Tag Archives: conflict

Flexing to Your Impatient Boss

Building trust with your impatient boss may be challenging and stressful at times, but if you know how to communicate with them by being direct, concise, and bottom-lined, you can build trust, showcase your competence in delivering the results, and grow a fruitful and successful relationship with them.

When your boss is an “A-Type” personality demanding more and more from you and your team, keeping up and satisfying them can be a challenge.  Most impatient bosses are not suffering from some chronic character flaw.  More often than not, they just have a particular communication style that likes things at a high level, without too much detail, and a focus on cutting to the chase.  And for the record, that describes a lot of bosses.  C-level executives, and especially CEO’s are often wired this way.

Not everybody likes to give and get information the same way.  A lot of bosses, and especially those that seem impatient, want you to be brief and to the point without much emotion.  If you give this boss the bottom line, big picture view first to gain their buy-in, you’ve got a good shot at winning them over to hearing your other points.  But if you are someone who naturally gravitates towards process- driven, detailed communication, and you give the boss point a, then point b, then point c, slowly and incrementally building to point z, you are absolutely going to make their head explode. Add emotion and drama and it’s even more deadly.

Let’s say you wanted to give your boss a presentation on 10 recommendations you have for increasing the customer experience on the company website.  Here’s an approach that would be deadly:

“Recommendation number 1 is we revamp our sales funnel to take a consultative approach to the sales process.  I suggest creating three distinct sales funnels that are based upon the customers’ skill level: straight to the shopping cart for professionals and a question/answer for novices.  Recommendation number 2 is we increase our testing and monitoring.  We can do this by hosting user-testing days that let us observe our website users live and listen to them narrate their experience so we know where people are having trouble and what their opinions are about the site.  Recommendation number 3 is to employ customer service surveys and have constant communication between our customer service department and our tech team…”

I’m going to stop there because my head is already exploding and we are only on recommendation #3.

So this isn’t about how you like to communicate or how you’d like to have it communicated to you. It’s about how the boss wants to be communicated and FLEXING to you boss’ communication style. That means adjusting your style to reduce the tension and make your boss more receptive.   What you want to do is get right to the endpoint, cut to the chase and say:

“I have 10 recommendations for improving customer experience on our website. #1: take a consultative approach, #2: test and monitor, #3: customer surveys, #4: educate consumers, #5: interview users, #6: optimize language capabilities, #7: track what’s hot, #8: implement responsive web design, #9: determine calls to action and #10: make it more social.  Please tell me which of these 10 things you want to hear more about?”

Here, the seemingly–impatient boss gets to pick and choose the recommendations they want to explore.  So instead of eye-rolls,  finger drumming and other impatient behaviors, you’re going to hear, “Number 3 sounds really interesting.  Tell me more about that.”  Now you’ll get a chance to go back and give your detail while the boss listens.

Flexing to your boss using this direct, concise, and brief style puts an end to impatient behavior, builds the boss’s trust in you, showcases your competence in delivering the results the boss wants, and allows you to grow a fruitful and successful relationship with the boss.

 

Conflict – So Misunderstood and So Beneficial

Ask anyone in your organization the first thing that comes to mind when they think about “conflict”, and it’s negative.  This is why conflict continues to be one of the most misunderstood concepts in the workplace.

Conflict is the productive exchange of diverse ideas and opinions in a focused, efficient, unfiltered way. Teams must engage in conflict.  Without conflict, decision-making suffers and relationships among team members stagnate.  Worse, if conflict does not surface, it tends to degenerate to mean-spirited, back-channel comments made behind closed doors.

Redefining conflict as passionate debate is necessary to achieve resolution.  Conflict generally arises when two “A Players” have distinctly different points of view over a key emotional issue.  Here’s the challenge: they both think they’re right and guess what, they both can be!  So now what do you do?

The 5 key options around conflict are: avoid it (we both lose); get aggressive (I win-you lose); acquiesce and give in (I lose-you win); compromise (mini win/lose for both of us) or collaborate and resolve (I win-you win).

Teams must learn to collaborate and resolve conflict.  It’s about having the mindset and communication skills to work it out.

