By Jake R. Goldblum B.A. and Todd Wysocki PhD.
As leaders, we are often posed with difficult decisions and circumstances; who to hire or fire, how to develop a positive work/team culture, when to take some time for ourselves, etc. However, one of the most challenging things, at times, can be challenging our co-workers, staff members or teammates. Seemingly simple enough, however, challenging takes timing, tact, and most importantly privilege. As leaders, we need to recognize when and how to effectively challenge as well as earn the right to challenge those around us. Challenging without the privilege can have negative consequences and put us in a worse situation. So, what can we do to ensure our challenges are as effective as possible?
- Do it at an appropriate time and in an appropriate setting. If staff members are using dysfunctional language or aren’t holding up their end of a bargain on a project, don’t “make an example of them” and “call them out” at a staff meeting. This may deter other staff members from the same behaviors in the short term, but in the long run you now have to worry about a staff that fears rather than respects you. Furthermore, a staff member may feel degraded, insulted, and humiliated. The “tough love approach” can be effective in some instances, but ultimately people in general want to be respected and feel respected.
- Be careful of the tone and language you use when confronting the situation. It’s fairly common, as leaders, to get frustrated in our roles. People don’t always do what we ask, or follow through or maybe even hurt the team dynamic. However, when confronting these typically frustrating situations, you may want to remember to take some deep breathes and keep your cool. Often times, people aren’t being difficult intentionally. Would you want to be screamed at or belittled because you’re a little behind on some work due to personal issues? Of course not. So, when these conversations arise, ask questions about unmet obligations or other extenuating circumstances. Ask what you can do to help the individual. And most of all, keep a respectful tone and language. We all want to grow but such growth often comes with the help of a caring supervisor or teammate.
- Finally, earn the right to have these conversations in the first place. Simply being a supervisor or a teammate doesn’t give you the right to challenge them. People’s first response to criticism, even in some of the healthiest of environments, is often defensive. Nobody likes to hear what they are doing wrong. So, how do you earn the right? Simple. Develop a strong relationship with the people you work with, at least in a working sense. You’re not going to be, nor should you be, everyone’s best friend. However, the stronger the relationships you have with the people you interact with, the more opportunities you have to make an impact when challenging them. If a stranger or an acquaintance of yours came to you and criticized the way you were going about your job, you would most likely shutdown and become defensive. We are more likely to be concerned about disappointing people who we respect and value.