* The following perspectives were taken from Michael Reddington’s presentation at DisruptHR 3.0 in Charlotte, NC on 4/25/18.
We’ve all felt it before. The emotional combustion that results from our of our hearts pounding in our chests, our lungs gasping for more oxygen, our faces turning bright red and an eloquent string of curse words running through our brains while we try to choose how to verbalize our feelings without sacrificing our careers.
What could possibly trigger such a Shakespearean approach to swearing? Quite often it’s when a co-worker looks us right in the face (or their computer screen, or their cell phone screen) and tries to explain why whatever they did, or didn’t do, couldn’t possibly be their responsibility. What kind of fools do they take us for? Don’t they remember we gave them the initial assignment? Don’t they realize we know what really happened? Has it even crossed their mind that as executives with the company they owe it to us to take responsibility and tell us the truth?
We’ve just found the problem. It’s common for leaders to assume, or even demand, that their rank within the organization should compel everyone else to be honest with them at all times. In fact, the opposite is true. Your title is exactly what often motivates your employees to dig deep, create stories, explanations, and even lies to avoid taking responsibility for their actions.
This usually makes us furious because we perceive this as disrespectful towards us, and while we are getting ourselves all worked up we are missing the point. They aren’t necessarily disrespecting us. Most of the time they tell their tall tales to save face and protect their self-images. Make no mistake, the number one fear that stops most people from doing most things isn’t failure – its embarrassment. Additionally, the number one reason why most adults lie is to avoid a consequence that are either real or perceived. We also need to consider that when we are feeling uncertain and/or anxious we typically shift our focus to relieving the stress, while saving face and protecting our self-images.
As leaders, when our blood boils it can be extremely tempting to look right at our storytellers and tell them that we know the truth, we know they are lying and they need to take responsibility. This will only have a boomerang effect and force them to defend the position they’ve already staked themselves to – no matter how absurd it is.
Regardless of how your co-worker’s story makes you feel you still have a mission to accomplish. As you consider responding quickly ask yourself “What is my goal and how will this help?” If what you want to say won’t help you achieve your goals, or it will only make you feel better please don’t say it. Then as you’re reconsider what to say or do, quickly step into their shoes and ask yourself “Why shouldn’t they tell me the truth and accept responsibility?” Now embrace your new perspective, take a deep breath, show a little patience, turn their excuses to your advantage and respond in a way that helps them protect their self-image and avoid feeling embarrassed.
If you truly want your co-workers to take responsibility for their actions, and not just satisfy your ego, you will be far more successful if you ask them to take responsibility at the end of the conversation, not the beginning. As hard as it may be, start by accepting their excuses and patiently work backwards until they realize their story won’t hold water and they make their own decision to accept responsibility.
Finally please remember, in times of potential conflict focus on the issue not the person and focus on the resolution not the consequences – be pleasantly surprised by the results, and be kind to your blood pressure.
Michael Reddington, CFI is an executive resource, the president of InQuasive, Inc. and the creator of the Disciplined Listening Method. He teaches leaders from all industries and specialties how to apply strategic, ethical persuasion techniques in all of their conversations. To learn more contact Michael directly at +1 (704) 256-7116 or email@example.com.