To be really good at working through team conflict, here are the 8 things you need to do:

  1. Introduce and acknowledge that the topic is difficult; call out that it’s a conflict.
  2. Watch out for artificial harmony – where people sit in silence and don’t participate.
  3. Have strong facilitation of the team, someone operating like an air traffic controller – controlling and guiding participation.
  4. Get everyone to weigh in – it’s usually only the most emotional, passionate people who speak up.
  5. After a timed discussion, pause to define and articulate the issue clearly.
  6. Brainstorm ideas and possible solutions then write them down.
  7. Come to a decision. This may need to be forced by the leader or facilitator, or the leader may need to take a stand to break the tie.
  8. Don’t strive for consensus – what we call “agree and commit”.  This is fine if you can get it, but strive for “disagree and commit”.  You may not agree but you must totally commit to and support the decision.

 

Learn to Decide Using “Disagree and Commit”

One of the most common dysfunctions on a leadership team occurs when the team leader believes they must achieve consensus for all decisions.  Great teams make timely decisions around direction and priorities and move forward with complete buy-in from every member of the team, avoiding the desire for consensus.

How do you create buy-in for a decision without consensus?  You learn and embrace what it means to “disagree and commit”.

Here’s how it works.  You need to make the distinction between “Agreement” and “Commitment.”  You can feign agreement with artificial smiles, vacant stares (what I call the silent veto), or even outright political phoniness (advocating publicly it’s a great idea while privately despising it).

With commitment, you are all-in and will support the decision to the point where you will champion it even if you initially disagreed.  Your own team of direct reports will see you being supportive.

There are only 3 choices for team decision-making:

  1. Agreement without commitment is compliance or passive/aggressive behavior.  This is a toxic.
  2. Agreement with commitment equals consensus – a wonderful result when you achieve it (which teams will do quite often).
  3. Disagree and commit when you can’t achieve consensus.  It’s okay while discussing the decision to debate, question, challenge or disagree.  This is healthy because adults need to “weigh-in” to “buy-in”.  This option allows for passionate debate but requires, at the end of the day, all team members to be supportive and aligned.

By establishing this practice, you’ll make a huge difference in achieving your goals and will create healthy alignment for the teams you lead.

Having a feedback conversation with a difficult person

Having a Feedback Conversation with a Difficult Person

We’ve all smiled at the phrase “you know, feedback is a gift”.  But the receiver’s defensive reaction(s) can be a significant deterrent, when you are simply trying to be helpful by providing them feedback.  This is especially true if the receiver is someone who typically responds with difficult behaviors such as: interrupting, justifying, arguing, or worse, lashing out with brutal attacks.  They are often unaware (or even in denial) about their behavior.  I refer to these people as B/C Players.

Some leaders of B/C Players will “look the other way” and tolerate these behaviors.

The most common excuses I hear are:  “But they’re so productive and produce results”, or,
I don’t have time to deal with stuff like that”.

I find that B/C Players are usually poison in an organization.  They provide obstacles and make it difficult for A Players to thrive.  Oftentimes, they are poor examples of living the core values.

Leaders MUST deliver the tough feedback message by doing the following 8 things:

  1. Collect examples of behavior through first hand observations and interviews with A Players.
  2. Spend time thinking about how to make your feedback message behavioral (citing the actual behavior).
  3. Schedule a feedback meeting that is formal and structured.
  4. Deliver the feedback directly,  no sugar-coating.
  5. Actively listen to the B/C’s point of view, but don’t waiver from yours.
  6. Be willing to offer coaching.
  7. Get agreement about behavior change and follow up minimally on a monthly basis.
  8. Recognize improvements; stay firm if no improvement.

Leaders have an obligation to the organization and to A Players to deal with difficult people on their teams by having these conversations.

Having Critical Conversations As a Large Group

I’m amazed at how critical meetings and the simplest elements for group communication continues to stymie the organizations that I work with.

I recently spent a day with a client’s leadership team. The following day, we added the next level of management below them to the meeting.

Initially the CEO asked me, “can you bring in the middle managers and facilitate a meaningful conversation among us?  There are half a dozen issues on which we’re not aligned, where we have conflict, and where we don’t communicate”.

We ended having an effective day, had a number of good conversations and solved several key issues.

In doing so, we identified the 5 things that an organization must do to be more effective:

  1. Leaders must become strong facilitators.
  2. A Leader must create a thoughtful agenda that includes critical conversations with outcomes.
  3. Teams must gain an appreciation for conflict and passionate debate.
  4. Team members must develop trust and be authentic with each other.
  5. Discussions need to come to a close with problems solved and decisions supported by all.

Leaders and organizations can and must learn how to do these things in order to scale and achieve outstanding results.