Category Archives: Communication
The dreaded “elephant in the room”. Those conversations that should happen, but most of the time do not. Or as explained by definition:
“A major problem or controversial issue that is obviously present but avoided as a subject for discussion because it is more comfortable to do so”
There are many reason why these conversations to address the “elephant” never happen:
- Fear – that bringing it up could cost you credibility or your job
- Comfort – that it’s easier to not make waves and just work around the problem
- Underestimation – not realizing that the situation has bigger ramifications than one realizes
- Apathy – not caring enough to address (“It’s not my problem.”)
By not having the tough conversation about the situation, the following fallout usually happens:
- Fear culture persists
- People gain undue and unchecked power and influence (colleagues, managers, shareholders, etc)
- Decline in productivity, efficiencies, and other metrics leading to declining performance overall
- Disengagement due to low morale and discontentment
In never addressing the “elephant in the room” a general uneasiness and untrustworthy environment settles in that can wreak havoc throughout the organization.
It’s imperative that any conversation that needs to be had to address those “elephants” needs to occur. In order to break the silence and overcome the anxiety to have straight talk, you should use these following guidelines to get the discussion out in the open:
- Resolve not to be remiss. Omitting an issue causes more harm than good always. Purpose to start the discussion by knowing that you owe it to others to bring this topic to the forefront.
- Foster professionalism. How you approach the conversation can ease the tension. Anger, outrage, and other non-professional conduct can greatly hamper the effectiveness of the discussion. Be calm and set everyone else at ease.
- Make it constructive. Make it clear that you want to have a working dialogue of the issue at hand. Set the expectations early to get the most out of the talk and allow everyone opportunity for input.
- Be objective. This can be tricky, especially when items such as harassment or bullying come into play. But having as much facts to back up what is being discusses can solidify the validity of the issue and not leave room for people to shrug it off.
- Find other audiences. Sometimes the people that need to hear the message are the least receptive. By finding others who share the same opinion about the issue will make it not about you but about the issue and how much it impacts others.
- Create a dialogue. Get as many others talking about it as possible in the discussions. It is important to also note that these talks may not be just once and over with. Constructive issue resolving may take multiple discussions to reach understanding and solutions. Keep it open at all times.
- Get actionable steps. Have those involved including yourself take responsibility for a portion of the solution. Some people may have to take full ownership for their actions as no one else can. Others may need to help with processes, checks and balances. Everyone at least needs to work on fostering a culture of open talk without fear or apathy. Make sure those steps are being taken seriously and followed through.
Elephants in the room are not pleasant beasts. They need to be herded out and having everyone skirt around the issue only makes matters worse. Your culture may not be conducive to talking open, but it only takes one person and some of the suggestions above to start changing that in your organization.
Generations ago the typical work week as Monday through Friday from 9am until 5pm. Needless to say that model rarely if ever exists today.
Most workplace environs run beyond the old school work week. Banks have been open Saturday mornings for many years. The service industries of retail and restaurant have grown past blue law Sundays and even run 24 hour operations (such as McDonald’s and Wal-Mart). The trucking industry has been on the go around the clock for decades. Healthcare facilities need 24 hour care workers, and electrical workers need to be on call for many hours at a time due to storms.
And thinking more long term, many companies span time zones and countries, making a leader’s task of connecting with their people more challenging than ever before.
In order to be an effective leader, you cannot stay within the confines of a work timeframe that is comfortable for you, especially when your people look up to you. The best leaders find ways to reach out and impact their teams during times that it is not convenient for themselves, in order to tie together the people who work in these expanded time workplaces.
Here are some real-life examples of how effective leaders work across today’s round-the-clock and/or round-the-globe organizations:
- They know their job is to serve their employees and put personal convenience aside for that end.
- They use the old and still effective management-by-walking-around method to physically be at those places or shifts to connect with those teams.
- They set aside some of their work for off-hours and ensure their working day is in support of the mission-critical actions of the organization.
- They show up unexpectedly on a day off or holiday to lend their support.
- These leaders work long days to connect with second shift or come in extra early to meet with the 3rd shift and break down those silos.
- The best leaders will often travel to remote locations to ensure culture permeate the local area and that they feel connected to the homebase.
- They use technology like Zoom, Skype, and other online platforms to host meetings and live discussions.
- They make those team building conference or person-to-person calls at 2 am to reach that team across the globe.
- They don’t see their role as having arrived and not needing to put for the extra effort. They see their role as having greater scope and responsibility and needing to extend themselves even further for the organization to succeed.
If you’re company extends across shifts or time zones, you have opportunity today like never before to effect a winning culture and connect with your people. Leaders will make the effort, managers and supervisors will not.
Many leaders have either one of three approaches to influence people to perform certain behaviors.
They either Assume, Ask, or Affirm. And based on how they use these can yield a variety of differing results from their people.
Approaches that Assume will either:
- Assume ill intent or poor performance
- Observe without all the facts
- Believe once told the training is complete
- Can be presumptuous
- Closely associate with top-down, “do as I tell you” managing styles
- Deter trust form your people
- Alienate engagement and connection
Some creative ways to use Positive Assumption:
- Assume good intent
- Trust people want to generally do a good job
- Know that people are willing to learn and grow
- Believe your people want to share the vision
Asking approaches vary in these ways:
- Asking to find fault
- Coupling with a condescending or condemning tone
- Impersonal if phrased incorrectly
- Puts people on the defensive
- Hides true motives of the question
An effective leader Asks in these ways:
- Prefaces questions with reasons and transparency
- Asks as a favor, not a command
- Inquires for understanding and facts, not dirt
- Asks to fill a need, not carry out a duty
The Affirming leadership approach has these challenges:
- Being too nice and not talking straight
- Leading people to not face reality of course correction
- Can give false sense of security and lead to complacency for entire teams and organizations
It’s best to couple the Affirming approach in the following ways:
- Trusting in the right values and vision that align with the core
- Believing in the skills and abilities of the individual(s)
- Confirm shared vision and goals
- Recognize clear understanding so all parties on the same page
- Lead others to the feeling of accomplishment during the process
While there are many camps that prefer one way or the other, it all comes down to approach and dynamics from the leader. Any style, managed poorly, can have an adverse effect. But with the right understanding of your people and how to influence up, you can use virtually any approach to a positive effect while keeping intact the mutual respect and drive for your teams.