By Mary Schaefer
Managers can read books, get trained, practice and plan, and still your employee may toss you something you don’t anticipate. But you can handle it. The key is asking good questions and really listening.
When you give feedback, you are a role model. They will eventually hear you in their head, and ask good questions of themselves.
We Are Responsible For Our Reactions and Actions.
I overheard a conversation at a cafe. One man was complaining to another how a dating relationship had fallen apart.
He said, “I was trying to be mature about it but then she said ____, and I told her off. I mean, what did she expect?”
It sounded as if he thought her reaction gave him permission to go off. My question is, “What do you expect of yourself?”
Ask a Reflective Question.
We as humans can be so tempted to be drawn into drama. Have you ever heard someone excuse his or her actions by saying:
- What else could I do?
- How was I supposed to react?
- What choice did he/she leave me?
They speak as if they are painted in a corner. They had given no choice but to go on the defensive. They needed to lay down some truth. We get it. We’ve been there.
Is It About Them Or You?
I remember a lengthy talk, long ago with a manager about his habit of verbally abusing his co-workers or subordinates for making mistakes. He would humiliate them to the point of saying things like, “I can’t believe you are that stupid.”
We talked about the purpose that served. Were they hearing him? Was it having the desired effect?
He kept bringing the conversation back to how important it was that they know they made the mistake. He literally thought he had no choice but to point it out to them, in his way. The more “stupid” the mistake or oversight, the more he thought he was entitled to ramp up the humiliation.
He knew it was not in his best interest from a career standpoint. He still felt very righteous in his choice of response. I think we get in a rut sometimes.
Ask Another Question.
I distinctly remember the moment I asked him these questions. What do you want to think of yourself in this situation? Who do you want to be?
He was silent for a good 30 seconds. He said he had never thought of that before. This doesn’t happen very often, but I saw a light bulb go off over his head.
I want to be clear that I’m not criticizing this person. I do want to be clear how easy this question is to overlook, particularly when we are pumped up.
He and I discussed at length what the answer to this question could mean for him. We talked about dignity, respect and integrity. He did not connect his purported values to these types of situations. After all, what choice did these people leave him?
What he came to was realizing there were choices that were his to make. We went so far as for him to visualize looking in a mirror and asking, “Who do I want to be in this situation? What do I want to think of myself?”
We talked through how his values applied in these recurring situations. We had to talk it through because this was so new to him. He was not in the habit of looking for his choice points in these situations.
“We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them”
~ Albert Einstein
It Takes Practice.
He needed to practice making conscious decisions in these situations. I’d love to report that his career life was rosy from that point on. I know he continued to struggle for the few months we continued to talk, but I appreciated the fact that he let me guide him into learning to ask himself a new set of questions.
We can influence others to be their own coaches. We can be our own coaches. What I also know is that continuing to ask the question, “Who do I want to be?” serves all of us who aspire to be leaders.
A version of this post ran originally at the Lead Change Group site January 8, 2016.