I loved my team. We were dedicated, high performing, go-getting and made up of the most intelligent, committed individuals I could have wished for.
Except for Martin.
Martin was the exact opposite. Every annoying habit you could conceive, he had. From turning up late, to repeatedly promising he’d do things and not delivering, he was the one bad egg in the team of my dreams.
As his line manager, the stress of trying to shift his behaviour was keeping me up at night. I felt like I’d tried everything. I’d check his understanding of his tasks and ask him to set his own deadlines. I’d ask him why he hadn’t delivered to his own deadline and what support he needed. I even tried to show an interest in him and his home life to see if there was something at home that was troubling him. Then I tried being tough. I set non-negotiable deadlines and threatened disciplinary action which eventually was the process that was entered into. Martin was impossible. In the end I asked my boss to remove him from my team and give us his entire workload. I decided to take on all of his responsibilities to save me the time, effort and frustration of managing him.
We breathed a collective sigh of relief when Martin exited our team and moved into another department. Finally, we could be high-performing once more, albeit feeling somewhat resentful of all the extra work we had to do.
The unexpected twist
Several months later, I met someone who was now working with Martin. I was ready to commiserate when they told me he’d been promoted! I was floored. This incompetent, irritating, un-manageable person… promoted… how had he fooled them? My team were incredulous when I told them. It’s not as though we’d forgotten about Martin – his name had become a euphemism for non-delivery. But it bothered me nonetheless…
Several years later, I had changed roles a good few times in the organisation and was again fortunate enough to be heading a high performing team. Once more, we had uncompromising deadlines and pulled regular all-nighters to meet them. This time it was Amy who was the thorn in our side. Clearly intelligent, her role was essential to our success. She was responsible for updating our ever changing project plans and PowerPoint presentations to the board. However, she made it known to us on a daily basis that she felt this task was way beneath her capabilities. She frequently suggested that she had much better ways of doing things. I’d brace myself before every encounter with Amy, knowing that she was going to roll her eyes, highlight the inadequacies of our approach, complain and would input the data through deep sighs, tutting and a slowly shaking head.
Was this going to be Martingate all over again…?
A new approach to conflict
Amy bothered me. On the one hand, I’d feel perfectly justified in telling her to get on with it. It was her job after all and we were all under immense pressure. We often disagreed with the decisions made above our heads and had to do work that didn’t exactly satisfy us either. On the other hand, how many times in my career had I been shut down and told to JFDI (just do it) when I had great ideas about doing things differently? It wasn’t exactly motivating and it would be easy to see how this could escalate into full blown war if I wasn’t careful. But then she did have a poor attitude that was in real danger of bringing down the team. So, I couldn’t leave things as they were, so what could I do?
Often at the times when urgent action seems necessary, it’s a good indicator for us to pause and reflect. The Martin experience was ringing in my ears years later, and she was costing me a great deal of time and stress. So, I decided to invest some time in contemplating Amy’s situation and how I’d want to be viewing this in years to come. I concluded very quickly that whilst she clearly wasn’t a good fit for our team and it would be easy to make her wrong (just as I had with Martin), this wasn’t going to solve our issue, any more than imploring her to just do her job would.
Looking from Amy’s point of view, I could see why she was frustrated and that some aspects of the role were beneath her razor-sharp intellect. I could also see that there were other departments in the organisation that could use someone with her desire for process improvement. That said, with my experience of her attitude, I didn’t feel I could wholly recommend her, but that was part of a conversation I could now have with her.
Instead of wasting weeks in conflict, a much more honest conversation ensued with her than ever it did with Martin. I told her frankly why she wasn’t a fit for our team and suggested the kind of position I thought she’d be better suited to. I also explained that even though I understood her frustration, her attitude didn’t leave me feeling able to fully recommend her. However, I did want her to succeed and shared the potential I saw in her.
Key to this dialogue was getting into a frame of mind that was empathetic to Amy’s situation. Imagine how she might have experienced being on the receiving end of the same words from someone who felt angry and aggrieved? Instead, together we were able to mutually agree a plan for her to move on and, funnily enough, her attitude in her remaining weeks with us was considerably better. She even helped source her replacement!
Moving out of the vicious circle
What is less important in the War to Peace® methodology is the action we take. What’s far more important is the way in which we take the action, in other words, how we are being. So, in this case, the action taken was to remove an under-performer from the team. In the first case, it cost dearly and there was bad feeling for everyone involved. It could have been exactly the same in the second case had it not been for a change of attitude – mine not theirs.
I can only imagine how Martin feels about his time with and exiting our team. And I know how Amy feels about hers, because it turns out it was the first time she had experienced such frank feedback and she later shared the positive impact it had on her.
I am sure you’ll be able to think back to similar examples in your life. Times when you’ve managed to have what seemed like difficult conversations – in work or at home – with grace and aplomb. And others when you wish you could turn back time and do it all differently. I’m willing to bet it was your own attitude that made the difference.
Next time you find yourself facing a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario ask yourself what viewing the situation from your own narrow perspective is costing you (I know you feel justified because it’s affecting other people too, but it’s still costing you dearly to focus on this). You may be surprised at how imagining yourself on the receiving end may lead you to a change of heart. You may find a solution that you couldn’t otherwise see.
Healthy boundaries, easy change
If you ever find yourself frustrated by colleagues, team or family members, or just want to be able to handle challenging conversations without being a pushover or sacrificing your boundaries, then War to Peace® is for you. In our one-day, practical workshop you’ll experience our award-winning methodology for yourself and apply it to a real-life challenge that’s coming up for you right now.
Our first open access workshop with spaces available is on March 2nd. Click here to get your spot, and move into Spring with your biggest time-suck taken care of. (Because if you have a Martin or Amy on in your life right now, or find yourself landed with one in future, all the productivity hacks in the world won’t give you back your time or your sanity).
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