When Things Stop Working

Here you are, rocking along, trying to make the best of tough situations; COVID lock downs, remote working, wearing masks, Zoom meetings Teams meetings…. the list goes on.

You think you and your team are making progress. Stakeholders and customers seem happy. Life is good.

Then BAM!

It happens. Someone in your network lights up and informs you that things are very wrong. There is a heated exchange with very clear expressions that feelings have been hurt.

Your leadership has been challenged. The cart is in the ditch. A valued professional relationship is in jeopardy.

You get presented with a long list of grievances, many of which were related to things from the past. And it is said that YOU were responsible for creating the whole mess.

You had no idea. What went wrong? How are your conflict resolution skills?

Serious Analysis to Fix Serious Problems

First, let me say feedback like this comes with the territory. You assume a role of leadership, people create their expectations. These expectations can be fair or not, most often not.

When expectations, false or otherwise, get denied, people’s feelings do get hurt. Maybe even anger enters the room. Hostility toward your leadership can fester.

What should you do?

First, you’ve got to stay calm about it. Don’t let the level of hostility coming at you churn you up. Are the allegations unfair? Do you disagree? Likely so. But responding with hostility only suggests lower emotional intelligence.

As the old saying goes, “Better to be silent and thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

A quick response fired off in retaliation only sets you up to lose. You need to apply a calm resolve to assess and prepare. Avoid escalation of the hostility.

Clearly you owe the wounded party a response, and respond you should. But what do you say?

The Thoughtful Response

Your response needs to be carefully crafted. Acknowledge the claims the other person made. You don’t have to accept them directly, but you need to empathetically ‘hear’ the other person.

By delivering a true sense of empathy, you can help diffuse the situation quickly so you can get down to resolving the differences.

balancing the scales

Find the common ground. If the person is a peer in your organization, meet them appropriately where they are coming from. Show a genuine recognition of their role too.

Ask yourself what you really know about the person. What are their skills, experiences, duties, and responsibilities? Are their grievances well-founded in the facts of their role? Or is this just a misunderstanding, a personality clash, or a serious breakdown?

Take Ownership

Conflict resolution taxes your grit. Take ownership of what is truly yours. The accusations might be spot on. If you failed to do something, left them out of communication, or didn’t seek their input before making a key decision that might involve their area, then you are culpable, plain, and clear. Say so. Admit it. Own it.

Begin laying out a detailed response. Think thoroughly and objectively about the issues being cited. Spell out your side of the story, but avoid argumentative tones.

You can still assert yourself appropriately, but don’t sound defensive. That implies embarrassment at being caught in the act. If there is an issue, resolve the issue.

Carefully Choose the Communication Vehicle

Too many careers have started and died on email. If issues need to be resolved, arrange an in-person event. If Zoom is your only tool, then use it. Don’t relegate important communication to text, voice mail, or email. Too much gets read into or ignored via email.

Arrange a meeting to have the right discussion. Prepare yourself in advance. Be ready but be calm. Remain confident in the tone you choose but never be overbearing, defensive or argumentative.

A good leader wants to influence thinking not demand outcomes.

If you have this meeting and tensions cannot be resolved, then others in the organization must be brought in to mediate. This is a ‘next level’ discussion. Not just a company hierarchy issue, but ‘next level’ of familiarity with the matters in question.

Stopping the domino effect concept for business solution, strategy and successful intervention

Above all, don’t let these kinds of surprises smolder. It can become a cancer in the company or the organization. If missed expectations are not resolved, attitudes about leadership will erode your effectiveness.

A leader cannot allow that to happen. And by ‘allow’, I mean ignore or deny the issues.

The Leadership Journey

Great leaders have their stories about resolving problems just like these. Getting them handled with solid, positive, resolution based outcomes are what makes the difference between managers and great leaders.

You can do this. You just need a dedicated, thoughtful effort to get there.

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