However technically skilled you are as a leader, if there’s no safe environment and space for a productive conversation to take place with your ‘challenging’ team member, you’ll not get very far.
I’m not talking so much about the venue you choose here; the physical environment or whether the conversation is virtual or not. What I am talking about is what we often refer to as psychological safety. If there’s little or no trust and no rapport but lots of historical baggage it’s hard to have an honest, productive conversation with anyone.
The great thing is, that in the right environment a conversation with a ‘challenging’ team member – simply becomes a productive conversation about something that you can work through together. When we feel psychologically safe, we can be open, honest and vulnerable rather than defensive or guarded. We can truly see more than our own perspective. We can discuss what we need from each other without worrying that this might be career limiting. Or used against us in the future. And if things go off track, we can recognise it and get back on track again. Much better than simmering resentfully and gritting our teeth or going on the defensive or offensive.
Tried this before and got nowhere?
I’ve occasionally, as part of my team coaching work, facilitated productive conversations between two ‘challenging’ team members. This can really shift working relationships for the better because both sides feel heard and understood. But some people are so entrenched in their positions that professional mediation is required. Either that or one or both must be moved on.
If 80% of your time is spent stressing about one ‘challenging’ team member, it’s time to bite the bullet. I can assure you that the rest of your team will thank you for it.
So, if you’ve got one of ‘those’ conversations coming up, here are my tips to help you navigate it.
But firstly – and very importantly.
You’ll notice I’ve written the word ‘challenging’ in inverted commas.
That’s because if we think something is going to be challenging or we think someone is ‘challenging’ it becomes a self-fulling prophecy. Our brain is telling us to look for ‘challenging’ and that is what we’ll get.
So, you may want to choose another thought that serves you, them and the conversation better.
Ready to go?
Here are my four tips to help you have more productive conversations with a ‘challenging’ team member.
Tip one – Start with the end in mind.
There’s no point in blaming yourself or blaming the other person for what’s gone before. That achieves very little. It’s more about re-setting the relationship together with a focus on creating something different from today. Because whilst you can learn from the past you can’t change it and it’s time to move on.
A great opener for all of us is this question: ‘How do we co-create a successful future/working relationship for us starting from today’? It sets the intention to move ahead with a different approach, mindset and desire for mutual success.
Now part of that question may include re-visiting past hurts, frustrations or misunderstandings. But we can do this with a ‘what can we both learn from this to help us in the future?’ approach. Then we’re much more likely to be able to move forward together.
That word co-create is important.
Tip two – Remember – You can’t change other people (much as you’d like to!)
However brilliant a leader you are, you can’t force other people to change. We often say people are ‘resistant to change’. But that’s overly simplistic.
When you first seek to understand what you see as that resistance; allowing space and time to explore it, both you and the ‘challenging’ team member will have greater insight, awareness and understanding. It’s possible that this ‘challenging’ team member is hurting and not able to express their needs very well.
This doesn’t make their behaviour acceptable. But once they feel heard, it’ll be easier to agree on the changes you want them to make. More co-creation.
Now, if they’re unwilling to do this then a different conversation might be needed about their future in your team. So be honest about your expectations.
Tip three – Be clear not ambiguous.
To avoid ambiguity, always ask the ‘challenging’ team member to summarise their understanding of what you’ve both agreed to. (Don’t summarise it for them). And if you get vague phrases like ‘I’ll be more of a team player’ then get some specifics. You need to get granular here.
I’ve got an example to illustrate what being granular looks like in this article -(pat can you link to the article which is going out on 24 February about behaviour change).
Tip four – Don’t collude or rescue.
Beware the team member who tells you that ‘it’s not my fault’ or ‘it’s not me, it’s them’. You’ll hear disparaging comments about ‘the exec.’ Or ‘the finance team.’ Or certain individuals inside or outside the team. Blame, blame, blame. Whatever you do, don’t collude with those comments and fall into the ‘poor you’ victim trap.
Similarly, don’t rescue with an ‘Oh I’ll have a word with them for you.’ (You don’t need any more of those monkeys on your shoulder).
There are two questions that work much better.
One – ‘what might you need to change to get a different outcome’?
Two ‘how can I help you have a conversation with that person so that you can start to change things?’
Hold firm. By doing so you’ll be enabling, empowering and teaching your ‘challenging’ team member to find solutions. And to take responsibility rather than keeping them in a state of learned helplessness.
These four tips will help you have many more productive conversations with ‘challenging’ team members.
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