Last December, Ann, one of my clients, called and asked for help in managing a difficult situation.
Evidently, Ann’s manager called everyone on his team into a meeting and asked them to critique how well they had served their customers in 2018. He asked everyone to be brutally honest and open about what had not worked in order to identify what they needed to improve in 2019. Ann, who is always quite direct and open, took the opportunity to address all of the situations that had caused major grief for her customers. When the meeting came to an end, Ann’s manager thanked everyone for their input, but he asked Ann to stay afterwards for a few minutes.
When everyone had left, the manager told Ann that he did not appreciate her negativity and that he was considering withholding her bonus because of what she had said during the meeting. That is when Ann called and asked for some coaching in talking through the situation.
One thing that was evident from Ann’s conversation with her manager was that he had taken her feedback very personally. When people become defensive or emotional, it is important to remember that a person’s emotional reaction says more about them than it does about you. Ann’s manager taken her feedback as a negative reflection of his leadership skills.
This example serves as a great reminder that we not only need to develop our skills as a leader, but we also must be able to separate ourselves from the work that we do.
Here are a number of questions you may consider to improve your awareness and the quality of your leadership:
1. “Are people motivated to follow you?” And, additionally, “How do you know they are motivated?” Taking a moment to identify how people are responding to you may help you make needed adjustments to how you are managing them.
2. “Do people seek your perspective or insights?” Your answer to this question may help identify how approachable you are. If no one is asking for your input, you might assess how you respond to others, especially when things don’t go as planned. You might also examine how you respond to questions, concerns and needs.
3. “How open am I to different perspectives about tough issues?” If no one disagrees with you or offers alternate ways of looking at challenges, then you might consider how you react when people respond in a contrary way. If you don’t take charge of your feelings and seek understanding when others disagree, people will usually stop offering differing viewpoints for fear of negative consequences.
4. “What situations or feedback cause me to get defensive?” If you can identify the situations that may trigger a negative reaction from you and explore why you tend to respond that way, then you can manage your responses more effectively and objectively.
5. “Why do I take certain situations personally?” This question is really about identifying your personal values. Whenever we perceive that an important value is about to be challenged or called into question, we often respond emotionally. If you find yourself responding combatively or negatively, you might ask yourself, “What did I want?” or “What expectations were violated?” The answer to these questions will help you understand the reasons for your negative emotional reactions.
6. “How does my communication style affect others?” I have had people tell me after a presentation that their manager sent them to the event so I could fix them. What that really tells me is that the person and their manager have different styles for communicating. These style differences often become the source of disagreement and contention. Understanding your communication style and the styles of others will help you interact in an effective way, establish rapport and avoid misunderstandings.
7. “How does my mood or state of mind influence the decision-making of others?” You could just as easily ask how your mood or state of mind influences the performance of others. People will watch you and how you engage with and interact with others. If they observe any behavior that may be interpreted negatively, they will avoid interacting with you until they deem it is “safe.” Unfortunately, this may lead to delays and other problems that could cause adverse outcomes.
The converse is also true. If people know they can come to you with questions and concerns and are responded to in a positive way, they won’t hesitate to communicate with you.
8. “Do people view me as negative and cynical or positive and passionate?” Most of us don’t enjoy being around folks who are negative. If you don’t know how you come across to others, perhaps you should ask for feedback from someone who will tell you the truth. We don’t often see ourselves as we are seen, so acquiring a more objective perspective can be invaluable in relating to, connecting with, and leading others.
9. “What personal characteristics of others bother me the most?” Answering this question will help you develop your emotional intelligence and will help you avoid a negative reaction to those that might display a particular characteristic or behavior. Once you have identified that which may bother you, be more aware when interacting in those situations or with those people. Do a little preemptive preparation by recognizing how you might react and how you want to react.
10. “Do I make negative assumptions or judgments of others, or do I give others the benefit of the doubt?” You may make negative assumptions of others if you have a past negative history with them or someone like them. The challenge in this situation is to recognize this characteristic and stop yourself before you take action. This is not easy because we often make assumptions without even realizing we are doing so.
One easy tool for helping in this area is to use your negative feelings as a cueing mechanism to identify the thinking behind your feelings. Another activity you might apply is to recognize the assumptions you are making and ask yourself if there are data or evidence that logically supports your assumptions. In the absence of any logical basis for your thinking, then you must recognize that your thinking is just that — your thinking.
These are just a few ideas of questions you might consider as you give thought to your experience as a leader. Answering these particular questions will help clarify your current results, assess the quality of your leadership, and increase awareness of the condition of your relationships. Taking the time to contemplate how you are interacting with others and how they are responding to you will help you in important ways to become a stronger, more effective leader.
John R. Stoker is the author of “Overcoming Fake Talk” and the president of DialogueWORKS, Inc. His organization helps clients and their teams improve leadership engagement in order to achieve superior results. He is an expert in the fields of leadership, change, dialogue, critical thinking, conflict resolution, and emotional intelligence, and has worked and spoken to such companies as Cox Communications, Lockheed Martin, Honeywell and AbbVie. Connect with him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter.
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