3 Things to Remember in Challenging Interactions
When I was starting out facilitating executive team sessions and development workshops as an internal consultant, I received some wise advice from the company’s Chief Human Resources officer at the time.
A pioneer in her field and a seasoned HR executive who had worked closely with several larger than life leaders including Jack Welch (at GE) and Al Neuharth (Founder of USA Today), she was someone I considered a role model.
Her words from one brief interaction stay with me to this day and have influenced my subsequent success, credibility, and effectiveness over the years.
As we discussed my upcoming team session with a key leadership team, she described the leadership culture of the company to me, (which was largely male dominated at the time), as one that welcomed debate, confrontation, and “lively arguments” as a way of sorting through and tackling issues and airing opinions. There was little attention or focus on “niceties” such as acknowledgment and empathy, but rather an emphasis on bluntness, questioning, skepticism, and “group-testing” one’s assertions or ideas.
Knowing that I would encounter this dynamic pretty blatantly when attempting to facilitate a senior-level group in this culture, she offered me these three pointers in our five-minute interaction:
1. Do not take any comments personally—it is not about YOU.
2. Don’t shrink or get intimidated by title or the loudest, most adamant voices—repeat–it is not about YOU.
3. Everyone in the room is human —just like YOU.
I listened intently—but little did I know that I would actually recall and use those pointers almost immediately after our conversation.
Flash to that first executive group team session a few days later. (Frankly, I don’t even remember the context of the session’s content as this was quite a few years ago—but I sure do remember the dynamics…)
Wouldn’t you know it—the first comment I was confronted with from one of the executives in the group after I had introduced whatever it was we were talking with was:
“Well that’s the dumbest thing I have ever heard!”
While I consider myself pretty adept at self-management, I do remember my heart beat accelerating to a rapid pace at that comment, until —pointers #1, #2, and #3 all instantly flashed across my mind:
“Do not take any comments personally—it is not about you.”
“Don’t shrink or get intimidated by title or the loudest, most adamant voices—it is not about you.”
“Everyone in the room is human—just like you.”
I recall mentally removing myself from my body and seeing the whole interaction unfolding as if I was not actually in it, but rather as if watching a movie.
From that “outside in” vantage point, I was able to de-personalize the comment, remain calm, and determine how I could serve the goal of the session and the best interests of this particular group.
I honestly can’t remember the exact words that came out of my mouth in response to his comment, but I do remember being remarkably calm and un-rattled as I acknowledged his skepticism and his viewpoint, led a discussion about the underlying resentments that were the real source of frustration carried into the room and this session, and drew in the rest of the group to commit to “own” the session as theirs.
As you read this, you can probably recall times where you have been faced with a difficult interpersonal interaction –especially in a group session—and you took it personally and reacted from an automatic, emotional place rather than from a conscious, detached place of intentionally choosing your response.
As those of us in the human and organizational development professions learn in our formal training and education, there is a key premise that is at the crux of what we are talking about– and that is how to choose our responses consciously, rather than behaving reactively when working with others.
Some of the key elements that enable this:
- Your own self-management, self-confidence, and empathy.
- Your ability to detach yourself from what is happening and observe the moment from the “outside-in”.
- Remembering that everyone is fundamentally similar by virtue of our common humanity.
- Understanding that cultures, behavioral norms, values, beliefs, assumptions, and modes of operating may differ from your own.
- Having the flexibility to adapt your own behavior by choosing the best response to influence the situation rather than your automatic or emotional reaction.
The pointers my wise mentor gave me were reminders to help fend off potential triggers that could derail my attempts to stay detached and “conscious”.
What reminders do you need to keep you from taking things personally in your interactions?
What will help you stay conscious and in the place of choosing your response rather than being overcome by your automatic reactions?
As always–drop me a note with your comments or your own experience. I love getting them..
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