* 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 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 compels 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 it as disrespectful. 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 these 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 consequences that are either real or perceived. We also need to consider that when people are feeling uncertain and/or anxious they typically shift their focus to relieving the stress, while saving face.
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. However, 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. Before you respond ask yourself “What is my goal and how will this help?” If you can’t articulate how what your considering saying will will help you achieve your goals, or if you like it will make you feel better, please don’t say it. Additionally, you can step into your audience’s shoes and ask yourself “Why shouldn’t they tell me the truth and accept responsibility?” Answering these questions allows you to embrace a 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 for their actions at the end of the conversation, not the beginning. As hard as it may be, start the conversation 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.