel said: “Never waste a crisis”. While we tend to view confrontations and conflicts as negative and upsetting elements of our work, they can be important catalysts for change and innovation. Thus, don’t fear or shy away from confrontations, use them for opportunities for professional growth and organizational advancement.